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The number of conspiracy like theories is exponential.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_conspiracy_theories

Here are the most famous.

How many of these have achieved any tangible success against the "enemy", bar I guess consciousness raising? Of course, nil.

It seems that if I am to believe that a conspiracy theory is any use, there must be examples of similar theories that ended up as something other than a talking point.

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    A "conspiracy" by definition involves any plan involving two or more people. The government's own 9/11 story is a conspiracy, involving 19 Arab hijackers. 19 is greater than 1 so it's a conspiracy. Can you provide a more precise definition of conspiracy? Julius Caesar was murdered by a conspiracy and so was Lincoln. The US government hanged several people for conspiracy to kill Lincoln. The word is meaningless the way you're using it. I just gave three conspiracy theories regarded as absolutely true by historians and by conventional wisdom. – user4894 Aug 22 '14 at 19:55
  • ps -- Law professor and blogger Eugene Volokh makes the exact same point by naming his blog The Volokh Conspiracy. He's pointing out that a "conspiracy" is any endeavor involving the collaboration of two or more people. That is all the word means. washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy – user4894 Aug 22 '14 at 20:03
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    @NickR But that's exactly my point. OP is using the word in a vague way. The very definition of a conspiracy is any action planned by more than one person. The common everyday meaning has morphed into something like "Any opinion that differs from the mainstream opinion." But that is not the actual meaning of the word. So I'm asking the OP to clarify what they mean. The government claims that 19 hijackers did this and that. By definition, that is a conspiracy. Otherwise, all you're doing is trying to marginalize dissent and even questioning of the official narrative. – user4894 Aug 22 '14 at 20:38
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    @user3293056 Ok how about this? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Northwoods Or how about LBJ lying the country in to the Vietnam war with the phony Gulf of Tonkin incident. Or how about this? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuskegee_syphilis_experiment There are so many true, confirmed instances of the US government secretly doing evil things that there are too many to list. I still do not understand the nature of your question. What is it you want to know? Yes, powerful people DO collude to do evil stuff. Read your history. Reichstag fire. Google "false flag." – user4894 Aug 22 '14 at 21:06
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    @user3293056 I think user4984's main point is that by restricting conspiracy theory to exclude examples of conspiracy that are commonly accepted as true, you're effectively asking "Are any unsuccessful conspiracy theories successful?", and if you don't exclude them your question "Are any conspiracy theories successful?" has the trivial answer "Yes." Either way you get a very simple answer to either question that doesn't mean a great deal. – AndrewC Aug 23 '14 at 10:46
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In Peter Sloterdijk's 1983 book, Critique of Cynical Reason, he explored the rationale of cynicism which I find useful starting point. I don't think my brief answer can explain the contradiction between radical opinions and enlightenment, but it may help to avoid the trap, "How can anyone justify...", presupposing they're bonkers.

1) Social Discontent - People are unhappy with their lives and believe the structures of society do not serve their needs.

"The discontent in our culture has assumed a new quality: It appears as a universal, diffuse cynicism." (p. 3)

2) Self-preservation - Its hard to imagine a stronger reason to hold onto a belief.

"Instinctively, [Modern cynics] no longer understand their way of existing as something that has to do with being evil, but as participation in a collective, realistically attuned way of seeing things. It is the universally widespread way in which enlightened people see to it that they are not taken for suckers. There even seems to be something healthy in this attitude, which, after all, the will to self-preservation generally supports." (p. 4)

3) Enlightened false consciousness - Simply, Sloterdijk argues the the underlying bedrock of reason for the modern cynic is 'enlightened false consciousness'. He describes a continuum of false consciousness:

"The formal sequence of false consciousness up to now--lies, errors, ideology--is incomplete; the current mentality requires the addition of a fourth structure: the phenomenon of cynicism." (p. 3)

If you think about it, its very difficult to argue with someone intent on lying to you. Take that a step further. Its an order of magnitude more difficult to find agreement with someone who has a false belief (a witness to an event who has a false belief because of a unconscious bias). An ideologist, in the simplest of terms, has a belief in how the world works, and as Mel Brooks joked in History of the World, "Torquemada--you can't Torquemada anything". Finally, the cynic 'sees the naked truth' despite the machinery of ideology (and science) intent on convincing him otherwise. For the radical loner the cynical approach is the safest position--a fortress--of self-preservation against a hostile world.

  • ah. one thing to add: i have friends who are always trying to expose cancer treatment, and 'green' alternatives. perhaps the sense of enlightenment outweighs the chance of them getting cancer and having to back down – user6917 Aug 25 '14 at 20:29
  • "sense of enlightenment outweighs the chance" I think if you worked on this you might have the answer you seek. In my formulation there is a tangible payoff if you feel safer having your opinion, than without it. – xtian Sep 1 '14 at 22:56
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One way to understand conspiracy theories - for it is a fact that they exist though their explanations may not be factually correct; is to investigate why they occur, persist or buildup.

One could assert with a certain degree of plausibility that they are a form of modern day myths; and myths have been interpreted for example Freud and the Oedipus & Electra Complex.

The question then is not to justify but to explain; but the difference between the two notions here is less than one might suppose; to explain is in a sense to justify.

They can also be linked upto older myths; for example Northern Europe had many tales of child abductions by spirits or fairies; Yeats wrote a poem on it drawing on Celtic imagery:

Come away, O human child!

To the waters and the wild

With a faery hand in hand,

For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

And one could perhaps link this to stories in America of alien abductions; the same myth but with newer symbols; this kind of linkage points towards the structural anthropology of Levi-Strauss; applied to to Amazonian tribes - so called primitive societies; but to the urban civilisation of the North America (one tends not to hear of UFO abductions in Canada - are there any?); this would then be social anthropology.

But none of this appears to be philosophy, at least academically construed; but is this right? Your question hints at one which is justification. To begin this one must start with the right questions; given our current epistemological commitments Aliens visting the Earth in UFOs can be ruled out; so Alien abductions are factually incorrect; but as explained above this is the wrong question - the question should be why has this myth arisen and persisted; and this might lead onto the more general question why do myths arise at all; why not be satisfied with the facts of the world?

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So how can anyone rationally believe in any of them except as a means to some social event or other?

ra·tion·al
ˈraSHənl,ˈraSHnəl
adjective
1.
based on or in accordance with reason or logic.

I think so. For example, one could start with faulty assumptions then rationalize one. Or, given the number of conspiracy theories, it's always possible one is true but not held as truth due to incomplete information.

Let's attempt an argument, just for consideration of conspiracy theory in general.

==================================================================================

There are a large number of conspiracy theories.

Already demonstrated.

Moreover, the public has access to imperfect information.

For example, we know of the existence of certain top secret and classified programs. Likewise, there is some uncertainty regarding a few historical claims.

Perhaps it is possible that, given the number of theories and existence of imperfect information, perfect information would shed greater light on an given one of the many conspiracy theories.

That sounds somewhat reasonable I hope.

Moreover, we know that some things we'd rather wish to be conspiracy theories actually aren't, like the CIA deposing of legitimate regimes throughout the developing world during the Cold War.

Also, we know that, in the absence of clear evidence, people will tend to believe what the want to believe. For that reason, unpopular opinion shouldn't be categorically ignored.

Wait! Maybe something that we don't know for sure the CIA did they actually did!

Then we get to the fun part. Certain truths taken as given, such as the legitimacy of our governments, when called into question, even in the slightest, have broad ramifications for interpretation of other information.

Maybe that's why they want Snowden!

Maybe that's why the Supreme Court rigged the 2000 Presidential election!

Maybe that's why the Federal Reserve is... I don't even know. Something.

I bet the cartels are all backed the Bush family!

They must be part of the Illuminati and the Knights Templar.

Which means the whole GOP back to Lincoln must be too.

He was probably a vampire hunter!

That explains how that movie got released! (Hope that wasn't too harsh)

Oh my gosh it's turtles all the way down!

I suppose that isn't an entirely unreasonable argument. I'm guess with enough research and enough bias you could fairly well satisfy the requirements for rationality of any one of the conspiracy theories, but I'd rather not lend any weight to them (in most cases even if they are true) so I'm not going to do that here.

==================================================================================

Side note:

The number of conspiracy like theories is exponential.

ex·po·nen·tial
ˌekspəˈnenCHəl
adjective
of or expressed by a mathematical exponent.

All numbers may be expressed exponentially. For example, n may be expressed as n^1.

  • it also means lots. – user6917 Aug 22 '14 at 20:41
  • Not according to the dictionary. – Calvin Aug 25 '14 at 15:00
  • oh well it IS sometimes used like that, and likewise, not all numbers are "exponential" - which makes your original comment pretty unhelpful and sarcastic and see this <a href="definition-of.com/exponentially">exponentially</a> – user6917 Aug 26 '14 at 22:32
  • You're welcome to use a more rigorous community dictionary if you so desire en.wiktionary.org/wiki/exponential. But of course, as that one has legitimacy, it only furthers my point. If you consider correct usage of terminology unhelpful, that is your business, but I couldn't in good consciousness let an opportunity to educate go wasted. – Calvin Aug 27 '14 at 14:41
  • i consider the more complete dictionary the more rigorous actually, tho you are welcome to disagree. i was just pointing out that your sarcasm wasn't helpful. simply - i did not use the term "incorrectly" – user6917 Aug 27 '14 at 14:52
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Throughout, I use the word conspiracy in the sense you have intended, not in a dictionary sense of the word.

I believe this may be a valid example.

In the early days of the Watergate scandal, before the facts were known to the general public, it could be said that the Washington Post started a conspiracy to bring down Nixon. If the patriot and reactionary public were to get wind of the fact that a bunch of punk journalists were trying to bring down our beloved president, then I believe they would refer to these activities as a "conspiracy".

If you accept that this is a valid use of the word "conspiracy" in the sense you have intended in your question, then you would have to say that once the facts were known by the public the label "conspiracy" would need to be rejected.

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