I just listened to a video in which a propagandist compares conspiracy theory to animism - the belief that natural forces are imbued with "agency," which he describes as "some sort of life force." He says that conspiracy theorists similarly think social issues are imbued with agency.

We might describe this as simple obfuscation. He's using a somewhat unfamiliar word ("agency"), and it isn't clear if he's saying conspiracy theorists think social issues are actually living things - like robots revolting against their makers - or if he's subliminally suggesting that social issues aren't even remotely connected to living things (e.g. the humans who create social issues). In other words, wars aren't caused by humans; they just happen the way flowers blossom and birds lay eggs.

What kind of fallacy (or fallacies) would this qualify as? Or is this just one big spew of gibberish (obfuscation), designed to confuse and disorient people?

You Are Not So Smart Podcast 016 @ ~ 9:35

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    Is there any good reason for using the word 'propagandist'? Also, it is quite clear that it is about coincidences declared to be the outcome of a plot designed by a single individual or a group of people, i.e. agency (as opposed to being mere coincidences). I would suggest a more objective and neutral language in general. – Philip Klöcking Apr 8 '18 at 21:58
  • @Philip K. - If you listen to the entire video, you'll see why I use the term propagandist. Some of the claims made by McRaney and his guests are frankly bizarre. It's hard to believe that they believe what they're saying. Also, I don't understand what you mean by "coincidences." Are you saying that HE's saying conspiracies (e.g. JFK or 9/11) are nothing but coincidences? – David Blomstrom Apr 8 '18 at 22:05

Social issues should be associated with agency. After all, if they are social there are human agents involved. However, one may not be able to find the human agents.

Calling someone a conspiracy theorist may be a form of ad hominem fallacy assuming there is a logical argument involved. To see a possible logical argument consider the following argument:

Joe claims X is true.

Joe is a conspiracy theorist.

Therefore, X is not true.

A better way to approach Joe's position is to provide an argument countering Joe's claims not to characterize what Joe says as a conspiracy theory.

Joe, the supposed conspiracy theorist, likely does not have a logical fallacy in his argument. He could easily fix any such fallacy and present a stronger theory. What he often lacks, however, is enough evidence to make his premises believable. Those who find his premises believable would not think his position to be a conspiracy theory.

  • BINGO! Your first two sentences hit the nail on the head. It sounds like the guy in the video is trying to equate social issues with rocks. But the way they word their statements is so slick, it sounds like there are several fallacies at work there. – David Blomstrom Apr 9 '18 at 0:32
  • @DavidBlomstrom Social issues aren't rocks as you mention. There will be humans involved. There may be more to this as you suggest. – Frank Hubeny Apr 9 '18 at 0:34
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    Your second paragraph is interesting. I'm proud to call myself a conspiracy theorist (or conspiracy analyst). In fact, I'm working on a book about conspiracy science. However, propagandists have been trying to redefine "conspiracy theory" as an object of contempt. So calling someone a conspiracy theorist could indeed be an ad hominem attack (especially if they roll their eyes or sneer while saying it). However, I'd stand my ground and just call'em a propagandist in return. – David Blomstrom Apr 9 '18 at 0:34
  • @DavidBlomstrom Best wishes on your book's success. There may also a potential fallacy due to appeal to authority. logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/21/… – Frank Hubeny Apr 9 '18 at 0:41
  • Good point about appeal to authority; he does interview two guests on his program, praising one as a neurologist at the Yale School of Medicine. – David Blomstrom Apr 9 '18 at 0:57

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