I'm not sure where to ask this question. Please let me know if this is not the best place. This is not specific to a language, but rather a concept.

Context: There is some news about some group of people being badly abused sometime somewhere.

Somebody, let's name them John Doe, was expressing their shock of learning such cruelty and social unrest was happening in that place.

I said something along the lines of "Similar things could be happening in other places but underreported."

Immediately this John Doe accused my statement as a conspiracy theory.

Is this accusation reasonable/justified? Is my statement a conspiracy theory? How do I express my pessimism without being labeled something bad? Or should I not have perceived this accusation as a negative thing?

  • It depends. If there are two sides to a dispute, A and B, there is strong evidence that A did something wrong, and no credible evidence that B something wrong, yet you respond to condemnation of A by saying, "B did something wrong and the evidence is concealed," then this is at least conspiracy-theory-like. It is a defense of A by accusing B without evidence. I'm not saying there is never a justification for such a response, just that the presumption goes against it. Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 4:46

4 Answers 4


Is this accusation justified?

From what you have told us, it is not.

Is my statement a conspiracy theory?

No, it is not. Let us recall that you said, "similar things could be occurring in other places but under-reported". This is just a simple observation.

How do I express my pessimism without getting labelling something bad?

Well, you know John Doe better than us. Perhaps he is reacting badly to a percieved dismissiveness by your saying this sort of thing goes on all the time whilst he wants to focus on the issue at hand.


I said something along the lines of "Similar things could be happening in other places but underreported.

Your context is too broad to get that specific, but I'll bite anyway. I'm going to put it simply, your reply to the original point is a fallacy of relevance. Your response appears to make an appeal to hypocrisy or it's bringing preconceived notions. It doesn't seem like a canceling hypothesis.


For an argument to be considered a conspiracy theory fallacy you would pretty much refute counter-points by calling them a cover-up. You haven't done that in this argument, at least not yet.

The bottom line is you have to stay relevant if you're talking argumentative logic. If I bring up subject A and you dismiss it immediately in favor of subject b your reply isn't logical or persuasive. In other words, you have to address subject A before you can get to subject B. That's why it's called "straight thinking".


It depends on your intent.

It sounds like you are engaging in whataboutism, aiming to diminish the status of what caused him shock by saying it 'probably' happens everywhere all the time - which is actually irrelevant to reacting to this specific evidenced case.

But then you have to ask, why would it be reported in this case, but not others? Likely you have a pre-concieved conspiracy theory, eg highlighting this one case serves the powerful who own the media, say.

Both seem to be aspects of arguing in bad faith. Without you being more specific, it's hard to be specific in turn about a better way to respond. But I would suggest a more humanistic response, where you led by acknowledging 'John Doe's feelings would have been appropriate - their mode of response was shock, this should be understood as relating first and foremost to emotive issues, and concerning understanding others (or not). If you don't attend to evidence, and dismiss it in favour of your prejudices, rather than using critical thinking and considering sources of indirect evidence, then you will be very vulnerable towards conspiracy theory thinking.


A conspiracy theory is an attribution error: the attempt to take a broad social or natural phenomenon (real or imagined) and attribute it to the conscious, directed action of some out-clan group of people (real or imagined). For example, when Marjorie Taylor Greene suggested that California wildfires were actually caused by space lasers controlled by George Soros — ostensibly (if I remember correctly) as part of an experiment in beaming solar energy to earth from space platforms — she was explicitly trying to claim that a common natural event in the state was the product of human agency.

In a nutshell, we can trace every conspiracy theory back to the fundamental belief that nothing bad happens (to those who hold the belief) except that some conscious (im)moral agent causes it to happen. The rest is an exercise in discovering and unmasking the 'culprits', justifying the possibility (however remote) that they could accomplish the act, and 'proving' the tangled web these nefarious (im)moral agents have woven.

What you said was not a conspiracy theory, it was merely cynical and jaded. There is no attribution to some specific group of outsiders, only the observation that lots of crappy people do lots of crappy things, which is arguably a truism. It might have verged on 'whataboutism' or moral relativism — you didn't give enough of the conversation for me to tell — but those are different issues.

  • @DavidBlomstrom: 1) I didn't say MTG's theory was typical; it's merely a crystal-clear example. 2) I do expect readers to use a modicum of common sense, though that may be unwise of me. While there are in fact people who will try to blame others for their own slip-ups (which is why products have ridiculous warning labels), I think the large-scale context is clear. However, I'll consider revisions to see if I can idiot-proof the answer. Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 23:00
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    @DavidBlomstrom: Next time, use a nicer tone. You'll get a more respectful response. Criticism is fine; snottiness isn't. Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 23:04
  • @DavidBlomstrom: It's crystal clear example of what I was talking about. It would only be cherry-picking if I were making a strong claim based on it (which I'm not). And a conspiracy theory requires a conspiracy, which by definition requires a group of people. That group is also by definition out-clan: if it were part of our clan we would be part of the conspiracy (which might be fun, but wouldn't be a theory, because we'd know it was true). And yes, some conspiracy theories turn out to be valid; I don't see that there's a problem with that, do you? Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 23:30
  • @DavidBlomstrom: Attribution theory is a prominent field in social psychology. I suppose I'll need to draw that out a bit too, yah? Commented Apr 10, 2022 at 1:38
  • @DavidBlomstrom: I think the kind of of things we usually call 'conspiracy theory' are in fact attribution errors: an attribution to human agency for some observation or event that does not (in fact) involve human agency to any meaningful extent. As for the rest... Pffft. I have my biases (as everyone does), but there aren't a lot of people in the world who grasp or express philosophical principles better. If you want to get into the nitty/gritty of it, that's your funeral, but I doubt this is the correct forum for doing it. Commented Apr 10, 2022 at 5:15

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