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Conspiracy Theory – Part 1 : Introduction
Conspiracy Theory – Part 1 : Introduction
The world literature of power politics contains a considerable subset of curious documentation, so called conspiracy theories, in which many alleged conspiracies are described. These range from the plausible to the absurd and from local issues to conspiracies on a world-wide scale. Conspiracy theories are by no means a new phenomenon - theories dating back many ages can be found, and books about these abound. The information revolution, and in particular the advent of the Internet, has opened up this field, and some of the material available makes interesting reading. This genre of literature is curious because it is a melting pot of all kinds of thought, sometimes having roots in ancient and occult philosophies, and in other instances stretching out to include aspects like the financial flows on today’s information highways. The strangeness of this genre led someone to compare it to pornography: just as pornography is the underground literature of sex, so conspiracy theory is the underground literature of power. Because of the nature of this genre, conspiracy theories are normally not taken seriously or even discussed in academic circles.
Conspiracy theories probably originate from people who are experiencing some kind of insecurity because of an unidentified threat. A theory is then formulated to serve as a model that offers them a plausible explanation of the threat. Such a theory usually deals with the unknown, and the correctness of the theory can mostly not be determined. These theories are idea-constructs that ascribe observations and motives to the alleged conspirators to produce stories that seem to make sense. Much is made of circumstantial evidence. These theories are projections of the actions of unseen enemies, in much the same sense as intelligence models postulate the enemy force composition and possible action. These theories cannot however easily be disproved by the reader, as they are normally plausible and stimulating enough to be wholly or partially accepted by the uncritical reader.
For the uninitiated, the field is very confusing. Conspiracy theories, and Counter-theories abound. Thousands of ‘facts’ about suspicious people , alleged meetings and significant events are reported upon, and if the reader is not knowledgeable about the specific part of history, there is no way of assessing the truthfulness of the information. In a sense a conspiracy theory is unfair. It states certain events and motives as “facts” and shifts the burden for proof/disproof to the accused conspirator or to the reader. In addition to this the conspiracy theory fraternity is subdivided into different camps, and failing to understand an author’s point of departure, the interpretation of his work becomes very difficult. Many anti-conspiracists, in countering a conspiracy theory may use indirect ways, like the technique of ridicule. Although this is usually visible, it may sometimes be so sophisticated that it may fool or confuse the reader who do not understand the context.
This series of articles take a bird’s eye view of the field, rather than focusing on any of these theories in particular. It gives examples of some of the conspiracy theories encountered during this study (mainly from the Internet ), derives from them some general characteristics that may be useful in the study of the field of Security studies and identify some topics that may yield interesting further study.
Conspiracy theories are expressions of people’s concerns about power-politics, and apart from reflecting the thinking of people about a situation, they also impact upon the thinking of those exposed to them.
Many of these theories, claim to describe parties, politics, motives and philosophies that form important driving forces of events in the national and international arenas. Though the correctness of many of these theories can rightfully be questioned, they cannot all summarily be dismissed. They somehow describe something about human nature. Sometimes they address principles that may in reality have an impact on society, and those are worthwhile considering. Lastly - some of them may even be true, correctly exposing the activities and intentions of some malefactor. At the very least they should be submitted to analysis to determine what principles may be of value in the understanding of the current power-political environment. Some elements of these theories may even be of value in the projection of future scenarios.
Conspiracy theories can also be powerful tools for disinformation purposes, and were most probably already used in this role in the past. They can be used to side-track a group of people from a burning issue, and focus their attention on something else, that may be just plainly a theory, or even a staged set-up to support such a con-theory.
The power of these theories must not be underestimated. They exert a powerful influence on the thinking and hence on the behaviour of their adherents. Conspiracy theory shapes the thoughts, and thereby the actions of people. Conspiracy theory is a human philosophy which can become more of an ideology to its adherents, so powerful that on many occasions anyone seeing to disagree with the theory may automatically be viewed with suspicion, even to the extent of being considered to be one of “them” (the conspirators). Since there is mostly a common threat to the grouping adhering to such a theory, it grants them a basis and focus for their own counter-ideology, as being the identification of their perceived enemy and the expected enemy behaviour. Such a theory can be so influential in certain parts of the community that every political event will be interpreted with reference to the theory. It is therefore necessary to be aware of the impact of such theories on the mind of a people. If such theories that undermine national security do exist, it would be unwise to ignore them.
The next article in this series will deal with the definition of conspiracy theory and classification of conspiracies.