Anatomy of a Conspiracy Theory – Part 1

In my last post, I railed against conspiracy theorists in general. Luckily (or unluckily), I was handed an Exhibit A to rail against in specifics. Twice within the past two weeks, a two-page tract was distributed to me regarding vaccines. This bothers me because (1) this ridiculous crackpot publication is getting better distribution than this blog; and (2) if I received the tract twice, I cringe to think how many other people received it, read it, and thought, “There are some interesting points here.”

Conspiracy theories prey on people’s ignorance, paranoia, and lack of critical thinking skills. They skip over logic, facts and/or a philosophical common ground and hope people will go along with the flow and not notice what is missing. Or, even worse, the theories are conceived by people who don’t even realize what a disservice to legitimate discourse their publications and utterances are. They think they are being profound.

At the risk of overkill, I am going to print the full text of the tract here and give commentary as I go:

“What do vaccines REALLY do? Refuting “anti vaccine” disinformation agents and zionist illuminati propaganda”

This is the actual title of the tract. The intent with so many conspiracy theorists is to immediately undercut established facts by drawing on some shadowy group of “others” who are silently calling all the shots. Never mind that any number of references can tell you exactly what vaccines do–this source has decided to print something on a piece of paper and somehow prove to you that it’s better information, mainly by blaming the available info on “disinformation agents” and “zionist illumnanti.” Because those sound spooky, even if they don’t ever define what those things are.

“The mainstream narratives: There are usually three narratives that are given a lot of attention, and this also applies to other arenas such as politics. Two of the narratives occur in the mainstream–the yin versus yang, red versus blue, Republicans versus Democrats, Iran versus Israel, China versus America. In the context of the vaccine, this is the QUICK vaccine versus SLOW vaccine. These are all fake conflicts. Remember months ago, Trump wanted a vaccine quickly and all of the Democrats were saying “no, no, we want it to come out slowly.” So the fake conflict was about TIMING but they both agreed in the end on having a vaccine.”

Taking something mundane like clearly documented differences of opinions and calling them fake is the most fundamental of conspiracy theories–that somehow everything you’re being told is a lie. What exactly is fake about these conflicts? Do Iran and Israel in fact agree on everything? To the extent that people are people and we all want to be happy, yes, it’s entirely possible to say that these conflicts are meaningless. But they do exist–therefore not fake. Deciding to wait until vaccines were tested and approved (which is the only sense in which “all of the Democrats” were in favor of a slower vaccine rollout) is not a fake difference of opinion, but that doesn’t stop this writer from steamrolling over the facts.

“Well the yin yang are two sides of the same coin; they pretend to be in conflict but eventually UNITE. Just like Iran helped America in Afghanistan under the Northern Alliance, just like American corporations manufacture in China, and just like the red and blue parties reinforce the idea that elections are real. They disagree on their fake drama on TV to give off the impression that they are resisting, and then in the end, they agree on the most critical points (they agree on democracy being real, mandating vaccines for children, uniting with Iran against real Moslems, enslaving countries, etc.)”

Here, the writer starts vigorously pelting us with unsubstantiated opinions as examples to support a viewpoint on how information is presented to people. This type of misdirection is common in conspiracy theories: writers use opinions to support other opinions, which gives the structure of a well-reasoned argument, but without any underlying support. Notably, the underlying idea that elections and democracy are not real is presented here as a “sky is blue” level of commonly agreed fact.

Conversely, while the writer’s questionable claims are slipped into the argument casually as accepted fact, mundane civics is depicted as sinister brainwashing. Through politics and diplomacy, parties and nations reach common ground on issues, form alliances and pass laws. Compromise is the goal of politics and diplomacy. Positing the existence of compromise as proof that conflict is fake is about the most upside-down logic imaginable.

“The fake alternative narrative: The third alternative is the alternative narrative, which is meant to deceive anyone who the freemasons couldn’t deceive with their yin yang propaganda.”

Sorry, I have to cut this paragraph off early. There’s two things going on here that are hopelessly absurd. First, we have reinforcement of this idea that all conflict is fake. Second, we’ve slipped in another unsupported sky-is-blue assertion–that the “freemasons” are behind this master brainwashing scheme. Never mind that when any two people have a conflict, they deal with it in the same way described above. Instead, this writer would have us believe, it takes an ancient secret society to construct fake conflicts to distract all of humanity. Conflict, my friends, is not so difficult to come by honestly.

Also, as a matter of structure, what were the first two narratives again? I hate to break it to the writer, but yin and yang do not count as separate narratives. Only one narrative has been described to this point. Sloppy construction like this, in my mind, points to an underlying lack of care in the presentation of the argument. If you can’t be bothered to properly enumerate your points, how can you be trusted to carry out the more nuanced work of supporting them?

“These disinformation agents include 99.9% (maybe even 100%) of people on television, EVEN if the media pretends like they are their biggest enemy. Some names include Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, David Icke, famous “anti vaccine” people, Noam Chomsky, Louis Farrakhan, ISIS, Hezbollah, freemason mosques, fake insurrection leaders, and others.

Remember that these people have become famous through the media and that the media will never allow anyone real on their network. And by the way, these agents have already merged with the yin yang agenda. Sanders claimed politics is bought and controlled to gain our trust, now he blames everything on Trump (usual tv drama). Trump insinuated that the pandemic is fake and then he got covid to prove conspiracy researchers wrong as reverse psychology (time to accept the fact that Trump is a freemason and actor). And they all say that democracy exists in order to stop any true revolt against these staged elections.”

Here the tract really jumps the shark. These two paragraphs really belong in a personal journal because there is nothing here but unsupported, free-associating speculation. How the writer can know all of these things at the same time is beyond me. Most glaring in the analysis is how 99.9% (“maybe even 100%”! — spoken like a true statistician) of the people on TV are asserted to be alternative narrative disinformation agents. I find it hard to believe that the freemasons could create an entire world order and only squeeze out 0.1% of TV appearances.

“The media will never allow anyone real on their network.” This is a turning point in the tone of the tract. Here we have the real sorcery of the conspiracy theory–the same magic Trump tried to work when he said, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” If the writer can present an argument whereby you are disallowed from believing anything except what is being presented by the conspiracy theorist himself, then he’s locked you in and has control over you.

This is the last piece of the tract I will quote today. At this point, you may be thinking that is beneath me to continue to take this publication seriously and to bother refuting its points. However, I think it’s important to look at these words squarely and to examine them, because these are the words that are being distributed to hundreds, probably thousands of people in Atlanta and maybe in other cities, as well. This is the sort of blather that many mistake as “grassroots activism.” To the extent that it is unpolished, goofy, and earnestly all-encompassing, some may view it as charming and even positive. Some people are so deeply repelled by current social norms, real and perceived, that they will lap up anything that appears thoughtful and critical and praise it as worth our consideration.

In other words, conspiracy theories take advantage of the disconnect that many people have with what they see in their world. Anything that sounds intellectual or philosophical will automatically gain a sympathetic hearing to someone so inclined, even if it’s undifferentiated, garbled word salad.

This certainly qualifies. Stay tuned. It gets wilder.


Published by ememon

I write. I dance. I love chocolate and kitties. I'm a kitten in person, but a wildcat on the page. Nothing is more important than a well-balanced perspective, and I for one don't believe your brain can fall out, no matter how open-minded you are. And a little lime and cilantro never hurt anything.

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