Introduction to the book „Entschwörungstheorie“

Has not everything already been said about conspiracy theories? Do not books lie in the displays of almost every store explaining how conspiracy theories work?

Well, do these books answer the arguably most important question as to why which conspiracy theories are believed under which circumstances? Or do they simply describe what those conspiracy theories look like while on the book cover it says „Freemasons“ and „Illuminati“ in flashing capital letters?

And what sort of books are offered next to these? Perhaps, books by Noam Chomsky dealing with „Media Control“? Or do you see over there the shelf with the magazines promising insights into the „Shadow Empire of the CIA“?

Could it be a little more difficult to stick conspiracy theories into a handy bag and and put them aside?

I want to rock the notion we‘ve come to love, that of a phenomenon of the lunatic fringe. Rather, I‘d like to focus on how conspiratorial thinking finds its way into the mainstream. I will both review the state of academic research and come up with several new theses.

From what the rare and semi-taboo academic studies show, three features of conspiratorial thinking seem to be most important.

First an idyllic and harmonic view of one’s own society or group is needed which only demands for conflicts to generally come from the outside, typically carried in by a small group.

Second, this dualistic picture of a conflict-free collective self and a decomposing alien other is accompanied by the confrontation of an essential with a deception, of an intuitively recognizable original truth with an abstract artificially calculated lie.

Third, the history of conspiratorial thinking teaches that these conceptions of freind and foe most frequently occur when a certain class of society sees itself threatened by loss of importance or social descent.

But all of these are statements about the origin and constitution of conspiracy theories not about their diffusion. It remains unclear why the bogeyman image of one social class or group can become that of larger segments of society. Also, the specific mass appeal of conspiratorial thinking long after the epoch of manifest class struggle cannot be understood.

I will try to show how conspiracy theories themselves are despite their role as emergency cement for unsettled world views no real problem but in fancy examples can even be stimulating and productive. In their most consequent form they pretty much match social reality with their description of a conspiracy of everybody against everybody else.

At the same time, I hope to make clear that conspirationism, my term for conspiracy ideologies forming closed worldviews, are one of the biggest political threats there are. Therefore I won‘t spend much effort on describing single conspiracy theories but rather concern myself with the transmission of conspirationism into society and with the conditions allowing it to become a determining political factor.

My aim is a better understanding of current political debates and an incitement not to bash the obvious anymore but to deal with the underestimated, dingy, unpleasant and dangerous conspirationism.

Dispiracy Theory

Critical approaches to conspiracy theory aim at the clearly delimitable phenomenon from the edge of society, from the ‚lunatic fringe‘ – the visitable other. Thus, conspirational influence on everyday thinking as well as the huge impact of conspirationism on the formulation of mass apealing ideologies is largely underestimated.

For the purpose of ‚dispiracy‘, that is, the finding of efficacious answers and counter-strategies, it seems necessary to combine Critical Theory and factual falsification. Conspiracy theory needs to be seen as a much more general way of dramatizing and simplifying an unconcise world. Delimitation itself becomes problematic as conspirationism may always nest in the breaches of rationalist fact fetishism and may work as dialectical twin of all official ideology.

Working points thus are located in the hinge functions where conspiracy theories become plausible to individuals and where their encroaching of public discourse, mass media and state ideology is rooted.