2016-02-21

Conspiracy Theories: About More Than Mere Evidence

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by Neil Godfrey

conspHere’s another couple of interesting observations from Rob Brotherton’s Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories. Just to recap first from the previous post, The Conspiracist Style (with my own formatting):

With all these caveats in mind, let’s recap our portrait of a conspiracy theory. The prototypical conspiracy theory is

an unanswered question;

it assumes nothing is as it seems;

it portrays the conspirators as preternaturally competent;

and as unusually evil;

it is founded on anomaly hunting;

and it is ultimately irrefutable.

These characteristics do a good job of teasing apart the two versions of 9/ 11 that we began the chapter with. Even though saying that al-Qaeda hijackers conspired to pull off the attacks poses a theory about a conspiracy, the claim doesn’t fit the bill of a conspiracy theory, whereas claiming it was an inside job fits the description to a T.

Brotherton, Rob (2015-11-19). Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories (Kindle Locations 1238-1243). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

In the next chapter Brotherton provides two sure indicators that conspiracy theories are not really about studying the evidence. The reason this would be so is because conspiracism is actually

a lens through which the world can be viewed, and it has the potential to distort everything in its field of view. 

So if you ask a conspiracy theorist why the conspirators don’t attempt to silence those who go around telling the world about them and their nefarious acts, you are likely to be told that the conspirators even employing those conspiracy theorists to do what they are doing! Example:

I got chatting with an audience member who was pretty sure that 9/ 11 was an inside job. But he wasn’t, it turned out, a huge fan of Ian R. Crane. I asked him, if the government really was behind 9/ 11, why is Ian allowed to go around telling everyone; why don’t the conspirators just shut him up? He glanced over his shoulder and leaned toward me. It’s quite possible, he said, that Ian R. Crane is working for the government, trying to discredit conspiracy theorists by making them look foolish.

Brotherton, Rob (2015-11-19). Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories (Kindle Locations 1273-1277). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

So it’s a lens through which events are viewed.

The first reason we know evidence is not a critical need is the way conspiracy theorists will so often decide (“just know”) that a shooting, a disaster, is the work of a conspiracy the moment it hits the headlines. There is no need to wait for investigators to do their job and produce a report.

One example is the Sandy Hook school shooting (my bolding):

It took investigators days to piece together the details and make the information public. In the hours following the tragedy, however, confusion reigned. The news media scrambled for exclusives, passing around unconfirmed rumors about the identity and motives of the person or people responsible, only to retract the claims minutes or hours later as the investigation unfolded. Over the course of the day, it was wrongly reported that a second gunman, a man spotted wearing military fatigues, had been involved; that the shooter was the father of a child at the school; and that the gunman’s mother was a teacher at the school. Worse, for a few hours the actual gunman’s brother, Ryan Lanza, was mistakenly named as the culprit, when in reality he was on a bus from his Manhattan office to his New Jersey home frantically protesting his innocence on Facebook.

Yet even in the panicked hours immediately following the shooting, some people felt that no further explanation was needed. They had already figured out who was behind the shooting: It was a false-flag operation staged by the United States government. 

Brotherton, Rob (2015-11-19). Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories (Kindle Locations 1308-1316). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Brotherton surveys the details of their website discussions and mutual assurances confirming their view. Much of their support for their views came from studying online video clips and looking for anomalies and vague look-alikes in other scenes.

There is a second element that tells us that evidence is not so important. If someone believes 9/11 was an inside false-flag job, then (studies show) they will also very likely believe that many other ostensibly unrelated events were also orchestrated by the conspirators. If one is not sure if 9/11 was an inside job then one is very likely also not sure the Kennedy assassination was an inside job. And so on.

In the case of the Sandy Hook shooting, many theories assert that the shooting was not an isolated event, but merely the latest in a string of false-flag operations that includes the shootings at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, a cinema in Aurora, Colorado, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and a shopping mall in Oregon, to name just a few.

Brotherton, Rob (2015-11-19). Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories (Kindle Locations 1372-1374). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

And further:

This urge to explain just about anything that happens in the world as one small piece in a much larger puzzle pervades all conspiracy thinking. When Jonathan Kay, a reporter with Canada’s National Post newspaper, spent time interviewing 9/ 11 conspiracy theorists for his book Among the Truthers, he found that talk of 9/11 would inevitably lead to other conspiracy theories— often to do with who killed JFK. “Scratch the surface of a middle-aged 9/ 11 Truther,” Kay wrote, “and you are almost guaranteed to find a JFK conspiracist.” I found the same trend speaking at the Bilderberg Fringe Festival to a handful of people who collectively explained everything from global warming to the Black Plague as the machinations of some sinister conspiracy. . . . Perhaps the clearest example comes from David Icke. Icke is famous for giving marathon ten-hour-long, unscripted lectures to sell-out crowds, during which he explains the entirety of human experience as part of an interdimensional conspiracy. “People say I see conspiracies everywhere,” Icke said during a 2014 lecture at Wembley Arena in London; “I don’t. I see one conspiracy that takes different forms.”

Brotherton, Rob (2015-11-19). Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories (Kindle Locations 1383-1393). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

A/the significant point Brotherton is making, it should be noted, is that we are all susceptible to the thought-processes that lead some of us to conspiracism. More can be found at Rob Brotherton’s website:

 

28 Comments

  • Bob Moore
    2016-02-22 02:18:00 UTC - 02:18 | Permalink

    It would be interesting to hear the conversion stories of those who became non conspiricist style people. Would such stories be similar to stories of becoming a skeptic of religion? I know that I have made progress with the conspiracy style of false thinking. My conversion has come, in my opinion, from getting a better grasp on the fact that parties attempt to cover or minimize their own shortcomings in responsibilities where being held accountable for embarrassing mistakes would be unacceptable. I used to see such denials as more coordinated, but I understand that they are only connected inasmuch as we are all human.

    The USS Liberty incident I have teased out to be an actual Israeli government conspiracy, but I am still trying to decide on the Martin Luther King assassination. I suppose, in the King case, I have had startling faith in the capabilities of the enemies.

    • Bob de Jong
      2016-02-22 17:59:52 UTC - 17:59 | Permalink

      Would you be willing to elaborate why the Liberty incident eas a premeditated Iraeli attack? Which elements are missing to make this a ‘Brotherton Conspriacy’?

      • Neil Godfrey
        2016-02-22 18:41:07 UTC - 18:41 | Permalink
        • Bob de Jong
          2016-02-29 20:17:20 UTC - 20:17 | Permalink

          Thank you for showing the reference to the Jazeera documentary that convinces you that the Liberty incident is a Conspiracy. This conspiracy theory itself has been debunked (on the basis of solid evidence) on multiple occasions (1). The merits of conspiracy versus friendly fire hypothesis has been described thoroughly (2). But “conspiracy theories are not really about studying the evidence.” (5)

          So I will not argue the case in the sense of disproving the claims made in the Al Jazeera documentary; there is no need, since this documentary is mostly a remake of earlier documentaries (3,4). It even interviews the same crewmen as the earlier documentaries. This has all been debunked before. The only new feature are 2 or 3 short fragments of audio tape; not only is the time and place of recording of this tape unverified, also much of those recordings is unintelligible (despite the subtitles showing text – that is clearly not spoken-).

          I will structure the review of the documentary around the six crucial elements of the conspiracist style for Conspiracy Theories, as set out by Brotherton. (5). Tried to be brief, but didn’t completely succeed in that….

          1. Unanswered Questions: Conspricay theories “purport to reveal hitherto undiscovered plots in the hopes of persuading the as yet unalerted masses”. Clearly the core of the documentary is NOT what actually happened, but the undiscovered plot that is the Israeli leadership planning this attack on a friendly ship (with or without the US complicity remains open). None of the interviews with Liberty crewmen, nor the few seconds of audio tape, provide any evidence for a planned attack. As is said in (5) “The conspiracy is forever being unraveled, but ..the undeniable evidence .. has not yet been produced. So that’s a 1-0 for the Conspiracist Style.

          2. Nothing Is As It Appears. “the idea that we’re not merely being kept in the dark about something— we are being actively fooled.”(5). The second half of the documentary is rife with this reasoning. Cover ups by both the US and Israel, US planes mysteriously being recalled, investigations repressed, evidence made to disappear etc. “Accidents are planned, democracy is a sham, all faces are masks, all flags are false.”. 2-0 for the Conspiracist Style.

          3. Everything Is Under Control: ” the conspiracy always seems to be “exactly as competent and powerful as the conspiracy theorist needs it to be.” (5). Good example is the communications from the Liberty; it is alleged that the Israeli jammed all the frequencies used by the Liberty (even the secret ones), but still the Liberty got an SOS through to the sixth US fleet – which caused the Israeli to call off the attack – (6). Or even more blatantly: Israel carefully planned to kill all crewmen aboard the Liberty and sink the ship, so as to put blame on Egypt. But in reality, 34 crewmen died – which remains a tragedy still- but is a far cry from killing all 200+ crewmen. And the Liberty was not sunk in the attack, but sailed under its own power for Malta, where it was repaired. 3-0 to the Conspiracist Style.

          4. Everything is Evil. “who benefits? .. the villains often turn out to be the very individuals and institutions we normally expect to act in the public interest”. See the documentary alleging that the US president covered up the attack in order to be reelected. The description of the all powerful Jewish Lobby sounds like a chapter from Mein Kampf. Or worse still, the theory that the US was in on the plot, and intended the attack on the Liberty as a reason to actively enter the war against Egypt. Or see the naming as accomplices of highly regarded US diplomats and officials (Jewish, or course). 4-0 to the Conspiracist Style.

          5 Anomaly Hunting. “imbues each small anomaly with profound significance, using it to cast doubt upon the entire mainstream explanation”. Good example is the Israeli pilots not spotting the US flag (until after the first wave of attack). Given the conditions, this is entirely plausible (albeit a human error with tragic consequences), but the documentary amplifies it into a major argument for conspiracy. Another example is the audio tape “the real time conversations between Israeli Air Force pilots and their controllers back at base. It had never been broadcast before.” That appears true, but the narrator doesn’t say that a transcript of these tapes has been know for years. It is not disputed by Israeli or US authorities that the Israeli pilot made a tentative identification of the Liberty as a US ship AFTER the first wave of attack (by jet fighters). This identification (by air force jets) was not communicated in time (within 15 minutes for the second attack) to the torpedo boats; which were under control of a different command centre (Navy control). The fact (undisputed) that the Liberty first opened fire on the Israeli torpedo boats also contributed to the torpedo boat commander’s opinion that the ship was hostile. Well plausible given the active battles raging around Israel at the time, but the late identification is still used as the major argument in the documentary. 5 -0 to the Conspiracist Style.

          6. Heads I Win, Tails You Lose. “nothing can disprove the conspiracy— even evidence to the contrary”. In spite of all the extensive documentation released by Israeli and US that support the friendly fire scenario, the conspiracy theory still is proposed. Even clear undisputed evidence (such as the audio recordings of the rescue helicopters arriving AFTER the attack, still being unsure about the identity of the Liberty); and testimony by the Israeli jet pilot himself stating that he did not see a US flag. Or the sworn testimony by the captain of the Liberty himself, saying that the Liberty’s flag was not flying during the first attack. Or (15:20 in), you can hear: after the attack, the pilot identified “GTR5” on the ship attacked: then the Israeli command gave the order to “leave her, leave her, leave her”; this clearly shows that the Israeli did not plan ahead to sink a s US ship! But the commentator chooses to ignore this completely. 6-0 to the Conspiracist Style.

          The above shows that all Brotheron’s telltale signs of a Conspiracist Style are there in the Liberty documentary (and other films, books, blogs etc. like it). To finalize, let’s look at Brotherton’s main thesis that conspiracy theories are “a lens through which the world can be viewed, and it has the potential to distort everything in its field of view.”. So true: the documentary focusses entirely on the case for a premeditated attack; not a single Israeli (or other friendly fire advocate) is presented, none of the abundant evidence for a FF incidents is even mentioned, none of the big problems of the conspiracy theory is discussed.

          The documentary (and those like it) has a very short focus lens indeed.

          • Bob de Jong
            2016-02-29 20:19:03 UTC - 20:19 | Permalink

            1) C.I.A. report – June 13, 1967 – No malice; attack a mistake.
            – U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry – June 18, 1967 – Mistaken identity.
            – Report by presidential advisor Clark Clifford – July 18, 1967 – No evidence ship was known to be American.
            – Senate Select Committee on Intelligence – 1979/1981 – No merit to claims attack was intentional.
            – National Security Agency – 1981 – Mistaken identity.
            – House Armed Services Committee – 1991/1992 – No support for claims attack was intentional.

            2) Jay Cristol: The Liberty Incident: The 1967 Attack on the U.S. Navy Spy Ship
            3) History Channel broadcast March 14, 2002.
            4) “USS Liberty: Dead In The Water” (BBC Documentary 2002)
            5) Brotherton, Rob (2015-11-19). Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories , cited on Vridar 2016-02-21
            6) Actually, in the first minutes of the air attack the Liberty suffered a complete loss of external communications because of badly damaged radio transmitting equipment and antenna systems. In spite of this, emergency restoration of hicom voice capability was completed within minutes. All U.S.S. Liberty communications immediately thereafter were via the hicom voice network.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2017-07-11 13:38:33 UTC - 13:38 | Permalink

              Newly published in Haaretz: ‘But Sir, It’s an American Ship’ ‘Never Mind, Hit Her!’ When Israel Attacked USS Liberty

              Ofer Aderet is the author:

              A conspiracy? Healthy suspicion? Call it what you will. A new book published in May in the United States (its authors include several survivors of the attack) promises that “the truth is being told as never before and the real story revealed.” The 302 pages of “Remember the Liberty!: Almost Sunk by Treason on the High Seas” include quite a number of documents, testimonies, arguments and information that were gathered in the subsequent 50 years. . . .

              The authors’ bottom line is that then-U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson was behind the attack, in an attempt to blame then-Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser – an excuse that would then enable the United States to join the Six-Day War.

              The book includes, among other things, a CIA document from November 1967 that is still partially censored. In the document, which is also on the official CIA website, an anonymous source is quoted as saying: “They said that [then-Israeli Defense Minister Moshe] Dayan personally ordered the attack on the ship, and that one of his generals adamantly opposed the action and said, ‘This is pure murder.’” . . . .

          • Neil Godfrey
            2016-02-29 22:45:13 UTC - 22:45 | Permalink

            I always assumed it was an accident until I read a few articles a few years ago that led me to doubt. With what great overarching scheming evil plot is anyone associating the sinking of the USS Liberty? Are you really saying those who subscribe to the view are anti-semites who believe in some sort of Elders of Zion type of plot? (Sounds like just a normal everyday conspiracy that most nations — Jew, Arab, East, West — are capable of to me. I don’t think Israel is by definition any more angelic than anyone else.)

            • Bob de Jong
              2016-03-04 17:31:30 UTC - 17:31 | Permalink

              Neil, there is a risk basing your opinion on ‘a few articles’ you read. I like to know the ‘genre’ of the texts, and as much as possible about the background of the authors. This helps me to interpret the texts correctly.

              For instance: the Al Jazeera ‘documentary’ is produced by Richard Belfield. He once declared that “the history of modern Israel is one of conspiracy interrupted by assassination, a volatile and feverish democracy underpinned by the world’s most ruthless intelligence services, for whom there is no moral debate about ends and means.” A nice starting position for this documentary…

              Belfield has somewhat of a penchant for conspiracy theories. His 2005 book “The Assassination Business” claimed the official versions of the death of Stalin and the murder of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin were false, and that British and Israeli intelligence services were likely involved in the latter.

              Belfield is perhaps best know for his ITV documentary entitled “Diana: The Secrets Behind the Crash” in which he claims the British secret service killed princess Diana.

              This Al Jazeera documentary is his latest in a series of ‘revealed conspriacies’.

              Co-producer is James Scott; Scott published a book on the Liberty incident in 2008 (“The Attack on the Liberty: The Untold Story of Israel’s Deadly 1967 Assault”), and much of this documentary is verbatim quotes of this book. Belfield lies in the documentary, when he says that the names of the (Jewish) ‘closest friends and advisors’ of Johnson are now revealed for the first time: all these names were published in Scott’s book 8 years ago.

              Scott is the son of a Liberty survivor, so can hardly be considered an objective journalist, but his book still left the question of the conspiracy unanswered, for lack of definite proof.

              The documentary also presents Adm. Bobby Ray Inman.Who is Inman? President Ronald Reagan appointed him as the deputy director of the CIA in 1981, but quickly forced him to retire in 1982. Later Inman was nominated as President Bill Clinton’s secretary of defense. But during a press session Inman lost his cool and named five journalists who – he alleged – had treated him badly: Safire, Tony Lewis, Ellen Goodman, the cartoonist Herblock and Rita Braver. All five are Jewish. He referred to Braver as ‘Braverman’. Clinton withdrew his nomination.

              In the documentary, Inman presents his Jewish Blackmail Theory; he says that Johnson would need money for his reelection [duh…..] and the ‘Jewish Donors” (??) would be ‘aroused’ if Johnson would accuse Israel of attacking the Liberty. No evidence presented, of course.

              I hope this will help you to view the Al Jazeera ‘documentary’ a bit more critically, now you know that it is produced by people with a history of seeing Jewish conspiracies around every corner; or even to identify the ‘lens’ through which the information is projected, as Brotherton calls it.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2016-03-04 22:18:05 UTC - 22:18 | Permalink

                I think you are bypassing the theme in my two posts on this topic and what I have said in my own comments — including the point I made about the video and the reasons for the debate about the evidence. The subtext here is Israel, not conspiracy theories.

          • Neil Godfrey
            2016-03-01 03:30:14 UTC - 03:30 | Permalink

            It looks to me like you are disagreeing over the interpretation of the evidence. That’s a very different exercise from suggesting there is “anomaly hunting” at work. There is nothing in the argument that is “undiscovered” — it is entirely about interpretation of the data. There is no body of faceless conspirators hidden behind some Zionist elders/bankers/rulers pulling the strings etc. By your own interpretation of “nothing is as it seems” and “everything is under control” I cannot see how you could possibly argue for any conspiracy at all — I mean the mundane real ones we all know about. The way you use these labels would deny any conspiracies happen at all.

            I am quite open to being proven wrong. As mentioned, it never crossed my mind for years that there was anything deliberate about it. So I don’t see how your “heads I win, tails you lose” applies, either.

            Mearsheimer and Walt write in the acclaimed scholarly study (NOT a conspiracy theory work), The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy:

            Israel has long claimed that the attack was an accident based on mistaken identification, and it apologized to the United States and paid some $13 million in compensation. Survivors of the attack, other U.S. naval officers, and a number of U.S. officials (including CIA Director Richard Helms and Secretary of State Dean Rusk) believed the attack was deliberate, and proponents of this view also claim that the subsequent investigations were cursory and incomplete. Other commentators defend Israel’s version of the incident and regard it as a regrettable mishap. For different accounts, see James Bradford, Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra Secret National Security Agency (New York: Random House, 2002); A. Jay Cristol, The Liberty Incident: The 1967 Attack on the U.S. Navy Ship (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2003); James M. Ennes Jr., Assault on the Liberty: The True Story of an Israeli Attack on an American Intelligence Ship (Gaithersburg, MD: Reintree Press, 2003); Oren, Six Days of War, 263-71; and Segev, 1967, 386.

            Are you prepared to admit the possibility that there really does exist a reasonable alternative interpretation of the evidence even if you disagree with that interpretation? Or is it inconceivable to you that Israel or the U.S. or a mostly white Commonwealth nation could ever deliberately commit the kind of atrocity that I think it was? Does it sound to you that anyone suggesting such a possibility belongs to a “black arm band” view of history and must necessarily have some agenda against any of those nations?

            • Bob de Jong
              2016-03-04 17:45:13 UTC - 17:45 | Permalink

              The key word is ‘evidence’. Evidence can show that there is/was a conspiracy; lacking evidence, we only have a Conspiracy Vision.

              In Conspiracy Vision cases, there is usually talk of ‘newly discovered documents’ that no one has seen, new ‘video or audio tapes’ of completely unknown origin, alleged private statements by – often- deceased people (so they can’t be denied or confirmed). This Al Jazeera documentary is rife with the latter kind of pseudo-evidence. No individual piece of ‘evidence’ stands up to scrutiny, but as a total it gives the impression of solid proof.

              Of course, if solid evidence of a conspiracy would surface, I would change my mind. For now, the most plausible explanation, that is consistent with all the real evidence, is a friendly fire incident.

              NB: By conspiracy, I think of 2 aspects: a) that he Israeli deliberately attacked an American ship, and b) that Johnson covered it up because the Jewish Lobby blackmailed him.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2016-03-04 22:21:40 UTC - 22:21 | Permalink

                You seem to be overlooking that key point I have made about that evidence. It does not rest upon a single internet video. Scholars have room for discussion here. And the discussion comes down, it seems to me, to political partisanship. Anyone who criticises Israel in a serious way is considered an Israel hater. That’s the subtext.

                My position is that it is not a bad idea to apply the same standards of analysis and evaluations of actions to all nations — and not a priori to grant “exceptional” moral superiority to ourselves and friends.

        • Bee
          2016-03-01 05:32:00 UTC - 05:32 | Permalink

          Sometimes it’s accidental. Often 1) it is hard for allies to identify local hidden intelligences friendlies.

          Though 2) I seem to recall that when some Americans began a few years ago to supply humanitarian aid to Palestinians, they were roughly treated at first. Treated provisionally as simply, an enemy.

          Likely this was due just to local low-level military though; not directions from the Knesset or the Israeli prime minister.

          In any case, due to the bad name that the word “conspiracies” has, I think I’d just never use the word, even when it seems appropriate.

          • Bee
            2016-03-01 05:33:28 UTC - 05:33 | Permalink

            It’s too easy for people to quote out of context.

  • Scot Griffin
    2016-02-22 02:22:25 UTC - 02:22 | Permalink

    Thanks for this. I look forward to when you finish the book and boil everything down to its essence. I think the emphasis on the primacy or lack of evidence as demarcating what is (and what is not) properly viewed as a conspiracy theory is probably right.

    • Bee
      2016-02-22 10:49:21 UTC - 10:49 | Permalink

      Probably people should not obsessively and with conviction, speak of something as a “conspiracy,” if there is no evidence.

  • 2016-02-22 15:03:31 UTC - 15:03 | Permalink

    The type of argument that is being set forth above is one that tries to make an “ism” out of one or more accusations or theories. It then engages in a kind of ad hominem attack against everyone infected by the “ism.” People like Prof. Robt. Dallek, for example, dismiss everyone who doubts the findings of the Warren Commission as suffering from a weak mind, incapable of believing that one lone gunman was responsible for killing JFK. Supposedly, I would share this trait with people like Bertrand Russell. It’s complete propaganda and nonsense. Conspiracy simply means two or more people agree to commit a crime acting in concert. It happens all the time. The autopsy on JFK was illegal, as Warren Commission attorney Howard Willens admitted to me on June 6, 2014 at a continuing legal education program in Columbus, Ohio. Since Oswald was in the Dallas jail at the time of the illegal autopsy, one is left to conclude that he was not responsible for it, and that others must have felt the compelling need to break the law in order to perform an illegal autopsy, for reasons which must be considered in the light of all the other evidence, which is overwhelming. On the other hand, there are people who see conspiracies everywhere, and they infect the internet like lice. Whether knowingly or not, they assist those who have an interest in laying out red herrings. Here’s an example of a red herring approach. When Howard Willens said at the June 6, 2014 program that E. Howard Hunt had never talked, I asked if he had not heard Hunt’s deathbed confession (which you can see on youtube). His first response was to smile and ask, “How many deathbed confessions were there?”

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-02-22 18:49:26 UTC - 18:49 | Permalink

      This post is a selection of content for my own purposes and does not reflect the general thrust of Brotherton’s psychological study. In the first of this series I endeavoured to point out that the author is addressing what we popularly refer to derogatorily as “conspiracy theory” and his larger aim is to demonstrate how we all share the mental makeup that lies behind this sort of thinking. He is at pains to point out that there are indeed real conspiracies everywhere. He reminds us also that some highly reputable public figures in our midst have espoused “conspiracy theory” thinking in relation to 9/11, for example, indicating that we are not dealing with “weak-mindedness” — but that such negative stereotypes of the “conspiracy theory” thinker are are the more cerebral equivalent of physical assaults or swearing. They are not the reality.

      • Bee
        2016-02-22 19:14:53 UTC - 19:14 | Permalink

        Your examination of good and bad things in those who look for conspiracies, should be a useful first step in trying to separate the wheat from the straw. The sheep from the goats.

        • Bee
          2016-02-22 19:18:00 UTC - 19:18 | Permalink

          The distinction between uncritical rhetoric, and the search for evidence, will of course help.

          • Bee
            2016-02-22 19:30:54 UTC - 19:30 | Permalink

            Acknowledging that we should not always entirely reject all those who ever talk of conspiracy” entirely, is also very useful.

            In fact, American law acknowledges that there have been say, “price-fixing” and criminal and political conspiracies, and so forth.

            Probably to be sure, looking at conspiracies will continue to have such a bad name nevertheless, that it would be better not to dwell on this for more than one post, or two. But enough has been said to adequately remind us that in general, we should not be entirely and automatically dismissive if the subject comes up, in secondary discussions.

      • proudfootz
        2016-02-23 14:36:18 UTC - 14:36 | Permalink

        It is definitely a good thing to keep in mind that a conspiracy theory is not necessarily an extraordinary claim. It might be difficult to prove in a court of law, yet people are convicted of conspiracies in legal proceedings all over the globe. The devil is in the details.

        Of course, as social animals being able to read the behaviors of our fellow creatures seems perfectly normal and even necessary, and suspecting cooperation in achieving goals will always be an aspect that cannot be arbitrarily dismissed out of hand. Clearly it would be in our interest to be able to recognize collusive patterns of behavior.

        The derogatory meaning attached to the term has become distressingly common. I often see ‘historical Jesus’ apologists refer to ‘Jesus mythicism’ as a ‘conspiracy theory’ to conveniently dismiss the topic without discussion. They would suggest that there is something wrong with critics of the conventional views of Jesus, whose bias is a lens that distorts their perception, and who engage in ‘anomaly hunting’.

        Certainly some hypotheses regarding 9/11 may be rather dubious, and some hypotheses regarding Jesus as a literary construct might also give us pause. For my own part, authors who seem to uncritically lump a wide variety of theories together are doing a great disservice.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2016-02-23 20:29:11 UTC - 20:29 | Permalink

          Agreed, conspiracies are everywhere and most of them quite mundane. My post only wanted to draw attention to one detail. See my previous post on this book for more about the context and what interests the author about the term “conspiracy theory”: http://vridar.org/2016/02/18/the-conspiracist-style/

          • proudfootz
            2016-02-24 00:52:48 UTC - 00:52 | Permalink

            Thanks!

  • Greg Pandatshang
    2016-02-22 19:28:38 UTC - 19:28 | Permalink

    The JFK assassination is an unusual social phenomenon, because typically “conspiracy theories” are in opposition to the conventional wisdom, but in the case of Dealey Plaza, the belief that there was some kind of secret conspiracy is so widespread that it essentially is the conventional wisdom.

  • proudfootz
    2016-02-23 15:24:25 UTC - 15:24 | Permalink

    It’s troublesome to see that the book under discussion here seems to approvingly cite Jonathan Kay’s book ‘Among the Truthers’.

    A discussion of some of the deficiencies of the book can be found here:

    http://911debunkers.blogspot.com/2011/05/truth-is-in-details-jon.html

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-02-23 20:30:14 UTC - 20:30 | Permalink

      Brotherton only cites an illustration sourced to Kay’s book. Nothing more.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2016-03-01 07:24:51 UTC - 07:24 | Permalink

    In the first post on Brotheron’s book I quoted the following excerpt:

    “If you’re in a faculty club or an editorial office, where you’re more polite— there’s a collection of phrases that can be used which are the intellectual equivalent of four-letter words and tantrums. One of them is ‘conspiracy theory.”

    Cristol’s book has been cited a few times, including by myself. Cristol uses the term “conspiracy theory” or “conspiracy theories” 31 times in his book to attack alternative interpretations of the evidence. The term is used to prejudice the reader against the view he opposes by means other than straightforward argument.

    When different interpretations of the same evidence results in one side using pejorative labels of the other side’s viewpoint then we are not discussing the characteristics of Brotherton’s “conspiratorial style”. Conspiracy theory is about much more than a localised event that is seen by nobody as part of a much larger pattern of activity masterminded by some hidden manipulators. No-one is suggesting the USS Liberty attack is anything like that. Recall the difference between mundane political conspiracies which do happen and of which history is replete and conspiracy theories.

    It may be instructive that some of those who resort to the argument as a conspiracy theory in this instance also appear to suggest criticism of Israel is a symptom of anti-semitism. Labeling the argument and the person are not particularly conducive to constructive exploration of the evidence.

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