Questionable Motives

December 21, 2009

What are the tell-tale signs of someone promoting a conspiracy theory?

Many of us, of course, are not believers but simply find ourselves confronted at a dinner party by the man who just knows the “real story,” and has arrived armed with his killer facts and certainty. You on the other hand, have nothing but your instinct for nonsense. So, for everyone who has been, or will be, in that woeful position, I offer this short guide to how conspiracy theories work, the better to rebut them. (From the article here, I summarize the following)

These are the characteristics that help conspiracy theorists convince otherwise intelligent people of deeply unintelligent things.

1) Appeal to precedence… it’s happened before so it can happen again!

2) Self-heroization… part of a brave insurgency against a corrupt elite or a stifling orthodoxy

3) Contempt for the foolish masses… unlike the majority who are ‘robots’ and ‘sheep’, the conspiracy buff is individually in possession of an unusual and perceptive way of looking at things.

4) A willingness to ask questions… in which the theorist is “only asking questions” about the official version of the truth.

5) Respecting the experts… notably inflating the status and expertise of anyone who agrees with the conspiratorialists.

6) Death by footnote… the use of apparently scholarly ways of laying out arguments while cross-citing other conspiracy advocates.

7) techno-jargon… liberal use of strange words that give the appearance of recent contact of spies, generals or scientists in the know.

8) circularity in logic… embarrassing and obvious problems in the theory may be ascribed to deliberate disinformation originating with the imagined plotters designed to throw activists off the scent.

9) the hydra factor… if one tackles one particular claim, it simply doesn’t count: another claim is immediately brought to the fore in an endless chain of ‘mounting’ evidence.

10) the danger of telling the ‘truth’… shadowy powers threaten the bold conspiracy supporters without ever actually harming them.

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