John F. Kennedy’s assassination spawned one of the modern era’s earliest (and most long-lived) conspiracy theories. It wasn’t the first, however. Kennedy’s predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, produced an earlier theory when he warned of dangers presented by “the military-industrial complex.”
The media mechanisms weren’t yet in place to counter-punch with some story about Ike’s early onset dementia.
The dynamic has changed, however. Narrative managers now respond effectively to each new conspiracy …… creating intimidation. Therefore, unconventional ideas are introduced cautiously today, with the caveat: “I am NOT a conspiracy theorist, but ……”
Conspiracy theories are typically addressed on a case by case basis. A scenario gets floated. The credentialed class fights back. Meanwhile, the sheer quantity of allegations continues to grow …… Roswell. A Bilderberg cabal. The origins of 9/11. Obama’s birthplace. Q’Anon.
These conspiracies all have similar structures: each follows a pattern. For this reason, instead of looking into the specifics of any one belief, it’s more productive to assess the phenomenon as a whole. A “General Theory of Conspiracy” is required.
For example …… despite assertions that its believers are irrational, every alleged conspiracy involves logic: the weapons of choice are proof and disproof. This connection is significant because it indicates what’s missing from the discussion: conspiracies rarely involve questions of the conscience or the heart. Therefore, the combatants are aligned along the power axis …… the home of logic and reason.
Similarly, the lead suspects in any conspiracy theory are always entities that are intertwined with centralized power. Sometimes, particular individuals are alleged to be engaged in illicit activities, as in #ClintonBodyCount. More often, institutions like the CIA or FBI are accused of some cover-up. Other times, allegations focus on global collusion, like the World Economic Forum’s “Great Reset”.
In contrast, those who generate the theories typically come from nondescript origins. Alex Jones and Mark Dice are examples. (Ike is a possible counter-example to this pattern, though he was the last president to be a champion of the common citizen.)
Crucially, two opposed characteristics of the power axis are at the heart of these conflicts. First, the top pole always favors opacity. Its inhabitants believe information should be “classified.” Few participants are placed on the “need to know” list.
In contrast, a hallmark of the bottom pole is transparency. Its inhabitants believe that everyone should have access to all public information.
This explains why conspiracy theories have been more prevalent in recent decades. As power gets concentrated in fewer locations – like Wall Street, Washington, Silicon Valley, Beijing, and Brussels – information impacting the public good has become closely held. This causes commoners to connect dots where few are to be found. They try to figure out what’s going on …… and to spread the information.
The power axis separates two regions of reason. Both sides are logical, but they take opposite approaches to the sharing of public data. Conspiracy theorists might be wrong in some cases …… or many. But they’re not irrational. And neither are their opponents. Conspiracies are a battle of opacity versus transparency.