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On Conspiracy Theories

I’ve often ranted myself about libertarian cranks and nuts, conspiracy theories and the like. One of my favorite analyses is that by Brian Doherty in Reason (see The Worst of the Supreme Court, which links to Doherty’s It’s So Simple, It’s Ridiculous”; also and Five Reasons You Don’t Owe Income Tax, Dammit!) — he gives a nice analysis of the income tax protestor nuts:

The tax honesty movement’s vision of the world is fantastical in another way. It is not merely obsessed with continuity; it is magical in a traditional sense. It’s devoted to the belief that the secret forces of the universe can be bound by verbal formulas if delivered with the proper ritual.

In a debate with other libertarians, we discussed the issue of conspiracy theories. Some conspiracy theories are sensible, e.g. those having to do with the rise of the Fed and the influence of certain interested parties. I suppose what we are really criticizing are crackpot theories. Which conspiracy theories are crackpot, and which are not? It’s hard to say ahead of time, but usually you know it when you see it.

Anyway, two recent pieces critical of conspiracy theorizing, one by Objectivist Robert Bidinotto, A rant against conspiracy theories [original gone; some excerpts here]; one by Catholic Ed Feser: We the Sheeple? Why Conspiracy Theories Persist.

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{ 10 comments… add one }
  • wirkman virkkala April 3, 2010, 4:24 pm

    I’m treading familiar ground here when I say that a fondness for conspiracy theories feeds off two well-known elements from our Stone Age brains:

    1. The belief that any order must be an intended order – thus ignoring all invisible hand processes, accident, and chance; and

    2. The suspicion against the Other, particularly the Organized Other, which derives from our strong, tribal propensity to bolster in-group love and loyalty with out-group hate and warfare.

    People who like conspiracy theories see them “everywhere” because they just don’t believe in accidents and random coincidences (“there are no coincidences” is even a spiritual maxim of our time) or in emergent order and subtle co-ordination without explicit co-operation.

  • Nästa gÃ¥ng February 29, 2012, 3:25 am

    When I initially commented I clicked the -Notify me if new comments are added – checkbox and here if a comment is added I receive four messages with the similar comment. Will there be any way you can take out me from that service? Thanks!

  • Anonymous June 26, 2012, 3:05 am

    This post is severely lacking in content, like many other posts on this site. Which prompts the question: Why was it written to begin with? To waste memory on a server? Or to make the author feel superior to others? Much of the snobbery I find on this site is consistent with what I found among college students in my earlier years. The “if it’s not in a textbook, it must not be true” mentality desperately needs to go the way of the dodo.

    Name-calling is the mark of someone who has nothing worthwhile to contribute. Here, one is labeled a “crackpot” or a “nut” when the conspiracy theories he or she favors don’t parallel that of the author’s. Am I only allowed to believe in conspiracies about the Federal Reserve? Mr. Kinsella, who died and made you the gatekeeper of Truth?

    This is nothing more than a feel-good blog. Posting rants next to pictures of yourself traveling around the world, skiing and drinking wine in your fancy suit- I bet it makes your ego feel warm & cozy. If this is the result of your pricy education, sir, you’d do well to ask for a refund.

  • spiritsplice June 26, 2012, 10:41 am

    Did you seriously just resort to the, “I’ll know it when I see it” argument? And after just admitting that you rarely can tell the difference?

    Anons post was right on, on this one.

    I think you pooh pooh a lot of conspiracies that aren’t acknowledged as mainstream because you are afraid of the implications they portend. I also think you know better.

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