Next time someone dismisses you as a “conspiracy theorist”, ask them what they think a conspiracy is. If they’re smart they’ll tell you “an agreement to perform an illegal, wrongful, or subversive act.” Throughout all of human history powerful people have organized immoral events to consolidate their power. So why is this phrase now associated with paranoid crackpots? A myriad of reasons, but let’s start at the beginning.
In the mid-1960s, coincidentally around the time alphabet soup agencies began acquiring power beyond that of existing legal systems, the phrase acquired a derogatory meaning. Ridicule has always been an effective means of silencing dissent. I personally believe that this was a social manipulation tool necessary to quiet those who believed JFK was assassinated by the US government. Regardless of what actually happened, prior to JFK’s assassination conspiracy was a neutral term. When people who saw something fishy about the whole event (most of America at the time according to a Gallup poll) cried conspiracy, the people running the media emphasized the crazier people while downplaying the rest. This caused a snowball effect.
As the seventies and eighties progressed, “conspiracy theories” became something discussed in basements in hushed tones. If you were too outspoken others either viewed you as a moron or someone who hates America. The more the word “conspiracy” was marginalized, the more marginalized groups began to embrace the term. It ended up being a self-fulfilling prophecy for the most part, although disinformation campaigns sealed the deal. The crazy people wore their tin foil hats with pride and the sane people kept their mouths shut. Most other people were occupied with the cultural explosion of sex, drugs, media, and technology.
What changed in the nineties? A network was developed that gave people around the world access to all known information at the speed of light: the internet. Now instead of having to requisition official government documents, study book upon book in a library, and possibly even travel to the next state over to obtain more information, all claims made could be easily verified with a couple of clicks. Most relevant information was consolidated by the few intrepid souls who actually did all the legwork required before the internet. At this point however, even fewer people cared. Due to the positive economic and social climate at the time, even conspiracy theorists began to tone down their rhetoric. Until, of course, 9/11.
This time when folks demanded there be a more extensive investigation into a tragedy under grounds of suspected conspiracy, they were dismissed as “truthers.” Think about that for a second. Media and by extension society itself twisted the connotation of a word that means “one who seeks the truth” to be negative. This is a grade above what happened to the phrase “conspiracy theorist.” Conspiracy theorist was once a neutral term that had a closer connotation to “skeptic.” Truther actually should be a positive term.
It gets worse than blatant double-speak though. The media has been ramping up the anti-conspiracy theorist rhetoric as of late. Society is not as sunny as it was in the eighties and nineties. Millions are unemployed, have doubts about the future, and are actively seeking answers to what went wrong. Information leakers and the internet have allowed the curtain to be drawn back. The men behind the curtain have been revealed and it turns out they were conspiring against us this whole time.
So what can we do? I say fight fire with fire. The powers that be manipulated the English language to serve their own ends. Outside of making certain words illegal, there is nothing they can do to stop us from doing the same thing. The problem right now is that whenever you refer to something as a conspiracy theory most people will automatically shut you out. It doesn’t matter how many sources you have, or even what is actually going on: many people dismiss uncomfortable truths as conspiracy theories. When you refer to it as such that only reinforces their subconscious defense system. We need a different word to describe what we’re talking about.
I propose “scandal.” That’s what mainstream sources call conspiracies now anyway. The LIBOR conspiracy to rig global financial markets? It’s called the LIBOR scandal. High level government employees spying on others (in 1970)? It’s called the Watergate scandal. The ATF conspiring with Mexican drug cartels to provide them with guns? It’s called the Fast & Furious scandal. Even the most short-sighted, tabloid-reading, reality-TV watching person seems to care about “scandals.” Only when enough people are on the same page can we begin fixing the problems we see permeating society and hopefully avert another world war.
Remember, you’re not a conspiracy theorist, you’re a person who is interested in current events and, like everyone else, you have theories about why stuff happened.
By: Austin Capobianco