To complete this series on conspiracy theories and blogs, I’ve invited one of my dearest friends, Nancy Bixler, a public speaking teacher and doctoral candidate in Rhetoric, to help you learn how to develop your own conspiracy theory, or keep one going, on your blog. I chose her because she abhors bad reasoning, but enjoys explaining the inner workings of a good conspiracy theory. Nancy offers a three step plan for building your own conspiracy theory on your blog.
By Nancy Bixler
Do you want to put forward a conspiracy theory of your own on your blog? Perhaps you suspect that the CIA and U.S. government, in an unholy union with Muammar al-Qaddafi, are, for nefarious reasons of their own, raising the taxes of middle class U.S. citizens to fund AIDS research in Libya. Or that the Catholic Church, environmentalists, the PLO, or [fill in the blank] are working underground to [fill in the blank] put hallucinogens into the local water supply, make burping in public a capitol offense, or suppress a cure for warts. No doubt they have their methods and motives.
It’s your job, as a buddying conspiracy theorist, to find some troubling elements of life that, so far (in your opinion) lack an explanation and point out the ways the hidden conspirators plan to achieve their aim. With tongue firmly in cheek, let’s look at how to create a conspiracy theory, and if all else fails, you can make your own conspiracy theory with a conspiracy theory online.
1. Define Your Conspiracy Subject Matter
First, choose something people find puzzling. It’s no good providing a theory for something that is already sufficiently clear; conspiracy theories develop where people are mystified, not where curiosity is already appeased. If you believe that aliens abducted Elvis for their own evil purposes, it’s probably because his death seemed impossibly sudden and, therefore, incredible.
People have a built-in need to feel that there is sense in what happens in the world, and we’ll make a story for why events happen even where there isn’t sufficient evidence to really know. The clearer the events in the story, the better.
If you can’t understand why, with all your hard work, your small farm isn’t making enough money to support your family, you’ll be looking for reasons. International trade agreements, tax structures favoring corporate farming, and local laws on land development, waterways, flood management, and wildlife preservation are complex, interlocked, hard to understand, and harder to change. A ravening band of insane environmentalists aching to convert all farmland to human-free wetlands, however, has the virtue of simplicity. (The perpetrators can also be caught and summarily executed, a real plus for any conspiracy theory.)
Second, make sure what you choose to explain is significant to enough readers. Money, especially for those caught in the middle-class crunch of supporting their families, is a powerful motivator. So is fear.
Thousands living along the U.S. Gulf Coast feared hurricanes, but now they have a new respect for nature and the disaster it can bring. Hurricane Katrina triggered fear locally and nationally with the message: Nowhere is safe and help may not be there when you need it. Is the government and citizens ready for a category 5 hurricane to hit the Eastern Seaboard? What about a head-on collision with New York?
Building a good conspiracy theory is improved by taking it international. Don’t just think local. Think global. What’s the international connection to your local problem? Where are the links and pattern?
What if a foreign country had invented a new secret weather machine and a failure in the preliminary tests created the dramatic 2005 hurricane season which culminated in Katrina? What if they set it against the U.S. on purpose? Maybe Japan is behind the powerful weather machine, seeking revenge for Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Or the Russians? Maybe the machine was created as part of the effort to fight against or speed up global warming, and the flooding in New Orleans was just a taste of what’s to come when the oceans rise? Are we ready? Bad weather isn’t a local issue. If you can find a global angle, you will reach a wider audience with your conspiracy theory.
And don’t forget love as a powerful interest-getter and possible motivation. If Marilyn Monroe was your idol, you’re going to care whether she committed suicide or was murdered by government agents to protect her affair with President Kennedy from coming to light.
2. Identify The Agents Responsible For The Conspiracy
It’s normal and entirely human to long for someone to be responsible for the bad things in the world. After all, the alternative world view – that horrible events fall on us haphazardly and randomly – is hardly easy to live with. It’s a complicated, confusing world, and the need for scapegoats is rapidly outstripping the supply.
Let’s face it, explaining a sequence of events without laying blame is not only profoundly unsatisfying to many people, it’s just not a conspiracy theory. Let’s consider the siphoning off of local city water supplies by large corporations who sell bottled water. This is only a conspiracy theory if you hand the corporations a goal and a reason.
If you pick as the goal the total control of the U.S. water supply, then you must supply a motivation. Greed and power are always good. Perhaps your theory would claim that large corporations want to put us into the position of having to buy back our own water, thus gaining them more money and more control.
To enter the rarefied arena of the true crackpot, add that the corporations will then be in a position to [choose one]: ship all our water to Israel, take over the world, or add chemicals to the water that turns our daughters into lesbians. Now you have a conspiracy theory worthy of blogging.
So pick a villain or villains, and hand him/her/them a motive. Stretch out your imagination to encompass the unlikely. Who could possibly have benefited? What would it have gained them? Give consumers of your conspiracy theory a hat upon which to hang their angst.
3. Connect The Dots
It’s up to you to make the links between the phenomena (your topic, or what you are explaining) and the actors (those responsible for the conspiracy). You are, in effect, revealing what up to this point has been industriously hidden by the conspirators. If those powerful agents were really so powerful, this ought to be a tricky business. In fact, conspiracy theories are amazingly successful in producing just these links. Some brilliance must be going on – or some skulduggery.
As a public speaking teacher, I hope that all of you closely examine the evidence and reasoning for any theory you might consider or develop. In my admittedly spurious role as your conspiracy theory adviser, I can tell you that it pays you to recognize – and use – poor evidence and spurious reasoning. If you can find actual evidence of wrongdoing, you should make all you can of it, and possibly more.
Shouldn’t that video of the Saddam Hussein assassination have been released to the Internet more quickly? Conveniently overlooking the fact that evidence can be faked in advance, you can claim that that crucial gap provided the time to manufacture a faux execution video.
Don’t forget to connect the villains to the wrongdoing. The death of Princess Diana wounded many of the people who admired her as a fairy tale princess, a role model, an activist, an abandoned wife, and a beleaguered mother. How can you make the link to someone who might have benefited from her death? Did Prince Charles say anything on those wiretapped conversations to imply that he might want to be rid of his ex-wife? Are you sure?
If you can’t find evidence, though, you may well be able to do without it, using some time-honored techniques.
First, blacken any other theory out there by calling into question the evidence or the reasoning.
Evidence: Were there even tiny anomalies to be found in the photographs and film footage of the Kennedy assassination? Numerous people reported to the police and government about hearing multiple gun shots not coming from the building, but these were dismissed. There was only one assassin, they say. Couldn’t this indicate that the government was lying about the official story?
Reasoning: Numerous crop circles made at one time is just too much of a coincidence to believe. (Surely the mass arrival of aliens is more plausible.) If you can’t provide evidence that the the holocaust was a made-up event, slam the evidence that it ever existed. As a last resort, claim that no evidence for your theory is forthcoming because they are hiding it.
You can also choose to rely less on evidence than on testimony or story. If you can find one person who swears by your theory, people may be willing to believe that over evidence to the contrary.
A story in Rolling Stone magazine featured the son of a major Watergate figure, telling about how the jottings of his father on his deathbed revealed a connection between Lee Harvey Oswald (Kennedy’s assassin), the C.I.A., and Lyndon Johnson. What we ought to be doing is examining the evidence presented, but we may instead get caught up in trusting the source – and in the drama of a death bed confession.
One person with a vivid and detailed story to tell about being kidnapped by aliens – especially when it’s exotic, adventurous, scary, horrific, or sexy – may trump carefully reasoned explanations.
Furthermore, if the story sufficiently grabs our imagination, we may be willing to make leaps in our minds that are unjustified by the evidence at hand. Consider those stories of waking up in a hotel room in a bathtub of ice with your kidney gone. If you’re willing to believe in a few of these stories, you may make the mistake of thinking they’re widespread. Add money-hungry gangs of criminals (if possible, from a foreign race, to play into preconceived prejudices), and you’ve got a conspiracy theory.
Creating a Conspiracy Theory
Using these guidelines, let’s try a new theory on for size. I’ll set the foundation for the conspiracy.
Conspiracy Theory Subjects: The stars in our conspiracy theory drama are Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, two infamous celebrities with much in common: Sex idol status, failed relationships, drug use, and the questions about whether the final overdoses were accidental or purposeful. Add in Kurt Cobain, grunge/rock star, just to widen the theory.
Villains: Aliens? Foreign governments? Perhaps you would prefer the paparazzi?
Motive: Aliens or foreign governments could want to weaken the U.S. citizen’s spirit by removing their idols with the eventual goal of taking over the world? Paparazzi might need to create dramatic news for their papers so they can make more money?
Connecting the Dots: From here, it’s up to you to find what evidence you can, manufacture what you can’t, and talk around what’s missing. Don’t forget to find someone to swear by your theory, and to tell a good story.
Congratulations. You are now a conspiracy theorist. Now you can join the great cry of other conspiracy theorists: “Coincidence? I think not!”
More Conspiracy and Skeptic Resources
- Snopes: Get the Facts Behind the Hoaxes
- Urban Legends
- Web Browser Guide: Scams, Hoaxes, Rumor Mills, and Online Trash – Check the Facts
- Skeptic News
- Boston Globe – Conspiracy Theory Was Born In The Age Of Enlightenment And Has Metastasized In The Age Of The Internet. Why Won’t It Go Away?
- 2Spare – Top 10 Wackiest Conspiracy Theories
- The Conspirator’s Nest
- Pajamas Media
- Crooks and Liars
- Conspiracy Theory Tribe
- Tim Boucher – An Integral Approach to Conspiracy Theory
- Christian Science Monitor – On The Hunt For A Conspiracy Theory
- Lester Hunt – Conspiracy Theories – What’s Really Going On
- World Mysteries – The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories
- US News and World Report – Viewing 9/11 From a Grassy Knoll
- Popular Mechanics 2005 James Meigs – Debunking 9-11 Myths