When reasoning ends, believing begins. In case, religion does not offer self-serving explanations, fantastic conspiracy theories come in handy. Like religion, conspiracy theories by over-simplifying complex political questions, save you the mental labour. Why, for instance, strain one’s nerves to understand Marx’s dull essays on economy to understand the current financial meltdown when we know ”Jewish bankers” have engineered this crisis.
No matter media savvy al-Qaida has never denied a hand in 9/11, on the contrary, Khaled Shaikh Mohammad confessed on Al-Jazeera regarding al-Qaida hand in 9/11, we in Pakistan (and perhaps across Muslim world) keep blaming the USA for plotting to attack itself.
Even Clinton-Lewinsky affair, according to Arab media, was a Jewish plot to teach White House a lesson for Clinton’s refusal to meet Netanyahu during a 1997 visit to the United States!
Such absurd conspiracy theorists may satisfy an emotional need but when they view everything secretly plotted by a clique, they in fact poison as well as trivialise the political culture. Not merely they marginalise informed analysis in public domain but also by articulating a necessary distance between ”the ruled” and ”the rulers,” conspiracy theorists draw on simplistic but dangerous interpretations of political orders.
A conspiracy theory presents political structures as inaccessible and impenetrable secret. It reduces the ”state structures”, even imperialism, to a supernatural power commanded by an ethnic/religious minority or social/political elite over ”the people” instead of focusing on the systematic exploitation of the oppressed through, for instance, control of the relations of production, media and institutions of indoctrination.
If one goes by conspiracy theories, a not-so-distinctive elite which is beyond anybody’s reach, exerts a complete control. This notion renders either an effective resistance impossible or necessitates desperate measures (suicide bombings, for instance). Hence,the logic of conspiracy theorists motivates us to keep interpreting (often-baseless)information rather than building unions, social movements, political parties.
No doubt, conspiracies are hatched in the contemporary political and economic orders. Yet, such strategies are merely mechanisms to a political end and do not constitute historical forces with real-world effects. Foreign covert actions by CIA (Iran 1953, Chile 1973, Pakistan 1977, Venezuela 2002 etc.), political assassinations (John. F. Kennedy, Olof Palme, Benazir Bhutto), subversion of democratic and revolutionary movements or domestic policies of covert surveillance and ”counter subversion” such as vote of no-confidence in 1989 against Benazir Bhutto’s government by Pakistan’s military intelligence, all such conspiracies have played important roles in twentieth-century history.
One can also not deny secretive alliances between private individuals or groups with shared class interests. Such alliances do enjoy more power than their numbers would allow them in a participatory democratic state. But such conspiracies constitute ONE not the ONLY strategy. A secretive minority is capable of ruling a majority partly because of conspiracies and secret alliances. But the strength of their power (rule) is structural and institutional injustices woven in the texture of the the system. The unequal distribution of power, capital, and resources does not constitute conspiracy. This is what we call capitalism (and imperialism when it comes to North-South disparity). Thus, the existence of governmental secrecy neither proves the existence of all-encompassing conspiracies nor provides a rationale for them. One need not assume that the state is the direct instrument of a hidden ruling class.
It is also important to note that conspiracy theories are often based on wrong or incomplete informations from dubious sources. Dependent on unnamed origins, untraceable data, anecdotal evidence, inadequate documentation for the evidence, a conspiracy theory makes broad claims while remaining speculative. Hence, it often draws attention away from better documented investigations of the role played by institutional structures in political, economic and environmental exploitation.
For instance, in a systematic way, Chomsky’s study of the Kennedy’s foreign policy record rejects simplistic conspiracy theories connecting his murder with Vietnam war. Using publicly available record, Chomsky attacks the notion that the assassination took place because of Kennedy’s desire to pull the American military out of Vietnam. Hence, his sane advice: ” The available facts, as usual, lead us to seek the institutional sources of policy decisions and their stability….People who wish to understand and change the world will do well, in my opinion, to pay attention to it, not to engage in groundless speculation as to what one or another leader might have done.”According to Chomsky, Kennedy’s foreign-policy record demonstrates a continuity with American Cold War militarism before and after his aborted presidency.
Conspiracy theories also give rise to racism as the blame always is laid on the door of a certain minority. It is a method looking for scapegoats. Similarly, it gives rise to personality cult. Since dominance is attributed to certain individuals, therefore, removing an individual or a secret group will transform society.
Last but not the least, conspiracy theories are often popular in societies where masses feel dis-empowered. This scribe has an impression that masses in Pakistan readily buy conspiracy theories spun by popular right-wing columnists and anchor-persons while in Sweden such theories in the first place, not only almost never find any space in the mainstream media but also hardly come up as an explanation in informal discussions. Interestingly, a recent TV programme found some 30 percent Swedish youth believing in conspiracy theories. Could it be because the youth has grown up when Swedish model was dismantling while the older generation has seen (as well as shaped) a benign Swedish state and feels empowered?