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What are Conspiracy Theories?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 16, 2024
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Conspiracy theories are used as an attempt to make sense of an event that has happened. The event is usually a major political, historical or social event. It is what lies behind the theories that interests people the most. According to theorists, the perpetrator of the event is usually a secret organization or a powerful person. These ideas are often dismissed with claims of paranoia and can be likened to urban legends.

Theories about conspiracies have been of interest to psychologists, sociologists and folklore experts since the 1960s. The assassination of President Kennedy attracted a deluge of speculation around his death. There are still questions today surrounding the real culprits behind the assassination.

Conspiracy theories are thought to be a human condition. When events have a significant impact on our lives, we try and make sense of those events in a spiritual, political, moral or scientific way. Events that seem to be inexplicable inspire us to look harder for the reason behind them until we are satisfied. Many psychologists believe that a person who believes in one conspiracy theory will also believe in others.

Often, these theories are linked with paranoia. Paranoia is said to be an animal's ability to spot danger. Such an ability is valuable in order to read other's hidden intentions and to be able to predict future behavior. If there were a malfunction in this ability, then the result might be that the animal sees danger everywhere. This may be the case with a conspiracy theorist, who may simply have a malfunction in his evolutionary psychology.

Conspiracy theories exhibit several features. They can build up over time, as theories are expanded on and more people add their own opinions to them. They can involve just about anybody, and as the arguments and counter arguments grow, so does the conspiracy. Theories about such events as the Kennedy assassination are known the world over. They have been made into films and books, and the actual culprit may have been swamped and lost under the weight of such theories.

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Discussion Comments
By anon962884 — On Jul 26, 2014

Yes - North Korea and the Mideastern terrorist organizations would like nothing better than to take over the world.

By believei — On Apr 05, 2012

I do not agree with the Wisegeek's theory of Conspiracy. The fact is that Good versus Evil.

Evil has always conspired to destroy good.

Many make fun of me and some of my friends and family for believing there is a conspiracy by evil to overthrow our government when past history proves it is fact. Taking God and what is good, right and honest out of our country will destroy it.

Many do not believe the Bible in its prediction of the last great war between good and evil and the destruction of the earth because of its sin and the beginning of a new one where only good resides.

Evil (Satan) is jealous and hates good. Satan uses the evil in people to achieve power to try and destroy God.

The Bible's predictions have always been true. The Old and New Testaments predict a great war between good and evil. No matter which name they call themselves: Illuminati, Bilderbergers, socialism, communism -- if they are against God then they are in conspiracy to destroy God and his followers.

The very belief of a Christian condemns wrong and wrong does not like to be condemned.

By TrogJoe19 — On Feb 03, 2011

There seem to be a lot of common 9/11 conspiracy theories which demonize President Bush. These theories are especially common among uneducated crowds who may have little access to the outside media. It is unfortunate to see that so many people fall prey to conspiracy theories and urban legends, even in the age of a verifiable internet. If you want to know if something is true, you can often find out for yourself by just doing a little digging.

By BigBloom — On Jan 31, 2011

@anon50159

This seems to be a rather minimalist definition of conspiracy theory, reducing the concept down to the definition inherent in the words "conspiracy" and "theory," rather than the more common definition of what a conspiracy theory really is. Conspiracy theory forms a unique concept which is normally tied to major historical events. So, in the case of "Christians" who claim that Jesus was killed by the Jews (I am a Christian who does not believe this, by the way, we know he was killed by a diverse group), you could say that that is a conspiracy theory. If I think my neighbors Chuck and Brian were smoking illegal Cuban cigars in the shed last week, that is not a conspiracy theory, it's just a hunch. Interesting thoughts though.

By anon50159 — On Oct 26, 2009

Now that Wisegeek has provided an emotionally biased explication of conspiracy theory, allow me to provided the actual definition.

A conspiracy theory is a theory in which 2 or more persons conspired to commit an illegal act. If you know of a case where two or more persons agreed to do anything that is by definition, illegal then you have a conspiracy theory. The illegal act does not have to be connected to some major historical event or person to be a conspiracy theory although this is a popular use of the term, even though it is technically inaccurate.

The common association of conspiracy theory with only those things that are outrageous or generally seen to be ridiculous is due more to a deliberate attempt by some and an unconscious act by others, to dismiss a explanation or proposition made that disagrees with that personal, religious or social belief system. If you are a practicing Christian then your claim that Jesus Christ was killed by the Jews could be easily dismissed by a non-Christian as nothing but an age-old conspiracy theory that has been going around since before the Bible was written. Today, some Arab based peoples are labeling the Jewish Holocaust under the direction of Hitler as nothing more than a conspiracy theory. As you can see, the term is often used improperly to elicit an emotional response while dismissing a point of view in a way that makes any counter argument seem hateful, uneducated or just inconsiderate of others.

If you know or believe but cannot prove that two or more persons you know or know of have committed any of the following, then by definition you have a conspiracy theory and are therefore a conspiracy theorist even if you don’t believe in aliens.

Copy a DVD, CD or other legally copyrighted media content.

Obtain and or use without payment for said use, any service or utility including cable, water, newspaper delivery, etc.

Ride in a vehicle that is in excess of the posted speed limit.

Purchased a controlled substance (alcohol, tobacco, etc.) for a minor.

Bet you didn’t realize you were a conspiracy theorist, eh?

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