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What Is Conspiracism?

In the past two centuries, and particularly in the last 50 years or so, people the world over have embraced conspiracism. When we refer to a conspiracy, we mean an honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned conspiracy, as defined by the dictionary — a plot by some dark and nefarious characters to do something sinister or evil.

In its milder forms, conspiracism isn't too bad. You know what we mean — the kind of guy who's perfectly sane, yet he's absolutely convinced that the price of everything he buys is controlled by some tiny cartel of bankers in New York or Geneva. Or maybe he thinks that the United Nations wants to take over the U.S. government. Or that National Security Agency spies are tracking his movements through a microchip in his neck inserted when he had his tonsils out.

The problem is that, as this sort of thinking has become more and more common, it's spawned a new sort of social commentator and a new sort of world view, seeing every major world event through the dark filter of conspiracism.

The universe of conspiracism isn't a random place where things happen for no reason. As Michael Barkun puts it in his book, A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America:

  • Nothing happens by accident: Everything that happens in the world is intentional, by someone's (or something's) Grand Design.
  • Nothing is as it seems: Whoever or whatever is in control disguises their role and their identity. In fact, they go out of their way to look innocent, deflect blame, or just plain hide.
  • Everything is connected: Because of an intricate, evil design that allows for no accidents, there's no such thing as a coincidence, and the patterns of evil forces are all interconnected with each other. Therefore, the right type of person can see these patterns of numbers, designs, events, or activities everywhere, once they know what to look for.

This last bit is important because, in most conspiracy theories, a thread of insistence exists that only certain, truly enlightened people can see the truth behind the secret plots. Most conspiracies are, so the thinking goes, invisible to the vast majority of sheeplike citizens who go grazing through the pasture of life, never suspecting the evil wolves lurking behind the rocks of everyday occurrences.

In a way, conspiracism can be comforting to true believers because it removes the scary notion of randomness from the universe. For some, conspiracies can seem like an extension of religious faith, with God and Satan locked in a struggle for supremacy on Earth. In fact, many conspiracists are strongly connected to a belief in the coming of the end of the world. After a specific series of world events happens, these "millenialists" believe, those events will usher in Armageddon, the final battle between the forces of good and evil on Earth.

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