What is the conspiracy theory, anyway? How do we define it in theory? How would we define it in real life? Well, let's break it down. What's a conspiracy? A secret plan made by two or more people to do something that is harmful or illegal, or both. First, it's going to be secret. Second, it's going to be a plan. It can't just be some spontaneous thing. It has to have been mapped out, made on the hush. Third, to plan to do something. It can't just be a secret discussion or secret game of risk or monopoly or something, there has to be some intent to act. Forth, the action has to be harmful or illegal, or even both. Now, we have a conventional definition of a conspiracy, but to theory, Webster's Dictionary defines it as follows "An idea that is suggested or presented as possibly true, but that is not known or proven to be true.'' A conspiracy theory is, depositing of a conspiracy presented as possibly true that is not yet proven to be true. Well, in my opinion, not only is this a good definition for a conspiracy theory, but it's a defense of conspiracy theories. There's nothing wrong with this. There's nothing wrong with positing the possibility of a conspiracy while acknowledging that one does not yet have sufficient evidence to convincingly make the case that it really happened. There's nothing wrong with saying I think that there's a possibility that in 1979, Ronald Reagan's campaign team secretly communicated with the Iranian government to get Iran not to release the American hostages because Reagan's staff wanted Iran to do the release after the November elections so that Jimmy Carter could not take credit for the release. There's nothing wrong with saying that as long as you acknowledge that you don't have sufficient evidence to prove that it happened and you don't go around suggesting that it happened anyway. There's the rub, as Shakespeare would put it. Most conspiracy theorists and their supporters can't resist taking that irresponsible leap. They can't resist saying the conspiracy happened before they've really proven it did. They want dessert before dinner. They want to take it to Disneyland now before they paid for it. They want to snack on the chest nut dressing before the Turkey is done. They want to go to heaven, but they don't want to die first. What they do is they come up with a whole lot of elaborate shortcuts that are designed to make it look like they figured everything out when in fact, they haven't. But the hope is that if they throw a whole lot of stuff on the dinner table, maybe nobody or relatively few people will notice that the main course hasn't actually arrived. The result is my urban dictionary derogatory definition of a conspiracy theory. A conspiracy theory in the negative sense is a theoretical conspiracy that is claimed as that without sufficient proof. To make this conspiracy seem plausible, the conspiracy theorist is a host of logical fallacy tools in it's conspiracy kit. Let's go through some of them. First, the conspiracy theorists resorts to the granddaddy of logical fallacies, the fallacy fallacy. The conspiracy theorist goes after the master narrative, the mainstream explanation for some event that has taken place. The official version of what happened and finds flaws or perceived flaws, then claims that because of those flaws, the final argument of the master narrative must be false. The two principal targets of this logical fallacy in my lifetime, had been the Warren Commission Report on the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the 9/11 Commission Report. The alleged errors in these reports had been explored and infinite them. Why did Kennedy fall this way instead of that way after he had been shot? Why did people run this way rather than that way after he'd been shot? But the suspected errors themselves do not prove that the CIA or President Lyndon Johnson or President Richard Nixon killed Kennedy or that Vice President Dick Cheney masterminded a cruise missile attack on the Pentagon on September 11th. Second, comes the ad hominem attacks, assaults on the integrity of the authors of the master narrative. For example, one of the individuals who sat on the Warren Commission was Allen Dulles, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency. Allen Dulles was in my opinion, a very bad man who presided over many illegal and immoral CIA campaigns. But that itself doesn't prove that the Warren Commission was wrong, that Lee Harvey Oswald was the single shooter. Third comes appeals to authority. Many Kennedy conspiracy both cite the fact that Charles de Gaulle, legendary leader of France, opined that Kennedy's assassination was a conspiracy. Charles de Gaulle was a very important historical person. But that doesn't prove that Kennedy's assassination was a conspiracy. It just proves that Charles de Gaulle said something. Fourth comes the Bandwagon logical fallacy. Lots of people think the Kennedy assassination was a conspiracy, but that doesn't prove the Kennedy assassination was conspiracy. It just proves it lots of people think the Kennedy assassination was, as I just said, a conspiracy. Fifth comes the black or white logical fallacy. The black or white fallacy suggests there are only two ways of thinking about this problem; the master narrative's way of thinking about it or the conspiracy theorists usually elaborate scenario. Other possibilities are never considered. Sixth, conspiracy theorists emphasize the burden of proof fallacy. It's up to the government to prove that it's bogus master narrative claims are true. It's not up to the conspiracy theorists to prove that his or her claims are true, usually because the conspiracy theorists claims that lots of evidence has been suppressed. There needs to be another investigation that will know what really happened. Generation after generation of Kennedy's assassination books have made this claim release the documents and you'll see there was a congressional inquiry in the 1970s, it resolved nothing. Tons of documents were released in the 1990s, they resolve nothing. More conspiracy books came out. We've got a pile of additional documents now. A whole bunch recently released even some conspiracy theorists say they don't add up to much. Ironically, often the conspiracy theorists rests their case not on what they know, but what they don't know. Seventh and finally, the conspiracy theorist rest this case on the appeal to emotion fallacy. This conspiracy is true because if it's true, it changes everything. The man you've always hated will go down. The truth will be revealed. Democracy will be restored and at last, we will all be free. But is that true? In the early 1970s, it was revealed that the President of the United States was part of a cover up of criminal behavior and his administration. What happened next? He resigned, the next president pardoned him. There was some hearings of reforms, but what happened after that? Well, people started listening to disco and wearing a leisure suits, then in the late 1980s, it was revealed that the White House had lied to Congress and illegally sold arm to the Iranians to raise cash for the Nicaraguan gorillas intent on violently overthrowing their government. What happened next? The President said, "Gosh, that's bad. Some of his aides resigned. There was a congressional hearing and somebody had a trial. I started watching MTV a lot. Ironically, by the Iran-Contra scandal, so many Americans had become convinced that conspiracies are the normal course of how the government runs itself that it didn't get very upset at the Iran-Contra revelations. Reagan finished his second term and the American people elected George H. W. Bush President of the United States. He, Reagan's Vice President and before that the Head of the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA. One of the points that many critics of conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists make, is that this way of thinking about the world tends to reduce all political activity to exposing secret gumballs, plots in dark alleys to the detriment of thinking about the more obvious and intractable problems the US stasis, like inequality due to racism, sexism, and economic inequality. The bottom line is that conspiracism, if you want to call it that, not only doesn't encourage thinking along those lines, in fact, it often discourages civic involvement. People who believe in conspiracy theories often think why bother getting involved the fix is in? What's the point of trying to fight the system anyway? But to be fair to conspiracy theorists, the problem with skeptics of conspiracy theories is they often glaze over an important point. Conspiracies actually happen. Sometimes the conspiracy theorists are right. The old adage, just because you're a paranoid, doesn't mean that they aren't out to get you is sometimes true. The history of the United States in the 20th Century is the history of government conspiracies. CIA conspiracies against countries like Guatemala and Iran in the 1950s, FBI conspiracies against civil rights activists and student radicals in the 1960s. The next question becomes how do you tell the real conspiracies from the yet to be proven ones?