7 – WHAT IS A CONSPIRACY THEORY?
A conspiracy theory is a structured body of hypotheses and arguments that are manipulated to support a narrative, ideology, or discourse to make it seem logical and consistent. The aim is to try and prove the existence of a small group of powerful people that are secretly planning illegal and harmful acts to influence the course of events.
Conspiracy theories claim that their goal is to expose the ‘truth’ and solve a ‘mystery’. In reality, though, they are usually a way of rejecting official discourse and ‘the system’, it is ‘contrarian’, defiant discourse. These theories adopt a view that is one-sided and simplistic (Good versus Evil) that disregards the world’s complexity.
Conspiracy theories generally emerge in the wake of major or traumatic events (attacks, accidents, wars, epidemics, economic crises) in order to give them a simple and satisfying explanation.
CASE IN POINT
Conspiracy theory example: The breakup of Yugoslavia
In the Balkans, there is a staggering variety of rumours circulating to explain the 1991 breakup of Yugoslavia. In many countries, there is a widespread myth that claims the breakup was the result of purposeful intervention by foreign powers. Some allege that the CIA continued to go after socialist regimes in the Balkans after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Others accuse Germany or the Vatican of allying themselves with the Croatian Catholic Church for various reasons. In this case, the conspiracy theories do the following:
- Explain the events in a manner that is simplistic, easy to understand, and acceptable to everyone.
- Present one’s own side as the victim of global and regional events, creating a sense of injustice and outrage.
- Blame major political events on external forces, absolving oneself of any and all responsibility.
In reality, historians say that, like most politico-historical events of this scale, the breakup of Yugoslavia was caused by a combination of factors, most of which were internal: the economic crisis that had been affecting the country since the second oil crisis of 1979, aggravated rivalries among the republics, etc.