“Paranoia strikes deep. Into your heart it will creep. It starts when you’re always afraid. Step outta line, the man come and take you a-way.” — Buffalo Springfield, For What Its Worth, 1967.
I do not like the term conspiracy theory nor the attendant descriptor, conspiracy theorist. It is thoroughly imprecise and imprecision in thought leads invariably to imprecision in action. There are real conspiracies which do occur, quite frequently, in fact. For example, in the 90s, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith (ADL) orchestrated a wide-ranging spy ring to illegally observe thousands of American citizens in California; that is a real conspiracy, ie. a small number of people (the leadership of the ADL and their agent, Roy Bullock) conspired to illegally spy on various groups and organizations so as to garner information on those individuals and groups which would prove deleterious. Irv Rubin, then national chairman of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) was shocked to learn he was among those targeted by the spy ring. Rubin was far from the only group targeted, other targets include the Asian Law Caucus (for reasons which I was never really able to ascertain). The actions of The League were brought to light by California police, hence leaving a verifiable record for all to see; a class action lawsuit was even filed by the son of Moshe Arens, former Israeli Defense Minister and Pete McCloskey, who declared that the ADL was a spy apparatus of Israel and should be declared a foreign agency by the USA (as of this writing such a legal designation has yet to be leveraged against the group).
Now that’s a conspiracy.
However, conspiracy theory — in common parlance — refers, not to a legitimate theory concerning a noteworthy conspiracy, but rather, to a wild from-the-hip conjecture, a wholly untested and/or untestable (unfalsifiable) hypothesis. The linguistic associations with the term are unfortunate as it incentivizes dismissal rather than critical thought. As Noam Chomsky (a individual with whom I rarely agree) remarks in Manufacturing Consent, “The phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ is one of those that’s constantly brought up, and I think it’s effect simply is to discourage institutional analysis.” This is at times true and at other times merely a sensible reaction to a ridiculous claim (sensationalist aesthetics do not help believability, regardless of the veracity or lack thereof, of the claim).
Some of the most popular conspiracies involve groups such as the Rothchilds, nefarious extraterrestrial entities, The Bildeburg Group and The Illuminati (which, despite its many modern fictional incarnations, was a actual organization) and concepts such as spirits, demons, prophecy and shapeshifting. These notions have broadly been syncretized through cross-dissemination by likeminded, though often non-affiliated groups, and have formed a loose but coherent metanarrative of a New World Order being brought about through a technocratic elite who are either WASPs, aliens, luciferians, Catholics, neo-Bolsheviks or Zionist radicals, depending upon which paranoid faction one asks (and if you asked Lyndon LaRouche he would tell you it was The British Crown).
More recently the Q-Anon conspiracy hypothesis garnered (and still maintains) a considerable level of traction online. On October 17, 2017, a individual referring to themselves only as ‘Q’ began posting cryptic messages to 4Chan. This individual claimed that to be a Trump administration insider with ‘Q level clearance’ (hence the name) who was leaking important information to the American public for the edification of patriots, all the better to defeat ‘the globalists’.
Another extremely popular conspiratorial hypothesis, which is often bound up in, or interwoven with, those previously mentioned, is the belief that Transhumanists are secret devil-worshippers who wish to usher in a new dark age through the utilization of nefarious technology. This notion is absurd on its face yet, quite popular. Indeed, it is so popular that searching ‘Transhumanism’ on Youtube yields majority conspiracy hypothesis results.
One of the leading proponents of this refitted satanic panic is Alex Jones of Infowars. Mr. Jones has covered the topic of Transhumanism extensively and railed against, what he calls “a cult that runs the planet” who wish to utterly enslave Mankind. This shadow group is run by transhumanist “elites” (who he does not name) who seek to “carry out an extermination of the general population of the planet.” These contradictory statements engender confusion; do they wish to run the planet or destroy it? Why would this hypothetical shadow elite go through all the trouble of enslaving Mankind just to turn around and destroy their willing chattle? A rhetorical question, of course, one Jones either didn’t consider or simply doesn’t care to elaborate upon.
Rather amusingly, another fierce opponent of Transhumanism, independent occult historian, David Livingstone has stated that Alex Jones is, himself, an agent of ‘satanists’ (though I believe Mr. Livingstone meant ‘luciferian’, that is to say, a actual worshipper of Lucifer as opposed to a cosplaying atheist liberal who seeks merely to make trouble for conservative-types). Other notable critics of Transhumanism include Frank Theys, the creator of the documentary TechnoCalyps (well worth watching) which opens with a grim monologue, then displaced by various Transhuman advocates making the case for their cause as eerie music drones and effulgent footage of Burning Man plays in the background (get it, cuz they’re “burning away” humanity). Hardly subtle, but doubtless effective for those inclined to paranoia or unduly receptive to sensationalism.
Another notable figure who has taken aim at Transhumanism is British writer, broadcaster and finder of shape-shifting aliens, David Icke, who has stated that the US Transhumanist party is “promoting the end of humanity,” and who has described the philosophy of Transhumanism more broadly as a “nightmare.” It is one thing to say that you find a particular group nightmarish, it is quite another to spuriously defame them by assigning murderous intention (especially when that is the precise opposite of the Transhumanist Party platform, which takes as its central tenant the safeguarding, improvement and extension of human life). Given these over-the-top and wholly unsubstantiated defamatory statements it will be unlikely to surprise anyone to know that Icke has been featured on InfoWars to discuss, among other things, Transhumanism. Both Icke and Jones, like many conspiracy hypothesists, regularly decry liberal and progressive defamation campaigns against conservative commentators, such as themselves (as well they should), and yet, they spin fully on their heels and do as much to their perceived opposition at ever turn. But pointing out double-standards isn’t a terribly effective way of refuting much of anything, as the tactic, on average, lacks sufficient emotional resonance to sway opinion; further, double standards are, however ethically dubious, quite often beneficial, and allows one much more flexibility in social interactions, more ‘wiggle room’, as it were, in opportunistic content sniping and attention whoring.
The interesting question to ask is: Why do so many people believe this wacky stuff? The aforementioned David Livingston, ironically enough, offers up a good partial explanation in his book Transhumanism: The History of Dangerous Idea, “-because the media and academia completely ignore cases derided as “conspiracy theory,” those who suspect a hidden agenda are left to fend for themselves, and their amateurish research skills often lead them into absurd fantasies, giving conspiracy research a bad name.”