Let’s imagine living in Soviet Russia during the 1960’s – the height of the Cold War – and let’s imagine that the KGB used the Russian phrase teoriya zagorova to signal to the Soviet public that certain ideas, beliefs and sources of information were to be marginalized, even shunned – how would you, as a literate adult in the 21st Century look upon those ideas and information? I think the rational response would be to take a closer look at them, for the simple reason that the Soviet-era KGB (or, for that matter, the SVR, the contemporary Russian intelligence agency) is not, by any reasonable measure, to be regarded as a reliable source of public information.
Now, let’s flashback to November 22, 1963 – the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, commonly believed to have been perpetrated by a lone, crazed assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, from the Texas School Book Depository. This was the official version of events propagated by the mainstream press of the time. However, since then, a small group of out-of-the-box thinkers, based upon significant evidence – as publicized, most famously, in the Oliver Stone film JFK – began to suggest that the Kennedy assassination was not as it had been made out to be in the mainstream press. There may have been other shooters involved, most notably a shooter from behind the so-called “grassy knoll”, while Lee Harvey Oswald may, in fact, have been a CIA operative, and the assassination itself may have been orchestrated by former CIA chief and notorious Nazi sympathizer, Allen Dulles. Well, FSU professor Lance deHaven-Smith, in his 2013 book Conspiracy Theory in America (as cited on Wikipedia), alleges that the CIA “deployed” the usage of the phrase conspiracy theory in the 1960’s in order to discredit such alternative speculation about the Kennedy assassination, and this became the first widespread usage of the term as we understand it today.
What does this historical background about the origin of the modern colloquial usage of the phrase conspiracy theory suggest to the rational adult living in the 21st century? I guess it depends on how much credence one gives to the CIA, as a reliable source of public information – the CIA, one of whose stated objectives is the perpetuation of disinformation, especially with respect to the perceived enemies of the United States! One would have to be gullible indeed, if not utterly deluded, to take the CIA’s word at face value! For the same reason that no rational adult living in the modern world would take the KGB’s or SVR’s word at face value – because these are state-run intelligence agencies for whom deception and disinformation is standard operating procedure!
And yet, somehow, against all sense and reason, the term conspiracy theory has entered common usage as a label with which to discredit and marginalize any information or idea that happens to conflict with or challenge the widely accepted mainstream, institutional interpretation of reality. No doubt, if Galileo or Kepler had introduced their theories about heliocentrism and elliptical planetary orbits in this day and age, the CIA would label them as conspiracy theories, even as the Catholic Church of the 16th century declared them as heretical ideas at the time! The phrase “conspiracy theory” is, in effect, the modern equivalent of the Medieval “heresy” – both are basically ways of flagging certain ideas or information as unacceptable, even threatening, to the establishment. It is the establishment’s way of marginalizing and discrediting any form of knowledge that may threaten its hold over the public imagination.
This is not to suggest that every idea in the realm of the conspiracy theory must, at once, be taken seriously. No doubt, there are many ideas in that domain that have no rational basis or justification, and must, therefore, be considered to be irrational, pending the disclosure of additional supporting evidence! However, it does imply that any idea, however far-fetched or outrageous it may seem to be at first glance, should be assessed on its own merits and on the evidence supporting the claims made. Not because some mainstream institution happens to dismissively label it as a “conspiracy theory” without any serious consideration of the case to be made in support of the claims. Anything less than this essentially amounts to surrendering one’s rational faculties to the self-appointed wardens of taste in our society, many of whom have no more than a grade-school understanding of the facts in question, and certainly are lacking in the specialized knowledge necessary to make sense of them.
An excellent example is the theory, posited by the well-known “conspiracy theorist” David Icke, that the universe is constituted of wave-form energy and that our perception of the solidity of matter is, in fact, a trick of the senses. The immediate, reflexive response of most of us in mainstream society, conditioned as we are by mass media and a simplistic grade-school understanding of Newtonian Physics, would be to roll our eyes and murmur the words “conspiracy theory.” And yet, this idea is substantiated by modern experimental quantum mechanics – wave-particle duality as demonstrated in the well-established “double-slit experiment” – that clearly points to the possibility that all matter is, at its core, wave-form energy, and that electromagnetic energy waves double as material particles upon the intervention of a conscious observer. Similar themes have been expressed by such brilliant minds as Einstein and Planck. Unless one is aware of this background into theoretical and experimental Physics, one would not be in a position to adequately form an informed opinion on what the mass of uninformed humanity might dismiss as a “conspiracy theory.”
As such, the least one can do is to give such ideas a fair hearing, because, who knows? It may not be so far-fetched after all to suggest, for example, that the Bushes and Clintons are involved in narcotics and human trafficking and child abuse, or that the Rockefellers conspired with the Nazis to suppress the healing Solfeggio frequencies. Without a clear knowledge and understanding of the evidence and the case to be made, are we in a position to adjudicate on the credibility of these ideas?