Theater of Cruelty

The magic word that shatters the debate 

"I'm not into conspiracy theories, except the ones who are true or involved dentists." Michael Moore


While we were not aware, an Orwellian redefinition of the word "conspiracy theory" has occurred. The term now refers to ideas, theories or facts that contradict the official narrative, as promoted by the authorities and the mass media. But a society that is trained to accept the narrative of power and shy those who question it is a society whose future is free.

Bag and stamp. The fear of being "k-stamped" seems disciplinary. Journalists, researchers and government employees – to name a few important groups – are reluctant to end up in the black bag. If you do, we will no longer hear what you say. You now belong, to quote a genuine voice from the depths of the comment field: "(…) an environment consisting of conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites, opponents of reason and research, psychiatric cases and generally tear terribly crazy people with inflated egos and little empathy" ( ).

The big black bag can accommodate 9 / 11, climate, vaccine, radiation and GMO skepticism – whatever we want stamped. When everything is shaken together, everything will eventually become "extreme". For example, Bjørgvul Braanen uses this rhetoric when he stamps a technical analysis as a "further conspiracy theory" (Klassekampen, leader, 15.09.17).

If you do not like black, you can use other colors. Religionist Anne Kalvig gives us the recipe in her chronicle "Where the Earth is Flat" in the Class Fight 19.10.17. You need a colorful bag labeled "stupid k-theories". Then you have to find a great theory. For example, you can use it to make sure the soil is flat. Once you've put the flat-earth enthusiasts in the bag, you can stock up on vaccine critics, 9/11 truthers and whatever else you have at hand. All this is now well shaken together over a chronicle page. And the hops have all become equally stupid and fun.

Lower your shoulders. Obama's good friend and head of the White House Information Department in the period 2009–2012 – lawyer Cass Sunstein – published in 2009 the article: "Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures". Here, a conspiracy theory is defined as an attempt to explain an event or practice by referring to a conspiracy of powerful people, who have succeeded in concealing their role. Of course, there are conspiracies in this sense. In fact, there are organizations that are supposed to be conspiratorial, as they are both given great power and conduct secret operations.

We must lower our shoulders and relate to the facts. The stamping strategy does the opposite – the magic k-word replaces arguments.

Sunstein himself mentions several examples of the less good variety: Well known is the project MKULTRA, in which the CIA funded secret LSD experiments with "mind control". "Operation Northwoods" is another example, in which the US Department of Defense developed a plan for massive false flag operations on its own soil – acts of terror that they would blame Cuba for as a pretext for an invasion. Those plans were not put into practice, but they reached the President's table all the way.

By contrast, the US / NATO-led "Operation Gladio" was realized, with false flag operations and large-scale murders to fight the Communists in Italy. Historian Daniele Ganser has given us all the details.

"It is with conspiracy theories as with all other theories", says Pål Steigan in Ny Tid, 08.08.17: "Either they are true, or they are false – and this can only be clarified through investigations." That's true. But then we have to shrug our shoulders and relate to the facts, as far as they go. The sack and stamp strategy does the opposite. It does not invite us to evaluate facts, but triggers a fear reflex, where the magic k-word replaces arguments.

Photo: Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images

The Sunstein case. Cass Sunstein had no intention of lowering his shoulders, despite his neutral definition of the k-word. Because in the rest of the article he uses it as a derogatory stamp, synonymous with "extremist".

Conspiracy theorists have a "crippled epistemology", he states; "They know very little and what they know is wrong". And he says this after even pointing to several serious cases of revealed real conspiracies. So what about those who did the great revealing work – did they also suffer from a crippled epistemology? And what about those who work today to reveal real conspiracies?

Conspiracy theories are best combated, Sunstein argues, by "conducting a cognitive infiltration of extremist groups." Which extremists are we talking about here? We are told: “Conspiracy theories are everywhere. In August 2004, a poll conducted by Zogby International showed that 49% of New York City residents (...) believed that US government officials' knew in advance that the September 11 attacks were planned and that they deliberately failed to deal with the'."

Is half the population "extremists"? And how does he intend to "infiltrate" them?

Sunstein's main focus is on "conspiracy theories related to terrorism, especially theories that emerged from or after the 9/11 attacks."

Head of the Information Department at the White House 2009–2012, Cass Sunstein, in 2009 published the article «Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures».

Sunstein's list. Sunstein has made a list of suggestions for what to do with such theories:

"(1) The government can ban conspiracy theories. (2) The government may impose a form of taxation, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories. (3) The government can engage itself in the debate, drawing on arguments to discredit conspiracy theories. (4) The government can formally engage credible private actors to contradict theories. (5) The government can engage in informal communication with such actors and encourage them to help. Each possibility (…) could play a role in given circumstances. However, our main policy is that the government should engage in cognitive infiltration of the groups that produce conspiracy theories.»

Sunstein recommends engaging an army of net trolls and provocateurs, which will infiltrate and "break up the hard core of extremists who fire up conspiracy theories." This will "cause uncertainty and distrust within conspiracy groups", which will "increase the cost of their organization and communication". When new members (the government's anonymous agents!) Act as provocateurs, "new recruits will be suspicious and participants in the group's virtual network will distrust each other's honest intentions."

This Orwellian description of government policy would probably be labeled as a "further conspiracy theory" if it were not from government offices. But it does. So what should we call it?

The Chronicle is an edited excerpt from the article
"'Conspiracy Theory' – The magic word that shocks the social debate".

Trond Skaftnesmo
Trond Skaftnesmo
Skaftnesmo is a nature manager from NMBU, philosopher from UiO, teacher and author. His latest book is The Sources of Evolution (2017).

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