Theater of Cruelty

Healthy skepticism about alternative perspectives

What are conspiracy theories?
CONSPIRATION THEORIES / The Internet is teeming with conspiracy theories that can be both a driving force and a tool for political propaganda and suspicion of the opposing party.


Asbjørn Dyrendal and Terje Emberland have delivered a well-written, knowledgeable and not least experimental soothing text on conspiracy theory. It is fresh, but balanced, though not always philosophically reflected. The book says much about conspiracy theories as the subject of scientific treatment and explanation, but poses healthy skepticism to alternative perspectives of understanding.

A book on conspiracy theories sounds like a timely idea. The Internet abounds with such theories, and it may seem that this kind of quasi-scientific, magical thinking is about to conquer the political scene as well. In the powerful estimate for this book, a summary of the progress of Behring Breivik's terrorist attacks with Breivik's own statements is cut. This is easily populist but effective dramaturgy, and we realize early on that the writers are taking proper steps.

General tools

As stated in the introduction, the web of hatred against politicians, press people and intellectuals is stifled by a jumble of conspiracy theories. The immigration debate is a good example of how conspiracy thinking can be both a driving force and a tool for political propaganda and suspicion of the counterpart. Sylvi Listhaug's Facebook post winter 2018 aimed at the Labor Party played on anti-Islamic memes and cunning image use, and is an inflamed media case that gets its rightful place.

It may seem like quasi-scientific, magical thinking is on the way
to conquer the political scene as well.

Similarly, Donald Trump's tweeted notions, like his stigmatizing statements about the reason for Mexican immigration to the United States. But sometimes the lines are blurred. If secretly stamped CIA-driven plots against Latin American regimes (active support for the establishment of dictatorships such as in Chile in the 70s) are at heart with Trump's xenophobic high thinking, or Chávez's claims of US sabotage against the banking system in Venezuela, one can quickly come to believe that all projects are fictitious. Yes, there are real conspiracies too, but the book often contributes a little too general tools to the distinction between real and fictional specimens of the species.


The text says less about how we can understand conspiracy theory, not as theories, but as dominant stories about reality, so-called narratives, which it doesn't make good sense to call false. The chapter on popular culture conspiracies says a lot about where the role models and plots of post-war most widespread archetypes in literature and film are taken from, but has too many classic and easily dated examples. I also miss better explanations as to why such media myths have been given the status of preferred explanatory filters within popular culture, even when it comes to social events.

11. September

Many people remember where they were on September 11, 2001, but not everyone has a precise idea of ​​exactly when they got the news. Even fewer can give accurate descriptions of what they thought there and then. On September 11, 2001, I put together a group of about 20 students at a Greek tavern, the time was just before 16.00 pm, local time, the heat from the middle of the day was about to decline. We had a break from a double lecture in science theory where I lectured on the topic of hypothetical-deductive method as the images began to roll across the screen…

The students on the Greek island were pretty unison when I called for priority hypotheses about who could be behind the destruction of the Twin Towers (which should actually be called three: tower, according to Niels Harrit, see below). It had to be an American "false flag operation", most claimed.

The doctrine that a scientific theory must be validated is based on a principle which in itself is sound, but often proves difficult to implement in practice. In particular, this applies to theories of covert operations – covert operations – under the auspices of the secret services. However, this does not mean that any theory that suggests such operations occur is vicious. The students' main hypothesis on the Greek island of Chios on September 11, 2001, was not an element of a conspiracy theory, although they were probably in a temporary state of collective anxiety.

Zion's protocols appear

A recurring source of conspiracy theories is the fictional work of Zion's protocols, which in the book form the starting point for a circularization of the nature of conspiracy theory. Of course, it is about the primacy of systematic suspicion of peoples' groups, and the dissemination of the notion of a universal, secret conspiracy. Not to say that it can be proved that none of these exist in this book either. This toxic work of anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish propaganda is a red thread in the author's presentation of system conspiratorial thought forms throughout the book.

The book often contributes a little too general tools to the work of distinguishing between real and fictional specimens of the species.

Many of the descriptions in the book are conventional, and the examples of stupid conspiracy theories provoke no one. A number of striking and relevant examples are given gradually, not least from political, or "alternative," rhetoric. The entire alternative movement should, to this extent, feel struck by the book's criticism, rightly or wrongly.

Sometimes science or its representatives come into conflict with themselves. In this way, perhaps the following example is a bit typical: The authors refer to a 2017 article in this newspaper, entitled "Obviously, 9/11 was an explosion". Suppose the statement in the headline may seem trendy, but it points to something that is in principle testable, and thus potentially scientifically sound. Is it in itself politically incorrect to discuss alternative explanations for the collapse of the twin towers? Hardly. NRK has made several contributions, including with the Danish chemist Niels Harrit, who already in 2009 showed that such a thing could actually have happened. Harrit casts doubt on the official explanation by pointing out that a third tower, WTC7, also collapsed somewhat later in the day, for reasons that, in Harrit's opinion, are not sufficiently illuminated.

Harrit's view is consistent with another Norwegian research experiment on experimentally induced high temperature melting of aluminum, also communicated on NRK TV. That in both of these cases should be the basis for a claim of conspiracy theory sounds at first more conspiratorial than scientific in this reader's ears. But what to do when one “science” seems to kill the other?

For the sake of the word: I do not mean that Dyrendal and Emberland pursue conspiracy theory. What I would like to point out, however, is that it is easy to fall for some of the same rhetorical approaches conspiracy theorists use. It seems both misleading and unnecessarily conflicting to operate with an unambiguous polarity between scientific versus false facts when we know that science does not agree with itself either, and is just evolving by rejecting its own hypotheses. In addition, it is counterproductive to restore the openness, co-determination and fair treatment the authors actually recommend in the last chapter of the book as a means to improve social dialogue.

Sigurd Ohrem
Sigurd Ohrem
Ohrem is a writer for Ny Tid.

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