Thursday, April 11, 2013

On The Origin of "Conspiracy Theory"

"Conspiracy Theory" According To McTell News
Today Dredd Blog begins a series that is going to look into history to find out where and when the description "conspiracy theory" originated and why.

But before we begin in earnest, one thing to note is that in different disciplines "conspiracy theory" can and does have different implications and meanings.

For example, the U.S. Department of Justice lawyers use the term every day in federal courts when they are dealing with the many federal conspiracy crimes (Dept. of Justice Conspiracy Theories) such as a conspiracy to rig elections (Election Conspiracy Theory Confirmed?).

Even the "Father of the Constitution" who was also a congressman, a cabinet member, and later president, used the term "conspiracy" to list nefarious cultural essences that "are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace" (Founding Fathers' Conspiracy Theories).

The first thing to distinguish, when tracking down this origin, is the knowledge that there is a difference between "official conspiracy theory" and "unofficial conspiracy theory".

Official sentences and phrases in our current media nuanced culture of "doublespeak" can get jiggy wid it:
With doublespeak, banks don't have "bad loans" or "bad debts"; they have "nonperforming assets" or "nonperforming credits" which are "rolled over" or "rescheduled." Corporations never lose money; they just experience "negative cash flow," "deficit enhancement," "net profit revenue deficiencies," or "negative contributions to profits."
(William Lutz, Rutgers University, author of The New Doublespeak). An example of an official conspiracy theory is "19 Arab hijackers conspired then did 911, 15 of them were Saudi Arabians" (Fighting Terrorism For 200 Years - 2).

An example of an unofficial conspiracy theory is that "others conspired to do it" (The Washington Times, "Explosive News").

The main difference, for our purposes today, is that the mainstream media extols the virtue of official conspiracy theories, but disdains unofficial conspiracy theories.

Therefore, I would guess that most citizens today think of the mainstream media version of "conspiracy theory" when they hear it, even though the term means the unofficial conspiracy theory version (they don't call the official version a "conspiracy theory").

Never mind that this notion of conspiracy theory started a long time ago, because such conspiracies are as ancient as human civilization itself.

We do have some more modern references that do not disdain conspiracy theories like the modern media do, rather, conspiracy theories in those references are considered like any other part of reality:
The Oxford English Dictionary records the first use of the phrase "conspiracy theory" to a 1909 article in The American Historical Review. Other sources predate this use by nearly four decades to at least 1871, where it is used in The Journal of Mental Science reporting on a conference of the Fifth Quarterly Meeting of the Medico-Psychological Association (now the Royal College of Psychiatrists), held on Thursday, January 27, 1870:
"The theory of Dr. Sankey as to the manner in which these injuries to the chest occurred in asylums deserved our careful attention. It was at least more plausible than the conspiracy theory of Mr. Charles Beade ..."
(Answers Dot Com, emphasis added). Let's go on to consider the coup d' etat, for example, because in general a coup d' etat is the result of a conspiracy to remove an established government.

Coup conspiracies have been ongoing for thousands of years, as well as having been done in recent times, both by those inside government and those outside of government (A Tale of Coup Cities - 3, Journalism: Facts vs. Fantasy).

In fact, you might be surprised how many conspiracy theories are handled by the federal and state governments on a daily basis:
Over one-quarter of all federal criminal prosecutions and a large number of state cases involve prosecutions for conspiracy.
(Conspiracy Theory, 112 Yale L.J. 1307 (2003), Preface,  emphasis added). That is a lot of real, serious as a heart attack, beyond a reasonable doubt, and well documented occurrences of "conspiracy theories" going on in reality before the eyes of anyone who wants to see them.

Notice the legal reality that conspiracy is a separate crime, different from the planned crime yet-to-be-done:
Consider how a law school textbook might introduce the elements of traditional conspiracy law: Imagine that Joe and Sandra agree to rob a bank. From the moment of agreement, they can be found guilty of conspiracy even if they never commit the robbery (it’s called “inchoate liability”). Even if the bank goes out of business, they can still be liable for the conspiracy (“impossibility” is not a defense). Joe can be liable for other crimes that Sandra commits to further the conspiracy’s objective, like hot-wiring a getaway car (it’s called “Pinkerton” liability, after a 1946 Supreme Court case involving tax offenses). He can’t evade liability by staying home on the day of the robbery (a conspirator has to take an affirmative step to “withdraw”). And if the bank heist takes place, both Joe and Sandra can be charged with bank robbery and with the separate crime of conspiracy, each of which carries its own punishment (the crime of conspiracy doesn’t “merge” with the underlying crime). Why should conspiracy liability begin at the moment of “agreement,” before any crime is committed? Why can a conspirator be charged with both the inchoate offense of conspiracy and the robbery? Why should the law punish conspirators even if it’s impossible for them to commit the crime they planned? Why is withdrawal from a conspiracy so difficult?
(ibid, "Conspiracy Theory", Article, PDF), emphasis added). Remember that those "conspiracy theories" happen every day when a criminal prosecutor has a conspiracy theory of the case in criminal conspiracy prosecutions.

Nevertheless the McTell News chatty kathy drones habitually continue to imply that "conspiracy theories" exist only as paranoid play-pretend imaginings of delusional people "out on the fringe."

Thus, when people on the street are questioned about the issue of conspiracy theory, they seem to have no clue about the real world's massive volume of conspiracies ongoing regularly and officially.

Rather, they tend to recollect only the news media's romantic fabrications of a supposed reality -- of what is reported to be in the minds of only a very few eccentric folk.

The next post in this series is here.

1 comment:

  1. An unofficial conspiracy theory challenged an official conspiracy theory in a little court in England recently: Link