Conspiracy theories have a commercial value in every culture. We can trace back its philosophical roots to the basic human impulse of attributing the missing parts of the chain of any mysterious incident to some ‘other’. That ‘other’ could be a spooky creature like a ghost as well. However, the basic impulse behind the attribution of something mysterious to an external entity happens to be a result of the hastiness of completing the chain of causality. Regardless, the important thing is that the causal gap is not filled after finding the actual cause, in fact, some correlation is found to fill it.
The filling gap is done in haste without any substantial causation as indicated above with correlation. Now, it is important to understand the basic difference between correlation and causation in order to make sense of my whole argument that follows against conspiracy theories. Causation is a correlation, but correlation does not necessarily have to be causation. Correlation can be entirely coincidental or may have an indirect relationship with the outcome. In both cases, attributing causality to the correlation is erroneous, as there is a big leap towards the unsubstantiated conclusion. However, there is a third case where a direct causal link is established and this is where correlation logically becomes causation.
Conspiracy theories fall into the first two scenarios and do not fall into the third scenario. For instance, there is a conspiracy theory that the incident of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks were a conspiracy by the Zionists. In order to substantiate the conspiracy theory, evidence like the absence of some top Jewish business persons on that day is quoted. I am not concerned whether the evidence is true or not; the important point is that it is enough evidence to substantiate the theory. Unfortunately, this is exactly how conspiracy theory works, which as mentioned above, involves taking big leaps. The type of evidence can fall into the above-mentioned first two scenarios of correlation but cannot belong to the third case where correlation becomes causation.
Another premise under which conspiracy theories thrive is connecting any event with its supposed beneficiary. For example, an incident of terrorism benefits party-A then it is likely that a conspiracy theory will attribute responsibility to that very party. This can be a strong case in favour of extending legitimacy to a conspiracy theory but it undermines the investigative impulse required to further the research.
Of course, a hypothesis is always formed where responsibility can be connected with the beneficiary but conspiracy theorists do not go any further to establish any causality. For instance, many conspiracy theories emerged in the wake of COVID-19 around the point that the lockdown ensued by epidemic benefitted online companies like Netflix, Amazon, etc.; therefore, the epidemic was spread by big corporations like the ones mentioned, without providing further material evidence to support the claim. The problem associated with such hasty attribution of responsibility is the prevalence of the lack of analytical skills, which is very much needed in the important socio-political matters where conspiracy theories are mostly used.
Moreover, it promotes an agenda based study which creates a stalemate in research. It is true that many scientific journals also further a particular agenda but there is a difference in the intensity of the said agenda when compared with the relevant conspiracy theories. The type of ‘other’ constructed by conspiracy theories induces the creation of cults whose attacks and attributions of responsibility are always directed outwards, towards that particular ‘other’. This hinders any possible progress because conspiracy theories find their space in almost every camp and the community from the specific ‘other’, which is held responsible without a causal link. In a scenario like this, the ‘other’ also finds the space to come up with conspiracies. For example, some people in the West may find it easy to link every terrorist attack with the Muslims; and some among Muslims may do the same to the West.
Therefore, both camps will have an ‘other’ to blame that will prevent any practical or intellectual progress. It is easy for human beings to have a single mathematical equation for all the ailments of society but the situation beneath the veneer of conspiracies is full of complexities. Conspiracy theorists find an easy way out for the ailments of society, which should not have an easy answer. Their very approach does not lead to a solution but a never-ending vicious cycle of otherization.
There are complex historical variables involved in the ills of our society. Of course, a question arises that is it advisable to resort to causality vis-à-vis complexity? This is a difficult question and the answer to this is that we cannot rely on the single variable causation to deal with the conflicts prevalent in our societies. For example, even after complete research on finding the causation between the literacy rate and the success of democracy, researchers should be open to the inclusion of complex sociological factors. Nonetheless, causality in itself is important even if a social issue merits rigorous socio-historical research.
The important point that I am trying to emphasize in this article is that there is a need to break the vicious cycle of otherization and conspiracy theories conversely perpetuate exactly that. Therefore, the point that is conveyed in this article is that it is research-aversive to conveniently assign blame on one single entity in haste. Instead, we need to spend time to locate the underlying reasons behind different social ailments around us. It is, for certain, a burdensome endeavour but it is an endeavour we must embark upon.