Paranoia, Conspiracy Panic, and the Regime of Truth
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This chapter argues that labeling a point of view as a “conspiracy theory” is a form of panic (“conspiracy panic”) used to discipline thought. “Conspiracy theory” reinforces the “regime of truth,” Foucault’s reference to social mechanisms that discipline thought. The chapter lays out a framework for assessing the truth value of conspiracy theories as, like other social science theories, propositions about social attitudes and behavior, rejecting a priori classification of conspiracy theories as pathological thinking. The framework differentiates how we should regard three kinds of grand (or “world”) conspiracy theories that rarely hold up because they reduce complex, large-scale events to simple explanations of elite manipulation; petty conspiracy theories, that collectively may have significance, e.g., in the way cumulative corruption erodes trust in government; and operational conspiracy theories, that are often plausible and significant and are worthy of serious investigation by historians and social scientists. Like voting, diplomatic negotiations, conflict resolution, propaganda, war-making, legislating, etc., operational conspiracies are ways of doing politics. Most conspiracy theories for and against Trump are operational ones, and they need to be sorted into those that are nativist and fit the “paranoid style” and those that are plausible based motivation, logic, and evidence.