The term “conspiracy theory” as a psycholinguistic tool for memetic hegemony

The conspiracy theory meme as a tool of cultural hegemony: A critical discourse analysis

by Rankin, James Edwin, Jr., Ph.D.

Abstract (Summary)

Those rejecting the official accounts of significant suspicious and impactful events are often labeled conspiracy theorists and the alternative explanations they propose are often referred to as conspiracy theories. These labels are often used to dismiss the beliefs of those individuals who question potentially hegemonic control of what people believe. The conspiracy theory concept functions as an impediment to legitimate discursive examination of conspiracy suspicions. The effect of the label appears to constrain even the most respected thinkers. This impediment is particularly problematic in academia, where thorough, objective analysis of information is critical to uncovering truth, and where members of the academy are typically considered among the most important of epistemic authorities. This dissertation tracked the development and use of such terms as pejoratives used to shut down critical thinking, analysis, and challenges to authority. This was accomplished using critical discourse analysis as a research methodology. Evidence suggesting government agents were instrumental in creating the pejorative meme conspiracy theorist was found in contemporary media. Tracing the evolution of the conspiracy theory meme and its use as a pejorative silencer may heighten awareness of its use in this manner and diminish its impact.

The term “conspiracy theory” was invented and put into public discourse by the CIA in 1964 in order to discredit the many skeptics who challenged the Warren Commission’s conclusion that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by a lone gunman named Lee Harvey Oswald, who himself was assassinated while in police custody before he could be questioned. The CIA used its friends in the media to launch a campaign to make suspicion of the Warren Commission report a target of ridicule and hostility. This campaign was “one of the most successful propaganda initiatives of all time.”

This writes political science professor Lance deHaven-Smith, in his peer-reviewed book which was published by the University of Texas Press. He reports the story of how the CIA succeeded in creating in the public mind uncritical, reflexive, automatic, (System 1) stigmatization of those who challenge official government explanations (cf. ostracism).

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www.amazon.co.uk/Conspiracy-Theory-America-Discovering/dp/0292757697/ref=sr_1_1/259-3254951-4641448?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1542712554&sr=1-1&keywords=lance+dehaven-smith


According to Prof. DeHaven (see lecture above) the term “conspiracy theory” was first used in a scholarly book around 1913 by Charles Beard who used the phrase “the conspiracy theory of the 14th amendment”. DeHaven argues that if a wealthy women died because she fell in the shower and her husband inherits all her money we are automatically suspicious because of the low probability (base rate) of the incidence. If a similar situation happens again and the same husband is involved we are obviously even more suspicious. However, the term “conspiracy theory” prevents rational discourse (and rational thinking). DeHaven suggests the term “state crimes against democracy”. He makes the point that if we do not have a word for a crime it is very difficult to discuss it, especially if argumentators are discredited and ostracized as “conspiracy theorists” and categorized next to flat-earth believers (viz. invalid associations are created to facilitate superficial social categorisation).

Peer reviewed references on conspiracy theories – State crimes against democracy (multiple conspiracies are “organized crime”)

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Cass Sunstein – Cognitive infiltration

Cass Robert Sunstein FBA is an American legal scholar, particularly in the fields of constitutional law, administrative law, environmental law, and law and behavioral economics, who was the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2012. For 27 years, Sunstein taught at the University of Chicago Law School. Sunstein is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School.More at Wikipedia

Sunstein suggests that the government should use conspiracies (i.e., cognitive infiltration, social interference via cognitive diversity) to stop debates about governmental conspiracies – an absurd idea which he articulated in several papers. Given his position as a presidential adviser it is realistic to assume that his ideas have real-world impact. Sunstein is known for his “nudge theory” of behaviour modification (cf. linguistic thought control and subliminal indoctrination).

See also: The origins of the “conspiracy meme”:

The “conspiracy meme” as a linguistic tool for memetic hegemony

Origins of the “conspiracy meme”
Conspiracy-theories-causes-and-cures

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