“Nowhere are prejudices more mistaken for truth, passion for reason, and invective for documentation than in politics. This a realm, peopled only by villains or heroes, in which everything is black or white and gray is a forbidden color.” - John Mason Brown, Through These Men (1956)
There are three kinds of "conspiracies."
The first kind are the ones that don't exist, but people think they do. For the past several years the most popular of these is the belief that two remote-controlled planes flew into the WTC, both buildings of which were wired with explosives. Then the conspirators blamed the attacks on unknown people who disappeared, never to be seen again.
This is the belief in the perfect conspiracy, one that involves people all of whom are geniuses, all of whom are evil, all of whom are rich and all-knowing and all-powerful, and who wish to advance some agenda that generally involves conquering the world. The closest person I can find who fits all these criteria is Dr. Evil from “Austin Powers.”
The believers in these conspiracies are not motivated by reason (although they think they are) but by hate and anger and resentment. They always direct their ire at someone they dislike. They never complain about the people behind a conspiracy they like.
That hate and anger clouds their reason and makes them prone to believing the most ridiculous of conspiracy theories. It also makes them project all evil onto the conspirators, i.e. scapegoat them, then they want them brought to "justice" and destroyed.
Here's an example. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in his book, The Gulag Archipelago, noted that when Communism did not work in the Soviet Union, scapegoats had to be found, as always happens at every place and at every time. In this particular case, hundreds of thousands of innocent people were convicted as "wreckers" and shot or given sentences up to 25 years.
The second kind of conspiracy are the ones that do exist. An example is FDR conspiring to get the United States into World War II by getting Japan to attack the U.S.
What all these true conspiracies have in common is that none of them are perfect; all are flawed. I am reminded of that old military saying, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy."
FDR, like most Americans, thought the Japanese were short, myopic, bucktoothed incompetents whom the U.S. could easily defeat. Right after Pearl Harbor, many Americans thought the Germans were behind it, because they did not believe the Japanese were capable of pulling off the attack. They were horribly wrong.
The third kind of conspiracy is not, strictly speaking, a conspiracy at all, but an argument can be made they can be called by that name.
This third kind is when people who have shared interests and shared goals get together and attack someone. This is the kind that only looks like a conspiracy, but really isn't.
A good example of this in the recent past is the Duke non-rape case. Many of the teachers at the university, who are leftists and therefore ruled by their feelings and not their intellects, got together and attacked the lacrosse players, assuming them to be guilty. Ironically, they were unwitting “conspirators” attacking what they were convinced was a criminal conspiracy by the players, but in reality didn't exist at all.
This type of conspiracy is called "mobbing." I have seen animals do it, specifically birds when they attacked a cat and drove him away. People also do it, the difference from animals being they delude themselves they are rational, but are instead motivated by blindness, self-righteousness and hate - and don't give up for decades, if ever.
Animals don't do that.
Here is what historian Ralph Luker wrote about Sally Deutsch, dean of Social Sciences at Trinity College, when he spoke to her about the Duke non-rape case:
"She bristled noticeably when I said that, after all, he’d (blogger and historian K.C. Johnson) turned out to be correct about the lacrosse case. 'You mean about the charges being dropped?' she asked. I started to say: 'No. Read my lips: There was no rape.' But the hairs were already standing up from the back of her neck up over to her eyebrows and her eyes were flashing."
This is an "intellectual" not run by her intellect but by feelings of hate, resentment and anger. Take a bunch of these loons, get them all together, and you'll have a mob...looking to do some mobbing. They want to find some to scapegoat, imprison, and human nature being what it is, ultimately murder.
The 9-11 Truthers are another example of mobbing. Anyone who disagrees with them is attacked, mocked, ridiculed, called a "shill," a "dupe," "blind," or even accused of being involved in the conspiracy itself. The intent is to marginalize, ostracize, scapegoat and ultimately expel them.
Unfortunately, and I see this as a frightening thing, mobbing is almost exclusively based on the belief in non-existent conspiracies. The genocide in the Soviet Union, the Duke non-rape case, and the Truthers are perfect examples.
Mobbing is not based on reason, but on primitive, raw hate and anger. No good can come from this.
The angrier people are at something, the more likely they are to believe in the most extreme of conspiracy theories. In a perverse sense, they worship as idols people whom they have never met (and as conspirators don't exist), making them into the most malicious of monsters whose evil and whose abilities could not be more perfect. The people who believe these things aren't totally sane. Not insane, but maybe "unsane."
Not only do those who believe in these extreme conspiracy theories always want to find a scapegoat they desire to destroy, they never want to confront their own faults and problems. To their way of thinking any problem is never their fault, but is always based on something external, and therefore does not lead to any kind of rational policy to confront the problem. They believe in ghosts which are the cause of everything afflicting them.
Why do believers in unrealistic conspiracy theories believe as they do? They obviously get a great deal of meaning to their lives from their beliefs. Self-righteousness (isn't that just a form of feeling superior?) excitement, satisfaction, figuring out a puzzle normal dolts cannot, those are some of the reasons. And don't forget: don't let the truth get in the way of a delicious story!
Ultimately, I think they believe they are in a battle between Good and Evil, with them of course on the side of Good. They want to vanquish the Evil. More correctly, those they define as evil, even if they're not. They think there are few things in this world more important than slaying monsters and holding back the forces of Chaos. They're the basis of a lot of the world's literature. Including a lot of pulp fiction.
I've written before of the fairy-tale of Pure Good and Pure Evil. This purity doesn't exist. No one is purely good or purely evil. Yet when people believe in those psychopathic polymaths, or "wreckers," or rapes that didn't happen, it's pretty obvious those "monsters" are being defined as close to pure evil as it gets – and those who attack them are definitely defining themselves as good. The next step (and this always happens) is the scapegoating of which I have written so tiresomely. This often leads to murder - especially mass murder.
The worst "conspiracies" are not the Masons or Illuminati or David Icke's blood-drinking shape-shifting reptilian space aliens, but the mobbing behavior of those who share the same beliefs, the same goals and who attack the innocent.
Such conspirators, although they believe they are rational, are in fact ruled by their feelings, and their self-righteousness and self-blindness leads them into Dionysian orgies of scapegoating, purging and, ultimately, imprisonment and murder.
The awful history of humanity is of the mass slaughter of the innocent, after having projected a nonexistent evil onto them. That is what is at the bottom of the dark abyss of "conspiracy."