In our modern era, we live in constant suspicion of something, yet rarely are our suspicions confirmed.And, to be honest, we sort of like it that way: mystery sustained is usually more compelling than the facts discovered.Did an imposter finish out President Ronald Regan’s final term of office? Was HIV manufactured? Are we being monitored from our televisions and computers? Are microchips retro-engineered from crashed alien technology? Is Elvis still alive? Is an elected government just an illusion of democracy in our country?From intrigues and prophecies to secret cabals and cover-ups, our paranoias tend to be an integral and entertaining part of our cultural expression.But, what drives the phenomenon of conspiratorial theorizing, itself? Does our brain, our sociological makeup, our culture, or even our government actually conspire to make us think conspiratorially?
In 7 – 10 pages, utilizing M.L.A. style, examine and explain the general phenomenon of conspiratorial theorizing as it applies to one the following:
- Secret Societies and Inner Sanctum Conspiracies (e.g., Freemasons; Scientologists; etc.)
- Medical Cover-ups / Conspiracies (manufacturing AIDS; secret government medical experiments; etc.)
- Science Conspiracies and Hoaxes (e.g., moon landing hoax; aliens; global warming hoax; etc.)
- Scandal Conspiracies (e.g., 9-11 perpetrators; Jack the Ripper’s royal identity; etc.)
- Forensic Conspiracies (“single bullet” theorists; Boston Marathon bombing; World Trade Center; etc.)
- Apocalyptic Conspiracies: (e.g., plagues; killer solar flares; asteroid impacts; etc.)
- Prophecy Conspiracies (e.g., the return of planet Nibiru; Raptures and Tribulations; Celestine Prophecy; apocalyptic zombie plagues; etc.)
Your essay should attempt to answer the question, “Why do people invest themselves in conspiracy theories about… [fill in the blank]?”
To help illustrate the different motives and fears leading to the phenomenon of conspiracy theorizing, throughout your paper you should use relevant case examples of actual conspiracy theories and cover-ups to foster a comparative analysis of cultures and groups who engage in the behavior.
Since this is the final assignment for this course, use your best writing skills and utilize the patterns of writing we have discussed this term: exemplification and definition to present the conspiracy and its background; classification-division and cause-effect to explain the conspiracy; persuasive-argumentative writing to respond to arguments about why people engage in conspiracy theorizing.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT:
Required will be a minimum of five (5) scholarly and/or credible sources in a “Works Cited,” to be judged on its proper MLA-style (design, arrangement, and bibliographic specifications).
- “Scholarly” sources appear most often in periodicals, journals, and books–whether in print or in databases–and include cited works of their own and/or primary research by their authors.
- “Credible” sources are sources vetted for the accuracy, reliability, and the relatively unbiased nature of their content, typically non-commercial (i.e., not dot-coms).
The key to success in this assignment is to identify right from the start a kind of conspiracy theorizing, and to offer a sound general explanation for why people invest themselves in it. Although you’re encouraged to choose the kind of conspiracy theorizing you’re interested in, you are NOT being asked to take a side on a conspiracy theory, nor to write a “book report” on a particular type of conspiracy theory.These developmental approaches will, in fact, lead to a failing paper.Focus instead on how and why our culture (or a group or subculture within it) tends to believe in and promote these sorts of conspiracy theories. What fuels its cultural need for it?In other words, your overall response to this assignment should be as interpretative as it is analytical.
I’m rooting for your success in this assignment, and my hope is that you’ll have a sincere interest in the topic your write about.However, there are a number of ways in which your approach to this assignment can go off the rails.Please take heed of the following, and ask me any questions if you’re not sure.
Pitfall #1: Don’t write “infotainment.”
Answer this question as quickly and spontaneously as you can: What is the topic of your final essay?
If you said, “9-11” or “The Elders of Zion” or “The Holocaust” or “JFK,” or any other specific conspiracy theory, you’ve already failed the paper. The goal of this assignment is to analyze the cultural and/or psychological phenomenon of conspiracy theorizing.Don’t make your essay just an encyclopedic summary of a conspiracy, then ask readers to decide for themselves where they stand on it. Leave such pap for the History Channel.Also, DO NOT advocate a side or a belief concerning any one conspiracy theory (even if you strongly believe).
One very good and very practical reason not to develop such a stance is that your research will direct your to many, many questionable sources of “the truth”: people in the business of conspiracy theorizing who publish sloppy data, employ deceptive reasoning, use unreliable methodologies, and sometimes propagate outright lies to support their own agendas.Remember, the point of this assignment is to UNCOVER the underlying cause of conspiracy theorizing, and not to CELEBRATE conspiracy theorizing by using it in our own arguments.Avoiding dodgy “research” is your best defense against this pitfall.
Pitfall #2: Don’t try to examine too much in one essay.
It’s possible to write about too much, or to take too general approach to analyzing why people like to theorize conspiratorially.Limit your topic to one TYPE of conspiracy theorizing, not ALL conspiracy theorizing.Granted, factors behind the general phenomenon may help to explain the causes of the specific phenomenon.That’s fine.However, be mindful of the limitations of page length and the time you have to complete this assignment, and adjust your topic accordingly.A required bibliographic instruction has been scheduled to help you accomplish this.
Pitfall #3: Don’t start with a flawed definition of the term, “conspiracy theory.”
All good critical thinking is based on how we establish a common vocabulary to discuss the issues.Do this for your readers and be sure you understand, yourself, what we mean by “conspiracy theorizing.”It’s not a conspiracy unless it’s a hidden or duplicitous campaign. It’s not a theory if there’s actual acknowledged proof.
For example, the Tuskegee syphilis experiments were, in fact, covered up at one time, but not any longer, so there’s no “theory” here—just enduring shame and scandal.Some may see religious belief as an “opiate of the masses,” but this is a perspective about faith, not a conspiracy theory.Additionally, all sentient creatures have had to consider the mystery of what, if anything, lies beyond death, but just because death is an unknown doesn’t mean it’s a conspiracy.LGBTQ advocacy for social change and legal protections may fly in the face of some people’s values and ideologies, but it’s not a leftist cabal if it’s happening out in the open and using the official political process.
To be completely forthcoming, using the word “theory” in this assignment is even a little slippery.You may wish to look up the definitions of “theory” and “hypothesis” before you begin researching.Nevertheless, it behooves you to declare very early in your essay what you mean by “conspiracy theorizing” and to commit to that definition wholeheartedly. However, although the following terms are likely to be part of your discussion, avoid confusing or generalizing any of them to be actual synonyms for the term “conspiracy theory”:
Some even now theorize that there is a conspiracy to conceal the truth of the Cydonian region on Mars (which has the famous “Face on Mars”), believed to contain the ruins of an ancient Martian civilization whose architecture was similar to ancient Egypt’s. Self-proclaimed expert Richard Hoagland is one of the major proponents of this conspiracy theory that claims NASA, together with the U.S. Government, is altering photos and hiding the evidence. Hoagland devotes his energies interpreting data and photographic evidence from the Mars robotic missions to support his claims.A prolific number of reputable scholars, scientists, astronomers and administrators have responded to Hoagland’s claims and challenged their veracity.Regardless, Hoagland is deeply invested and has since amassed a broad basis of support from other conspiracy theorists.Why?How and why do ancient alien theories continue to seduce us enough to give them so much attention in books and television shows posing as documentaries?Consider the cultural and sociological factors that might help to answer these questions (but, of course, never actually use questions in your paper that you don’t intend to answer fully):
- our egotistical interest in archeology and paleontology, and our obsession to learn something about ourselves as “the human race,” is projected onto our interest in astrobiology and Martian geology;
- as evolutionary science takes away the mystery of our existence on planet Earth, our need to feel special again finds expression in the spiritual claim “life here began as life out there”;
- in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, science began to outpace ordinary people’s understanding of their universe, so conspiratorial thinking is reactionary;
- people give a shape to their fear of not understanding their own world; that shape is conspiracy theory, the belief that people are intentionally keeping them ignorant;
- an “origins” conspiracy is a testament to how destabilizing it is not to know where we come from and why we’re here;
- in the impersonal world of 7 billion people, we need to know that we have a purpose for living, and when we can’t meet that need, it takes the form of a neurosis: a conspiracy of secrecy that explains why we can’t know what we want to know.
Note that none of these six points is specifically about the Martian civilization conspiracy theory, so what sorts of research would you pursue if you were writing on this topic?What types of facts, data, and learned opinions would you seek out, and where would you expect to find them?This type of inquiry will lead you to the right kinds of academic sources, not all of which are about conspiracy theories or conspiratorial thinking. Sometimes you have to come up with the ideas, yourself, and support and corroborate those ideas by turning to related topics of academic research.The points listed above deal with trends in spirituality and philosophical meaning, sociological ideologies about science and technology, as well as behaviors and attitudes that have developed as a result of twenty-first century civilization.The insights and opinions supporting your claims would come from scholarly journal articles, dissertations, and white papers written by professors and researchers, but statistics and other data may be adapted from fact-gathering agencies such as the U.S. Census Bureau, or think tanks like Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies or The Center on Global Interests.
Following is a simple outline of development that you’re encouraged to adapt to your own topic needs.
- Context (e.g., a stipulated definition of “conspiracy theory”; an introduction to the type of conspiracies in your topic; a provocative detail from the case example of your essay; a general statement about one of the main motives for conspiratorial thinking)
- Topic: introduce the type of conspiracy theory or the type of conspiratorial thinking as the topic of your essay.
- Thesis: asserting a thesis about the underlying causes, motives, or influences reinforcing this sort of conspiratorial thinking; introducing your selected conspiracy theory as a case example of those factors.
II. Body Paragraphs
- At least one paragraph providing a detailed definition of “conspiracy theorizing” on which to predicate your arguments later.
- A prudent number of paragraphs examining the relevant causes, motives, or factors for the phenomenon of conspiratorial thinking; include the following:
- detailed explanations of these factors;
- support and illustration from selected case examples;
- interpretation and comparative analysis of these examples to support your analysis;
- quotations and paraphrase from outside, scholarly sources to reinforce your arguments about the motives for this type of conspiratorial thinking;
- a broader discussion of conspiratorial thinking, itself, as a cultural, psychological, and/or sociological phenomenon.
- A paragraph refuting one strong counterargument against one (or more) of your own arguments about why people think conspiratorially about the topic you’ve chosen; your paragraph should clearly and competently demonstrate all three components of counterargument: acknowledgment; accommodation; refutation.
III. Conclusion Options
- Summary Conclusion: A re-assertion of your thesis and a summary of your main points.
- Editorializing Conclusion: A personal commentary on conspiracy theorists (such as their important role in our culture; or the damage they cause; or a cautionary message about investing in this type of conspiracy theory).
- Externalizing Conclusion: A reverse “hook” to a related topic (e.g., in a government cover-up topic, a statement about the importance of transparency in government; in a UFO conspiracy topic, a statement about how society has changed its methods for finding meaning in an age of advanced science and technology).