The difference between conspiracy theories and conspiracism is the first tries to explain an event, whereas the second simply invents events

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

Suppose you believe in an evil force, such as Satan or Communism of aliens from another planet. You believe this evil force wants to take over the planet and destroy the entire human race. And you believe that I am loyal to this evil force. Is there any reason why you should then respect my right to vote? If my side wins the election, is there any reason you should feel the election was valid?

Promoting conspiracies about the rising power of some ultimate evil, along with the suspicion that everyone who disagrees with you is in on the conspiracy, must naturally undermine democracy because why would you participate in democratic elections with a group who plans to kill you and everyone you love?


That’s probably the most common social psychological source of conspiracy thinking. People don’t fit in, they feel dispossessed or alienated or put upon by some elite or expert, and then they have a story that seems to make sense of why that has happened to them. It’s a kind of scapegoating.

It’s incredibly empowering to believe you have the true picture of reality and that everyone else is delusional. And if you look at conspiracists today, even the wackiest, like those writing about QAnon, they see themselves as the cognoscenti. They understand how the world really works, and they understand that the rest of us are brainwashed

….I mean that conspiracy theorizing today dispenses with the burden of explanation. In fact, sometimes, as in Pizzagate, there’s absolutely nothing that needs to be explained, and there’s no real demand for truth or facts. There are no actual dots that need to be connected to form a pattern.

Instead, we have conspiracy charges that take a new form: bare assertion. Instead of trying to explain something that happened in the world, it’s about creating a narrative that itself becomes the reason for the conspiracism. And it even spreads in a much different way.

For instance, much of the conspiracism today spreads through innuendo. You’ll hear people say, “I just want to know more, I’m just asking questions.” Or, as President Trump likes to say, “A lot of people are saying…” This is conspiracy without any theory. It’s about validating preexisting beliefs by constantly repeating false claims that reinforce what you already believe.

So it’s not merely that someone thinks Hillary Clinton is an unworthy candidate; we have to make up a story about her sex trafficking in children. And by repeating these things and assenting to them, you’re signaling a kind of group affinity. Conspiracy without the theory has become a form of political participation.

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