Gonzaga Debate Institute 2011 Mercury Conspiracy Theory


Challenges Power Structures



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Challenges Power Structures


The unorthodox way that conspiracy theories present themselves allows them to engage in critical argumentation to challenge existing powers

Horn, Instructor at University of Tennessee Martin, 10

(Chara Von Kay, Instructor at University of Tennessee Martin and Ph.D candidate, “The Paranoid Style in an Age of Suspicion: Conspiracy Thinking and Official Rhetoric in Contemporary America,” 12-12-2010, From Digital Archive at Georgia State University, pg. 17-20, http://digitalarchive.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1025&context=communication_diss&sei-redir=1#search=%22Paranoid%20Style%20an%20Age%20Suspicion%3A%20Conspiracy%20Thinking%20Official%20Rhetoric%20Contemporary%20America%22 JSkoog)



Conspiracy theories are plausible because of their ability to tap into the traditional values and beliefs of their audiences, and they are able to stay popular within the public sphere over long periods of time because of their ability to adapt to, and reflect, temporal and cultural conditions. 78 Conspiracy narratives allow for no ambiguities, no discrepancies, no coincidences; 18 everything within the conspiracy narrative has a purpose. 79 Indeed, the stories woven by conspiracists maintain an internal coherence so masterful, that, according to Darsey, traditional modes of evaluation, although helpful, are not accessible enough for the lay person to use to evaluate conspiracy claims. Rather, a more helpful and public way to evaluate conspiracy theories rests on a question of motive because, as Walter Fisher argued, even a lay public has the access and acuity to determine if the motives of the villain make sense. 80 While narrative may be the vessel through which conspiracy theories gain their legitimization, equally important are the argumentative techniques used within conspiracy narratives. Perhaps the single most seductive element of the conspiracy argument is what David Zarefsky terms as its self-sealing nature. 81 Successful conspiracy arguments, according to Zarefsky, ―shift the burden of proof onto opponents while minimizing its own burdens.‖ 82 Frequently, shifting the burden of proof onto those countering conspiracy claims includes using argument from absence. When a conspiracy charge is made, and a respondent counters by asserting that there is no conspiracy, then the response actually becomes proof that there is a conspiracy. Even if there is no response, the absence of a response becomes evidence that a vast and sinister conspiracy is brewing. As Brian Keeley notes, ―conspiracy arguments are the only theories for which evidence against them is actually constructed as evidence in favor of them.‖ 83 Darsey affirms: Under normal circumstances, appearance demands presumption. One who claims that things are not as they appear to be assumes the burden of proof; a strong prima facie case is required before appearances need be seriously interrogated. Conspiracy argument exploits and reverses this normative presumption, making the lack of evidence into evidence transmogrifying surfaces from their pedestrian status as the most visible 19 outward manifestation of reality into veils and masks. 84 Thus, the ability of conspiracy theories to use the absence of evidence as evidence allows for virtually anything to be subsumed into the conspiracy narrative. The rhetorical hallmarks of conspiracy theories provide insight into the power such theories wield. However, rhetorical scholars have generally focused on, and analyzed, a singular conspiracy theory located within the public sphere in order to uncover the argumentative and narrative strategies conspiracists use in persuading their audiences. Such studies have tended to uncover the situational and contextual elements that make conspiracy theories more believable and then map out their inherent logical and narrative problems. I am more interested in the intersection that exists between conspiracy arguments and official discourse and what this intersection has to offer to our insight. Darsey alludes to an examination of this nexus when he calls for a restoration of public science. 85 The secrecy under which institutional agencies operate is often ascribed to a malign purpose. Sissela Bok argues secrecy, by its very nature, breeds distrust: it is an intentional concealment that ―sets apart the secret from the non-secret, and of keepers of a secret from those excluded.‖ 86 In our increasingly secret world (be it related to political, scientific, or trade realms), there is a tendency to believe the worst rather than the best about what these ―secretive‖ agencies are doing.

Challenges Power Structures


Conspiracy theories force powers structures to explain and defend actions

Horn, Instructor at University of Tennessee Martin, 10

(Chara Von Kay, Instructor at University of Tennessee Martin and Ph.D candidate, “The Paranoid Style in an Age of Suspicion: Conspiracy Thinking and Official Rhetoric in Contemporary America,” 12-12-2010, From Digital Archive at Georgia State University, pg. 17-20, http://digitalarchive.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1025&context=communication_diss&sei-redir=1#search=%22Paranoid%20Style%20an%20Age%20Suspicion%3A%20Conspiracy%20Thinking%20Official%20Rhetoric%20Contemporary%20America%22 JSkoog)



Conspiracy theories, which claim to know the ―truth,‖ are not so different from official discourse. Indeed, like official discourse, conspiracy theories pose their adherence to ―facticity, causality, coherence, and rationality.‖ What sets contemporary conspiracy theories apart from official discourse, according to Jodi Dean, is ―suspicion.‖ Conspiracy narratives emphasize ―that something has been withheld, that all the facts aren‘t known, that what we see isn‘t all there is. Conspiracy theory demands more information. Too humble to offer a totalizing account, [the] accumulated assertions [of conspiracy narratives] remind us that we don’t know.‖ 104 The multiplicity of competing information casts suspicion onto more ―legitimate‖ forms of knowledge. Knight explains, ―Conspiracy theories are a form of pop sociology cobbled together on the fly as people try to gain a handle on the complexities of social and economic causation in an era of rapid globalization. With the increasing overload of information from mutually competing sources, none of which seem entirely trustworthy, a hermeneutic of suspicion has 25 become a routine operating procedure.‖ 105 Belief in conspiracy becomes an almost necessary response to the multiplicity of information, especially with the lack of a suitable explanation. Even when an explanation is provided, enough questions are asked, enough ―evidence‖ is brought to light, so as to cast doubt and suspicion onto the explanation. Any official discourse that comes into being after doubt and suspicion have been leveled against ―legitimate‖ explanations has to at least attempt to assuage any existing doubts, which inherently alters the substance and form of official discourse. 106 The leveling of the discursive playing field precipitated by the loss of central authority and the indeterminacy of information provides an opening for conspiracy theories to find increasing prominence and belief. Conspiracy theories challenge and question authority and capitalize on the strength of their own narratives, the inconsistencies of official accounts, and the proliferation of conflicting information. Conspiracy theories are a mode of constructing meaning in a rapidly changing and complex world. It is no longer automatically discrediting to label something a conspiracy theory; authorities must prove their positions, write compelling and believable accounts of events, and, ultimately, must get back in touch with their audiences if they want the support of the people. Yet the ability for officials to connect with the people is problematic because officials are no longer able to forward an affirmative argument simply providing the causes or reasons behind an event. Officials are forced into a defensive position brought on by claims of conspiracy existing prior to the crafting of an official response. For this reason it is necessary to examine the power of conspiracy beliefs through the lens of official discourse. If recent ―authoritative‖ texts are any indication, then there is a real danger that conspiracy beliefs will usurp official explanations and become the preferred way of thinking




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