Gonzaga Debate Institute 2011 Mercury Conspiracy Theory


AT: Conspiracy analysis is productive politics



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AT: Conspiracy analysis is productive politics


Conspiracy theory replaces political engagement with endless, circular analysis

Fenster, University of Florida - Professor of Law, 09

(Mark, Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture, Pg. 93-96, Ebrary, JSkoog)

But Clinton's statement also demonstrates the profound trouble that mainstream politicians and established political institutions have when confronted by the politics, interpretive practices, and narrative constructions of conspiracy theory. In particular, the statement "I just really don't believe there is anything more to know" makes no sense within the hermeneutics of conspiracy. By assuming there are limits to interpretation, the statement ignores the fact that conspiracy theory respects no interpretive limits when it investigates the secret treachery of true political power. Conspiracy theory demands continual interpretation. There is always something more to know about an alleged conspiracy, the evidence of which is subjected to an investigative machine that depends on the perpetual motion of signification. Further, the very attempt to shut interpretation down is itself a suspicious act that requires interpretation. Clinton's declaration of a limit to interpretation thus signifies excessively. For a conspiracy theorist, when a suspect political leader says that there is nothing more to know, he simultaneously circulates a profound error (there is always something more to know) and presents another statement, linked to previous ones that he and his associates have made, that demonstrates the devious and conspiratorial nature of his power (we know that he knows more). Conspiracy theory trapped Clinton in a circular, endless game in which every declaration of his innocence and every piece of evidence he put forward to exonerate himself served as further proof of his guilt. At still another level, however, Clinton s statement does speak for the conspiracy theorist. There really is nothing more to know, as each detail or sign links with another in an endless chain of details within a singular narrative frame. One can and must continually collect and interpret evidence, but the explanation of that evidence is always already formed. Interpretation may be endless, but the conspiracy tightly limits its range of conclusions. For a conspiracy theorist focused on the Clinton presidency during the 1990s, numerous scandals and nefarious plots awaited disclosure, composed of various sorts ol details that were already known, or were coming to light, or were still to be unearthed: the larger explanation behind these individual scandals. A popular one—and the basis for the militia movements dread of Clinton's presidency— declared that Clinton was an agent of a "New World Order" seeking to impose a totalitarian regime. This theory merely required further proof of Clinton's inherent insidiousness. The linkage between an event like Foster's suicide to larger claims of conspiracy was contingent: competing theories utilized the same detail in different ways, while even the same theory could move in alternate directions as it developed. There may be more to learn—new details, even new developments as the Clinton conspiracy spread more widely—but there would be nothing more to know. This chapter concerns these intensely active interpretive practices of conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theory works as a form of hyperactive semiosis in which history and politics serve as reservoirs of signs that demand (over)interpretation, and that signify, for the interpreter, far more than their conventional meaning. Again, Hofstadter's powerful notion of the "paranoid style" of conspiracy theory is superficially attractive as a framework for analysis. As I explained in part I, Hofstadter did not assert that conspiracy theorists were necessarily paranoid but that their way of interpreting the world was like that of the paranoid. His most important claim in this respect was that conspiracy theorists view current and historical events as a series of plots to undermine a rightful order by an enemy on whom they project their own anxieties and desires.' Although understanding conspiracy theory as a paranoid form of interpretation provides some insight, it displaces the cultural and specifically semiotic challenge posed by conspiracy theory's interpretive practices onto a relatively simplistic notion of pathology. Therefore, Hofstadter s work can itself best be used analogically. The paradoxes of paranoia, for example, provide a useful way of thinking through conspiracy theory's role as an interpretive framework.-* As with clinical paranoia, the interpretive practices of conspiracy theory are in many instances delusional but are structured in a manner that is internally consistent and logical. They engage in a logic that is at once tautological and Procrustean by associating disparate individual events and figures, drawing firm conclusions based on scant or nonexistent evidence, and asserting either too simplistic or too complicated explanations to account for historical or present-day events. As a kind of residual or regressive practice within a presumably "postmodern" era that marks the end of master narratives, conspiracy theorists posit highly and imaginatively integrative analyses of individual pieces of evidence into an all-encompassing framework that can describe the breadth of modern (and, in some theories, pre-modern and ancient) history and politics.4 It manifests a popular desire to reconstruct the master narrative as a mode of expression, thus serving as an excessively integrative interpretive practice that moves beyond the norms of inference. These interpretive practices are not per se pathological, however, and an approach that labels them as such limits itself both politically and analytically because it cannot explain and respond to the specifically hermeneutical aspects of conspiracy theory.' This chapter proposes two alternative ways of conceiving of this interpretive practice, as desire and as production. Both concepts allows us to see conspiracy* theory as an active, endless process that continually seeks, but can never fully arrive at, a final interpretation. They take conspiracy theory's marginality and hyperactivity as starting points to examine its explanatory power and attraction in contemporary popular politics.
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