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Conspiracy theories: from absurd to proven

Conspiracy theories and conspiracies

How absurd conspiracy theories come about and why not all of them are pure nonsense. Numerous conspiracies could be uncovered - but mostly remained without real consequences.

Excitement in the Austrian Ministry of Justice in mid-September: Minister Alma Zadić and other government representatives receive death threats. A little later, the handcuffs click for a 68-year-old. It soon became clear that the man, classified by a psychiatric expert as highly mentally and emotionally abnormal, is a conspiracy theorist. Proceedings are also underway for hate speech, because of a controversial website that has been attracting attention for a long time with racist and xenophobic content. The man's announcement: A "system change" is imminent.

Conspiracy Theories: Education & Exclusion Factors

Belief in conspiracy theories is widespread - and minorities seem particularly vulnerable. Psychologists report that Jan Willem van Prooijen from the University of Amsterdam in a study. "Many social minorities struggle with real problems such as discrimination, exclusion or financial difficulties", attest the psychologists. “However, these problems seem to fuel belief in unrealistic conspiracy theories.” The key messages of the study: People with a higher education believe less often than people with a lower education in conspiracy theories. And there are three factors in particular: the belief in simple solutions to complex problems, the feeling of powerlessness and the subjective social class. Prooijen concludes "that the relationship between education and conspiracy beliefs cannot be reduced to a single mechanism, but is the result of the complex interplay of several psychological factors associated with education."

Teleological reasoning: cause of conspiracy theories?

Another empirical study by psychologists around Sebastian Dieguez of the University of Freiburg investigated the “fake news” phenomenon. Why are these even believed? The researchers' answer is “teleological thinking”. According to Dieguez, people who are prone to conspiratorial ideas assume that everything happens for a reason and has a higher purpose. That creates a common ground for creationism, the belief in a creation of the world by God.

The latter, by the way, is widespread, especially in the USA. In a survey by Elaine Howard Ecklund from Rice University in Texas, around 90 percent of the more than 10.000 respondents said that, in their opinion, God or another higher power was wholly or at least partially responsible for the creation of space, the earth and man. Only around 9,5 percent of Americans are firmly convinced that space and man came into being without the intervention of a god or any other higher power. And even among the almost 600 scientists among those surveyed, only about one in five doubts the theory of creation.

The social network syndrome (SNS) & conspiracy theories

Why our society threatens to sink into chaos and even the global democracies are threatened, the documentation "The Social Dilemma“- absolutely worth seeing and currently on Netflix - to the bottom. And they have a common denominator: social networks like Facebook and their personal "bubbles" created by algorithms. In the latter, all users of social networks and also highly developed search engines can be found: You are presented with a completely individual selection of articles that could be very personal. It doesn't matter whether the proposed content is truthful or classified as "fake news". The danger here is this: if you are a fan of conspiracy theories, for example, you will be inundated by it because of your own interest. Minor changes in character can be noticed day after day.

So far this phenomenon has not had a name, we call it “social network syndrome” (SNS). Because, and that is considered to be proven: The use of social networks has undesirable side effects that have long since corresponded to a clinical picture: addictive behavior, change in character, falling self-esteem, paranoia, and many others. A rising suicide rate could also be attributed to the increasing spread of social networks.

The operators are only partially to blame, because they really only want to show us as much advertising as possible and earn money. Even so, the problem with their websites is the billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg all too consciously. But if you will, it's because of the business model of these platforms. In any case, the fact is: Many people are not doing well.

And here we come to another essential aspect, the legal framework, which simply does not yet exist. Here it takes its revenge that the global legislators deal primarily with everyday politics as well as event legislation and mostly because of older age do not develop any understanding of the new digital world. The entire Internet and the now almost unmanageable number of social networks are completely unregulated. Even a pharmaceutical product that causes similar side effects would have long been banned. The deliberate focus on addictive behavior on the part of users so that they keep coming back and consuming advertising, however, already falls into the area of ​​legal breaches.

Real conspiracies

Aside from the question of who is more inclined to believe unconfirmed assumptions - absurd or realistic - the more decisive question is why they exist at all, the conspiracy theories. The most plausible answer to this is probably: Because conspiracies have actually always existed - and they still exist today. That is a historical fact.
From an Austrian perspective, the Ibiza affair of the FPÖ As a recent example, democratically elected mandataries offered to award contracts worth millions in exchange for donations from parties at a secret meeting. Of course, the presumption of innocence applies.

Iraq war conspiracy

Our friends overseas are of a completely different caliber. The USA can be described as the stronghold of real conspiracies. First and foremost one of the largest international conspiracies ever, all around the Iraq war from 2003 and supposed weapons of mass destruction. Thanks to British whistleblower Katharine Gun, documents prove that the US secret service NSA collected information through illegal wiretapping in order to blackmail six voting members of the United Nations into agreeing to the USA's illegal war of aggression against Iraq. And: The actual reason for the war, the presumed weapons of mass destruction, did not exist either. The consequences of these uncovered conspiracies: none. The victims of the Iraq war, however, are estimated at up to 600.000 dead by the end of the occupation in 2011.

What is a conspiracy?

But there is a lot more. Keyword: lobbying. In view of official secrecy, a lack of transparency and silence, are “informal meetings” between politics and business also legitimate? Elsewhere, Option reports on the attempted influence by some companies against the political plan for one-way deposit on plastic bottles in Austrian retail. Is that already a conspiracy?

Conspiracy Theories & the "Anti-Mafia Paragraph"

A conspiracy is the secret collaboration of several people to the detriment of others, according to the general definition. The term conspiracy does not appear in the Austrian penal code. But there is still the so-called “anti-mafia paragraph” § 278 StGB concerning criminal organizations, which has been criticized many times: “Anyone who commits a criminal offense or participates in their activities as part of their criminal orientation participates in a criminal organization involved by providing information or assets or otherwise knowing that he is thereby promoting the association or its criminal acts. "

The activities of “particularly active” animal rights organizations count as the reason for this controversial legislation. It could be jokingly claimed that the “anti-mafia paragraph” also applies to any political party. But even the anti-nuclear movement with the Hainburger Au occupation in the late 70s would have legal problems today. Not to mention the current actions of the environmental movement "extinction rebellion“With unannounced seat demonstrations and deliberate traffic obstruction. One thing is certain: the “anti-mafia paragraph” represents a possibility of suppressing civil society initiatives. A political conspiracy, if you will.

Proven historical conspiracies
There have always been conspiracies; they are considered anthropological constants. We have gathered some of the most important historically documented conspiracies:

The Catilinarian conspiracy was a failed coup attempt by Senator Lucius Sergius Catilina in 63 BC. BC, with which he wanted to seize power in the Roman Republic. The conspiracy is best known for Cicero's speeches against Catilina and Sallust's historical monograph “De coniuratione Catilinae”.

Julius Caesar was born on March 15, 44 BC. Murdered by a group of senators around Marcus Iunius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus with 23 dagger stabs during a senate session in the theater of Pompeius. About 60 people were involved in the act.

The Pazzi conspiracy was an appointment not only within the Florentine patriciate to overthrow the ruling Medici family as de facto rulers of Tuscany through the murder of their head Lorenzo il Magnifico and his brother and co-regent Giuliano di Piero de 'Medici. The assassination attempt was carried out on April 26, 1478, but only Giuliano de 'Medici fell victim to it.

The Assassination attempt on Abraham Lincoln on the evening of April 14, 1865 was part of a conspiracy against several members of the US government and the first attempt to kill a US president. The assassin was actor John Wilkes Booth, a fanatical supporter of the Confederation. He shot the president in the head with a pistol during a performance at Ford's Theater in Washington, DC. Booth was killed a few days later after resisting his arrest. His co-conspirators were later sentenced to death and executed in July 1865.

In the Sarajevo attack On June 28, 1914, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie Chotek, Duchess of Hohenberg, were murdered by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Serbian nationalist movement Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia), during their visit to Sarajevo. The assassination attempt in the Bosnian capital planned by the Serbian secret society “Black Hand” triggered the July crisis, which ultimately led to the First World War.

As the Great American tram scandal is the name given to the systematic destruction of the tram-based local public transport in 45 cities in the United States under the leadership of the largest automobile manufacturer in the United States, General Motors (GM), from the 1930s to the 1960s. The transport companies were bought up in order to subsequently achieve a closure of the tram routes in favor of automobile traffic so that vehicles and supplies from their own production could be sold.

As the Watergate affair one describes, according to a definition of the Congress of the United States, in summary a whole series of serious "abuses of government authority" that took place between 1969 and 1974 during the tenure of the Republican President Richard Nixon. The disclosure of these abuses in the USA massively intensified a social crisis of confidence in politicians that was triggered by the Vietnam War and ultimately led to a serious constitutional crisis. The climax of the sometimes dramatic developments was Nixon's resignation on August 9, 1974.

Photo / Video: Shutterstock.

Written by Helmut Melzer

As a long-time journalist, I asked myself what would actually make sense from a journalistic point of view. You can see my answer here: Option. Showing alternatives in an idealistic way - for positive developments in our society.

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