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Book Review: 'Conspiracy Theories: Philosophers Connect the Dots'

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.

Introduction

“Conspiracy Theories: Philosophers Connect the Dots” is a collection of philosophy essays edited by Richard Greene. I previously read his collection “Spoiler Alert”, so I was hoping I’d enjoy this one. The book had so much potential, and yet it fell short of my expectations.

The Cover of "Conspiracy Theories" by Richard Greene

The Cover of "Conspiracy Theories" by Richard Greene

My Review of 'Conspiracy Theories: Philosophers Connect the Dots'

The first few essays are academic. What is a conspiracy theory? What is a conspiracies? Do you have to be paranoid to believe conspiracy theories? (The answer is no, but it helps.) Chapter 2 discusses the best conspiracy theory movies and what makes them so. I would have loved to see more essays like this. Chapter 3 lists some of the real conspiracies that fuel the outlandish ones.

Chapter 4 analyzes the structure of a conspiracy theory before discussing how you can dispel it with probability theory. It would have benefited from a mention of Occam’s razor. Chapter 5 discusses the logical fallacies and cognitive biases that lead to and drive conspiracy theories. Chapter 6 is an entire chapter on Flat Earthers.

Chapter 7 addresses the “we didn’t really land on the moon” theory. This chapter is stronger. As I said, this section is academic and strong. Then it goes downhill.

The entire “And Philosophy” series editors seem to think that ideological diversity consists of far-left contributors with a token Communist or two thrown in. (I’m not kidding – most books have at least one and often 2 communist theorists’ works.)

Chapter 8 tries to tie witch hunts by Puritans with capitalism. Chapter 9 argues in favor of black genocide theory and against white replacement theory.

Chapter 10 considers any criticism of “Mother Earth has a fever, capitalism and democracy gotta go” dogma to be a conspiracy that threatens human survival. Never mind Tidalgate, Climategate, the deliberate suppression of papers that argue for natural causes of planetary warming, and articles seriously asking can democracy survive climate change. Chapter 11 asks if collectives are more conspiratorial than individuals, though it admits conspiracies are much easier if you have collectives like the FBI or MI-6 involved.

Chapter 12 provides a balanced analysis of vote fraud concerns, but it ignores those who ignore the greater risk of fraud if you just give everyone a driver’s license. (New York saying it will give illegal immigrants driver’s licenses regardless of risk of vote fraud are but one example.) Chapter 13 dissects the “autism is caused by vaccines” conspiracy theory. It brings up the Wakefield study but ignores Jenny McCarthy and Oprah Winfrey’s role in spreading it.

In Chapter 14, Daniel Krasner offers a novel Russian collusion theory – that Goldwater conservatives were fueled by the Communist Party USA to undermine this country. He in all seriousness argues that this is what led to the “far right” and eventual election of Trump. Heck of a conspiracy theory … in a book that’s supposed to dissect and dispel them.

Chapter 15 quotes the Elders of Zion while blaming all antisemitism and Islamophobia on the right. It minimizes the role of Islamic terrorism. It ignores multiple real world oppressive Muslim theocracies like ISIS, Al Shabab, Boko Haram of “Bring back our girls” fame, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The authors also ignore Muslim antisemitism (including systemic hatred of Israel) that is fostered by the left. Nope, just hate on conservatives and foster Christophobia.

After reading that, the chapter imagining a debate between Socrates and Conspiratos is a relief. Unfortunately, it argues in favor of another set of conspiracy theories: institutional racism in the modern world and the Patriarchy. Several subsequent essays argue in favor of these left-wing conspiracy theories, too.

Chapter 17 briefly discusses conspiracies in fiction like Hydra in the Marvel Universe. This would have been a marvelous essay on its own, pun intended. Unfortunately it ignores the possible reasons why organizations so often get pinned as the source of conspiracies. At least Declan Finn’s fiction discusses the “why”; the Catholic Church is 2000 years old, worldwide and has deep experience, so they’re going to know about everything from the supernatural to political.

Chapter 18 discusses the general patterns in conspiracy theories. Chapter 19 discusses the main types of conspiracy theories while talking about how they’re often related to each other.

Summary

This book had so much potential to dispel serious life-threatening conspiracies from anti-vaxxers to 5G is going to kill us all. Instead, it argues in favor of the Patriarchy, institutional racism, and Russia, Russia, Russia. And nearly every other chapter refers back to some of the same conspiracy theories. Two stars, and I wish these elites in power were not so blind to their prejudices or the privilege they have.

© 2019 Tamara Wilhite