When people organize to commit a crime, the legal term for this is a conspiracy. For example, if five people get together and plan a bank robbery with the intent to execute their plan, then each of them has committed the crime of “conspiracy to commit robbery”.
If you suspect that a crime has taken place, and it’s the sort of crime that would’ve involved multiple people, then this is a “conspiracy theory”, particularly if those people would’ve had to be powerful and well-connected. Until recently, everyone seemed to agree that conspiracy theories were exclusively the creations of idiots and schizophrenics. One of the more common, well known conspiracy theories is literally that “the CIA is causing my command hallucinations”. So if someone were to claim, for example, that the 2000 election was swung by hacked voting machines in Volusia County, or that Michael Hastings was murdered by one of the top-ranking military officials he singled out for criticism in Rolling Stone? Then the anticipation is that this would be followed by some incoherent rambling about aliens, the social expectation is that this person is to be shunned, and the practical effect is that those things are hard to say, hard to hear, and unlikely to be taken seriously.
Somehow, somewhere along the line, accusing governments and the powerful of crimes became associated with mental illness, disrespectability and raging idiocy. And when you pause and notice that, it is *incredibly creepy*. It’s certainly possible to imagine how such a meme could arise naturally, but it’s also a little too perfect — like it’s the radioactive waste of a propaganda war fought generations back.
As it turns out, the last few generations did have propaganda wars, and we know what they were: the counterculture, the civil rights movement, McCarthyism. Each side of each memetic conflict left its mark on our culture, and some of those marks are things we’d better scrub away. So now I’m wondering: what were they?