A Theory of Conspiracy & Conspiracy Theories / by Bryce Hidysmith

Photo from “Surrealist Ball,” held by Marie-Hélène de Rothschild at Château de Ferrières. December 12th, 1972

Photo from “Surrealist Ball,” held by Marie-Hélène de Rothschild at Château de Ferrières. December 12th, 1972

< Soundtrack: 070 Shake - Glitter >

A priori, it’s possible to taxonomize coordination into two categories. There is coordination through communication, and there is coordination through self-similarity. This is equivalent to saying that coordination between two bodies happens because either a message is passed from one body to another (with or without feedback between bodies,) or that the same command exists within each body without the need to transfer information. As there is no other material way that two bodies could be correlated than a message passed between them or generated symmetrically, there cannot be any other way for coordination to be carried out except random synchronicity. Random synchronicity cannot be considered to be willful coordination at all as it by definition cannot be intentional, for the cause of the synchronicity could not have been willfully generated by either party. However, random synchronicity should be considered a subtype of self-similarity as the bodies in question have momentarily manifested themselves as similar enough to carry out a collective end.

While this might seem fairly obvious—agents either talk to each other and develop a shared intention in conversation through some variance of command and deliberation, or agents desire the same ends as consequences of their identity—this sort of logic seems to be completely ignored when in public discourse concerning tangible contemporary political and economic behavior. Almost always in media-driven contexts, self-similarity based coordination is at least partially interpreted as communication based coordination from a perspective external to the coordination itself.

Conspiracy theory, insofar as the derisive use of the term is descriptive, is typically the misassessment—intentional or not—of a self-similarity strategy as a communication strategy. Conspiracy theory as an insult should be thought of as a way of suggesting that someone is using a sort of Russell Conjugation in order to persuade an audience that one’s opposition is using direct communicative coordination. This type of pejorative use also assumes that direct communicative coordination is more nefarious or threatening than self-similarity, as it suggests a greater degree of potential self-modification through individual and collective metacognition. In such a conjugation: we are a number of like-minded individual who happen to pursue the same interests, they are a colluding force meeting behind closed doors, planning something nefarious.

By virtue of the speaker being part of the outgroup compared to their opposition, the cause of a given effect is obfuscated. Thus it is possible to hallucinate the opposition as far more administratively sophisticated than is actually the case, assuming that a great deal of deliberation and planning went into a given action that may be basically random. The absurd cases of these sorts of conspiracy theories are narratives about things like the Freemasons that assume that the organization is a well-oiled oligarchical mechanism of pure internal loyalty rather than a communication channel for a given in-group, containing a variety of self-similarity and direct coordination strategies. Rarely is coordination in the illuminati-aesthetic actualized. Such means are simply too costly in time, money, and trust. Still, if you weren’t invited to the party, you can pretend that anything and everything happened there.

The simplest behavioral pattern in a possible set is the most likely to have manifested, given that it has the smallest path dependency. So, by Occam’s Razor, it’s much more likely that an “interest group” is not created due to the interest group being able to consciously coordinate distinct personalities for individual benefit, but rather because the interest group is defined by the traits that it shares independently of its membership in a protocol of communicative association that led it to self-select into a protocol of communicative association, not by its communicative protocol itself. An otherwise incommunicative population with similar needs and desires will unconsciously coordinate to modify an environment to better meet its needs, helping other members of its class and itself. The very information that defines its identity is held within other members of its class as well as within its own body. Everyone is partially interchangeable, and the degree that one may approximate the other is the degree that one definitionally serves the interests of the other.

The alternative—a maximally diverse group defined by its membership in a communication protocol and nothing else—is difficult to imagine. Even the earth’s ecosystem has the self-similarity of a similar planetary locality, a similar evolutionary pattern within that planetary locality. Even though plant and animal life have technicality opposing needs when it comes to gaseous intake, the two classes of organism exist naturally in balance due to a their interdependent arising. Symbiosis lacking the potential for defection, instantiated without interdependence as a consequence of identity is hard to imagine. One can imagine an agent taking the action to modify its identity to require symbiosis, but one cannot imagine that the agent would be locked into a pattern of collaboration unless it took willful action to modify its own utility function to require interdependence. This has the odd implication that cases of cooperation due to pure symbiosis are cases of extortion by all against all. The extreme of this would obviously be mutually assured destruction, but Axelrod, in Evolution of Cooperation, seems to have noticed that the threat of opportunity cost is enough.

This is a post about the theory of conspiracy theories, not the practice. The reasons for believing or proliferating this type of paranoid model are sufficiently numerous and sufficiently touchy that attempting to enumerate them for a general audience is beyond me at this stage. The only justification that I think can be communicated easily here is the fact that the West, for instance, has something of a fetish for underdog narratives. The idea that the enemy is a grand and secretive conspiracy is rather attractive as a method of justifying opposition in cases where definite values cannot be used to justify enmity, or one wishes to manufacture a threatening enemy out of something that is not sufficiently threatening on its own. In contemporary American culture at least, both parties engage in a sort of doublethink where their opposition is simultaneously a grand conspiracy to betray America for personal profit, and also fundamentally stupid and incompetent. Both parties are far more similar than distinct in their publicly verbalized goals. This sort of manufactured casus belli is of substantial utility as the points of actual conflict exist in the typically implicit and often publicly unspeakable realm of demographic conflict, and as such a conflict between a conspiracy and a public is an easy fig-leaf to cover up the ugly truth of the conflict.