Don’t say “conspiracy theory”

Posted on October 18, 2023

The MAGA movement is based on anti-minority and anti-science lies. The biggest and most pernicious of these lies are often called “conspiracy theories.” Don’t use that term.

MAGA is a cult of white victimhood. Since it’s absurd to believe that Americans are victims because they are white, the cult must rely on convoluted lies to arouse fear of racial, religious or gender minorities. These big lies include child sex rings/groomers/QAnon, “stolen” elections, COVID/vaccine denial, “false flags” when right-wingers commit terrorism, and assorted villainy by George Soros (which is a thin veil for anti-semitism).

In his essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell explains that language is not a “natural growth,” “it is an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.” The way we express an idea can remove its sharp edge, and the repetition of phrases can make people more comfortable with the negative ideas expressed. Most people are looking, not for the truth, but for agreement with their preferred beliefs.

So, if we want to deliver a harsh truth, we can’t accomplish it with a phrase like “conspiracy theory.” A conspiracy theorist is a nutcase; the idea should be shocking. But this phrase is not.

The problem is the word “theory.” For scientists, a theory is a well-substantiated explanation of an aspect of the natural world, based on facts that have been confirmed repeatedly. The Theory of Relativity, Germ Theory, Big Bang Theory and Theory of Evolution—to name just a few—are not untested hunches. Saying “theory” suggests a hypothesis or conclusion is based on proven facts.

But MAGA does not even attempt to link its disinformation to facts. All you have to do is scan the disinformation recently rebutted by or PolitiFact. And this is serious stuff. They’re not just attacks on Democrats, they’re lies designed to degrade the public’s confidence in democracy and our democratic institutions. And they’re lies about COVID, masks and vaccines which have killed hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans.

You are welcome to use the term for flat earthers, moon landing denialists and Area 51 obsessionists, but don’t say “conspiracy theory” when talking about politics. Let’s stop dignifying MAGA lies!