Last updated by The POOG on September 23, 2020.

if you’re taking flak you know you’re over the target

Apocryphal expression from WWII. No referencable origin.


First recognize that when the term ‘conspiracy theory’ is used as an attack and that one may have touched a sensitive point of the opponent. This is on itself valuable information. It may be considered to be a validation of the proposition that invited the attack. Also, it may give insight into critical points in the opponent’s position or strategy which are otherwise hidden.

I emphasize ‘may’ because the use of the term may be a Pavlovian response devoid of any information other than that you have hit a nerve.

To conspire is “to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or an act which becomes unlawful as a result of the secret agreement“. The definition has two parts. The first is that the act must be”unlawful or wrongful“. The second is that it must be a “secret agreement“. As a result, a ‘conspiracy theory‘ would be a proposition that the conspiracy exists. It is a prime function of science to formulate and prove theories.

Far from being a dismissive term designed to marginalize and stigmatize a proponent of a theory, it should be viewed as an invitation to critically examine the proposition and prove either its truth or falsehood. So if you are accused of creating a conspiracy theory, take it as encouragement that you are likely on the right track and undertaking a worthwhile endeavour that many may benefit from.

In my earlier blog post Conspiracy Theory vs Conspiracy Fact, I noted how contempory ‘conspiracy theories’ around the COVID-19 pandemic are turning into conspiracy facts.

Attack Response Strategy

There are two classes of attacks. The first is rational argument. The second is emotional diatribe. Their common element is that they both can be construed as an attack on a person or organization, and a stated claim that they have made.

There are three ways of answering such an attack:

  1. Ignore it;
  2. defend your position; or
  3. attack the attacker.

Of the first strategy, one may do a quick cost/benefit analysis of a proposed response. Is it worth the potential aggravation and possible emotional engagement? Is there are a perceived cost in not responding?

The second strategy is the strategy to avoid. It cedes control of the situation to the opponent and reveals a weakness that you have. A defensive response is to invalidate your position while validating that of the opponent. In a siege, the advantage is with the attacker over time.

The third strategy is one of counterattack. The goal is to place the opponent on the defensive. The most effective application i to attack the opponent’s person. Read their emotional state and draw it out. “you seem awefully angry.” Since the attack is often a form of emotional diatribe, key on and question the emotion exhibited. Politicians are masters of misdirection.

Rational Discourse and Emotional Diatribe

These two states are mutually exclusive. In any situation, decide which state you want to be in and operate from. Emotion trumps reason. If you are looking for rational discourse and you encounter emotional diatribe, break off the discussion immediately. There is nothing positive to be gained from it.

Unfortunately our culture is heavily polarized between the two states. It is difficult to bridge thee gap. The accusation of conspiracy theorist is unfortunately an emotional attack.