(Originally posted here, I had some more thoughts about it so this is an updated version)
Writing refutations to the arguments of conspiracy theorists seems as difficult and brave as clubbing seals. But anyone who has ever publicly expressed even moderate support for military intervention has inevitably encountered various leaps of logic from the keyboards of conspiracy theorists. Their personal imperviousness to sensible debate and their theory’s superbug-like inability to die off suggests there is something to be said for trying to understand their process, if it can be called such. Besides, I like clubbing seals.
Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
This is advice conspiracy theorists simply cannot take. Everything is deliberate.
Cui bono: “as a benefit to whom?”
This is the logic that says umbrella salesmen make the rain. A conspiracy theorist’s favourite.
Furtive fallacy: Significant facts of history are necessarily sinister
This is a form of paranoia, it’s not the acceptance of conspiracy theories as much as feeling the necessity for them to exist.
The denial of the first example, the overuse of the second and the possible affliction of the third are all common features in conspiracy theory argument. I think another one is also often evident and although related to ‘cui bono’, constitutes a distinct fallacy. This is to be called the factum ut faciat or the made to make fallacy. (I’ve added Latin for extra pretension) It is defined below:
“Faciens hoc ergo factum ut faciat hoc” (“made this, therefore made to make this”) is an informal fallacy (of the questionable cause variety) that states “Since event x caused event y, event x must have been instigated to bring about event y.” The fallacy lies in coming to a conclusion of causality based solely on the outcome of events, rather than taking into account other factors that suggest the outcome is incidental or requiring evidence to demonstrate intention.
The following is a simple example: The chip pan fire caused the house to burn down, therefore the chip pan fire was started with the intention of burning the house down.
The conspiracy theorist can, after making this assumption, invent a reason why the house burning down might be advantageous to an actor and therefore identify their culprit. But the starting point is the initial assumption of the motivational link. The ‘who benefits’ is often so clearly false it suggests its application is simply to justify the already illogical and automatic assumption of factum ut faciat. Being automatic, this fallacy is therefore most prevalent in those who are permanently in conspiracy mode, the full-time conspiracy theorist. Those that see any event and decide arbitrarily to claim it has a malign and hidden motivation without any logical reasoning and before their surmised motivation or its connection to the event has been established.
So when, as you might at the moment, you hear something along the lines of ‘Obama withdrew troops from Iraq and created ISIS deliberately to create the chaos to er…. put them back in’, asserted without evidence and you are clear in the knowledge that any claim of this being advantageous to Obama is groundless, know that this is the factum ut faciat fallacy.
H/T @jonathanMetzer for the Latin