The Interpretation of Conspiracies

9 min readApr 13


Conspiracies are True, but Not How You Think.

  • Hillary Clinton is running a paedophile trafficking ring out of the basement of a pizzeria in Washington, DC.
  • The earth is flat.
  • A species of reptilian shapeshifters controls elections, wars, and international trade.
  • Bill Gates is microchipping people through vaccines.
  • 9/11 was an inside job.

These are some of the popular conspiracy theories from the last twenty years. Are they “true” as in factually correct, absolutely not, of course. Modern psychologists and sociologists who have studied conspiracy theories and shown correctly that people believe in conspiracy theories because of cognitive biases and innate desires for a sense of order and agency in a world that is chaotic and in which they feel powerless. However, these scientists fail to note that conspiracies are, like dreams, symbolically true and represent real social relationships in the world.

Conspiracies are, like dreams, symbolically true and represent real social relationships in the world.

Conspiracies, like dreams, are not about the specific events that occurred in history. For instance, it would be ridiculous for a wife who had a dream about her husband cheating on her to, the next morning, to begin divorce proceedings on the basis of adultery. However, it would be very reasonable (and any psychologist would likely suggest) for the wife to use her dream as a prompt to investigate her relationship and see if her husband has had a wondering eye or if their relationship has recently experienced a dangerous loss of intimacy.

Conspiracies, like the dream of adultery, appear to be accurate and important alarm bells for a events that are unresolved, ongoing injustices, and large society-level lies.

Interpretation of conspiracies, like that of dreams, is more of an art than a science, and a healthy debate ought to develop around the interpretation of conspiracies. But as a first sally at this theory, we have to start somewhere, so I will not hold back in proposing interpretations for common conspiracies.

Let’s take some popular conspiracies throughout history and look for how they were true to see if we can discover a system for interpreting new conspiracies theories in the present.

Examples of Ancient Conspiracies

Conspiracies are not new. So in developing a theory of interpreting conspiracies, we can start with ancient conspiracies. This strategy will give us the 20/20 of hindsight and a bit of emotional distance from the events.

Nero Played While Rome Burned

In ancient Rome there was a conspiracy that the emperor Nero set fire to Rome and played the lute while it burned. Nero burned a large section of the city, the conspiracy went, to clear space for a new palace.

Why would people come up with such a conspiracy?

Well it might have something to do with the moral depredations of the emperor which mirrored the general growing decadence of the Roman Empire. Six years before the fire in 59 AD Nero murdered his mother Agrippina and the encouragement of his mistress Poppaea. He also then discharged his leading adviser and famous philosopher, Seneca, who was then forced to commit suicide. The Roman empire would reach its maximum extent of its borders fifty years later, but by 64 AD, the day-to-day Roman citizens no longer felt the exciting energy of an expanding empire and instead only saw their men taken off to be legions and their elites growing ever more unhinged. The greatest slave rebellion, that of Spartacus occurred less than a decade after the fire and this conspiracy, suggesting that an ever growing disquiet among Rome’s slaves (who made up as much as 1/3 of the city’s population).

We can see from this ancient example that this conspiracy theory was not entirely “fanciful” but while its facts are greatly in doubt (there is no evidence that Nero played the lute and watched Rome burn — he was 35 miles away when the fire took place), nevertheless, there were clearly latent subconscious reasons for people to promote the idea that their emperor (and the elites) were out of touch and morally and imperially decadent.

The Illuminati

In the 1800s a conspiracy theory emerged that there was a secret organization, like the Freemasons, but more powerful, that was guiding the world. This is precursor to the anti-semitic conspiracies of the Nazi’s that Jews were controlling the world, or recent conspiracies of shapeshifting reptiles. But each of these “secret world controller” conspiracies have a distinct symbolic flavor to which, as interpreters of conspiracy theories, we must pay close attention.

For instance, the actual Illuminati were a real secret society started by Adam Weishaupt in Bavaria in 1772, but the Bavarian government banned the organization and the leaders were arrested in 1785 and the organization dissolved. The Illuminati conspiracy only emerged in 1797 only after the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution had occurred and Napoleon had taken control. Who initiated the conspiracy theory? Simultaneously two men wrote books claiming that Illuminati were to blame for the French Revolution and that they were coming for your country next. Augustin de Barruel, a French nobleman and ordained Jesuit priest and critic of the philosophy of the Enlightenment. The other was a Scotsman John Robinson, a professor of natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh who also claimed that the Illuminati were responsible for the French Revolution and today worked in secret to “abolish all religion, overturn every government, and make the world a general plunder and wreck.”

“Robison had hit a nerve by offering an answer to the great questions of the day: what had caused the French Revolution, and what had driven its bloody and tumultuous progress? From his vantage point in Edinburgh he had, along with millions of others, followed with horror the reports of France dismembering its monarchy, dispossessing its church and transforming its downtrodden and brutalised population into the most ruthless fighting force Europe had ever seen — and now, under the rising star of the young general Napoleon Bonaparte, attempting to export the carnage and destruction to its surrounding monarchies, not least Britain itself.” (Public Domain Review)

General Theory of Interpreting Conspiracies

So after looking at these ancient and modern conspiracy theories and contrasting conspiracy theories with propaganda and religious beliefs and superstitions, can we develop a general theory or method for interpreting conspiracy theories?

1. Identify Who Promoted the Theory and When

If conspiracy theories are like dreams, who promoted them and when matters a lot more than the actual factual details of the conspiracy itself. Who started a conspiracy (and who promoted it) and when matters most to suss out the conspiracy’s true meaning.

When we are attempting to understand the real meaning of the Illuminati conspiracy we have to look at the reactionary fears of the UK and continental Europe against the liberal and Enlightenment revolution that had taken place in the US and then in France.

The 9/11 conspiracies only emerged in Europe directly after the attacks, but did not gain traction in the US until 2004 after the US had invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq. This suggests that the conspiracy theory for Europeans was a symbol of deep-seated worry of America being a corrupted state, but for the US the conspiracy theory was a symbol of the lies and malfesience of the Bush white house and their lies that brought us to needless and illegal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

2. Document Carefully the Characters and the Story

The most important part of conspiracy theories is their characters and the story they are involved in. The characters should not always be taken as real people, sometimes they stand in for a group, a class, or a type of people.

Obviously Hillary Clinton was not running a pedophilia ring out of Comet Pizzaria. Clinton and “the democrats” in this case appear to stand in for political elites especially career politicians and DC insiders. Their victims were children.

The Illuminati or any secret-power conspiracy is about the power of a centralized group to shape events that should otherwise be molded by other forces, whether democratic, traditional, or natural.

In 9/11 the characters were explicitly George W. Bush and his inner circle.

In Area 51 there is the US military and the aliens.

In flat earth there is really just one character: the scientific establishment.

3. Remove Fictions and Ignore their “Evidence” and Restate the Conspiracy Theory in General Terms

Next we have to remove the false parts of the conspiracy while leaving its inner structure. Conspiracy theorists go to great lengths to marshal evidence for their theories. Of course the evidence is all hearsay and circumstantial, but perhaps the exact kind of evidence also has important symbolic meaning. For instance, in the 9/11 truther theories, the emphasis on thermite cutting through steel frames, on “squibs” — explosions of windows on lower levels that happen during a controlled demolition, the “molten iron” at the base of the towers (hotter than the temperature jet fuel burns), and on the collapse of the building 7 from fire when “no steel frame high rise had ever before collapsed because of a fire.” Do these salient details that conspiracy theorists fixate on have symbolic meaning for the overall conspiracy? It does not seem so. The circumstantial evidence that conspiracy theorists pile on seem to have little-to-no symbolic value but represent the rational part of the brain desperate to construct a story that supports the fundamental truth that the more intuitive part of the brain has already confirmed. Likewise in Pizzagate, the idea that the pedophilia ring operated out of Comet Ping Pong pizzaria in DC appears to be symbolically empty, and simply more rational packaging for the intutive inner message.

9/11 was clearly not conducted intentionally by George W. Bush and his inner circle, so the 9/11 conspiracy theory is perhaps ironically, not really about 9/11 , but there is a historical record of the US Government provoked Islamic terrorism or “blowback” over decades of bad foreign policy choices in the Middle East, and after 9/11 President Bush and his inner circle capitalized on the attack after it occurred.

Obviously the earth is not flat (how ridiculous!). Once you remove that falsehood, at first it seems like nothing is left, but there is something there. What is left is the lurking dissatisfaction with the failures of education, the media, and science to create a predictable world of facts. Why is conventional knowledge constantly reversed or questioned? Why do we have to doubt everything we read? Why do we constantly learn that what we learned in school was incorrect? If all our conventional wisdom, science, and common sense is correct, why are the outcomes of our society so bad — pollution, poverty, depression/anxiety, loneliness, political extremism, etc?

4. Look for Actual Facts that Conform to the General Outline

Once you have removed the factually incorrect elements, we have to go on a hunt to find true facts that conform to the general symbolic outline of the dream.

9/11 was not an inside job, but what were the government’s choices leading up to 9/11? There has been plane highjackers for decades, why did the government not put an end to that through proper security? Al Qaeda did not attack the Twin Towers because they “hated out freedom,” they did it because of a laundry list of grievances against their people including keeping US military in Saudi Arabia, excluding Arab nations from fair trade agreements, and many other slights and acts of harm from the time of colonialism onwards. Why did the government do those things which then so clearly provoked this violence? And after 9/11, why did we invade Afghanistan when Osama was being held in Pakhistan? And why has there never been any repercussions for Saudi Arabia when 15 of the 19 attackers on 9/11 were Saudi? Iraq did not have WMD’s. The Bush White House lied to the American people to begin that war.

5. Put All the Pieces Together

Then we put the true facts together with the outline of the conspiracy theory.

The statement “9/11 was planned and executed by George W. Bush and a military-government cabal” is untrue. However, if we restate the conspiracy in the most general terms, we get something true. “After 9/11, George W. Bush and his inner circle lied to the United States to promote a war on terror and needlessly invade Iraq.”

Shapeshifting lizards are not running the world, but billionaires do meet every year in Davos, and they do shapeshift by hiring PR firms and influencing the media to transform or launder their reputations. Moreover, Forbes reported that research suggests that as many as 12% of CEO’s are sociopaths — but CEO’s are really small potatoes compared to their boards of investors. Billionaire boardmembers are likely even higher percentage sociopathic. So they are relatively reptilian and they do shapechange.

The conspiracy about Area 51 is about disbelief of new technology and about government secrecy. It represents a failure of public education to teach the general population enough about science so that cell phones and kevlar would not seem like alien magic. It also represents the legitimate fear that the military and the military industrial complex is keeping important secrets from the American public, secrets that if they were revealed could greatly improve society.

The list goes on. Try interpreting a conspiracy yourself!




Educator, Founder, Engineer. Interested in Evidence Based Education and Solving BIG Problems.