— Thomas Pynchon (Against the Day)
Mark Fenster states that conspiracy theories proceed from an assumption that is undoubtedly correct, even banally so: we don’t all have equal access to power and capital. In his book Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture he offers two basic claims: (1) that academics and journalists have wrongly assumed that conspiracy theories are necessarily a pathological cry from the political and social margins; and, (2) Conspiracy theory needs to be understood as a subset of populism, which has a long and important tradition in American culture and politics. As he tells us in a recent interview conspiracy theorists "seek evidence of the extent to which the system by which those assets are distributed—the state and economy—is both hidden and corrupt, and they construct elaborate stories that explain the conspiracy’s secrecy and villainy. These steps are shared not only by the most committed conspiracy theorists; political novelists and investigative reporters, for example, also try to explain and narrate a world of unequal power. They do so differently, but they share with conspiracy theorists many of the same interpretive and narrative strategies. The move from a theory of power to interpretive and narrative acts is a part of our cultural and political landscape. To call it “pathology” is to miss its pervasiveness, attraction, and authority in the present day." read more...
One take on conspiracy theory based upon populist assumptions is the idea of parapolitics:
"Parapolitics is a term that covers the practice of attaining political ends through secrecy and covert operations by intelligence agencies, think tanks and private networks. As such it is only a manifestation of "deep politics," defined by Prof. Peter Dale Scott as "all those political practices and arrangements, deliberate or not, which are usually repressed rather than acknowledged." read more...
Dale Scott defines it as a form of Deep Politics:
“The key to understanding Deep Politics is the distinction I propose between traditional conspiracy theory, looking at conscious secret collaborations towards shared ends, and deep political analysis, defined as ‘the study of all those political practices and arrangements , deliberate or not, which are usually repressed rather than acknowledged’ (Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, 1996, p.xi)"
"This is the age of conspiracy . . .the age of connections, links, secret relationships."
Don DeLillo, Running Dog
One could also say that this is the Age of Information Overload. Jodi Dean tells us of two ruling ideas of the information age "that things are not as they seem and everything is connected, are primary components of how we think about and experience the information age. They are also the guiding impulses of conspiracy theory.(Theorizing Conspiracy Theory)" She goes on to say:
"In contrast, then, to thinking about conspiracy theory in terms of style, plot, or pathology, I think it makes better sense to understand it as an informational assemblage linking lines of power (legitimacy/authority) and possibilities for agency (intention/subjection) along the axis publicity/secrecy and through nodes of evidence. Such an understanding allows for changes in the context, content, and role of conspiracy thinking over time. It recognizes conspiracy theory as an account of power and political agency. And, it highlights the dynamic of secrecy and publicity as central to the logic of conspiracy theory."
The idea of secrecy and publicity, which is at the dark core of the security systemic and propaganda regimes, with their logic of disinformation and cover-ups that provides conspiracy theorists of political, economic, and religious ideologies the substrate for their paranoid visions and nightmare prophecies offers us a parapolitical thread to guide our endeavors through the modern and postmodern labyrinths of fact and fiction. As I delve deeper into this bewildering world of paranoia and political populism I will cover the main threads of conspiracy theory in our time. I will trace the popular conspiracies as they relate to what has been termed the supermythos or Grand Myth of Conspiracy that ties all the historical conspiracies together. Strange realms ahead... yet, interesting, too.
Jodi Dean sees conspiracy as the Quest for Revelation wherein the conspiracy theorist is caught between a will to know everything(the hidden agenda revealed at last) and the need for transparency(a world where secrecy and oligarchies would be eliminated):
"Conspiracy thinking is a method for thinking critically when caught within the governing assumptions of a public sphere. So the problem with conspiracy thinking is not its failure to comply with public reason but its very compliance, a compliance that reiterates some of these assumptions even as it contests others, a compliance that demonstrates all too clearly the paranoia, surveillance, and compulsive will to know within the ideal of publicity. Thus, conspiracy theory rejects the myth of a transparent public sphere, a sphere where others can be trusted (and, importantly, conspiracy theory doesn't claim with certainty that no one can be trusted; it claims an uncertainty as to whether anyone can be trusted), although it continues to rely on revelation. In so doing, it demonstrates the constitutive antagonism between transparency and revelation, the antagonism of a notion of the public that ultimately depends on secrecy: if everything and everyone were transparent, there would be nothing to reveal."