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The repudiation of conspiracy theories cannot come at the expense of a healthy vigilance against conspiracy itself. It is conspiracism we must immunize ourselves against—and the Jewish tradition can help.

© Matan Ben-Tolila, Cat Steps, 2020, oil on canvas, 170 x 106 cm
Courtesy of Noga Gallery

There’s conspiracist idiocy, and then there’s anti-conspiracist idiocy, although it’s not talked about quite as often. In its laziest incarnation (that is, most arrogant and cocksure), anti-conspiracism is an intellectual identity defined by distinction, in the Bourdieusian sense: distinction from deluded yokels and paranoid ignoramuses. It costs little in terms of intellectual effort to obtain maximum benefit to self-image and social status. It produces armchair scientists in the image of Monsieur Homais who can ape the language of experts on any subject. Abhorring doubt and scepticism and incapable of standing in the space between justified concern and extreme paranoia, they opt instead for the comfort of certainty.

Anti-conspiracism of this sort professes its trust in a safe world, wears a satisfied smirk and rests easy at night. It has only one flaw, though it is not insignificant: it throws the baby of conspiracy out with the bathwater of conspiracism. For anti-conspiracists, the very notion of conspiracy is fanciful and far-fetched. Conspiracy is emptied of its real-world significance and made synonymous with delusion or cast as the distinguishing feature of feeble-mindedness in the face of a complicated world.

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