Thursday, September 21, 2006



Teórias de conspiração

O debate sobre a natureza das teórias de conspiração tem vindo a renascer ultimamente. É pertinente o que disse Karl Popper na Sociedade Aberta e os seus Inimigos, Vol.II, p.94-95.

“In order to make my point clear, I shall briefly describe a theory which is widely held but which assumes what I consider the very opposite of the true aims of the social sciences; I call it the ‘conspiracy theory of society’. It is the view that an explanation of a social phenomenon consists in the discovery of the men or groups who are interested in the occurrence of this phenomenon (sometimes it is a hidden interest which has first to be revealed), and who have planned and conspired to bring it about.

This view of the aims of the social sciences arises, of course, from the mistaken theory that, whatever happens in society—especially happenings such as war, unemployment, poverty, shortages, which people as a rule dislike—is the result of direct design by some powerful individuals and groups. This theory is widely held; it is older even than historicism (which, as shown by its primitive theistic form, is a derivative of the conspiracy theory). In its modern forms it is, like modern historicism, and a certain modern attitude towards ‘natural laws’, a typical result of the secularization of a religious superstition. The belief in the Homeric gods whose conspiracies explain the history of the Trojan War is gone. The gods are abandoned. But their place is filled by powerful men or groups—sinister pressure groups whose wickedness is responsible for all the evils we suffer from—such as the Learned Elders of Zion, or the monopolies, or the capitalists, or the imperialists.

I do not wish to imply that conspiracies never happen. On the contrary, they are typical social phenomena. They become important, for example, whenever people who believe in the conspiracy theory get into power. And people who sincerely believe that they know how to make heaven and earth are most likely to adopt the conspiracy theory, and to get involved in a counter-conspiracy against non-existing conspirators. For the only explanation of their failure to produce their heaven is the evil intention of the Devil, who has a vested interest in hell.

Conspiracies occur, it must be admitted. But the striking fact which, in spite of their occurrence, disproves the conspiracy is that few of these conspiracies are ultimately successful. Conspirators rarely consummate their conspiracy.

Why is this so? Why do achievements differ so widely from aspirations? Because this is usually the case in social life, conspiracy or no conspiracy. Social life is not only a trial of strength between opposing groups: it is action within a more or less resilient of brittle framework of institutions and t traditions, and it creates—apart from any conscious counter-action—many unforeseen reactions in this framework, some of them perhaps unforeseeable.

To try to analyse these reactions and to foresee them as far as possible is, I believe, the main task of the social sciences. It is the task of analysing the unintended social repercussions of intentional human actions—those repercussions whose significance is neglected both by the conspiracy theory and by psychologists, as already indicated. An action which proceeds precisely according to intention does not create a problem for social science (except that there may be a need to explain why in this particular case no unintended repercussions occurred). One of the most primitive economic actions may serve a an example in order to make the idea of unintended consequences of our actions quite clear. If a man wishes to buy a house, we can safely assume that he does not wish to raise the market price of houses. But the very fact that he appears on the market as a house buyer will tend to raise market prices. And analogous remarks hold for the seller. Or to take an example from a very different field, if a man decides to insure his life, he is unlikely to have the intention of encouraging some people to invest their money in insurance shares. But he will do so nevertheless. We see here clearly that not all consequences of our actions are intended consequences; and accordingly, that the conspiracy theory of society cannot be true because it amounts to the assertion that all results, even those which at first sight do not seem to be intended by anybody, are the intended results of the actions of people who are interested in these results.

The examples given do not refute psychologism as easily as they refute the conspiracy theory, for one can argue that it is the sellers’ knowledge of a buyer’s presence in the market, and their hope of getting a higher price—in other words, psychological factors—which explains the repercussions described. This, of course, is quite true; but we must not forget that this knowledge and this hope are not ultimate data of human nature, and they are, in their turn, explicable in terms of the social situation— the market situation.”