I probably need to elaborate a bit on my recent conspiracy theories post.
First off, I certainly don’t advocate deplatforming or persecuting people who believe in conspiracy theories. There are some conspiracy theories which seem to me to be completely nuts (like the Faked Moon Landing theory) but I’m not going to tell people they can’t believe something simply because I think it’s crazy.
I also do not disbelieve all conspiracy theories on principle. I just think that if you’re going to be sceptical of “official” versions of events then you need to apply the same scepticism to alternative versions. You need to approach all explanations of events in the same way. Is it plausible? Could such a conspiracy have been possible? Is there a sufficiently strong motive to explain why official agencies would take the risk of exposure in order to promote a false version of events? How many people would have needed to be involved?
Does the conspiracy theory actually explain the known facts? Does it do a better job of explaining them than the official version? Is there at least some evidence to suggest that the official story is dubious?
Some conspiracy theories clearly fail the plausibility test. The Moon Landings Were Faked theory is a great example. It would have required the involvement of thousands of people in a number of different countries (since the Apollo missions were tracked by tracking stations across the globe). It would have been insanely risky - there’s just no way such a conspiracy could have been kept secret. It involved events that took place much too publicly. The payoff for such a conspiracy would not have been worth the risks. The official story is a better explanation of the known facts. So it’s reasonable to conclude that it’s probably nonsense. Pretty much the same arguments can be used in respect of the 9/11 Truther conspiracy theories - they’re ludicrously complicated and the chances of pulling off such a conspiracy successfully would have been too slim.
You also need to ask whether a conspiracy theory seems appealing because it fits your pre-existing prejudices. If it does then you need to exercise an even higher degree of healthy scepticism. If you already think the Russians are evil and that Vladimir Putin is literally Hitler then you’re vulnerable to seeing Putin’s hand behind just about everything. If you already think that the Freemasons or the Jews or the Communists are enemies of civilisation then you’re vulnerable to seeing almost everything as a Masonic, Jewish or communist plot.
I do agree that the conspiracy theory label can be, and is, used to discredit political opponents. That’s one of the reasons it’s a good idea to steer clear of the crazier conspiracy theories - there’s no point in making it easy for your enemies to discredit you. I’m intrigued by Ron Unz’s idea that it’s possible that the crazier conspiracy theories may be being pushed by the C.I.A. in order to discredit the plausible conspiracy theories. He may be on to something so that’s another reason for caution.
There’s no doubt that some conspiracy theories are true, or are highly likely to be true. There are quite a few things that I firmly believe that most mainstream opinion would consider to be conspiracy theories (feminism being a corporate plot to weaken unions, identity politics being a plot to destroy the Old Left).
You just have to be cautious and sceptical about both official versions and conspiracy theories.