Conspiracists peddle myths, not theories

Letters
·1-min read
<span>Photograph: Stephanie Keith/Getty</span>
Photograph: Stephanie Keith/Getty

I was pleased when the Guardian began to use the phrase “global heating” instead of “global warming”. In the same vein, I ask you to reconsider repeated use of the term “conspiracy theory” (Authorities on high alert across US as fears over far-right violence intensify, 12 January).

It is misleading to suggest that elaborate lies are “theories”. Undergraduate students have occasionally responded to objections to unsupported claims as “that’s just your theory”. Theory is serious.

It is crucial to name and analyse real conspiracies, through investigations by reporters. But conspiracies to promote lies, such as QAnon, are not “theories”. It is time to change the discourse.

What to use instead? Charles Eisenstein uses “conspiracy myth”. Other terms such as “conspiracy fantasy” can work. “Myth” seems to capture the sense of a shared and comprehensive belief system, yet “myth” can be a positive term describing many things, from Jungian psychology to anthropological research. The myth of American goodness is invoked by politicians of all stripes, despite the long continuity of racist images, such as the Confederate flag, worn or carried by those who assaulted the US Congress. It is important to discuss what term to use, but please don’t use “theory”.
Harriet Friedmann
Toronto, Canada