Karl Popper and Conspiracy Theories in Polish Political Thought

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Joanna Diane Caytas


Abstract: Over the last century, Polish national discourse and political culture have produced an uncommonly high incidence of conspiracy theories. A similar tendency can be shown to occur among expatriates, even those one or two generations removed from the home land. Two hundred fifty years of partitions between hostile neighbors resulting in deprivation of a national identity, along with systematic oppression by the occupants’ secret police, and a tradition of uprisings and mass emigration recurring generation after generation account for some of the propensity for conspiracy theories. Karl Raimund Popper recognized conspiracy theories as psychologically anamorphous phenomena based on flawed cognitive patterns and misguided axiomatic beliefs that the more consequential an event, the less likely it is to be random or unintended. This paper examines Polish evidence of Popper’s diagnosis of a widespread aversion to attributing significant events to good or bad luck and of an assumption of an underlying intentional order. Many conspiracy theories go wrong not by mistakenly assuming intentional actors but their identity, motives, or degree of coordination. The common denominator of all conspiracy theories is a misjudgment of the forces of randomness, invisible hand mechanisms, or accidentally disproportionate consequences of relatively minor causes and/or overestimation of the possibility of maintaining control and secrecy of conspiracies in open societies. While not a universal panacea, simple interest analysis can dispel the notion of conspiracy but it can also form part of the misleading theory itself.

Keywords: Poland, Karl Popper, Conspiracy Theories, Politics, Rhetoric and Communication, Discourse.

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