Creative Conspiracy: A Malicious Misuse Of Power

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As I stated previously, the border between a conspiracist and a creative is very, very thin. 

This may seem blasphemous coming from someone like myself who writes on imagination and the like. But we have to accept there is no moral value to creativity – the liar creates as sure as the novelist does. I like to stay positive, but for this essay series, I’m not going to. Let’s get to it:

Conspiracists are engaged in creative acts for unhealthy reasons.

We have to confront this – people can use creativity pathologically, and conspiracists do. Indeed, there is precedence for human creativity having unhealthy manifestations. Indulge me in some quick asides.

Lost In Story

I always was fascinated by cases of people who constructed elaborate fantasy worlds. In my psychology and history readings, I would find stories of people living in detailed imagined realms. These cases intrigued me because some quite functional people lived in fantasies as elaborate as the worlds of Tolkein. They just took them as real.

We can dream whole worlds and live them in response to trauma or other hardships. That’s not much different than the conspiracy theorist, who uses more of reality – just a matter of degree.


As conspiracy theories raged across the internet, many of us heard the once-obscure term apophenia. This is the human tendency to find or perceive patterns that aren’t there, indeed a trait of conspiratorial thought. I oft saw the term thrown around as a pathology, but really, finding connections is what humans do.

We are pattern-seeking creatures. We use our imaginations to figure things out and make sense of the world. We’re almost certainly unaware of how much we do it and how wrong we are. The fact we have a term for it, and it’s popularized, tells us we know we have this tendency.

A Creative Misuse

Between the extreme cases and the human tendency to create connections lie the conspiracy theories. The Conspiracist spins elaborate fantasies, trapping themselves in a world that is partially real, yet not. They then act on this real world, oft with disastrous consequences.

This leads me to the question What is creatively unique about conspiracy theories?   My conclusion is that there is an element of malice in them.

Conspiracy theories seek enemies, and they place blame. Their elaborate fantasies always have someone responsible, and that someone usually needs to be fought or punished. As we are all too aware, these targets are all too often vulnerable populations and individuals.

From witch-hunts to fascism, there’s always a target, and people are falling into elaborate justifications.

History also shows there are usually ringleaders. From politicians to preachers, podcasters to writers, there are plenty of people ready to exploit conspiratorial thought. They may use existing conspiracies, create their own, or exploit what their followers dream up.

Even if there is no one to exploit them, conspiracists may use each other. They trade conspiracy theories, build on each other, vying for attention or hoping to find truths. Anyone following internet conspiracies has seen how much creative ferment happens on anonymous message boards. In time, there is usually someone to exploit it.

We know the results. Attacks on the US capitol. Gas chambers. Would-be heroes murdering innocents they think are evil aliens.

Understanding conspiracy thinking as a pathological creative act helps us identify it. Next, let’s look at how we can use a tool I made to understand creativity to identify conspiracy theories.

Steven Savage

Why I Wrote It: Conspiracies And Worldbuilding

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Conspiracies and Worldbuilding is a book that is more than it seems, both in content and in origin. It would seem simple to write a book on “here’s how to put conspiracies in your fictional” world – and that’s the problem.

Conspiracies aren’t simple to write.

I love a good conspiracy in a book, from political intrigue to a murder mystery (which is just a tiny conspiracy). It’s fun to figure out what’s going on, and who doesn’t love a puzzle? The problem is that most people’s ideas of conspiracies come from Conspiracy Theories, and that’s dangerous.

Conspiracy Theories are everywhere because humans try to make sense of the world. In turn, they work our way into our popular culture because they are recognizable and often fascinating. A quick perusal of fiction will find multiple Illuminatis, a heavy dose of Lizard People, and a decent sprinkling of alien technology.

But this isn’t just fun. Conspiracy Theories and taking them seriously (in the wrong way) promotes several alarming trends, and this book was to address that in part.

First, many Conspiracy Theories are just window dressing on biases, old or new. When we recycle them into our fiction, we promote those biases and even give voice to promoters who have ulterior motives. A cursory examination of many a conspiratorial belief quickly uncovers racism, sexism, bigotry, and more. I wanted people to avoid spreading these ideas as if they were innocent.

Secondly, many Conspiracy Theories lead to bad story ideas because they’re so unlikely and impossible. Most Conspiracy Theories suppose impossible organizations, dubious motivations, and terrible resource management. I wanted people to write more likely conspiracies – as those are more fun to read or watch!

Third and finally, fiction too often ignores that Conspiracy Theories and Conspiracies go hand in hand. If you have nefarious plans, the easiest way to get away with it is to turn people against someone else. They’re busy attacking phantoms and innocent people so you can get away with your own dark goals. I wanted more fictional conspiracies that were good at evil machinations and wanted to cover this.

In the internet age, I saw more spread of biased conspiracy theories, more foolish leaps of logic, and more muddling of Conspiracy Theory and Conspiracies. So I wanted to do a book on how to handle these subjects in fiction better. From avoiding spreading bigotry to creating more believable (and thus thought-provoking) settings, I figured it was a win-win.

So far, it seems the book has sold pretty well, and I hope I’m reaching people. Let’s make good stories, good conspiracies, and spend less time promoting bigotry and the unlikely. Please give me a conspiracy that chills me as it seems so real and a story that helps me see how prejudices are puppet strings.

Steven Savage

Frustration Friday: Desperately Seeking Lex Luthor

One thing that plagues our culture and consciousness, derived from a devilish mix of popular culture and paranoid polemics of the past is the belief that Some Vast Competent Conspiracy is responsible for our problems.  Too many people believe, even if they won't admit it, that all our problems are due to some well-organized conspiracy running all things.

Sorry, we should be so lucky.

We lack Lex Luthor.  We're denied Doctor Doom.  We're sans Sinestro.  When you watch things that go wrong with the world, such as . . . I dunno, the Fraudclosure mess . . . you don't need supervillains and constant conspiracies to explain them.  In fact, if our world was run by secret brilliant conspirators they'd probably do a hell of a lot better.

Here's what you need to know – greedy people with issues manipulate gritty STUPID people with issues.  That's it.  That's all you need to know about most of the pain, suffering, and stupidities in the world.

So look, yes conspiracies are fun in fiction, but frankly most ideas about them are ridiculous.  They distract us from real issues – and from how easily people are manipulated by people that aren't like Sephiroth, The Leader, or Darth Vader.  We get too busy looking for conspiracies and miss what's right in front of our face.

If you're going to face the economic issues of the day, the job issues of the day, you'll be well served by abandoning the idea that anything relating to vast, conspiratorial competence runs the world.  Greed, stupidity, ignorance, and pathology explain quite enough thank you.

Remember.  If Lex Luthor was real, you'd probably have an easier time finding a job.  At least Luthorcorp would be hiring.

Steven Savage