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Reflecting on 'conspiracy theories'

Sometimes, there are actual conspiracies. To better understand the motivations behind them, we must rely on substantiated theories rooted in evidence and fact.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks during his annual State of the State address in Trenton, New Jersey January 14, 2014.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks during his annual State of the State address in Trenton, New Jersey January 14, 2014.
No one outside Gov. Chris Christie's (R) inner circle knows for certain why his administration imposed a crippling traffic jam, paralyzing Fort Lee last September. There are competing possible explanations, based on verifiable facts, but we don't yet know if they're true. The governor could presumably take additional steps to uncover the truth -- for example, asking relevant aides, "Why'd you do that?" -- but for now, Christie doesn't want to.
What Christie's office does want to do, however, is dismiss those asking the salient questions.

New Jersey Gov. Christie's (R) office apparently thinks "left-wing blogs" are to blame for the competing theories about who and what was behind the decision to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge in September. In a short statement to CNN on Tuesday, Christie spokesman Colin Reed blasted the theories, including those that posit the closures, which tied up traffic for days in Fort Lee, N.J., were to get revenge on rivals or possibly linked to a local real estate development. "We're not commenting on every wild-eyed conspiracy theory that's originating on left-wing blogs," Reed told the cable news network.

Reed didn't specify which "left-wing blogs" are irritating him, which is a shame, but putting that aside, it's this notion that progressive journalists have come up with "wild-eyed conspiracy theories" that strikes me as especially significant.
Indeed, let's pause to reflect on what, exactly, a "conspiracy theory" is, because the governor's office may be a little confused.
In much of the public discourse, labeling something a "conspiracy theory" is effectively the same thing as characterizing an idea as "something ridiculous that only kooks take seriously." It's intended to be dismissive -- a way to laugh off a concept unworthy of adults' consideration.
The problem, however, is that once in a great while, there are actual conspiracies and those who hope to understand them better come up with theories to explain what transpired.
In Christie's case, a vindictive governor's top aides conspired, in secret, to exact political retribution on at least one community in New Jersey. They acted deliberately and with forethought, scheming behind the scenes, and then lied about it.
This is not conjecture; this is not speculation; this is simply what happened. There was a real-life, grade-A, gen-u-ine conspiracy.
If there are theories seeking to understand why in the world Team Christie engaged in this misconduct, it's only because we don't yet know the motivation for the Christie administration's corruption. There was, as a point of fact, a conspiracy, but since it's unclear why Christie aides acted as they did, we're left to come up with educated theories based on the available evidence.
Are they "conspiracy theories"? Perhaps in a literal sense, but only because some of us are left to theorize why Team Christie conspired.
As for Christie spokesman Colin Reed, he and the rest of the governor's office won't comment "on every wild-eyed conspiracy theory." Fine. Will the governor's office comment on some conspiracy theories? How about one or two possible explanations , rooted in documented evidence?
If Team Christie sees conjecture as a nuisance, perhaps it could explain why the theories are mistaken. Better yet, if the governor and his aides disapprove of the available theories, they're welcome to offer an alternative explanation for why the administration conspired in the first place.
In the meantime, whether the governor's office likes it or not, dismissing credible, substantiated ideas from media professionals as "wild-eyed conspiracy theories" from "left-wing blogs" will not make the questions go away.