What is it about conspiracies that make them so attractive and easy to believe yet difficult to debunk? Is the epistemological process of debunking the best or only pedagogy for dislodging conspiracies? Are all conspiracies irrational and/or unverifiable? To what extent, if at all, do today’s social media conspiracies differ from conspiracies in the past?
In recent years, the notion of a ‘clash of civilizations’, first put forward by Samuel Huntington (1996), has been widely used to explain the contemporary dynamics of geo-political conflict. It has been argued that the fundamental source of conflict is no longer primarily ideological, or even economic, but cultural. Despite many trenchant and largely debilitating academic critiques of Huntington's argument, the popular appeal of the ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis remains undiminished. In many parts of the world, the binary it describes (...) is often taken to be self-evident, especially after the tragic events of September 11. This paper uses the ideas of ‘social imaginary’ (Taylor, 2004) and ‘political myth’ (Blumenberg, 1984) to understand the popular appeal of the idea of civilizational conflict, and suggests that this appeal is unlikely to be punctured by theoretical arguments alone, but by an equally plausible political narrative located in an alternative social imaginary, acquired through cosmopolitan learning. (shrink)