We’re all familiar with what a “conspiracy theory” is: a narrative of social control in which shadowy groups are secretly rigging events to increase their own power and profit. An apt personification is “the man behind the curtain” in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Of course, there actually are groups attempting to rig events to their own enrichment, such as criminal rackets, political parties and corporations, but conspiracy theories go beyond this simple reality of economics and politics; the actors they describe are virtually god-like in their omniscience and omnipotence: to wit, any and every happenstance is interpreted not only in terms of how it benefits these actors, but—here’s the kicker—how that benefit proves that these forces planned and executed the events in question. At this point, the tales becomes tall indeed, and all logic goes out the window.
“Cui bono?“—a Latin phrase usually translated as “Who benefits?”—is the bread-and-butter of conspiracy theorizing. And as a starting point for understanding motivations and relationships in a profit-driven society, it’s certainly useful, but it only takes you so far.
I would draw the distinction between “opportunism” and “orchestration.”
For example, if my house is on fire and my neighbor charges me a Franklin to use his hose, what’s been clearly demonstrated is that he’s a greedy son-of-a-gun, but not—and this is key—that he personally set the conflagration himself. Maybe he did, maybe didn’t. But the mere fact of his making money from the situation does not prove his culpability: it just illustrates his opportunism, or, if you like, his entrepreneurship.
In a capitalist society where “money makes the world go round,” virtually every single event will boost the bottom line for somebody, and as a rule, multiple parties will actively be seeking the angle where they get to be that particular somebody, whether they had anything to do with starting it or not. It’s perverse, but it’s not always diabolical.