Kafkatraps, Cults, and Conspiracy Theories

by Robert Gressis


I talk with Kevin Currie-Knight (East Carolina University) about Kafkatraps. Kafkatrapping is a rhetorical technique where an objection to a particular charge will be used as evidence of that charge. (Are you a communist? If you say “no,” that just shows how sneaky a communist you are.) Rob and Kevin talk about how and why Kafkatraps work, their uses in cults, conspiracy theories, and other insular movements, and a few articles Kevin has written (for the Electric Agora) about Kafkatraps.


7:32​ – When denials confirm the charge: what are Kafkatraps and how do they work? 16:31​ – Kafkatrapping has a lengthy history 23:15​ – Why do people (even unintentionally) employ Kafkatraps? 40:38​ – Plausible and implausible reasons to doubt/dismiss the testimony of others 45:12​ – Why cults often use Kafkatrapping techniques (and how Kevin almost became a scientologist) 54:34​ – Why cults have to be small to see themselves as special 1:00:20​ – How conspiracy theorists use Kafkatraps to dismiss naysayers

Kevin’s essays for EA on Kafkatraps

The KafkaTrap

further thoughts on kafkatraps


9 responses to “Kafkatraps, Cults, and Conspiracy Theories”

  1. Ira Glazer

    The ultimate Russellian/Kafkatrap:’Everything you say, you say with such confidence.’

  2. Peter Sattler

    More please on antiracism traps, the rhetoric of which fits all your categories more exactly than even the communist or witch hunt examples. The White Fragility model (or Kendi-ite reliance on confession) explicitly takes your denial of racism as evidence of the depth of your racism. And the more you fight — or even keep talking — the more I know it.

  3. Peter Sattler

    Okay, you did come back to it.

  4. Azin

    You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

    The Jew who fled Nazi Germany only to be arrested in France for being a German.

  5. s. wallerstein

    Very interesting and thought-provoking dialogue. Thanks.

    I differ with you, Robert Gressis, about interest theorists being more prone to using Kafka traps.

    I’m an interest theorist and since as a reasonably consistent interest theorist, I see my own ideas as being the product of my own psychological and economic interests, I have a reasonably tolerant and “live and let live” attitude towards the ideas of others. I’m no more “liberated” from the influence of my own interests than anyone else is.

    A good number of the few friends I have are interest theorists like myself.

  6. Seth Edenbaum

    Germany accuses Israeli daughter of a Holocaust survivor of anti-semitism for criticizing Israel.

  7. Seth Edenbaum

    And as long as I’m at it, a corollary. Philosopher makes explicitly anti-Semitic defense of the Jewish conquest of Palestine: Jews are bad, but Palestinians are worse. These arguments are common and are welcomed by Zionists. Trap?

  8. Azin

    I didn’t catch where it was even insinuated that Jews (Israelis) are relatively bad. I don’t think you could pay for a better promotion of the Israeli cause.

    All I can say about Traps, is according to my interpretation of Robert and Kevin’s usage of the term it is as a ubiquitous as the air we breathe and virtually present in all discourse where differences of opinion dominate. As soon as you disagree with someone we have to assume by default that short of indisputable fact, we have entered the realm of Kafkatraps. I originally thought Kafkatraps had to be intentional but, it seems I was mistaken. It seems most of us are oblivious to the setting of this trap that we naively fall into with little urging.

  9. Azin

    You have to understand that Germany is in a rather atypical situation in such matters and will for the foreseeable future bend over backwards not to offend Jewsh sensibilities, even at the cost of acting irrationally. Unfortunately, these days of wokeness has further bastardized the distinction between anti- semitsm and and anti Israeli.