Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Conspiracy Theories

Life is random. Accidents happen. Events occur. Contrary to what is common belief there is no destiny. The detail of the future can't be accurately foreseen for there are many possible futures. Such is the stuff of history. But of late there has been a plethora of pseudo-historians claiming a present conspiracy that denies the righteous their due. They concoct relations between happenings that have little connection. Modern media gives their theories credibility and publicity.

I’ve been reading ‘Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History’. by David Aaronovitch which examines this phenomena. Christ's lineage through Mary Magdalene survives, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbour, Marilyn Monroe was murdered, Oswald didn’t shoot JFK, the moon landings were a fake, the Bush administration orchestrated the 9/11 attacks – Aaronovitch takes these and other similar claims and scrutinises them. His interest is not so much the conspiracy. It is the theory that underpins its popularity. He defines such a theory as ‘the attribution of deliberate agency to something that is more likely to be accidental or unintended.’

Conspiracy theories play into paranoia. People seek explanation for what is happening. It’s the fault of the Jews. Germany was stabbed in the back. It’s Wall Street. It’s the Trotskyites. It’s the CIA. When Clinton was in power Right wing conspiracy theories flourished. With Bush the pendulum swung to Left conspiracy theories.

I find it incredible that people can deny the moon walk. The cover-up for such a lie is impossible to conceive. Likewise, 9/11. What a gigantic plot if it was one. Of course the movies have softened us up for such theories. James Bond thrived on them. There are evil demonic forces trying to dominate our planet and out lives.

So-called investigative TV programmes can be factual or slanted. For the casual viewer it’s hard to know where the border-line is. While the internet gives a whole new ball game. Start a theory and it can snowball.

Take 9/11. What about a cockup theory rather than conspiracy. There is little doubt that homeland security had been lax. But in the few hours after the planes rammed into the Trade Towers confusion and panic reigned. To those involved heaven knows what else was going to unfold. It is easy in hindsight to say what should have happened. But to the decision-makers of the day they were reacting in shock to unreeling events.

When I was a young man I read an account by a student about joining an obscure religious sect. The world was going to end and they alone were to be saved. They met on a hilltop to await the arrival of the flying saucer to ferry them to the better place. Time passed and the saucer didn’t appear. Their guru then had a flash on inspiration. There was a delay to enable them to make another effort to convert the ungodly. The faithful remained faithful. The student left. I recall thinking his presence added another factor to the mixture. But the fact the belief was not shaken was the key point.

Conspiracy theory believers are unlikely to give up their beliefs in face of facts. That evidence is mere confirmation of how devious the conspirators are. It is hard to accept that what you believe is nonsense. It is easier to counter with the cliché that there there is smoke there is fire.

The believers have another ace up their sleeves. Conspiracies do exist. The fact that the Roman Catholic church has attempted to cover-up child abuse lends credibility to the claim it has cover-up the true lineage of Christ. An American president did fake the Gulf of Tonkin attack to give him a pretext to bomb North Viet Nam. Aaronovitch skilfully acknowledges this at the beginning of his book. It lends credibility to his statements.

It’s a frightening read. But I am left with one huge caveat. I accept his thesis and his findings. There is a hole in his book. He does not investigate the theory that the Bush administration conspired to claim that Saddam’s agents met with one of the 9/11 hijackers. Confessions from tortured captives were used to support this claim. I have a question for Mr Aaronovitch. Why did you not investigate this theory? Could it be it was because he supported the war.

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