John C. Thompson
- 22nd October, 2017
“A proof is a proof. What kind of a proof? It’s a proof. A proof is a proof. And when you have a good proof, it’s because it’s proven.”
- Jean Chretien, Prime Minister of Canada in a 2003.
Whenever a noteworthy tragedy strikes, we can expect the conspiracy theorists to start working overtime within days. The tin-foil hat brigade has always been a part of politics, inventing and passing rumours, enlarging upon them, and accepting that these are truths if they fit preconceived notions. But in the last 20 years, things have become worse.
Charles MacKay pointed this out in his classic 1841 book Extraordinary Poplar Delusions and the Madness of Crowds – which is why book has remained in print for so long. When it comes to the search for hidden meanings behind tragedies and catastrophes, humans have invented some really strange sinister forces who are about their mysterious work.
When it comes to Occam’s Razor, conspiracy myth addicts prefer to go around with a face full of stubble. Bad weather? It must be the Invisible Sky People. Failed crops? Witches, no doubt. Food poisoning? That mysterious league of young female poisoners is at work. These, by the way, are all conspiracy myths from bygone days but were widely believed by the credulous in their day.
When it comes to conspiracy theory where there is no evidence, some can always be invented and the lack of evidence is itself a proof that the conspiracy is an especially pernicious one. In the usual manner, “they” are somehow hiding something, and that shows just how good they are!
Most of us know – deep in our bones – that governments are inept, clumsy and incompetent (at least, true conservatives know this, many liberals often remain dangerously optimistic). Yet governments that cannot manage even simple things like keeping roads paved or sewage removed are somehow mysteriously able to accomplish the strangest things.
For instance, somehow or other, the Twin Towers were rigged to collapse at the slightest nudge by fast moving 250-ton airliners containing tens of thousands of litres jet-fuel. Obviously, they were rigged for demolition! And yet somehow nobody noticed hundreds of workers digging into structural supports and wiring charges together, while the tens of thousands of people and hundreds of cameras that witnessed the 9/11 attacks are all wrong, or are part of the hoax.
Some conspiracies are hugely entertaining – the Lizard People who are secretly taking over our governments or the widespread Middle Eastern belief that Israel is training animals to spy for it. Others are more disturbing.
The problem today is that our modern communications environment permits almost every voice to be heard and almost every opinion to be buttressed; everyone can set preferences to only receive the information and comment that they want to hear. Any argument, no matter how obscure or erroneous, can be resurrected and given new life.
Under the hammer of Postmodernism, any ability that wider society once had to accept a truth has been badly dented… and that seems to have opened up a new venue for a number of mischief makers.
Some observers noted the rush of invented stories in the aftermath of the recent Las Vegas shooting, including some very problematic inventions from Russian government propaganda organs that were promptly recycled on Facebook. Hezbollah famously issued an invention a few days after the 9/11 attack that all of the Jews who worked in the Twin Towers were told to stay home that day… a “fact” issued months before the casualty list was finalized.
It is probably too much to ask the millions of eager posters out in the Web to restrain themselves for a few days in the aftermath of future tragedies; before passing on invention and rumour as fact. Yet in a time where the truth is more fragile than ever, each of us needs to tend it carefully.
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