Let 1000 conspiracy theories flourish

Posted by Alexander Hay

The tragic death of the phone-hack whistle blower will simply inspire more wishful thinking

Yes, it's a masonic image; yes, it's on the back of the US Dollar bill and yes, someone really was taking the mickey with this oneDeath has an appalling sense of timing. The day before the Murdochs were hauled before MPs, and just hours after the Metropolitan Police's Deputy Commissioner, John Yates, resigned, the chief whistle blower behind the phone-hacking scandal, Sean Hoare, has been found dead in his Watford flat.

The conspiracy theories will be many and varied. The police statement that his death was 'unexplained but not suspicious' will simply stoke the flames further. Whenever something major happens at a certain time under a certain set of circumstances, the conspiracists will emerge once more, spinning tales of swivel-eyed paranoia and the many and varied forces of darkness in our midst.

It's all nonsense. Now, this doesn't mean that assassinations, 'accidents', skulduggery and general sleaze don't happen. Plainly they do. But on close examination, each real case is individual and has its own set of circumstances that make it different and unique. Strange coincidences, or deaths, aren't just limited to conspiracies, but happen every day and all the time – it's just that we don't notice them as a rule.

What conspiracy theories also do, however, is retell the same story time and again while simply changing the names and places. They also commit the fallacies of appealing to authority, usually some arcane version of the truth that only believers can access, and dividing the world into 'them and us', when in fact the world and our relationship to it is far more complex.

So what else does a good conspiracy theorist need? Make sure you have something totemic to weave the rest of the conspiracy theory around, like a grassy knoll, World Trade Centre Tower 7 or President Barrack Obama's birth certificate, and you're ready to start fulminating.

But how best to put it all together? There is a certain structure that's needed. Here, then, is every conspiracy theory ever, with spaces for you to insert whoever or whatever forces of darkness you may wish to include:

The [insert evil force here] are lying to us. The [Major Event] did not happen/didn't happen the way we were told it did/hid something else [delete according to taste]. No one has yet explained the [insert totem here]. The mainstream media and our government/security services are misinformed/in on it. But we know the truth and we can prove it [insert ersatz and complicated evidence here]. But we're being suppressed and if we don't do something soon, this crime/lie/attempt to deceive us will continue!

Everything from JFK's assassination to the moon landings to Princess Diana's death to MMR to 9/11 and, latterly, the deaths of Dr. David Kelly and Sloane himself have or will inspire in effect the same theory retold and repackaged. If there are only five stories in the world, then there is only one conspiracy theory.

Perhaps that is why conspiracy theories are so popular. They both explain a complex world in simple terms and give moral purpose to those who espouse them. More darkly, however, they also encourage a deep cynicism and distrust, a retreat into paranoia and fear.

I am not arguing that every alleged plot or scheme is not untrue, but my point is that extraordinary claims must have extraordinary proof. On the other hand, how many conspiracy theorists paid attention to how our government, police and society have been subverted by a corrupt press and a self-serving establishment riddled with cliques and nepotism?

Their trick was to do it in plain view, where it wouldn't be noticed simply because it was too obvious. Or perhaps conspiracy theories are actually more comforting than the brutal truth that the last five Prime Ministers of this country have been compromised by the real or threatened influence of one Rupert Murdoch? It was obvious, but we'd given up on trying to change anything.

Likewise with the banks, sub-prime loans, toxic debt and the hubris that continues to threaten the world's economy. We already knew and continue to know, but perhaps it's too blatant for anyone to do anything about.

Instead, the conspiracy theorist obsesses on more outré, less mundane threats and plots. It's almost like we're being distracted. Now, come to think about it, don't you think...?

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Alexander Hay

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