“Conspiracy theories are articles of faith for the masses in an age of unbelief. You will have had the same experience as me on numerous painful occasions: a perfectly ordinary exchange with someone about current political events suddenly veers off-piste and disappears down a crevasse yawning with credulousness. ‘Everyone knows,’ your interlocutor asserts, ‘that Princess Di was assassinated by MI5 to stop her having a Muslim baby … that the September 11 attacks were mounted by the Bush government to provide a pretext for their Iraq oil-grabbing venture … that global warming is a fiction devised by the scientific establishment in order to stop us enjoying our city breaks … ‘
“It’s altogether pointless trying to winch these people out of their crevasse with a thin cable of reason, because they’ve already made the brave leap into believing something for which there is no real empirical basis whatsoever. Indeed, if you do challenge them along these lines, they simply turn on you with words to the effect that you cannot prove your version of these events, while they, at least, are maintaining a healthy scepticism – the implication being that you’re merely another dupe.
“What got me thinking about the collective insanity of the conspiratorial laity – besides running into it almost every day – was the experience of a young friend of mine who is studying philosophy at a perfectly respectable university. She was given by her tutor the assignment of watching on YouTube a ‘documentary’ called Loose Change. This, for those of you fortunate enough not to have seen it, is a series of ‘facts’ and ‘observations’ that, taken together, are intended to support one of the ‘arguments’ above; namely, that it wasn’t a group of Islamist jihadists who engineered the destruction of the twin towers and the attack on the Pentagon, but elements within the federal government itself who conspired to take the lives of thousands of their own citizens.
“When my young friend taxed her tutor with the ridiculousness of this thesis, she was told that watching Loose Change was integral to her study of Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.
“That the September 11 attacks should have generated so much conspiratorial guff is woefully predictable. Loose Change is only a wilder and more explicit version of the thesis bruited by Michael Moore’s asinine Fahrenheit 9/11. In that feature-length exercise in infantile tendentiousness, Moore made great play of the connections between the Bin Laden and Bush families, hinting that these were causally implicated in the attacks. The truth is that it would be surprising if the Bin Ladens – whose vast construction company is by appointment to the House of Saud – didn’t hobnob with the Bushes.”
Read the rest of the latest Madness of Crowds column here.