Dan Brown has a lot to answer for. Not only does he owe me 138 minutes of my life back following a misguided cinema trip to see a Spanish dubbed version of Angels and Demons, we also have his own imitable brand of “conspiracy fiction” to thank for bringing unverifiable paranoia back into mainstream political debate.
In the days before The Da Vinci Code, people who believed that world was really controlled by an international secret society and that aliens worked the checkouts at their local Tesco at least had the good graces to keep their psychosis to themselves. Nowadays they get a guest slot on Newsnight.
Osama Bin Laden’s death, (or “death”, depending on the viewpoint you subscribe to), is the modern conspiracy theorists wet dream. The lack of body due to his burial at sea, the White House’s decision not to release photographs and the discrepancies between the current and initial account of what happened in Abbottabad, has convinced some that all is not what it seems with the anti-terror event of the year. Add to this the fact that the September the 11th attacks are themselves the subject of much debate in conspiratorial circles and Obama is still thought by some to be ruling America illegally, by virtue of his supposed foreign birth and it’s easy to see how those of a far-fetched disposition have joined the imaginary dots of their own making.
The most striking thing about the Bin Laden and indeed most other conspiracies is the way they spectacularly contradict each other. Depending on which know it all you listen to, Bin Laden was either already dead prior to the raid, is still alive somewhere after it, or he was killed, but only in a bid to improve Obama’s chances of re-election. Not that such inconsistencies concern the fantasists. After all, another feature of conspiracy theories is that their advocates will never, regardless of facts, admit to them being bogus. Anything which appears to disprove the theory is dismissed as simply smoke and mirrors designed to put people off the scent of what’s really going on. Even if America decided to reveal pictures of the deceased Bin Laden, those arguing that he is actually still alive would, unflinchingly, trot out the old:“well that’s what they want you to think” line. The more evidence produced to the contrary, the more ingenious ways conspirators reinvent their own arguments in order to make them fit.
Despite these misgivings, or perhaps because of them, there’s a certain appeal to conspiracy theories. If nothing else being part of a group that shuns conventional wisdom in favour of a “truth” known only to a few, is a bit of an ego boost. After all, which would you rather be: the gullible drones spoon fed lies by the New World Order, or the enlightened minority bravely fighting a clandestine elite? Tough call, I know. And though I genuinely believe that a sceptical outlook is no bad thing, beware; it’s a slippery slope from being inquisitive to doubting whether Elvis really did land on the moon.