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by Richard Sidaway
Are you convinced that your government is in contact with UFOs? Do you think that President Kennedy was the victim of more than one assassin? Do you get the feeling that we are being watched? Then you are probably a believer in conspiracy theories.
The success of the ‘Da Vinci Code’ alleging that the Catholic Church has suppressed the truth about the death of Jesus shows how such theories can take hold of the popular imagination.
Everyone loves a conspiracy
They say that there are two basic explanations for dramatic or world-changing events. The conspiracy theory assumes that tragedies such as the death of Princess Diana in Paris were not just accidents but were carefully planned and carried out by a group of powerful people operating behind the scenes for various sinister motives. The cock-up theory of history says that such events are probably caused by a combination of human incompetence and bad timing.
The conspiracy theory is, naturally, much more attractive because humans can be seen as powerful shapers of their own destiny, rather than the weak and fallible creatures they are. And because they are usually impossible to prove either one way or the other, conspiracy theories are limited only by the human imagination.
The real thing
Of course, there have been some real conspiracies through the ages. The Gunpowder Plot in England in 1605 to get rid of the King of England, or the July 20th plot to kill Hitler in 1944, were taken seriously enough at the time - the conspirators confessed after being tortured and they were then executed.
Secret societies are a matter of historical record too, with their initiation rites, hierarchy, secret signs and elaborate rituals. Some, like the Brotherhood of the Rosicrucians, were mystical or religious in nature. Others are more social or political in character like the Freemasons, whose members have included writers, generals, politicians and even kings. They formed the opposition to the Catholic Church in Southern Europe, for example, and supported the pursuit of rational thought, scientific endeavour and liberal democracy.
Verging on the paranoid
But just because you say you have discovered a plot and brought some people to trial doesn’t mean that a conspiracy really existed. In the dying days of Stalin’s regime, a group of Jewish medical professionals were accused of conspiring to poison Soviet leaders and overthrow the state. Hundreds were arrested and executed. The Doctors’ Plot of 1953 was just one in a long line of purges necessary to maintain the climate of fear by which the Communist Party ruled. It was more a symptom of Stalin’s anti-Semitism and paranoia than a real conspiracy.
The longest-running conspiracy theory is probably the one about the Jews wanting to take over the world. Such ideas have served as the justification for acts of random, irrational violence against Jewish communities over the centuries, and led to their systematic persecution by the Inquisition. A book was published in the 1920s supposedly giving documentary proof of such a world conspiracy, but it was later exposed as a fraud. This didn’t prevent the horrific attempt by the Nazis to exterminate the entire Jewish population of Europe during the Second World War.
The downright silly
Some conspiracy theories can be quite entertaining. Take the case of the humble light bulb. Who would believe that companies had known for years how to make one that lasts for much longer than normal, but formed a cartel to suppress it from the market because it would mean their profits would be drastically affected.
And what about the carburettor that can make a car run 300 miles on a single gallon of petrol but has been kept from consumers deliberately? Or the automobile company that tried to get control of trams in cities so that people would buy more cars instead of using public transport?
Some people even believe barcodes are a population-control device used by a secret unnamed organisation intent on world domination and that the numbers hide the mark of the devil…
And the death of Diana? Well, apparently the driver wasn’t really drunk and there was a lot of carbon monoxide in his blood. A letter had been written by the Princess just before the accident happened claiming that someone wanted to get rid of her, and the French authorities never carried out a post-mortem to find out the cause of her death. These isolated facts supposedly add up to a secret plot by intelligence agencies to prevent the destruction of the British monarchy.
An awful warning
Whatever you do, though, don’t let your life be dominated by conspiracy theories or you could end up like the former footballer and TV sports commentator who currently believes that the world is going to be taken over by a secret brotherhood of reptiles, and has published various books giving details. His writings sell very well in some parts of the world, but there must be easier ways of being popular in Canada…