Well, it’s that time of year again, when readers turn to the editorial expecting to find a guest writer providing some wit and wisdom so that poor, overworked and nasally congested (on account of his Hay Fever), Doc Sleaze can take a well earned break. Unfortunately, none of the usual suspects were willing to step up to the plate: Big Sleazy is still missing in (in)action, Papa Sleaze (remember him?) was deported from the Congo to Britain on the grounds that he is an undesirable, and is currently seeking asylum in Haiti on the grounds that if he remains in the UK he faces persecution from debt collectors and irate goat owners. Little Miss Strange, meanwhile, is too busy having her fabled bottom massaged by a group of burly rugby players in order to increase its spankability, whilst my little sister (who those of you foolish enough to venture into the forums may have encountered), is at an exclusive dairy clinic as she attempts to cure her cheese addiction. So, I’m afraid you are stuck with me, again. Trust me, I don’t want to be here any more than you people do, but we all know the form: I rant dementedly and you listen politely, feigning interest and hoping that, like those mad people you encounter on street corners, I’ll just move on and not attack you or shit myself.
Actually, it’s been quite a while since I’ve encountered any those people on the street – you know the type, they regale you and every other passer-by with their tales of how their refrigerator is in league with Tony Blair and King Juan-Carlos of Spain as part of a conspiracy to have them sectioned, so that they can’t reveal the truth about Maggie Thatcher’s sexual liaison with the Loch Ness Monster. They usually have some badly photocopied gibberish in a Tesco’s carrier bag, which they hand out to startled tourists as ‘proof’ of their allegations. Mind you, the fact that I don’t see them any more could, in itself, be proof of a conspiracy by the authorities to silence them! They’re very absence could ‘prove’ that they are right! And so another conspiracy theory is born on the basis of no facts whatsoever! Which brings me to my pint: in my humble opinion, this is where conspiracy theories truly belong – with the nutters on the street. No sane, rational person should entertain such patent bollocks.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that conspiracies don’t exist, just that they rarely have anything to do with alien spaceships, Nazis, evil business cartels or secret cabals manipulating world events. Whilst, for instance, I don’t believe that the Vatican is behind some kind of elaborate conspiracy to conceal the truth of Jesus’ survival and his affair with the prostitute Mary Magdelene, three of the apostles and Pontius Pilate (or some such shite), I do believe that the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church has conspired to cover up systematic child abuse and peadophilia on the part of some of its priests. Sadly, the energy wasted on, and the media attention given to, the former, detracts from the serious issues raised by the latter. Likewise, whilst I do not believe that the US authorities have conspired to cover up the existence of crashed alien spaceships, or faked moon landings, I do believe that US governments have conspired to try and cover-up criminal activity on the part of paranoid Chief Executives, or to cover up systematic human rights abuses by their soldiers. The fact of the matter is that real-life conspiracies are usually relatively localised and dedicated to covering up some mistake or gross error of judgement on the part of people in authority. Rather than attempting to influence global events, the participants are merely trying to, at best, avoid embarrassment or, at worst, attempting to preserve their position of power. But we have to ask ourselves, just why is belief (or a desire to believe) in the full-blown fantasy conspiracies so prevalent?
Well, I think there are three main reasons. The first is connected with the increasing secularisation of society; as religion becomes less and less important, people are looking elsewhere for that ‘sense of mystery’ all great religions possess. Believing in shadowy and far-reaching conspiracies gives the world a sense of uncertainty which many, perversely, find very reassuring. The second main reason lies with the decrease of personal and social responsibility which seems to be on the increase these days. Nobody appears to want to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions any more: ‘The fact that I was driving my car at 100mph in a 40mph zone had nothing to do with the fact that it went out of control and I mowed down ten people at a bus-stop! It wasn’t my fault, they shouldn’t have been there, the bus wasn’t due for another fifteen minutes!’. If we say that human history is at the mercy of vast, unseen, conspiracies, then we can abdicate our responsibility for just about anything, can’t we? Finally, we’re back to the religious thing again – like religion, conspiracy theories are a way of trying to bring order and sense to this chaotic world, by imposing some pseudo-intellectual framework upon it.
But why does the Doc have such a downer on conspiracy theories and the people who believe them, you ask. Well, it’s simple really – their complete lack of rationality. Conspiracy theories present a kind of alternative history which their followers claim is just as valid as the real history with which they are so dissatisfied (usually because it doesn’t reflect their own obsessions and prejudices). Unfortunately, conspiracy theories simply ignore any inconvenient facts which might contradict them, and wilfully misinterpret other facts. Indeed, a complete lack of proper research and intellectual rigour characterises conspiracy theories. They are part of the curse afflicting modern society which seems to think that all view points and knowledge systems are equally valid. Some commentators mistakenly equate this with ‘relativism’, an intellectual approach decried by the right, but often employed in education since the 1960s. In fact, relativism merely teaches that all viewpoints are understandable when viewed from the perspective of those who hold them, and that they might well be perfectly valid when seen in the context of the knowledge base available when they were originally formed. It doesn’t mean that they all have equal status. Some will always, in objective terms, be wrong.
But hell, what does any of this matter, eh? We live in an age where an internet ‘institution’, Wikipedia, sets itself up as a great free knowledge resource, yet allows its entries to be freely rewritten by interested parties. Consequently, many of its entries are highly inaccurate. But not only do conspiracy theories defy reason and logic, I believe they also have a dangerously corrosive effect on society, helping to erode general confidence in our institutions and elected representatives. OK, I know they aren’t perfect but, trust me, they really aren’t involved in demonic conspiracies! Look, the bottom line is that we all seek to impose some kind of order on our environments, to reassure ourselves that we still have some degree of control over our lives – personally I have a set order for wearing my underpants, each pair has a particular day it is worn, when a pair wears out, its replacement takes its place in the line-up, it isn’t just brought in at random – but there really is no need to resort to these infantile fantasies! Just say no to conspiracy theories, look for the rational explanation instead, and leave the Nazis, aliens and anti-Christs to the raving lunatics on the street! So, till next time, keep it sleazy!