Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Conspiracy theories and our sense of reality

Real conspiracies do occur, but as Umberto Eco has pointed out, they get discovered very soon because the people involved cannot maintain secrecy long enough, especially in this age of whistle blowing. The Daily Telegraph listed the 10 greatest conspiracy theories of all time.

 Some are fairly innocuous and result from the power of the media to distort reality. See, e.g., these forged photographs of an archaeological dig where the remains of biblical giants were alleged to have been found. Fortunately, this one is easy to dismiss because no location coordinates or details of the archaeologists were given and the pictures themselves suggest tamperings. This was a conspiracy in that it set out to deceive.

Virtual worlds are also distorting the real one by imposing the game designer's model on the players, no matter how violent or warped this may be. The printed word does this to a degree but does not reward the user with a score and it's distribution is more censored by society's institutions. It is estimated that over 70 billion dollars will be spent on video games this year. This is a pity because, as I try to portray in my novel, computer simulations have a tremendous potential to lead the world forward instead of backwards.

Here are a couple of cases where the potential for digital distortion and manipulation have led to many people (still thankfully a minority) completely losing contact with reality.

  • The Flat Earth Society was re-formed a few years ago and its leader interviewed on a BBC radio programme. Asked how he explained the pictures of the earth from space he said they were all digitally doctored. I don’t recall him being asked to explain celestial mechanics which have allowed missiles to be launched into orbit or to other planets with extreme precision, or the movements of the sun, moon and planets calculated, all on the assumption of a spherical earth.

  • A substantial number of people spread over the world still believe that the Apollo moon landings were faked, despite mass media coverage of all six missions, even by the Soviet Union, returned moon rock being distributed to hundreds of labs worldwide and artifices being left on the lunar surface which can be clearly observed by telescope and examined by future manned missions (e.g. by the Chinese).

Such theories may seem harmless they damage our perception of the stage we live on and act as decoys to real plots. Some are  socially and spiritually damaging.

  • The Da Vinci Code is believed to be historical by a substantial proportion of American readers, probably because the publishers presented it as based on fact. Instead the story depends largely on the existence of the Priory of Zion, which was exposed as a French confidence trick in the 1950s. How can so many be so misled? My concern is that such a large number of people can be so gullible – what else might they be hoodwinked into believing or disbelieving?

It is no exaggeration to say that conspiracy theories can have evil consequences. The worst one was in the 19th century and eventually led to anti-Semitic persecution and extermination on an unprecedented scale in World War II in which 50 million soldiers and civilians died.

  • This was largely the result of a forged document by an entirely imaginary Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It was widely used by Nazi leaders to claim that Jews were in a secret conspiracy to destroy and take over Germany and other countries. Coupled with social Darwinism, the anti-Christ philosophy of Nietzsche, pseudoscientific theories of racial superiority and a bit of occultism, they probably convinced even themselves, as well as those offered full employment at a time of economic collapse, that a programme of mechanised slaughter of Jews, Slavs, gays, gypsies, the sick and the disabled was ‘justifiable’ for the purification of the Teutonic master race.  The Nazi Party took over a parliamentary secular democracy (Weimar Republic) in 1931, after polling only 2.8% of the vote in 1928.
The latest conspiracy theory I have come across is one implicating the CIA in planning the downfall of the Soviet Union in a way which would enrich western bankers and Russian oligarchs and asset strip the Russian people. President Putin is portrayed as being in conflict with rich westerners, particularly Jewish financiers, as he tries to reclaim these assets for the people. It is all being hidden from us by the rich who own the media. How one goes about assessing the veracity or the spuriousness of such claims I have no idea.

With difficult times ahead, some ‘intellectuals’ systematically undermining a belief in right and wrong (or trying their best to do so), and others claiming that truth does not exist, it is as well to be on our guard. Progress, be it spiritual, social,  scientific or technological, rests on a foundation of truth and trust.