Will Self on Conspiracy theories

Posted by Kendall Harmon

There are some genuine conspiracies afoot in the world. These tend to be restricted in their ambit; all too often they cock up spectacularly. But with the large-scale events where the credulous see conspiracy, cock-up is invariably the correct explanation. Princess Di's death? A drunken cock-up. The British invasion of Iraq? An arrogant cock-up by those swinging dicks Blair, Campbell et al. Global warming? A cock-up by most of humanity. So on it goes: cock-up, cock-up, cock-up. Contrary to what Marxists and conspiracy theorists alike believe, human history doesn't advance by any discernible dialectic, but revolves in a cycle of cock-ups. Presumably, this will continue until the gyre widens out into the big cock-up that does for us all entirely.

It's easy to understand why conspiracy theories should have such a grip on the collective imagination. It's tough living in a chaotic universe ruled only by contingency and cock-up, and without the reassuring belief that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Besides, the conspiracy-believer is flattered by his own credulousness, which he mistakes for enhanced insight. He - unlike you - is in on something, privy to the gossip of the celestial spheres, logged on to the cosmic Twitter.

So, take my advice: don't attempt for a second to argue with these deluded folk. Simply smite them on the head with a copy of Hume's Enquiry - or, better still, his much heftier Treatise of Human Nature. Hardback, naturally.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchPhilosophyPsychology

8 Comments
Posted February 25, 2010 at 12:02 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:

Er…ever heard of Guy Fawkes? Gunpowder Plot?  You know…a conspiracy?

How about Operation Valkyrie?  Claus von Stauffenberg?  You know, the conspiracy to kill Hitler?

Operation Ajax?  Iran? Overthrowing the government?

Chile…the CIA?  Ringing any bells?  Oh, yeah, there was a conspiracy.

So, since there really are conspiracies out there…what are you trying to sell us Mr. Will Self?

February 25, 2:14 am | [comment link]
2. Ad Orientem wrote:

STN   I would suggest rereading the first sentence in the excerpt above.  He is not denying conspiracies.  Just that most don’t work well.  I’m not a big fan of conspiracy theories.  I worked for the government once upon a time.  They are too incompetent to pull off most of the big ones ppl keep suggesting.

February 25, 3:59 am | [comment link]
3. bettcee wrote:

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

There were quite a few people in the U.S. government who dismissed “empirical” evidence that an organization named al-Quada would conspire with their followers and send them to live anonymously in the United States, in order to learn to fly planes and hijack passenger planes so they could fly the passengers and the planes into the trade center, the Pentagon, and other targets. Conspirators seldom reveal “empirical” information about their plans to the world, (or to journalists) so it seems to me that the government should not be required to have concrete empirical evidence before it attempts to thwart plots similar to 9/11.

We should not ridicule people, or our government, when they rely on circumstantial information, or when they refuse to reveal secret empirical evidence in order to exercise their duty to protect our country. The general public (including journalists) is seldom aware of the empirical or circumstantial evidence that our government has so it is rather arrogant to ridicule those who are aware and to refer to them as “deluded folk”.  After all some of the people Mr. Self refers to (Blair and Bush, in particular) may have actually used a strong “cable of reason” to protect the world from further harm.

February 26, 12:38 am | [comment link]
4. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:

#2 AO
So what exactly do you consider “big” if you don’t consider the toppling of Iran and Chile to be “big”?  I mean, the successful overthrow of a nation’s government is pretty big doin’s in most folks minds.  I would think that even minor conspiracies, like trying to blow up the entire parliment at one whack or trying to kill der Führer, install a new government, and end WW II might be considered “big”. 

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like history is replete with examples of significant conspiracies.  Heck, the Continental Congress producing the Declaration of Independence was a fairly big conspiracy…don’tcha think?

February 26, 1:14 am | [comment link]
5. Ad Orientem wrote:

Re #4
STN,
Some of my favorites from the lunatic fringe…
1. Bill Clinton had Vince Foster murdered and made it look like a suicide.
2. The Navy accidentally shot down TWA Flight 800 and has covered it up.
3. G. W. Bush and Israel were behind the 9-11 attacks in order to create a pretext for the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
4. The CIA assassinated President Kennedy.
5. Water Fluoridation is a diabolic plot of the International Communist Conspiracy.
6. Barrack Obama is really not a natural born citizen and his birth certificate is a forgery.

Some people really spend too much time watching “24.”

February 26, 1:25 am | [comment link]
6. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:

RE #5
AO
I have never seen an episode of “24”.  I don’t watch much TV at all…less than an hour a week.  You dodged my question.  What do you consider to be a “big” conspiracy if those mentioned don’t qualify?

Further, do you agree that there have been significant government altering and population manipulating conspiracies in the past?

If you agree with the historical record, what makes you certain that there are none occuring presently?

Can someone not looking for a conspiracy and that thinks they are all “from the lunatic fringe” ever see an actual conspiracy, or are they blinded by their own biases?

February 26, 12:20 pm | [comment link]
7. Ad Orientem wrote:

Re # 6
STN,
I did not say that there are no conspiracies afoot.  But I think the vast majority of so called conspiracy theories are patently idiotic.  Yes, nations sometimes intervene in other nation’s internal affairs.  That’s hardly news worthy of an AP/UPI flash.  But in almost all of these cases these “conspiracies” quickly become more or less open knowledge usually causing great embarrassment.  The very fact that you are enumerating some of them is evidence to that effect. 

Then there is the question of the efficacy of these plots.  What did the CIA’s meddling in Chile and Iran get the world?  In Chile it gave us Pinochet, a fascist thug and mass murderer.  In Iran it gave the world a corrupt quasi monarchy followed by the Ayatollah Khomeini and his legacy, the current thug in chief of that poor country.  The author was correct.  With some admitted (though rare) exceptions, massive conspiracies when they are launched generally make a hash out of things.

February 26, 2:05 pm | [comment link]
8. bettcee wrote:

Ad Orientem, post 7:
What empirical evidence do you have to back up your theory that: “the vast majority of so called conspiracy theories are patently idiotic.”?

In order to prove your point you would have to have knowledge of all conspiracies, know how many legitimate conspiracies have been thwarted by governments, private parties and individuals, how many conspiracies have been successful, and how many conspiracies have been only talk before you could pronounce the “vast majority” of conspiracy theories “patently idiotic”.  It seems to me that the 9/11 conspiracy was “patently idiotic” but unfortunately it was successful.
As I understand it, no one has proof that Saddam Hussien did not have weapons of mass destruction, we only have proof that investigators could not find them.
I would not dismiss theories that Saddam Hussien or others conspired to move weapons of mass destruction to places that the investigators could not investigate.  Does my belief that this may be true qualify me as “patently idiotic”?

February 26, 8:45 pm | [comment link]
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