The appearance of Conspiracy theories is symptomatic of a world where the establishment’s discourse has become stale. We are witnessing today a growing attraction towards them. Amongst the most popular ones are that Man did not walk on the moon, or that a New World Order is being prepared by the Illuminati, or that Alien abductions are common, as farfetched and outlandish as that may sound.
All Conspiracy theories are based on the basic premise that mainstream, institutionalized discourse should be rejected. Conspiracy theorists carry their suspicion of authority to the point that no initiative that emanates from the establishment can be deemed credible. While skepticism towards mainstream rhetoric is entirely legitimate, going to the extreme of disqualifying all official discourses is nonsensical. We need to remember that governments, or any major institution for that matter, are made up of individuals and that human beings are not totally predictable. Despite all the filters that might be in place to ensure the recruitment of complying members, it does happen that honest people find themselves in positions of high responsibilities; whistle blowers, for example, are necessarily insiders. We also need to acknowledge that despite the widespread intellectual corruption and partisanship that characterizes today’s circles of power, we almost always find conflicting agendas at work within them.
I think one of the major flaws of conspiracy theorists is the obliteration of facts in attempting to make their theory plausible. The most potent conspiracy theory circulating today is probably that a secret society called the Illuminati has always controlled and still controls the world, and that all major world events bear its mark. This theory acts also as a basic premise for other theories which, in turn, serve to confirm the existence and power of the Illuminati. “Believers” abiding by this theory are often in awe of powerful people and lack historical perspective to understand that not all of them are geniuses. George Bush is the most clichéd example, but it should be obvious that someone like him does not have the brains to be part of a Machiavellian plan to control the world. A challenge can be thrown at this theory: are the Chinese and the Russians, who have more than just a say in world affairs, part of the illuminati too? If that was the case, we would have to logically conclude that the cold war and all its consequences were merely a mirage, or that China’s rise and the multipolar world is mere propaganda. To affirm in such a radical way that all world events are just gimmicks to fool the masses would mean that these thousands of influential people involved in world affairs throughout the past decades are more incredible actors than anything else. These kinds of affirmations also reveal a patent lack of understanding of the basics of geopolitics and the international relations system; the “unnatural” alliances between world powers do begin to make sense if an effort is made to appreciate the interests at stake and how interest groups function.
Let’s take a look at how a conspiracy is constructed. While it is true that independent investigations into 9/11 have yielded murky and unsatisfactory reports, to assert that the Mossad or the American administration carried the attack is based on very weak evidence. However, to be able to make 9/11 fit the basic premise of a gang of powerful people pulling the strings of every major global event, the Zionists and their allies have to be incriminated. The fact remains that, for outsiders who care for intellectual honesty, it is impossible to be conclusive on this particular subject as we simply do not possess adequate information.
?There is a tendency among conspiracy theorists to argue that all media is corrupted. It is certainly true that to be able to achieve the kind of status enjoyed by renowned journalists working for major publications like the New York Times or Le Monde, one has to fit into the mould. However, what would be more useful than merely pointing out this pervasive corruption is an understanding of the bias an institution carries, in order to decipher what it can trusted with and not. For example, Le Monde, probably the most respected French newspaper is a center-left publication. Its owners are renowned business magnates, some of whom have served in the Socialist Party. You can therefore expect them to be biased when it comes to French politics. They have, for example, actively supported François Hollande in the previous elections and regularly criticize Mr. Sarkozy. Le Monde was also supporting an intervention in Syria last year and we have to admit that collusion between the French government’s eagerness to fight that war, and Le Monde’s editorial line regarding that conflict is not to be excluded. The center-left in France is also internationalist and pro-European and you can count on the paper to defend these ideologies. The media does have an agenda and a liberal one in that particular case. Once we understand the agendas the media we are reading holds, and the biases it carries, it becomes somehow easier to separate facts from ideologically driven opinions. To contrast this, let us take the example of The Sun in the UK. Here we have a tabloid newspaper aligned to the right of the political spectrum. What this means is that the Sun is nationalist and anti-European. Unlike Le Monde, they are anti-immigration and anti-Europe. Unlike Le Monde, they are also a tabloid, which means that they will necessarily go for the sensational and exaggerate “facts”. This publication is owned by the infamous Robert Murdoch, a business magnate close to the British Tories, and the editorial line does reflect that to some extent. It is clear that these two newspapers cannot be in absolute collusion. Admittedly, they do have more in common than meets the eye, but to go as far as to say they serve exactly the same interests would be absurd.
?Conspiracy theories are a barrier to truth. If we come to the fatalistic conclusion that the world is controlled by people wielding such power, the only logical course of action left for us to follow would be to give up in trying to make the world a better place. Furthermore, if we adopt the simplistic worldview that the world is divided into two camps, the manipulators and the manipulated, why bother trying to understand world events, which are in any case merely smoke screens? Without getting into details, I will affirm that Conspiracy theories also reinforce a binary vision of the world. Although it has never been otherwise, globalisation has added an unprecedented layer of complexity to the human reality, making it crucial, now more than ever, to be humble in our attempts to understand our world, ourselves. Essentialising our intellectual reflections leads to a binary vision that promotes an “Us” and “Them” type mentality. In the Mauritian context, this would translate into a “Noubaniste” attitude. Not the one based on communal segregation, but one which would perceive the ruling class as inaccessible and all powerful. Marginalisation would then be a natural reflex for those who decide to give up on the idea that democratizing access to circles of power is a battle worth fighting for.
Today, the internet can deliver when it comes to alternative sources of information, or manipulate us into confusion. Information is highly fragmented, i.e. bits and pieces of information are spread out in a non-coherent fashion. Unless we have the right intellectual tools to sort junk, propaganda and conspiracy theories from information that can translate into authentic knowledge, we will remain thirsty fools in the abundance of water. Mainstream discourse is indeed infected with disinformation. However, Conspiracy theories represent a flawed alternative.