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All in the Mind

Conspiracy Theory Slur

  1. act of working in secret to obtain some goal, usually understood with negative connotations.
  2. Conspiracy (crime) and conspiracy (civil), an agreement between two or more persons to break the law at some time in the future
  3. Conspiracy (political), a plot to overthrow a government or other powers
  4. Conspiracy theory, attempts to explain the cause of an event as a secret, and often deceptive, plot by a covert alliance

Many defenders of orthodoxy can simply shrug off all challenges to their sacrosanct worldview by dismissing them as conspiracy theories or urban myths. Recently a flurry of books have appeared to debunk conspiracy theories in totem by painting both empirically researched critiques of mainstream thinking and conjectural fantasies with the same brush, thus equating the belief that reptilian blood rules the world peddled by David Icke with those who doubt the safety of vaccines or are unconvinced of the purported benefits of adding fluoride to the water supply. They're all labelled quacks or extremists in contrast with establishment pundits who are inevitably portrayed as beacons of sound mindedness and moderation. Thus if you doubt the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center could collapse vertically without a controlled demolition, you may soon be cast in the same light as xenophobic deniers of the Nazi holocaust or quaint nonbelievers in the success of the Apollo mission for the human exploration of the Moon. Facts simply don't matter, only an official seal of approval in the form of peer-reviewed research. On this basis we should conclude that David Kelly committed suicide because a BBC play and Lord Hutton's inquiry claimed he did.

If we take the term literally, then deniers of conspiracies would have to explain millions of murderous crimes stealthily committed by small cliques well-connected with a local power base and hidden from the general population throughout history. In this regard the Nazi holocaust was a conspiracy, because only a small elite of the general German population were aware of the full scale and systematicity of the slaughter. Although most had been exposed to vehement antisemitic propaganda, few knew in any detail what was going on in the concentration camps, thus requiring a conspiracy of silence by the perpetrators and their collaborators.

In a TV debate with handpicked opponents of the imminent invasion of Iraq, Tony Blair denied his support for the US-led occupation had anything to do with oil by simply writing it off as an Internet conspiracy theory. His actual words were "You read all sorts of conpiracy theories in the Internet, but if we wanted Iraq's oil, we could just strike a deal with Saddam". It didn't dawn on the erstwhile lawyer that he had used the word conspiracy completely out of context. How could the well-known existence of billions of barrels of crude oil under Iraq's sands, the US's voracious demand for fossil fuels and the very public connections of leading US politicians and government advisors with the oil industry be construed as a secret plot? The Iraq/Oil connection is not a conspiracy theory, but an economic theory, which theoretically could be wrong, but few pro-war activists choose to counter this theory on an economic basis preferring instead to appeal to our emotions by raising the spectre of genocidal dictators. Compare and contrast this with the notion that Osama Bin Laden had conspired with 19 hijackers of mainly Saudi Arabian descent to fly four planes into strategic symbols of US financial and military might. If true, that would be one hell of a conspiracy theory.

Moral Panics

In mid 2006 British bookstores began prominently displaying Panic Nation: Unpicking the Myths We're Told About Food and Health by Stanley A. Feldman and Vincent Marks as featured on the Richard and Judy show with rave reviews in the Daily Telegraph. If one agreed with the ill-documented conclusions and recommendations, then we should trust the food scientists of our beloved supermarket chains and pharmaceutical multinationals to deliver safe and healthy food and despise the green fascists who frequent health food stores and avoid all things unnatural. They claim fruits are bad (well too much may be, but that's hardly an issue in modern Britain) and the tooth-rotting effects of refined sugar can be offset by adding fluoride not to tooth paste, but to the water supply, a practice discredited outside the UK, Ireland US, India and a handful of other countries. A few valid points about obsession with salt and sugar levels (some salt and some sugar are not bad for us if part of a balanced diet) are counterbalanced by vitriolic attacks on all critics of technocratic food and drug production. A little research reveals that co-author Stanley Feldman regularly contributes to Spiked Online, the latest reincarnation of Frank Füredi's ertswhile Revolutionary Communist Party, a cult that once posed on the far left but now wines and dines with its corporate friends in the media and biotech industry. More at Source Watch and Evolution of (British) RCP. Indeed the last chapter on the MMR Autism link is penned by one Michael Fitzpatrick. He may be correct in disputing the MMR triple vaccine/autism link (except for the possible side effects of mercury, which has long been added to vaccines in the form of thimerasol), but it is not the absence of a hard empirical link that motivates extreme technocrats. They seize any opportunity to promote mass medication as a solution to our problems and in this respect go on the offensive against any scare stories that may hinder their vision of the future. They delight in pointing out when the naysayers get it wrong.

Human Nature

History is rife with conspiracies, but owing to their secretive nature most theories relating to their veracity are likely to prove either misleading or off track. The suggestion that prosperous capitalist countries that call themselves liberal democracies are in fact run by a cabal of multinational corporations and bankers can be supported with much hard evidence, but when we make claims about their ethno-religious composition or their power to programme our minds, we are said to enter conspiracy theory territory because we are allegedly motivated by paranoia or deep-seated prejudices. However, unlike the corporate and state media dissident thinkers cannot desensitise the masses to their bias. A perspective only carries the status of conspiracy theory when an enforcer or gatekeeper within the establishment has labelled it thus, but clearly many such labelled theories are so absurd as to insult the intelligence of any but the most gullible people.

Disinformation Overload

Our minds are deluged day in day out with fictitious conpiracies in high-profile movies and TV series (the X Files or the Matrix come to mind). No wonder so many US citizens believe all flying objects that they cannot immediately identify must hail from an extraterrestrial civilisation that has travelled thousands of lightyears to reach a suburban housing development somewhere in Alabama. If we are constantly mesmerised with so much utter nonsense, we will find it hard to sort the wheat from the chaff and have to rely on media-appointed experts to advise us which bits are true. To many aficionados of conspiracy movies and virtual reality games, Loose Change, a documentary on the controlled demolition of the World Trade Center, available on YouTube may seem temporarily compelling, but their brains are programmed to view this alternate reality as mere fantasy, unworthy of further investigation. Ruling classes have always sought to manipulate information and discredit critical thinkers. In the early 21st century they have just refined the art of psychoanalysis. If they can't respond to dissident accusations, they indulge in a little behind the scenes character assassination. What kind of person would believe that CIA would engage in psyops (psychological operations) to prepare public opinion for policies they would otherwise not support? The truth is in so many news events it is almost impossible to verify more than the undeniable physical evidence beamed onto our screens. Maybe rather than confidently asserting that MI5 carried out the 7th July 2005 bombings in London, without any immediate supporting evidence, we should do a little psychoanalysis ourselves with a clear focus on the establishment's behaviour. Sure, they'd prefer everyone to return World of Warcraft fantasies and debate whether a UFO landed in Roswell, New Mexico. As a rule a good understanding of economics, hard environmental reality and human nature should help us explain most events, but only the extremely naive would swallow all information diseminated from the mainstream uncritically.

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All in the Mind

The Awareness Raising Scam

On the surface there seems nothing wrong with bringing people's attention to the plight of other human beings. As a concept awareness raising began life in political activism, but was soon embraced by the advertising industry. It does not take a huge leap of faith to conclude that National Smile Week, as delightful and charming as we may find smiles, was sponsored by the British Dental Association and not by an independent group of well-intentioned philanthropists. When the instigators of various awareness raising campaigns are funded either directly or indirectly by large vested corporate or state interests, we should at the very least question their motives.

One may reasonably argue that citizens of affluent countries are relatively unaware of the misery that millions of the world's poor endure every day. Likewise millions of keen motorists are not fully aware of the consequences of rapidly diminishing supplies of cheap oil. However, when these poignant issues become ineluctable realities with global poverty descending on the doorsteps of plush suburban neighbourhoods and the world's greediest superpower at war over oil, the power elites milk public interest to further their own agendas. Thus rock idols are hired to promote phoney debt relief plans and temporarily boost the profile of ambitious politicians. Oil multinationals claim to be Beyond Petroleum, while government seeks to sway public opinion in favour of nuclear power maintaining that our consumerist lifestyle should remain non-negotiable.

However, it is the burgeoning the mental health sector that has best fine-tuned the art of awareness raising, appealing to the emotions of the wishful-thinking Guardian or Independent-reading middle classes. All too often we witness concerted information campaigns for the latest mental health label accompanied by documentaries and reports in the mainstream media, prominently displayed books attributed to victims, relatives, activists or psychiatrists. While previously we had just considered depression as intense sadness and mania as a set of psychotic behaviours induced by life's misfortunes and intoxication, we suppress the conventional wisdom of 1960s and 70s and begin to deploy the newfangled terminology of the psychiatric establishment. When media-savvy experts urge us to show greater tolerance towards sufferers of manic depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, Tourettes or Asperger's syndrome, they redefine our attitudes to groups of human beings whose behaviours, in all but the most extreme cases, fit neatly into a multidimensional maze of personality types. Rather than reduce the stigma that most mental health patients receive, awareness raising leads the public subconsciously to consider its purported beneficiaries as unfortunate misfits against whom society must be protected. It only takes one BBC documentary about a paedophile with Asperger's Syndrome to spread distrust in the wider TV-addicted atomised community, now desensitised to the civil rights implications of pre-school screening, psychoactive medication and the relentless extension of the concepts of learning disabilities and personality disorders. It may be fine for a select group of celebrity sufferers of mental illnesses to publicise their trials and tribulations, but the masses of psychiatrically labelled people out there have to cope with the unspoken distrust and condescending attitudes of anyone aware of their new classification.

In some ways we may view mental health awareness raising as a form of authorised bullying. Feelings that may manifest themselves to an undiagnosed person as emotional distress and social alienation, are attributed not to society, but to endogenous disorders, thereby relieving their tormentors of any guilt other than their lack of awareness of the psychiatric conditions of their classmates, neighbours or colleagues. Numerous campaigns build on the theme of "The Same but Different". While wishful-thinking support workers may genuinely believe such sloganising promotes inclusiveness, the public mainly receives the different bit of the message.