Guest Blogger: Conspiracy – Crazy or Rational?

If you have read some of my earlier posts, you will already know that my wonderful mother is my writing/plotter/editing buddy. You might not also know that mum writes a book review blog – What Book to Read. She will be reviewing Conspire soon, so watch out for it! But in the meantime, she has written a guest post on the theme of Conspire – conspiracies. Enjoy!

Victoria is writing about conspiracy theories, and has an earlier post about them. So it was with interest that I noted that regular Sydney Morning Herald columnist Mike Carlton is having a go this week at conspiracy theorists, specifically those who don’t believe that Osama bin Laden is dead.  He notes their poor spelling, and concludes that maybe they are just plain stupid. He’s probably right on this one.

But his column reveals some of the problems of writing off all conspiracy theories as rubbish. To start with, he quotes one conspiracy theorist who doesn’t believe bin Laden is dead because of ‘America’s past lies about Iraq’. Well yes. There was a conspiracy on the part of the American and other governments to invade Iraq on the grounds that it had weapons of mass destruction. Only it didn’t, and they knew it didn’t. So the new and stupid conspiracy grows from and older conspiracy, which may appear just as stupid in retrospect, but was believed by many people at the time. If you lie to people often enough, it’s not surprising they stop believing you – and make up their own theories.

Carlton also puts forward his own conspiracy theory – that a lot of highly placed people in Pakistan knew Bin Laden’s whereabouts, and chose not to tell the Americans. This is denied by the Pakistan Government – but then it would be, wouldn’t it? Carlton’s conspiracy theory seems perfectly reasonable, and not plain stupid at all.

Some theories look like crazy conspiracies at the beginning, but end up being perfectly rational assessments when more is known. Others are always crazy. The trick is to know the difference – which is sometimes harder than you’d think.

This problem of conspiracy theories that seem crazy and conspiracy theories that seem quite sane is one of the underlying issues in Victoria’s book Conspire. When the public has been lied to by governments so many times, is it any wonder that people don’t believe them? And that when they are telling the truth, there are always people ready to say they are lying? Alex North, the journalist heroine in the story, is as dismissive of the standard conspiracy theories – around the assassination of Kennedy, the moon landing, 9/11 etc – as anyone else. But what if what she is discovering is not a crazy conspiracy, but one that it is quite sane to believe in? Governments have fooled us before … Like Mike Carlton, she has a foot in both camps.

It’s true that it comes down to the evidence, but even then we need to be clear that what we are being shown or told has a reasonable basis in fact. And we’re not usually in possession of all the facts. This is where Wikileaks comes in; they are providing evidence about things governments or big business don’t usually reveal to the public. Critics of Julian Assange argue that there are some things that need to be kept secret – and this is an issue also raised in the book. What can justify secrecy on the part of an elected government?

I find it really interesting that since Victoria started writing Conspire, so many examples of both crazy and sane conspiracies have come to light. Fact may turn out to be stranger than fiction. Either way, I hope you’ll read Conspire – if only to see from her spelling whether she’s a crazy conspiracy theorist or not.