David Aaronovitch was on Radio 4's Start the Week this morning. Each week, I nonsensically start my own working week by getting worked-up by the nonsense so often spouted by the facile contributions of the blathering contributors to said radio programme; I really need carefully to look within and work out why I regularly put myself though this unhappy ritual. Some Maoist self-criticism is obviously required!

Anyway, Aaronovitch has just written a book called Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History a part of the publisher blurb to which reads:

Our age is obsessed by the idea of conspiracy. We see it everywhere - from Pearl Harbour to 9/11, from the assassination of Kennedy to the death of Diana... For David Aaronovitch, there came a time when he started to see a pattern. These theories used similar dodgy methods with which to insinuate their claims: they linked themselves to the supposed conspiracies of the past (it happened then so it can happen now); they carefully manipulated their evidence to hide its holes; they relied on the authority of dubious academic sources. Most importantly, they elevated their believers to membership of an elite - a group of people able to see beyond lies to a higher reality... Aaronovitch... looks at why people believe them, and makes an argument for a true scepticism: one based on a thorough knowledge of history and a strong dose of common sense.

Ah, common sense! Well, we do like common sense around here, for sure. I'm always happy to see "conspiracy theories" debunked, but I'm equally intrigued by which theories are deemed to be conspiratorial and which historical theses are deemed to be sensible and sound. For example, why isn't the suggestion that Iraq had stockpiles of WMD a "conspiracy theory"? Belief in the lie that Saddam had such weapons was linked "to the supposed conspiracies of the past" (he bombed the working class stronghold of Halabja so therefore, it was asserted, he'll certainly do something as heinous again) and was based on "carefully manipulated... evidence" which "relied on the authority of dubious academic sources". Most importantly, this "elevated their believers to membership of an elite" -- those who saw the huge, looming threat had seen the truth and those of us who thought this huge "threat" was merely a manipulation of the Anglo-American ruling class were blind, naive or worse.

It is, indeed, interesting and important to debunk "conspiracy theories" -- there are a lot of them out there. Recent official history contains its fair share of such dangerous lies, too, so I wonder why Aaronovitch doesn't seem very keen on debunking them. Was it because there are certain conspiracy theories he fell hook, line and sinker for?

Readers Comments

  1. He could start by debunking Thomas Mann's piece below from Dr Faustus:

    " the era of the masses, parliamentary discussion would prove utterly inadequate as a means of shaping political will; that in the future what was needed in its place were mythic fictions, which would be fed to the masses as the primitive battle cries necessary for unleashing and activating political energies; that henceforth popular myths, or better, myths trimmed for the masses, would be the vehicle for political action- fables, chimeras, phantoms that needed to have nothing to do with truth, reason, or science in order to be productive, to determine life and history, and thereby to prove themselves dynamic realities."

    Given the sensibility of Mann's point about mythic fictions trimmed for the masses used as the vehicle for political action as perfectly self-evident, I've like many others looked into the evidence regarding the attacks of 911, for one, and perhaps if I invested in a lobotomy, then I might accept the official version as vaguely credible. Forgive the length of the post, but for instance:

    Here's an interesting scenario. An airliner is heading for a skyscraper under the command of crazy suicidal hijackers. It hits the building and a huge fireball instantly ensues. However, a break for the authorities: a hijacker's passport sails safely out of this instantaneous infernal chaos and falls to the ground below to be acquired by the FBI, which somehow puts them on the trail of the hijackers' identities.

    A sensible citizen, not given to believing blatant rubbish, might respond when told of this that this was fabrication by conspiracy theorists, and show the proof that the authorities are making such ridiculous claims as to a terrorist's passport falling to safety from the fireball, thus providing them with the vital first step towards thr truth. In response, he was directed to the official 911 Commission Report, and shown the lines therein:

    Four of the hijackers’ passports have survived in whole or in part. Two were recovered
    from the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. One belonged to a hijacker on American Airlines Flight 11. A passerby picked it up and gave it to an NYPD detective shortly before the World Trade Center towers collapsed. A fourth
    passport was recovered from luggage that did not make it from a Portland flight to Boston onto the connecting flight, which was American Airlines Flight 11.

    Our poor citizen could then be shown the footage of the crash site of Flight 93 from where the 911 Commission claims two more passports were recovered. As FOX reporters described "There's just a hole in the ground. There was nothing you could distinguish that a plane had crashed there." "All you could see was a large crater and just the tiniest, tiniest debris."
    Our coward then responded by saying yes, this was all quite plausible, and no, there was no question that this all amounted to planted or fabricated evidence.

    It might be interesting to imagine a conversation.

    "How are we gonna link to the supposed hijackers."
    "Simple. We'll say we found a passport that fell out of one of the planes outside the World Trade Centers, that turns out to be that of a dangerous terrorist."
    "Come again."
    "We find a passport, and that gives us the lead."
    "You can't be serious. They'll never buy that."
    "They're fucking morons. They'll buy anything."
    "Yeah but there's limits."
    "There's no limits. Just watch them swallow whatever shit we feed them."

    One could then of course move onto the collapses at rates of freefall of WTC7 in addition to the Twin Towers & an almost endless host of other insults to intelligence, but the simple truth is as Dostoevsky wrote in Notes From the Underground:

    "Every decent man of our time is and must be a coward and a slave. That is his normal condition. I am deeply convinced of it. He's made that way and arranged for it. And not in the present time owing to some chance circumstances, but generally in all times a decent man must be a coward and a slave. That is the natural law of all decent people on earth. If one of them does happen to get a bit of pluck in something, let him not be eased or pleased with that: he's still quail before something else."

  2. Not to especially labour the point, but one could even go back a little in time about the use of "false-flag terrorism" as a political device, to a 3 hour documentary made by said BBC in the early 1990s called 'Gladio', which was described thus by its director Allan Frankovich:

    "This BBC series is about a far-right secret army, operated by the CIA and MI6 through NATO, which killed hundreds of innocent Europeans and attempted to blame the deaths on Baader Meinhof, Red Brigades and other left wing groups. Known as 'stay-behinds' these armies were given access to military equipment which was supposed to be used for sabotage after a Soviet invasion. Instead it was used in massacres across mainland Europe as part of a CIA Strategy of Tension. Gladio killing sprees in Belgium and Italy were carried out for the purpose of frightening the national political classes into adopting U.S. policies."

    Gladio can be seen at below link:;=gladio&total;=330&start;=0#=10&so;=0&type;=search&plindex;=4

    And as Machiavelli wrote:

    "Pincipalities usually come to grief when the transition is being made from limited power to absolutism( which he saw as the inherent dynamic of power, its logical pathway). Princes take this step either directly or through magistrates.
    We must distinguish between....those who to achieve their purposes can force the issue and those who must use persuasion. In the second case they always come to grief, having achieved nothing; when however they can force the issue, then they are seldom endangered.
    The populace is always fickle; it is easy to persuade them of something but difficult to confirm them in that persuasion. Therefore one must usually arrange matters so that when they no longer believe they can be made to believe by force."

    What they are being made to believe being, of course, the necessity for granting the powers of absolutism to those who desire it in the first place, and also excuses for offensive war masquerading, however comically, as defensive war.

  3. Andrew, wouldn't this be Serenus Zeitblom in Thomas Mann's novel expressing this vision? As such it is *not* "Mann's point". It would then also be subject to its own critique - part of another mythic fiction perhaps.

    You then quote another novel narrated by a sick
    man, a spiteful man. Is this really "simple truth"?

    As for the rest (which surely we've all read a hundred times over) I wonder how much this fetishisation of uncertainty is also an insult to intelligence.

    Out of interest, what percentage of the passenger's passports were recovered?

  4. Well, Dostoevsky's line within the book is said by a certain man, with the desire to insult, agreed, but the book is in itself a work of genius, i.e. the literary subject matter produced by that character is itself of a standard of genius, and anyway, regardless of his genius or not, the line I'd say reflects reality in a fairly obvious way. If people weren't naturally slaves, for example, why would half the young male population of Europe have agreed for no personal gain to slaughter each other over esentially nothing for four years during WW1? And even initially with much enthusiasm. There is really no other explanation; simply that this 'patriotism' is simply a charming veneer placed over an instinctive servility, and manipulated as such.

    As for the Mann point, I'll accept it is Zeitblom's point, but whoever's point, any knowledge of autocratic systems of government must surely inform that the given dynamic of mythic systems is standard operations; enemies of the State are created against which intrinsic evil the intrinsically good State protects its grateful citizens. I don't see how anyone could seriously argue this case. To reduce it to essence, it's called lying.

    Regarding the percentage of returned passports, I won't pretend to know. The quote I gave is from 911 Commission Report,:

    All the in-flight black box recorders of all planes designed to withstand the most violent of crashes were apparently destroyed. Four, however, terrorist, out of a toal of less than twenty alleged terrorist passports survived. I find it inconceivable that anyone could believe this intellectually. It's perfectly obviously lies, and the only reason anyone would countenance such blatant fabricated evidence as something credible is itself a manifestation of the slave mentality. The following extract from the Commission is simply comical:

    "Two of the passports that have survived, those of Satam al Suqami and Abdul Aziz al Omari, were clearly doctored. To avoid getting into the classified details, we will just
    state that these were “manipulated in a fraudulent manner,” in ways that have been associated with al Qaeda."

    “manipulated in a fraudulent manner,” in ways that have been associated with al Qaeda." Flann O Brien perhaps comes to mind.

    For one example, the collapse of WTC7 at a rate of freefall is immeasurably greater tangible evidence of the official version's falseness; something so ludicrously inconsistent with science that the 911 Commission completely ignored this 47 storey building's collapse in its official report. For a steel building to collapse at a rate of freefall, all the supporting steel structure has to simultaneously melt; ie exactly as happens in controlled demolitions. This is perfectly obviously what happened in the case of WTC7. There is no tangible reason to think otherwise, other than fantastic need not to believe the blatantly obvious and scientifically perfectly satisfying explanation, in favour of scientifically implausible explanations. Just look at the way it falls, there is nothing even vaguely random or accidental regarding its perfectly symmetrical collapse:

    1. Rapid onset of “collapse”
    2. Sounds of explosions at ground floor - a full second prior to collapse (heard by hundreds of firemen and media reporters)
    3. Symmetrical “collapse” – through the path of greatest resistance – at nearly free-fall speed — the columns gave no resistance
    4. “Collapses” into its own footprint – with the steel skeleton broken up for shipment
    5. Massive volume of expanding pyroclastic dust clouds
    6. Tons of molten Metal found by CDI (Demolition Contractor) in basement (What could have produced all of that molten metal?)
    7. Chemical signature of Thermate (high tech incendiary) found in slag, solidified molten metal, and dust samples by Physics professor Steven Jones, PhD.
    8. FEMA finds rapid oxidation and intergranular melting on structural steel samples

    And exhibited none of the characteristics of destruction by fire, i.e.
    1. Slow onset with large visible deformations
    2. Asymmetrical collapse which follows the path of least resistance (laws of conservation of momentum would cause a falling, to the side most damaged by the fires)
    3. Evidence of fire temperatures capable of softening steel
    4. High-rise buildings with much larger, hotter, and longer lasting fires have never “collapsed”.

    And what about the 1990s BBC documentary on Gladio, regarding the use of false-flag terrorism as a very recent state tactic. Without even going into the details of the comprehensive- at least for television- documenary, I presume it should be clear that for the State broadcasting agency to accuse its own secret service and its ever incestuous ally of the US to have carried out such attacks, that its case would have to be extremely well grounded or otherwise heads- their own- would fall very dramatically.

    You haven't questioned the extracts from Machiavelli, whose advice for those attracted to power and its increase is a given. What kind of inner substance do people imagine power is after all? It is an intoxicant whose inner logic is the desire for more of it. It's not a passive 'substance'.

  5. Interesting that you only have to mention "conspiracy theories" and someone with a pet theory will expound at (considerable) length... In so doing here, Andrew hasn't really said anything that pertains to my actual post which accepted Aaronovitch's point that the desire to order and explain quotidian chaos and accident often turns into the tendentious construction of neat narratives. But, contra Aaronovitch, the requirement to deconstruct those narratives needs to be extended very close to home to all the official histories that we consider fact, to all the explanations of the world that Power trots out...

  6. Is the state a conspiracy? Is the modern capitalist corporation a conspiracy? In some loose sense they are, aren't they? I like Robert Anton Wilson's line on this: conspiracies are demonstrably going on all the time. The delusion (of both the conspirators, and of conspiracy theorists) is to believe that any one conspiracy is actually in as much control as they think. By the way, where's RSB's review of Illuminatus!?

  7. Rather dull after the foregoing I fear, but I believe the reason why the WMD story is not a "conspiracy theory" is because surely, by definition, a conspiracy theory must run against the official story. Here the putative existence of WMDs was the official line.

  8. Hey John -- yup, you're right of course! By definition the official view just can NOT be a conspiracy view. But when the official line was so obviously cooked-up I think it is right for us to highlight the dodgy distinction...

  9. Further to this, Aaronovitch is very keen to say (kinda), "Oh, look at all you fools falling for these silly stories about chaotic and random events -- don't you realise the world is like that!" And he is right: the tendency to want to put narrative order to random events does seem to be an almost pathological human need. But stories that people rather stupidly fall for don't all just emanate from the darker, more bonkers parts of the Interweb...

Leave a Comment

If you have not posted a comment on RSB before, it will need to be approved by the Managing Editor. Once you have an approved comment, you are safe to post further comments. We have also introduced a captcha code to prevent spam.




Enter the code shown here:   [captcha]

Note: If you cannot read the numbers in the above image, reload the page to generate a new one.