In high school, an exceptional teacher used a thought exercise to demonstrate the power, and imperviousness to proof or logic, of conspiracy theories Imagine that you believe that the light in the fridge is turned on and off not by a pressure switch, but by a little man. Imagine that you believe that powerful forces throughout society are devoted to hiding that fact from you. Once you accept those two premises, nothing can shake you from your belief in the little man. Can't find the little man by moving the jar of mayo around? The little man is very good at hiding. Can't find the little man on an X-ray of the fridge? The X-ray technician is in the employ of THEM. Too cold? The little man has a coat. No scientific proof of the little man? You fool. Who do you think controls the publication of scientific studies? THEM. If you don't believe in the little man in the fridge, you are in THEIR thrall. It's a perfect philosophical construct.
I have often been reminded of this thought exercise since 9/11, as I listened to and read the arguments of the 9/11 Truthers. Last Friday I learned, to my surprise, that England had its own equivalent — it's own little man in the fridge, inspired by early-millennium paranoia and post-terrorism chaos.
I learned this through This American Life, PBS's spectacular showcase of storytelling and the mostly forgotten possibilities of rado, hosted by the redoubtable Ira Glass. This week's theme was about spokespeople, and the first story was about an Englishwoman named Rachel North, who survived London's infamous 7/7 tube bombings, wrote about her experiences, and became a popular and well-known blogger. One day, Rachel was checking out her site traffic and followed some incoming links, only to find a conspiracy site — the site of an increasingly large group that believed that the 7/7 underground bombings were a government hoax, a scam designed to cover up a disastrous power surge, with radical Islamists as a convenient scapegoat. (This group apparently believed that the bombed bus was done with actors and pyrotechnic charges).
Rachel — perhaps as a result of her relative internet naivete — decided to confront them. You're all cringing, saying "no, no, don't do that, there's no point" . . . and there wasn't. But the results (including, but not limited to, conspiracy theorists concluding that there is no Rachel North and her blog is written by a government committee) are fascinating and terrifying in their picture of intractable fantasists. She's interviewed by Jon Ronson, who has written a book on conspiracy theorists. Listen to the interview — it's well worth your time on many levels. And yes, THEY put me up to this, to help protect the little man in the fridge.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- Hate Speech Debate on More Perfect Live - September 5th, 2017
- Popehat Goes To The Opera: Un ballo in maschera - August 19th, 2017
- Department of Justice Uses Search Warrant To Get Data On Visitors to Anti-Trump Site - August 14th, 2017
- America At The End of All Hypotheticals - August 14th, 2017
- Lawsplainer: Why John Oliver Is Anti-Diversity Now - August 11th, 2017