Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ockham applied to conspiracy theory

From a review of a book examining the role of the conspiracy theory in history.

9/11 was another field day for the lunatic fringe. Some argued that a Boeing 757 couldn’t have gone through a hole just 20ft wide in the Pentagon walls. But it didn’t, it went through a hole 90ft wide, with the wings shaved off on impact. David Shayler, the ubiquitous and discredited former MI5 employee, reckons the twin towers were hit by “missiles surrounded by holograms made to look like planes”. They looked like planes, they flew like planes, they crashed like planes: they were planes.
... He also reminds us of Ockham’s famous razor: Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate, or, roughly translated, “the simplest explanation is usually the best”. The reason Princess Diana died was because her driver was drunk, driving too fast, and she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. All we are left with is a chain of bad luck — melancholy and meaningless. Precisely the reason, suggests Aaronovitch, so many reckon there was a cover-up.
... Conspiracy theories may be psychologically necessary, suggests Aaronovitch. Like certain types of drug addiction, such beliefs may be the self-medication to salve a deep-er disorder: the desperate sense that nothing means anything any more. He describes conspiracy theories as “history for losers”, with pity rather than scorn. They appeal most strongly to those “left behind by modernity” (such as the Palestinians), and for the user, they are “reassuring”. Their inherent paranoia is a psychological sticking plaster to “disguise the truly obliterating disaster, the often well-founded fear that nobody is thinking about them at all”.
A keeper from the book: Some people really do believe that “Robert Kennedy had a poisoned suppository inserted into Marilyn Monroe before being assassinated by a Manchurian Candidate”.

Francis Sydney Muschamp (1851 - 1929), 'An Unexpected Visitor', oil on canvas, 19" X 29"

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