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Why Conspiracy Theories Are Thriving: A French Explanation

French writer Bruno Fay argues that lies regularly told by the authorities and a general mistrust of official speech are to be blamed for the spread of conspiracy theories for everything from 9/11 to Nicolas Sarkozy's biography.

Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania (Jeff Kubina)
Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania (Jeff Kubina)
Pascal Boniface

PARIS - Times are booming for conspiracy theorists. French journalist Bruno Fay's book Complocratie (Complocracy) attempts to explain the growing audience for those who espouse secret-plot theories for the major events of our times.

The book focuses of course on the 9/11 attacks, which many people – including and especially Americans – are convinced were plotted and executed directly by the United States government. But this general denial of reality stems from other cases that were never solved, such as the Kennedy assassination.

Fay offers some convincing clues to understanding this phenomenon. He argues that the main reason why conspiracy theories thrive is that authorities too often resort to telling lies, which inexorably results in official information being completely discredited. Conspiracy theories, however, have their advantages – where governments are concerned - since they work especially well when it comes to diverting attention from the real scandals.

"The Cartesian doubt, holy and legitimate, has been gradually giving way to a systematic questioning of current events," he writes. "The success encountered by conspiracy theories reflects the emergence of a new mass "conspiracionism" feeding on the lies of our societies."

After all, how can anyone think that repeated public departures from the truth have no consequences on the public opinion? By desecrating official speech, by rearranging the reality in a more suitable way, politicians stoke the need for rumors.

Bruno Fay gives the example of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his assertion -- which later proved to be false -- that he was in Berlin the day when the Wall came down. If he is capable of lying about something as trivial as this, people might ask, it is tough to be sure that he does not lie on much more important topics such as the the reasons why France joined the war in Afghanistan or the Iranian nuclear threat?

But what is the right way to fight against conspiracy theories? Insults, questioning motives and direct accusations are the weapons of choice most frequently used by the media hostile to conspiracy theories. Bruno Fay thinks that this is the wrong way to do it, since "demonizing conspiracy addicts is advertising them and their cause." He suggests instead that people concentrate on analyzing established plots rather than attacking the conspiracy theory itself.

For example, saying that the 9/11 attacks represented the perfect opportunity for neoconservatives to bring about the political changes they had been dreaming of for so long, is not adopting the rhetoric of conspiracy theorists. Bruno Fay believes that the moving details given of the heroic revolt mounted by the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 are simply part of a story constructed to cover up the decision by the US government to bring the aircraft down in Pennsylvania (to avoid it being used by the terrorists to crash into another target).

He thinks that it is increasingly harder to draw a clear distinction between the information issued by a traditional communication agency, a consulting company in business intelligence and public relations and a private intelligence agency. If it would be unfair to accuse all the media of regular conspiracy theories, he says, it would be just as wrong to discharge them of any responsibility.

Bloggers, alternative web sites, collaborative forums are nothing else but reactions to the failure of traditional counter-powers to do their job, illustrating a chronic lack of trust in traditional information channels. Fay's very well-documented book avoids the easy shortcuts and accusations, and provides a true reflection on a phenomenon which is not likely to disappear from the social landscape anytime soon.

Read the original article in French

Photo - (Jeff Kubina)

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