How to Spot a Real Conspiracy – Adam Hamdy

Adam Hamdy, author of FREEFALL and PENDULUM, looks at conspiracy theories and how to spot a real conspiracy...

Posted on November 16, 2017 in Guest Author
Tags: Adam Hamdy, Conspiracy Theory, Freefall, pendulum, thriller

Propaganda is as old as politics, but we seem to have entered a new age of extreme subjectivism.  Our realities are shaped by our beliefs, rather than the other way round.  If you believe that global warming isn’t a thing, you can find whole communities that agree with you.  Think the Earth is flat?  There’s a vibrant and growing group of science-sceptics who will provide you with ‘evidence’ that we’re all being deceived and that United Nations peacekeepers patrol the world’s rim and turn back ships that get too close.

Former footballer David Icke convinced some people that the world is run by a secret cabal of lizard people, and no, this is not some coded form of anti-Semitism, he genuinely believes there’s an alien race of shape-shifting lizards.  The moon landings were faked, September 11th was an inside job, Kennedy was shot by Woody Harrelson’s dad from the grassy knoll, Hillary Clinton was involved in a paedophilic cannibalistic sex ring being run from a Washington DC pizza parlour.  Even the most outlandish conspiracy theories manage to win some adherents – and the Internet means it’s easier than ever for them to share their bizarre ideas.

We live in an age of unparalleled progress with access to more information than our ancestors could have ever dreamed of, and yet these strange tales seem to spread more fiercely than ever before.  In 1710, Jonathan Swift wrote, “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.”  In the Internet age, ‘alternative facts’ not only have wings; they’re stealth jets.  Online social networks enable a lie to spread to millions of people beneath the mainstream media’s radar.  The truth won’t even come limping after because it’s oblivious to the lie.

Our connected world doesn’t just facilitate the spread of lies, it has also undermined traditional social order.  We’re all too close to each other.  The old saying that familiarity breeds contempt is proving true as online political discourse descends into ideological slanging matches.  But we’ve gone beyond contempt and are heading towards fundamental distrust.  All the old social hierarchies have been torn down. Whether it’s abuse scandals in the Church, politicians with their expenses, cash for questions or strange sexual peccadilloes, horsemeat in food, tax dodging billionaires, newspapers hacking the phones of grieving parents, we’ve seen the baser side of human conduct encouraged or hushed up by organisations we should be able to trust.

The constant stream of unsavoury revelations can only have a corrosive effect on our ability to think the best of people.  Instead we become suspicious, looking for the lie behind the truth, the hidden agenda.  But how can society function if we don’t trust each other?  How can politics work if we can’t even agree on basic facts from which we build debate?  We’re approaching peak scepticism and that’s driving people towards alternative sources of news.  Our lack of trust is having a perverse effect: it’s making us more gullible.  If a news source reinforces our worldview, how likely are we to question it?

Somehow we’ve got to find a way to restore trust in each other and in those who hold positions of power.  Part of that process involves being able to discern truth from lie.  It requires a healthy scepticism, a demand that assertions are proven rather than simply believed because they happen to accord with our worldview.  We also need to be aware that the Internet has completed a process started by CNN, transforming the news from a factual experience into an emotional one.

News outlets are chasing clicks.  They’re pursuing emotional responses, and they’re more likely to get them with sensation or agenda-driven pieces that polarise debate.  When you filter out forecasts, speculation, rumour, scandal and gossip, most news sites contain very little factual information.  And even if they do, very little of that information is directly relevant to the people reading it.

I’ve researched a number of proven conspiracies for my new novel Freefall, and they never seem to spring from nowhere.  By their nature, conspiracies take time to plan and execute, and they involve a number of conspirators, and most people are hopeless at keeping secrets.  There are usually rumblings of malfeasance a long time before a conspiracy breaks.

Take the recent revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s terrible behaviour and the measures he took to try to cover his tracks.  Many people in the movie industry had heard stories about the man, and some seem to have been involved in helping him evade the consequences of his actions for so long.  Rumours swirled and old articles hinted at the truth without crossing into libellous territory, but the recent shocking news didn’t materialise overnight.

The same can be said of the conspiracy to cover-up abuse within the Catholic Church.  Local stories and rumours spread for decades before the story broke in the mainstream.  There was a body of evidence that backed up the seemingly unbelievable stories.

Another well-researched and proven conspiracy centred around the Propaganda Due secret society that was founded in Italy just after the Second World War.  For decades, its hand could be seen in Italian politics, organised crime and high finance, but it had the wherewithal to keep stories from breaking.

When the truth does come out, the common response to a conspiracy is often to question how so many people could have known what was happening and done nothing about it.  The answer is that most conspiracies usually involve some mix of intimidation, fear or greed so that even when the secret first leaks, action isn’t taken.

Next time you read a conspiracy story that provokes a strong emotional response, cross-reference it with other sources.  If it’s come from nowhere and only appeared on a handful of fringe websites, it’s probably not a good idea to do anything rash, like, say, arming yourself with an assault rifle and shooting up a pizza parlour.  And yes, that was the real response of Edgar Maddison Welch who went to ‘self-investigate’ the Pizzagate conspiracy theory and see if there were any child sex slaves being held in the basement of the restaurant.

And no, there weren’t.  The restaurant doesn’t even have a basement.

 

FREEFALL by Adam Hamdy is out now

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