Paul Thomas: Osama lives... and so do the lizards of Draco

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Entry-level conspiracists are expecting an 'I'm baaack!' video tape from Osama bin Laden. Photo / AP
Entry-level conspiracists are expecting an 'I'm baaack!' video tape from Osama bin Laden. Photo / AP

The terrorist formerly known as bin Laden is probably living in clean-shaven retirement in Salt Lake City. Those who don't believe Osama bin Laden is dead presumably expect him to pop up in a videotape any day now recycling Mark Twain's famous remark that "the report of my death was an exaggeration".

Imagine the repercussions: jihadism would get an enormous boost, the United States would be a laughing stock, Barack Obama's presidency and hopes of re-election would be in ruins.

Even people who'll believe just about anything might baulk at believing that Obama and the US Government could be quite that feckless, which is why the notion that the Abbottabad mission was a propaganda stunt is entry-level conspiracy theory.

Serious conspiracy theorists aren't expecting an "I'm baaack!" videotape. They believe Bin Laden was eliminated years ago, but his death was concealed because the US needed a bogeyman to inflate the threat and justify the vast, expensive deceit known as the war on terror.

Or else they believe he was a CIA double agent whose mission was to create al-Qaeda and launch the 9/11 attacks to give the US the excuse to invade, torture, eavesdrop and incarcerate without trial.

Mission accomplished, the terrorist formerly known as Bin Laden is probably living in clean-shaven retirement in Salt Lake City, headquarters of the Mormon Church, where the polygamous inclinations he developed while undercover attract little attention.

This is how conspiracy theories work. To reinforce the denial of what is generally accepted as truth, you develop a secondary premise for which there is even less evidence.

While lack of evidence inhibits the rational person, it liberates the conspiracy theorist because if something can't be proved, neither can it be disproved.

The conspiracy theorist's core principle is that unless you participated in an event you can't be sure it happened, or that it happened as it's been presented to us. Thus it follows that the media, as the primary sources of misinformation, are up to their necks in every conspiracy.

Conspiracism is an assault on the idea of objective truth. Once you believe that it's sensible and reasonable to dispute all so-called facts and disbelieve the official version of everything, then it's pretty much open slather.

This week, a reader sent me a link to David Icke's website. When I lived in London during the 1980s, Icke was a BBC sports presenter, best known for his Bay City Rollers hairstyle. These days he's a headline act on the conspiracy-theory circuit, having mixed New Ageism and right-wing world government paranoia into a flabbergasting concoction.

Icke believes the world is controlled by the Babylonian Brotherhood, an ancient race descended from reptilian creatures from the constellation Draco.

Because the Brotherhood feeds off our negative energy - fear, guilt, aggression - it has a vested interest in fomenting conflict, genocide and all the other bad stuff in the world.

The batty and credulous aren't the only ones in revolt against rationalism. An element among the intelligentsia is also out to undermine the concept of objective truth; they just use fancier language.

A 1991 book by French cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard, The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, asserts that because Saddam Hussein survived Desert Storm, it was all just smoke and mirrors designed to consolidate his power and bolster the US military-industrial complex.

To believe this, you have to assume journalists who covered the conflict were co-conspirators or dupes, and ignore the fact that the war was triggered by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and waged with the limited aim of restoring Kuwaiti sovereignty.

There have always been conspiracy theories but these days they're more prevalent than ever, flashing around the world at the click of a mouse, pouring out of the blogosphere, given a veneer of respectability by Hollywood and the mainstream media, ever-anxious to be seen to be even-handed.

The slow decline of Christianity has also played a part. Disbelief means living "beneath the vast indifference of heaven", in the words of the Warren Zevon song, and some people find that impossible.

In Don DeLillo's novel Mao 11, a father watches his daughter marry a virtual stranger in a Moonie mass wedding, asking himself, "When the Old God leaves the world, what happens to all the unexpended faith?

"He looks at each sweet face, round face, long, wrong, darkish, plain. They are a nation, he supposes, founded on the principle of easy belief. A unit fuelled by credulousness ... When the Old God goes, they pray to flies and bottletops."

And lizards from the constellation Draco.

- NZ Herald

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