Counter Knowledge

Counter Knowledge February 19, 2008

Damian Thompson comments on the conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Diana Princess of Wales, the conspiracy that the US government planned the 9/11 attacks and a new theory that Facebook is a front by CIA to spy on people.

Damian’s new book is about what he calls ‘counterknowledge’. It is a study of conspiracy theories, wacko science, weird theories, urban legends and crackpot ideas.

Why is everyone so surprised that people will believe anything made up by anybody nowadays? The underlying problem is theological. As G.K.Chesterton said, “Every argument is a theological argument.” When everyone believes that truth is relative and there is no such thing as revelation and no such thing as religious authority, then everyone can believe what they like. How can people be expected to follow truth if their whole educational and societal framework teaches them that there is no such thing as truth?

Why are we surprised when people believe patent nonsense just because it is passionately held? When there is no revelation but personal opinion, no authority but individual sentimentality, and no fact except what people want to believe, no wonder people swallow anything and everything. Who was it who said at it was easier to tell a big lie than a little lie? Hitler I think.

Underneath it all, why this passion for conspiracy theories? Because deep down people cannot live in a world that is random. People cannot live in a universe with no meaning, with no plot line and with no greater pattern to their existence. We need the big theory. We need to believe that someone or some group out there are ordering this chaotic world. There is a deep instinct within each of us to believe that there is some great plan, and if some great plan, then some great planner.

In short, we cannot live without Divine Providence, and conspiracy theories are just the mad ravings of lost souls in a secular, humanistic, atheistic society who are desperate to find a pattern a reason and a mind behind their empty lives.

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  • Very well said and very, very true!

  • This reminds me of my favorite conspiracy book, Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Eco (also wrote Name of the Rose). I dare not say more, the walls have ears, but Catholics would enjoy both.