David Lovejoy, Echo co-founder
There I was last week, reading the latest Echo, nodding in agreement with Phillip Frazer, smiling at Mandy’s column, shaking my head over the weird Trump equals Julius Caesar article, when I was suddenly brought to a halt by page 10.
WTF? Some poor person down a rabbit hole and, instead of helping, the newspaper is publishing a long account of this predicament? And this week, Politics in the Pub, which had a long history of presenting respected academics and thinkers with credibility, has apparently been replaced by conspiracy theorists.
It must be the local terrain. Some people dig themselves into rabbit holes, aka conspiracy theories, and they don’t want to get out because their tunnelling has revealed the sinister framework that exists behind the world’s apparent randomness. Any evidence to the contrary is itself proof of the grand conspiracy.
Of course we are lied to by media, by corporations and by governments, but they are not coordinated, cohesive, all-encompassing lies.
Believing that the forces of darkness are so powerful that they control every facet of society, except for the brave individuals ‘doing their own research’ on the net, is a kind of victim mentality.
We have every reason to be suspicious of the motives of tax-evading corporations, of the reckless adoption by police and banks of facial recognition and other AI devices, of governments’ obsession with ‘security’ over freedom, of dozens of developments that need the attention of involved citizens.
But seeing all these problems as links in one giant plot leads to trumped-up fables of good and bad. It becomes easier to deal in black and white rather than the messy, grey-shaded, many-levelled, complicated reality that constitutes the world.
Last year was rich in new conspiracy theories.
Who needs chemtrails, or 9/11 when the novel coronavirus was created in a lab financed by Bill Gates, whose vaccine will contain a microchip to take over your mind?
Better still, the spurious ‘plandemic’ is part of the baby-sacrificing lizard people’s attack on us, which will ultimately be revealed and repelled by Donald J Trump.
America may be the cradle of most conspiracy theories, but closer to home two federal government MPs, George Christensen and Craig Kelly, have posted many inflammatory falsehoods about the US election and COVID-19.
The prime minister, when asked why he allows them to propagate dangerous disinformation, answered that it is a matter of free speech. The obvious rejoinder is that any responsible prime minister would use his own free speech to point out that Messrs Christensen and Kelly are full of shit.
Sometimes the accumulation of evidence to disprove a conspiracy theory is not enough. We need an overview of the mechanisms that cause such theories to take hold, and people need help to get free of them.
Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories by Mick West is an excellent resource, as is his website www.metabunk.org. For quick checking of stories that sound either dubious or too good to be true, try www.snopes.com.
It’s hard to find the balance between a rational distrust of people and organisations with their own agenda and falling down the rabbit hole of total paranoia, but it is what the times seem to demand of us.