Thursday, May 03, 2007

Conspiracy theories

Yesterday I was listening to Radio New Zealand, and there was an interview with Dr. Marc Wilson, who is a senior lecturer in psychology at Victoria University. He was talking about his study of conspiracy theories. (That particular interview is still up, but will only be there for a couple of weeks.)

At one point Kim Hill asked Dr Wilson for the strangest belief that he has come across in his studies. He thought about it a bit and said that actually the strangest one was when he discovered that 50% of the people he interviewed said they believed that the Rainbow Warrior was blown up by agents of a foreign power.

I thought that was pretty funny (what did the other 50% think?), and also a little bit sad. I guess we tend to judge the truth or otherwise of a theory (or fact) in a large part by the context in which it is stated, and in this situation (given a list of conspiracy theories) probably many of the interviewees were more concerned about not appearing overly credulous or gullible than about whether or not any given fact might be true. I suppose, if most of them were students, then they didn't have any memories of the Rainbow Warrior incident. (I'm feeling old again.) And of course, given that we don't have time to put in the research necessary to make an informed judgment about everything we hear, we have to use context, possibly a lot more than we realize. New Zealand is not exactly a hotbed of activity by foreign agents or terrorists, so if you don't know the facts, then the idea of foreign agents blowing up a ship in New Zealand doesn't sound very likely.

Still, it is sad that so many people don't know the facts about that one.

I wonder, though - can a conspiracy theory still be called a conspiracy theory if it happens to be true?

And which conspiracy theory do you favour?

(Personally, I'm in favour of the one that says George Bush is a shape-changing alien reptile.)


StyleyGeek said...

You know, at the end of your second paragraph I actually had a brief panic attack, thinking, "Oh my god, I've believed that all these years and it was actually just a conspiracy theory?!"

Anonymous said...

I must be missing something. RW _was_ blown up by 'agents of a foreign power' - as events (not interpretations of facts) establish.
BadA's link is to Wiki:
The Rainbow Warrior, then captained by Peter Willcox, was sabotaged and sunk just before midnight NZST (1pm BST, 8am EDT) on July 10, 1985 by two explosive devices attached to the hull by operatives of French intelligence (DGSE). One of the twelve people on board, photographer Fernando Pereira, drowned when he attempted to retrieve his equipment.
The New Zealand Police immediately initiated a murder inquiry into the sinking. With the assistance of the New Zealand public and an intense media focus the police quickly established the movements of all of the bombers. On July 12 two of the six bombers, posing as Swiss tourists and carrying Swiss Passports, who had operated under orders were found and arrested. At trial they pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were eventually sentenced to a maximum of 10 years imprisonment. Most of the others were identified and three were interviewed by the New Zealand Police on Norfolk Island to where they had escaped in the yacht Ouvea. They were not arrested due to lack of evidence that would satisfy the Australian authorities. Ouvea subsequently sailed, ostensibly for Nouméa, but was scuttled en route with the personnel transferring to a French naval vessel. Most of the DGSE members remained in French government service.
In September 1985 the French minister of defense Charles Hernu resigned and prime minister Laurent Fabius admitted, on television, that agents of the French secret service had sunk the boat on orders.
Hernu _did_ resign, Fabius _did_ admit. Any paranoia here is just a reasonable response to events.
Uh, but wait, _I_ get it: France isn't a 'foreign power'. I knew I was missing something...

Badaunt said...

Styleygeek: Yes, I reacted the same way, when I was listening to the interview. Eh? Wait a minute ... !

Anon: No, the bit you are missing is that Dr. Wilson was making his point in a roundabout way! (I probably didn't make it clear enough. Sorry.) What is strange about this 'belief' about foreign agents blowing up the Rainbow Warrior is not the 50% who believe it, but the 50% who DON'T. He was amazed that there were so many NZers out there who didn't know about this actual, real conspiracy.

Lia said...

Never having heard, before today, of the Rainbow Warrior, and assuming that it was somehow related to Rainbow Brite (until reading the Wiki article; it's all cleared up now), I don't think I'm qualified to comment on that.

But I've always been a proponent of the philosophy that states:
"Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they aren't all after me."
Which may bother the English teacher in you, but the sentiment is sound.

Badaunt said...

Lia: You're allowed to not know about the Rainbow Warrior, not being a Kiwi yourself. (Unless you ARE a Kiwi, in disguise. Are you one of us? We're everywhere, biding our time, and we're going to take over one day!)

Radioactive Jam said...

A-ha! I knew it!