I spent Sunday afternoon watching documentaries, because, on occasion, I like to catch up on what people believe about certain Conspiracy Theories1. One of the chief problems, I’ve discovered, in writing on Conspiracy Theories is just how much of the literature, so to speak, is visual or aural rather than written. Conspiracy Theorists are often demagogues with an attendant audience who want to see or hear the latest news, rather than read about it.
The uncharitable part of my brain suspects that this might be due to the fact that a written argument is something that can be fairly easily dissected and anaylsed, whilst verbal diatribes get sometimes get way with murder against Reason. I think it’s also the case that style likes to triumph over substance2.
A telling point. In one of the documentaries I watched a young man, convinced by “The Ripple Effect,” ask how it was possible for people (the Conspiracy Theorists) with such limited resources, compared to the Government, to produce such slick and persuasive videos arguing their cases? The implication was “The video is slick, it is persuasive, therefore the story it tells must be true.” Now this is obviously specious reasoning. However (the big “but” of the situation), he is right to ask “Why can’t the Government do as well, if not better?” Why are they not trying to win that PR game?
NASA, famously, tried to debunk the Moon Landing Hoax theories, only to find that the debunking attempt just confirmed the Conspiracy Theorists. “If they have nothing to hide,” they reasoned, “then why are they trying so hard to deny it?”
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Still, it bears mentioning, given that caveat, that there are no obvious parallels to things like “The Ripple Effect.” Perhaps the Government/The Man/The Establishment might well just confirm the suspicions of their opponents by engaging with them, but surely the natural enemies of the Conspiracy Theorists, the Conspiracy Skeptics, should be stepping up? Yes, there is “Screw Loose Change” as a counter-part to “Loose Change,” but the skeptics and the sceptics have not, for the most part, tried to compete in the YouTube landscape.
I could go on for some time on the why of this; part of the answer is that (many) skeptics don’t care why people believe the things they do, they just don’t like it that they think that way. Another part of the answer is that skeptics, being often quite dogmatic, can’t see any more persuasive line of arguing than “No… Just no!” But I won’t go on about that, because it will just make me depressed.
You wouldn’t like me when I’m depressed.
No, really, you wouldn’t.
I was actually meaning to get this post to swing properly towards the peril of YouTube sources; watching a documentary by the BBC or the History Channel is one thing; I can cite that with great ease and, like a book, I can reasonably expect a peer or fellow traveller to be able to get access to the video through the magic of the interloan system, et cetera. YouTube though… There is no guarantee the video will be there in a few months time.
Which is a peril. Of the YouTubes.
Thus the title.
I would say more; the thrust of the post went off in a far more interesting direction and my complaining about the ever-changing geography of cyberspace is neither original nor particularly interesting.
- I should do this more often, but I find it depressing. Like reading the comments on Kiwiblog.↩
- Of course, some of the written Conspiracy-Theorists-on-Conspiracy-Theories material is terrible in an almost exactly opposite way. Many Conspiracy Theorists have managed to ape the academic style so completely that it is hard to distinguish fact from fiction (or, in many cases, the facts from the selection of facts often employed to support a particular thesis Further blurring this line is the indisputable ‘fact’ that we academics sometimes commit exactly the same sin.↩