History as a Conspiracy Theory

Here is an excellent interview with David Aaronovitch, author of Voodoo Histories, in Salon.

What makes us susceptible to conspiracy theories?

We want to believe theories that contradict the idea that young, iconic people died senselessly. If a story takes away the accidental from their death, it gives them agency. After the JFK assassination, it was unbearable to many people that they could live in a country where a lone gunman could kill a president. In those circumstances, it’s not surprising that an overarching conspiracy theory emerges. It suggests that somebody is in control, rather than that we’re at the mercy of our neighbors and to some extent of ourselves (as was the case with Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana). It’s the urge to make sense of a particularly traumatic moment.

In some ways, it’s not that different from the impulse to believe in God.

It is deep down a leap of faith, but it doesn’t present itself as a leap of faith. It presents itself as not only rational but a better kind of rationality. It’s incredibly important that a conspiracy theory has the appearance of science. The literature on Kennedy is beyond voluminous. It’s absolutely enormous. There are vast tomes to suggest that the CIA did it, or other people did. [Conspiracy theorist] David Ray Griffin has come out with a half dozen 9/11 books, and all of them have hundreds of footnotes. They’re either to instant news reports that have since been contradicted, or to other conspiracy theories — but the work nevertheless takes on the appearance of scholarliness.

Aaronovitch also has a blog called AaronovitchWatch, a nod to all the paranoids out there. How long until AaronovitchWatch Watch pops up in a search?