Over the Christmas holidays, whilst doing a typical trawl through the internet in search of something to do, I came across the story of a conspiracy theorist, James Tracy, whose prominent and vocal beliefs in the Sandy Hook massacre of 2012 being a hoax had lead to his dismissal as (somewhat ironically) as Professor of Communications at Florida Atlantic University in 2015.
In the particular case of James Tracy – a character we could describe as ‘offbeat’ to put it mildly – it would seem that such action was justified; the parents of Noah Pozner, a six-year old victim of the massacre, claimed that Tracy had contacted them asking for proof that they were their son’s biological parents, and photographic evidence that he had even existed. When they refused, he boldly claimed on his blog that this was further evidence to support his theories.
It’s easy to look at people deemed ‘crazy’ by society and overlook the possibility that there may be some semblance of truth in what they are saying. My very own flesh and blood uncle is a staunch believer, for example, that 9/11 was an ‘inside job’. Though this is widely accepted to be a bogus and unsourced opinion, he is what can only be described as a ‘hater’ of former US President George W Bush. Obviously, hatred towards political figures is often borne of a disparity in political ideologies and, more simply, a mistrust of the real motivations of these figures. So really, the belief in 9/11 being an ‘inside job’ is just a widely circulated exacerbation of a relatively normal paranoid thought, much like the kind that most people experience most days. The most committed conspiracy theorists are probably those who feel most alienated and frustrated by society, and ironically, their paranoia pushes them even further to the fringes.
To an extent, we’re all conspiracy theorists, because paranoia, or at least rumination, is a natural response to a world in which people don’t tell the truth the whole time. We therefore have to cultivate our relationships and our opinions on foundations which are, in parts, uncertain. It’s just a fact that most people lie at least sometimes – quoting statistics here would be obsolete; there can be no valid statistics because people lie about lying. That deception exists – that someone can intentionally say something which they don’t mean in order to plug their own agenda, or to conceal it – is an arguable root cause of a lot of ill. Just look at the judicial system, for example – its existence is at least partially necessitated by the existence of deception.
It is somewhat sad that to really trust someone in the truest sense of the word (whatever that may be) is a big deal, and normally comes hand in hand with growing to love them. These are crazy times; it is, sadly, easy to predict that in the next week, month, or year, something immeasurably catastrophic will happen somewhere in the world, and for this prediction to be realised.
Tragedy as a result of human volition and vice has always been an inevitability, and, thanks to the international nature of news broadcasting, we are now more aware of it than ever. We live in a world in which a terrorist attack one week is old news the next: constantly evolving, but almost sadly and strangely cyclical; this cycle being (in the case of the headline news, at least) one of generally overwhelming negativity.
It’s easy to forget that however unbiased any media outlet may claim to be, those who decide the angle of news in any form are human individuals. Therefore, it obviously follows that the news will always be – at least to an extent – manipulated, simply because this is in the very nature of the human mind: to perceive information, and then condition it, according to one’s particular whims and workings.
For example, under this article there will be a little memo in italics which will read ‘The views expressed in Viewpoint do not represent the views of The Saint, but are individual opinions.’ You are therefore reminded that these are my opinions and that they are not affiliated with the good name of The Saint. But if this newspaper is a body, then what is it without the individuals which that body is comprised of? And what are the opinions of those individuals if not varying and complex and, above all, highly influenced by social context in the varying forms it assumes? Surely, therefore, this is applicable to any other newspaper, however biased or unbiased it claims to be to any given political leaning.
It is important, therefore, to question any information which we are given which is subsumed under the title of ‘news’. We are being educated to be critically minded, and so surely it must follow through that this is how we ought to process the information handed to us by the media.
Most of us are susceptible to influence- which is in some ways good, because it means that we are capable of openness and absorption. But just as we (hopefully) question things we hear on the grapevine, so we should question anything presented to us as absolute truth, even if it is reported as fact.
To finish, I quote Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch-22’; ‘just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you’.