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Conspiracy theories



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As Kay sees it, conspiracy thinking is becoming more and more widespread, especially with the growth of the Internet.

He has found that virtually all conspiracy theorists are older, say over 55 or 60 years of age, and most have at some point in their lives lost faith in public institutions.

"What happens is that once someone embraces one conspiracy theory, it shapes their entire view of the world," Kay told Rolling Stone recently.

"Conspiracism is a sort of creed; it's the idea that there is a secret power in the world that can't be changed by elections, that it has evil motivations and that it's trying to destroy our way of life. They come to see the world as presented by the mainstream media and other institutions as sort of a counterfeit hoax. And their minds start digging behind everything, and they stop trusting anything. Which is actually very sad, because in a lot of cases it consumes their whole lives."

Maybe conspiracy theories are attractive because they seem to offer order out of chaos - if you like - they connect dots into meaningful patterns.

And there is no doubt that there have been some significant conspiracies, such as Watergate, as Kay will readily attest to. And there is no doubt that in office politics or any bureaucracy, people conspire to achieve certain results.

But generally the more complex a situation the less likely it is to be a true conspiracy because for the most part people aren't going to stay quiet and "government" workers aren't going to cover up in large numbers. Some may suggest many workers are too incompetent to even do so.

But nevertheless we as a society are captivated by these ideas. Just look at the popularity of books such as Angels and Demons by Dan Brown or Alan Moore's From Hell - fictional, but fantastic.

Some theories can be very dangerous as they cause strong feelings of hate and distrust, which can breed violence. These types are found at the root of many assassinations of political leaders and terrorist attacks.

And before you laugh them off ponder this: in August 2004 a poll by Zogby International found that 49 per cent of New York residents believed that officials of the U.S. government knew in advance that attacks were planned on or around September 11, 2001, and that they consciously failed to act.