Professor David Runciman at Cambridge University in England has something interesting to say about the role of conspiracy theories in a democratic society.
Runcima “is deep into a five-year project to work out where, when, how and why conspiracy theories fester – and looking in particular at the link between conspiracy and democracy,” according to the Cambridge News.
“These days when people have conspiracy theories, they tend to think their government is behind it,” explains David. “A classic modern example is 9/11. There are conspiracy theorists who believe that either the American government knew it was going to happen and didn’t tell anyone, or organised it as an excuse to have war in Iraq; they say it’s about oil – all this kind of stuff. Yet 100 years ago, people were perhaps more likely to blame, say, secret organisations or the banks if anything went wrong, so we’re interested in trying to understand why people now think that government is the villain.”
The subject attracts a crowd, he says.
“We’ve discovered that you just have to use the words ‘conspiracy theory’ in an event and people will come. People are really interested. Some of them are a little bit…” David grimaces, “but most of them aren’t. No-one can look at this stuff and not have moments where they think ‘But… Hmm…’ Because there are real conspiracies! Some of them are true.”
“In a world of real conspiracies, you have to sometimes be a conspiracy theorist,” he adds. “Certainly you don’t want to not suspect big organisations of being corrupt. Banks, businesses, drug companies… That’s what’s interesting about this project: what’s the conspiracy theory that’s OK, and what’s the kind that’s not OK? It turns out it’s really hard to draw the line.”