The Plague of Hazy Photos

Does it ever annoy you that every photo at the centre of conspiracy theories is unfocused and ready to be creatively interpreted?

The famous photo supposedly depicting the head and neck of a sea monster rising out of a lake in Scotland, has always seemed to me more likely to be the arched arm of some slightly overweight skinny dipper — caught in mid freestyle stroke. Or it could be a sinking swan.

The fact that human beings are pattern seeking animals, and the eyes often see a face in the clouds, or in the distorted geometric patterns on some horrific old curtains. In the early days of YouTube (before the term ‘viral’ became common) there were dozens of clips from the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center that depicted the fireball and billowing smoke from the impact of the second plane. The people posting the videos were convinced they could see the face of satan in the smoke.

Superstition of this kind is to be found in many layers of conspiracy theories, and when it shows its stunted crown I feel comfortable dismissing their theories at face value. It becomes obvious rather swiftly when you speak to a conspiracy theorist and find them either worth speaking to or not. Those that stick with determination to broad assumptions about the world; that it is run by some shadowy corporation, or worse a Jewish corporation, and they justify their commitment to conspiracies by appealing to those assumptions.

However, I must not paint too broadly, and I have swum enough in the waters of conspiracy to believe that all theorists are nutters. I think that a mind that is suspicious of information, that does not accept the official line as a matter of course, and that takes the opposite view on an issue of importance to the one commonly held, is intrinsically valuable. On the latter point the ability to play the other side, to be the devil’s advocate, is to reignite the flames of rhetoric and the dialectic. It is crucial to have the decisions and actions of the powerful subjected to this kind of intellectual challenge.

The parliamentary opposition is supposed to achieve precisely this, and I appeal to you to decide whether the various iterations of the ‘opposition’ around the world are effective.

Ultimately, if the centre of an argument, or a supposed conspiracy is a collection of hazy photographs then it is doing the noble oppositionist a great disservice. On this note I now stop.


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