Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Slip of the tongue

I enjoy Graham Reid's blog Random Play. I read today's post with interest. He describes visiting the place where the iconic JFK was assassinated and in his prose made reference to 'Conspiracy Theorists'. It kind of grated on me as I feel the term is entering into the UnSpeak vocabulary. So I posted this reply:

Conspiracy theory/theorist has emerged into the language in a dangerous way. It is a form of UnSpeak (as described by Stephen Poole in his excellent (and frightening) book of the same name: Unspeak: How Words Become Weapons, How Weapons Become a Message, and How That Message Becomes Reality

To paraphrase one reviewer:

"…ubiquitous terms such as war on terror, pro-life, and Operation Just Cause, are examples of Unspeak. They attempt to silence any possible opposing viewpoint by casting an issue in only one light.

Unspeak phrases are not neutral but "smuggle in political opinion in a remarkably efficient way.

The implications of an ongoing effort by politicians and interest groups to manipulate our language, for example, substituting global warming with climate change as a way of recasting the debate about environmental pollution in less-frightening terms.

Similarly, what was once referred to as creationism is now called intelligent design by fundamentalists intent on passing off their religious beliefs as scientific theory.

… journalists often parrot terms handed to them by corporations and politicians, aiding in passing these phrases into mainstream usage.

…an insidious trend"

Conspiracy Theorist is a convenient expression to close down discussion and debate. I am not especially interested in the case of JFK or the related story of Marilyn Monroe's death (or Anna Nicole Smith for that matter), but I was fascinated to watch the documentary Loose Change about the events surrounding 9/11. I found much of the content plausible and incredible that mainstream media had determined that it was merely 'Conspiracy Theory'. This meme shuts down the discussion - as if to imply that finding doubt about official explanations of events would lump one in the padded corral with the Area 51 theorists.

Recently a teacher at Takapuna Grammar school was vilified by the Sunday papers for introducing famous 'conspiracy theories' into the classroom in an attempt, as she put it, to introduce critical thinking. I don't know what was really said but remarks about the scale of the murder of Jews by the Nazi's outraged some Jewish parents of a student. For the record I have no reason to doubt the enormity of the slaughter - and the entire conversation was hijacked with emotively charged remarks, such as forcing the victims to 'die again' (which as anyone knows, simply isn't possible and unhelpful).

Critical thinking is a crucial building block of a democracy. To examine a subject with an open mind is essential, in my opinion, for a generous, burgeoning and just (asin reasonable doubt) society.

Preserving dogma and the prevailing, primarily political, orthodoxy by branding doubters 'Conspiracy Theorists' simply reminds me of the treatment meted to 'witches' in the not so distant past...

Here's to the doubters and malcontents - their legacy is progress and innovation.

Indeed I understand that the Catholic Church conceded that the earth is not the centre of the universe after all...

S'funny how the truth has a way of shifting with time.


But don't be put off, it is a great blog: interesting and well written. Mr Reid is very pleasant chap, I spoke with him before Christmas about participating in an article about people who have made creative career changes (He was an English teacher at my high school and, without his (indirect) influence I would never have read The Dice Man (1970s A) or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream

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