Book Review: Voodoo Histories (The Role of Conspiracy Theories in Shaping Modern History)

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Voodoo Histories, written by award winning journalist, David Aaronovitch, is the author’s attempt to examine in detail some of the conspiracy theories of modern times and how they have shaped our reality. David Aaronovitch has had an illustrious career working in radio, television and newspaper in the United Kingdom. This has exposed him to many of the world’s wonders and simultaneously brought him in contact with some of its greatest intellectual minds. He fits some of these experiences into 309 pages of compelling reading, perfect for any downtime that you might have in between festivities this holiday.

Aaronovitch – before making reference to how “the Church has for two millennia systematically suppressed the truth about the bloodline of Jesus” – starts off by defining the term conspiracy as “two or more people getting together to plot an illegal, secret or immoral action.” The book is filled with unbelievable theories backed up by damning evidence which makes the theories quite convincing.

One of the most gripping conspiracy theories of all time is the 911 conspiracy which theorises that the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were inside jobs carried out by a secret team within the American government headed by George Bush at the time. “Certain forces in the Bush administration wanted a pretext to use overwhelming military force in the Caspian area and the Middle East, either to procure oil supplies, or to weaken opposition to Israel, or both.”

Other conspiracy theorists claim the incidents that took place on September 11, 2001 were instigated by Jews who pretended to be Americans. “Since 12 September 2001 there have been theories linking Israelis/Jews/ Zionists (the names always indicating the same people) to the worst terrorist attack in history. There is an urban myth which draws attention to the “4000 Jews or Israelis (the description varies) [who] mysteriously stayed at home on the day of the attacks, clearly forewarned about what was to happen.”

This book, like others in its esoteric genre, is filled with mind-blowing theories whose authenticities don’t often survive under scrutiny. So why do intelligent professionals from all walks of life come up with such theories and why do people tend to believe them? Lewis Wolpert believes this might have something to do with our biological need to make sense of the world; “to order the universe into a comprehensible form.”

We have recently witnessed a terrible misuse of the public’s trust by Sunday Times (a reputable South African newspaper) journalists when they fabricated stories of a non-existent rouge unit at SARS and a death squad within the police service. Whether inspired by over-active imaginations or otherwise, this is often how unfounded conspiracy theories are born. The victim of this type of conspiracism, I imagine, is an innocent, middle aged person whose only way to “order the universe into comprehensible form” is to read newspapers on a chilled Sunday afternoon.

“So, we need [a] story and may even be programmed to create it. But why are certain types and structures of story more successful, more satisfying than others? One possible answer is that a successful story either represents the way we think things should happen, or is the best explanation we can get for why they didn’t.”

Aaronovitch adds, in his conclusion, that conspiracy theories are reassuring in the way they suggest there is an underlying explanation to all things rather than complete chaos. My opinion is that conspiracy theories are dangerous and can spread uncontrollably to devastating effect. There is a responsibility, however, by all people living in this age of fake news, to fact check stories and to not be so stupid.

Aaronovitch, D. (2009). Voodoo Histories The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History. Jonathan Cape: London

By Zimbeni Mphande

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