These days, everything we don’t agree with is deemed to be a ‘conspiracy’. Ian Allsop has a theory about it.
My Christmas present from my eldest last year was a compilation of Roy of the Rovers comic strips from the 1970s. Classic, retro-cartoon football action. One story (which alarmingly I vaguely remember reading first time round) involves a prize of £50,000 for whichever player finishes top scorer in the league at the end of the season. Roy declares that he isn’t interested in the money and will give it to charity if he wins.
I haven’t as yet got to the end of the story to determine whether Roy makes good on his promise when he inevitably scoops the prize. But then he doesn’t have to. The trick is to make a big statement and reap the goodwill that stems from the gesture of largesse.
Many real-life celebrities and businessmen-cum-philanthropists have made great capital out of claims about what they are going to do for charity. I do often wonder if anyone ever goes back and checks further down the line; otherwise cynical people like me might suggest that people were only making unsustainable promises for reasons of publicity and self-promotion.
Two of 2012’s most disturbing and depressing stories involved disgraced famous figures who had used the veneer of charitable respectability in mitigation of their crimes. Lance armstrong and Jimmy savile. But perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the savile fallout was revealed just before Christmas when papers from Margaret Thatcher’s time, released under the 30-year rule, revealed savile’s efforts to reform gift aid. This was a bit like hearing that Harold Shipman had been involved in a campaign to boost legacy giving.
The story added fuel to the conspiracy theories burning about how far the establishment was implicated in savile’s horrific acts and their cover-up, and as such was gold for that part of the internet that confuses wild, paranoid delusion with evidence and truth.
I am pretty open-minded about so-called conspiracy theories, although I have a sneaking suspicion that the CIA or the FBI are making them all up. Suggesting governments are behind all sorts of cover-ups credits people who demonstrate incompetence on a daily basis with far too much intelligence and ability.
But just because something is brushed off as a conspiracy theory doesn’t in itself automatically make it wrong. There are lists of famous scandals and events from history that were called fanciful conspiracy theories at the time but have subsequently proved to be accurate.
Although the fact that these examples are found on the internet, which often propagates incorrect rumour in the first place, makes this a tricky area.
The easiest way to dismiss conspiracy theories is to label the theorist a nutter, or use ‘conspiracy theorist’ as a pejorative term. But if you think about it, if the theories were in fact true, that is exactly what those with something to hide would do to silence those pointing out inconvenient truths. This is what I call the conspiracy theory conspiracy theory. I am probably now on a hypothetical list just for suggesting it.
Even those 12-foot lizard men at the Charity Commission were forced to deny recently that they were part of a conspiracy theory to secularise society in the wake of the Plymouth Brethren ruckus. People bemoan creeping secularism in society, but I am more concerned about the creeping use of the term creeping secularism.
Without getting into a theological minefield (the very statement of which in itself means I am now in one) I would argue that secularism isn’t creeping, and what we are seeing is just a reflection of society changing rather than a plot. And I will leave aside the massive irony of established religion accusing others of co-ordinated attempts to shape the world we live in for their own ends.
Surely it all boils down to Christian organisations feeling they are being discriminated against by those evil plotters at the Charity Commission because they won’t allow them to discriminate themselves. At a time when there is about as much chance of a woman becoming a bishop – or the new Pope – as appearing at a fundraising summit. Which is probably another conspiracy.
We might as well all claim that everything done that we don’t agree with is part of a conspiracy. Just in case. it would save time trying to disentangle the real secret underhand shenanigans from instances where decisions we don’t like are being made.
And, of course, if none of what I have written above makes it onto the page we all know why.