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Voodoo Histories

The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History

By David Aaronovitch
10-minute read
Audio available
Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History by David Aaronovitch

Voodoo Histories (2009) is a fascinating look at why we love to create conspiracy theories. Why do we feel the need to create stories to explain tragic events, such as the Apollo 11 moon landing and the deaths of Princess Diana and Marilyn Monroe? Read on and find out.

  • People curious about conspiracy theories
  • Skeptics wanting to debunk conspiracy theories
  • Activists interested in the Zeitgeist Movement and similar groups

Since the 1980s, David Aaronovitch has been an award-winning journalist for radio, TV and print. His first book, Paddling to Jerusalem, won the Madoc prize for travel literature in 2001, and his second, Voodoo Histories, was a Sunday Times top-ten best seller.

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Voodoo Histories

The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History

By David Aaronovitch
  • Read in 10 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 6 key ideas
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Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History by David Aaronovitch
Synopsis

Voodoo Histories (2009) is a fascinating look at why we love to create conspiracy theories. Why do we feel the need to create stories to explain tragic events, such as the Apollo 11 moon landing and the deaths of Princess Diana and Marilyn Monroe? Read on and find out.

Key idea 1 of 6

Conspiracy theories differ from conspiracies, but they do share some common traits.

Maybe you’ve watched a movie in which the hero gets to the bottom of some mystery. After much field work, he reveals that some important individual didn’t die in a car accident after all. No, it was murder – a conspiracy! Okay, so how does a conspiracy like this differ from a conspiracy theory?

An actual act of conspiracy is not a conspiracy theory.

A conspiracy happens when two or more people are involved in secretly plotting an illegal or deceptive act. Whereas a conspiracy theory is just that – a theory that the official explanation is not true, that there’s a conspiracy afoot.

For example, one popular conspiracy theory is that NASA and the US government faked the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. But which is more likely: Thousands of people conspiring to create and cover up an elaborate hoax or NASA actually landing on the moon?    

This method of cutting through competing explanations in search of the simplest one is known as Occam’s razor. It is one of the primary tools for analyzing the probability of a conspiracy theory.

One way conspiracy theories gain believers is by citing “evidence.” Sometimes this comes in the form of celebrity endorsement, or from so-called experts with exaggerated qualifications. And these believers will work hard to present the evidence in a convincingly academic fashion.

Conspiracy theories also range in size, from small plots (like a few members of Buckingham Palace being involved in the death of Princess Diana) to massively elaborate ones, like the Vatican hiding the truth about Jesus’s bloodline.

Furthermore, real conspiracies sometimes lead to conspiracy theories.

In the Middle East, there have been a number of legitimate conspiracies; this makes the area fertile ground for conspiracy theories.

For instance, the fact that Britain and France conspired to divide up the Ottoman Empire after World War I has led to new conspiracy theories, such as ISIS being an Israeli plot intended to disrupt rival powers.

In the next blink, we’ll find out how conspiracy theories create the illusion of truth.

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