David Aaronovitch: Voodoo Histories (4 stars)

David Aaronovitch: Voodoo Histories

Pearl Harbour was engineered by FDR so America could enter World War II. Princess Di was bumped off by MI6. And 9/11 was the master plot of a wicked American administration. All because TV documentaries, the internet or some bloke down the pub told us so. But they’re simply wrong, as the empirical evidence isn’t there, and more often than not, neither is the logic. Yet, simply debunking conspiracy theories isn’t journalist David Aaronovitch’s only goal. He also examines the long view of their role in modern history and explores their psychology, a mixture of hysteria, paranoia, stubborn incredulity and simple stupidity.

Quite the opposite of conspiracy theories, Voodoo Histories isn’t sexy; it’s a weighty, heavily-researched tome that largely resists condescendingly rubbishing the ramblings of loonies. Aaronovitch actually finds room to suggest that conspiracy theories – while undoubtedly dangerous – may even have a semi-valuable social function as a levee against indifference. More instantly gratifying is the arsenal of factual ammunition he provides for shooting down know-it-all pub bores.

(Jonathan Cape)

Comments

1. ngdale2 Dec 2009, 5:09am1 star David Aaronovitch: Voodoo Histories Report

Aaranaovitch's is a deeply flawed book, largely because he seems to convince himself - though not any astute reader - by the end of the book that there is no such thing as a conspiracy at all. This slippery slide into ad absurdum is facilitated by equating patently absurd notions - e.g. that there never was a moon landing to ones that are vastly more complex and harder to settle authoritatively such as the Kennedy assassination. The rebuttals to the idea that Kennedy was killed by a consortium have been powerful but it is no less dogmatic than the worst conspiracy theorist, to move from this serious argumentation to certainty of the lone gunman. Confessing to having been a believer in the conspiracy theory of the assassination as a youth, Aaronovitch displays the pendulum swing to the other extreme typical of any zealot. Along the way he is dismissive of anyone who holds legitimate views different from his his conclusions and, ends up taking the untenable position that virtually every alleged conspiracy in history is based on some flaw of the human psyche which, he, of course, has now transcended.

Where in this tome, except for the right winders who lobbied for the invasion of Iraq, if there recognition that powerful people actually do conspire to do wrong. Does he confront American role in the overthrow of Allende in Chile ? And what about the burning of the Reichstag in Germany, the murder of the Polish officer in the Katyn forest, the shameful involvement of the French in the 1994 Rwandan genocide? To extrapolate from Aaronovitch, I guess that's all more poppycock.

Oh, one last thing: the usage of "voodoo" as a taken-for-granted synonym for that which is not real, is an indicative piece of ethnocentrism. Aaronovitch should be confined to his quarters until he has read and passed a comprehension test on a far better book than his, Ward Davies' The Serpent and the Rainbow. It might bring him around to a somewhat more robust appreciation for what a strange world we live in, one in which mysteries cannot always be cleared up by a semi-diligent reporter.

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