One of my favourite TV shows was an Australian original concept – myth busters. It first went to air on SBS in 2003. I really liked the idea of taking a popular myth and subjecting it to some rigorous scientific and at times rather crazy testing. It was science and it was entertaining. But there was a deeper purpose to it – using science to investigate and reveal the truth.
I think we need a new TV show called – conspiracy busters.
Seriously, we really do need a forum with a popular format for examining some of the more outrageous and misleading conspiracies which, when repeated often enough, take on the illusion of truth.
Sowing and spreading a conspiracy is not a new phenomenon and nor is it unique to American politics. It’s been a political tool for centuries and its primary purpose is to feed pre-existing fears, doubts and prejudices. Some conspiracies refuse to die and every few decades, get rejuvenated for political ends. Hitler, for example, shamelessly and with horrendous consequences, exploited several conspiracies from the middle-ages regarding Judaism and Gypsies. Religions have been pretty good at it too, and right from the beginning. For millennia, women had to live with the idea that Eve was responsible for corrupting and tempting Adam and bringing about the ‘fall’ of humankind. Thank God, that conspiracy has at last been exposed!
There have been quite a few conspiracies circulating in recent months. I won’t repeat any of them, as that would be feeding the very thing that many people are keen to starve. Some of them are obviously bizarre and you have to wonder how on earth they began life, whether they started out as a joke. Some of them tap into familiar prejudices and feed themselves. Some people suggest we ought not to take them seriously. But my sense of it all is that they are neither harmless nor benign. They are indeed cancer on the truth of things.
It doesn’t help when getting to the facts of a thing turns out to be such an impossible task. Look at how long it took to get access to correspondence between the Queen and the Governor-General concerning the dismissal of a Labour Prime minister in 1975. A matter of significant national interest which took 45 years to see the light of day. And then, as if to illustrate the great challenge facing democracies around the world, an interesting article appeared in the Age this week. It reported that the current prime minister has responded to only 7.5% of valid requests for FOI (Freedom of Information) within the statutory period. When facts are withheld, the truth can not be told. Without facts, conspiracy theories are born and given more oxygen than they deserve.
In so many ways, FOI legislation is important legislation since it enshrines the right to look for the truth – in theory at least. Reminds me of that text in John’s Gospel – The truth will set you free.