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The age of post-reason

Mar 19,2017 - Last updated at Mar 19,2017

During the revolution against Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi, a highly educated man assured me that the West conspired to instigate the uprising that toppled him because he was a genius, and this person quoted the commandant of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst at the time when Qadhafi trained there, as saying that Lieutenant Qadhafi was the most brilliant cadet in the history of the academy.

This might have been a remarkable assertion, except for one tiny fact: Qadhafi did not go to Sandhurst.

There is no doubt that we, in the Middle East, love conspiracy theories, but we are not alone in this.

Conspiracy theories are loved universally. For instance, there are as many people in the US as there are in the Middle East who believe that the US government was complicit in the September 11 attacks.

Governments are just as likely as ordinary people to propagate conspiracy theories because they are comforting.

If the economy of a certain country falls into recession, the cause is not poor performance of that country’s government, but the intrigues of the evil imperialists or Jewish bankers, or the Freemasons, or any other group that springs to mind.

It must have been a Godsend for Ayatollah Khomeini shortly after his return to Iran, when faced with demonstrations against the rising cost of living, to admonish the demonstrators that the objective of the revolution is to fight the Great Satan not to bring down the price of watermelons.

The problem then becomes to have a Great Satan to fight against all the time because, the moment one runs out of demons, someone will say: “Now, please, how about the watermelons?”

Traditionally, it used to be the Third World that depended heavily on conspiracy theories to ward off dissent and drum up support. But now we may find reassurance in the realisation that all people are the same, irrespective of race, colour, creed, persuasion or any form of life choice.

For now, the most spectacular conspiracy theories come from the new populist leaders in Washington DC and Western European capitals who shoot off their theories on the Internet before anyone with common sense can reach for a tranquilising dart and a gag.

Then, before you know what, there develops a movement around that person and a sizeable portion of the population is ready to vote him or her into office.

And thanks to the social media, any conspiracy theorist, no matter how outlandish his ideas may be, can instantly find echo rooms where like-minded people become a mutual support group.

So, it seems that the world has moved from the dark ages, when superstition prevailed, to the age of reason, which was too frightening to have mass appeal, and now we find ourselves in the post-reason age of the social media gossip.

 

This may not be surprising, but it is inadequate because any serious analysis of the world around us is far too complex to be expressed in a sound bite or in 140 characters.

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