Went to another session in the local literature festival last night, this one featuring Francis Wheen and David Aaronovitch, discussing their new books, on the paranoia of the nineteen-seventies and conspiracy theories, respectively. Both were excellent.
Aaronovitch made the point that conspiracy theories are possibly the inevitable result of the human mind's need for narrative. He gave the example of Princess Diana, around whom some hysterical conspiracy theories have been woven, mostly suggesting that it was Prince Philip who had her bumped off. Hers was a classic fairy tale: beautiful young girl romanced by a (sort of) handsome prince; they marry and live beautifully, have beautiful children and everyone adores them. In a traditional story arc we have swept up to the zenith. Then bad things happen, and the story arc begins to fall back down again: there are rumours of unhappiness in the marriage; Andrew Morton writes his book; the rumours are confirmed; they separate; there is the Panorama interview. It is all compelling stuff, wonderful drama and then
End of narrative arc. End of story. It isn't good enough. We want more, we want better, we want a proper story, with a proper ending. So we start inventing it, and conspiracy theories are born.
It's an interesting notion. I'm not sure it works for all conspiracy theories, though. The moon landings, for example: that seems a perfectly reasonable narrative arc, without the need for artificial stimulation, and yet conspiracy theories abound.