A viral pandemic of conspiracies


It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. That quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth aptly describes the latest conspiracy theory doing the rounds regarding the coronavirus pandemic.

According to this narrative of magical surrealism, the virus which causes Covid-19 was, accidentally or otherwise, created in a Wuhan laboratory which, coincidentally, is owned by a company which, in turn, own a pharmaceutical firm which is making an anti-Covid vaccine.

The Wuhan laboratory, incidentally, was being funded by the top health advisor in the US who is one of the leading advocates of vaccination. The plot thickens further through a complicated interweaving of financial and corporate not-so-clandestine connections which, among others, also involve a philanthropic American multibillionaire who is not only a vocal proponent of the vaccination drive but also a major shareholder in the vaccine-making company linked to the Wuhan laboratory.

The scenario, which has more subterranean twists and turns than a script jointly co-authored by Dan Brown and a latter-day Nostradamus, ends with the cautionary words: “Copy and share quietly”, the sotto voce inducement lending an aura of seductive secrecy and insider knowledge to the whole farrago.

What is truly surprising about this mare’s nest are not its risible cloak-and-dagger convolutions but that it, or something akin to it, took so long to materialise after the outbreak of the pandemic.

As a species, homo sapiens love conspiracy theories. As if there were not enough mysteriousness in the natural universe, and how it functions, we love to fabricate our own hush-hush testaments of hidden ‘truths’ which are concealed behind the veil of a conspiratorial secrecy, endorsed by the highest powers that be. Despite the publication of the 888-page Warren Commission Report in 1964 which concluded that it was Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, who assassinated JFK, speculations of a highly imaginative order remain a flourishing, and presumably lucrative, industry, the usual suspects being cited ranging from the mafia to Lyndon B Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy as president and who authored the investigation into his death.

Another watershed event which continues to spin a cobweb of conspiracy 52 years after it took place is NASA’s moon landing – “A small step for man, a giant leap for Mankind – which many, in the US and elsewhere, are convinced was faked by the authorities using the desert backdrop in a remote corner of Arizona or New Mexico to represent the lunar surface.

Conspiracies, of all kinds, don’t recognise geographic or political boundaries and are a universal phenomena, not being restricted to any single country. India has its fair share of the conspiratorial, with the continuing debate about how, where, and when Subhas Chandra Bose vanished from the realm of recorded history into the timeless mists of legend being perhaps the most enduring, and emotive, enigma of all.

The fecund womb of all conspiracy theories is paranoia, the unfounded conviction that unseen forces are bent on bamboozling or persecuting us.

The paradox is that while paranoia is irrational, the extreme form of paranoia, which is schizophrenia, uses rationality to buttress its self-created delusions.

Schizophrenia, often wrongly described as a split personality disorder, is a psychosis which causes the patient to construct an elaborate alternate reality, meticulously and logically detailed in all its aspects.

One of the best-known cases of schizophrenia was that of John Forbes Nash Junior, the American mathematician and economist who made seminal contributions to game theory and the mechanisms of decision-making, and remains the only person to have been awarded both the Nobel Prize for Economics as well as the Abel Prize for Mathematics.

In 1959 at the height of his career, Nash was diagnosed with schizophrenia, having convinced himself that he had been enlisted by a secret government agency to counter a Communist plot to seize control of the US.

Nash became the subject of an inspirational biography, A Beautiful Mind, which was turned into a Hollywood film of the same name in 2001.

While Nash’s case is obviously exceptional, the seeds of paranoia might be more prevalent than commonly suspected. Israeli historian and author Yuval Noah Harari argues that the digital technology we use to access information daily moulds our choices and decisions; we become the products of technology. This assertion gives the truth to the graffito “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”

Which could be another way of saying that the biggest conspiracy of all is to convince us that there is no conspiracy.

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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