When the Master of Conspiracy Theories meets the Doctor of Conspiracy Theory – what happens??? We decided to put this to the test and invited Jaz Coleman (of Killing Joke and author of Letters from Cythera) to sit down with Dr. M. R. X. Dentith author of two books on the subject, The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories and Taking Conspiracy Theories Seriously. We figured they’d have a lot to say – but we NEVER EXPECTED THIS!!!
Well, WE were stunned! How about you?
To be fair, we invited Dr Dentith to respond in writing and tell us what he would have liked to say – had he got the chance.
Hi. I’m Dr. M R. X. Dentith. You might have almost heard me on this interview with Jaz Coleman.
I was invited by Marty to have a chat with Jaz because both Jaz and I are interested in these things called “conspiracy theories.” But, as it turned out, the chat didn’t really happen: I never even got halfway through the first sentence of my response to Jaz before the chat turned antagonistic.
I have long been a fan of Killing Joke and have no ill will towards Jaz Coleman. He has some strongly held opinions and does not suffer who he considers to be fools gladly. But if we are going to debate the merit of any particular conspiracy theory—whether it is 9/11, chemtrails making the population docile, or the fact “they” are covering up the fact Paul McCartney died a long time ago—we have to debate the evidence and consider alternative possibilities. Only by looking at the evidence and working out what alternatives are left when everything has been considered can we show that it’s either reasonable or unreasonable to believe some conspiracy theory. I wanted to have that conversation with Jaz because I was fascinated by the story he told about how he and his brother had a falling out over the correct interpretation of what happened in New York and Washinton, D.C. on that fateful day back in 2001. After all, a significant number of people listening to the interview will be on his brother’s side, and so it would have been good to get to grips with why they disagreed. That’s why I started off by trying to talk about the various different theories people have for the events of 9/11, especially since they are all conspiracy theories of some sort. People who believe Al-Qaeda were responsible believe that a group of terrorists worked in secret to hijack planes to fly into high value targets in the U.S. Some people believe it was a controlled demolition organised by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and others. And others believe the Americans let the event happen and then covered that fact up. These are all conspiracy theories (including the official story: it was Al-Qaeda), and the only way to sort out which is the best theory is by looking at the evidence.
This is what I do. I’ve worked, as an academic, on conspiracy theory and conspiracy theory theory since 2007, when I started writing what would become by PhD dissertation, In defence of conspiracy theories. That lead to my first book, The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) and, as of late last year, a second book, Taking Conspiracy Theories Seriously (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018).
Note those first and last titles: my work has been a qualified defence of conspiracy theories, as well as an argument for why we should take conspiracy theory as a phenomenon seriously. We all know conspiracies occur, and we know that some of them have been covered-up purely by labelling them as “conspiracy theories.” So, despite Mr. Coleman’s suggestion in the interview; no, my work has not been paid for or elicited by forces seeking to suppress the truth. Far from it: I belong to a loose-net collection of colleagues across the world who are trying to change the academic debate around conspiracy theory precisely so that people will not just dismiss them out-of-hand. But it turns out that even questioning Jaz’s chosen interpretation of the events of September 11th, 2001—that it was an inside job orchestrated by the U.S. Government—is beyond the pale, and proves positively that I am in league with dark forces who want to stifle public debate.
I left that interview feeling sad: sad that Jaz wasn’t so much interested in talking but, rather, bloviating. Sad that—to a certain audience—I come off badly. Sad that—to another audience—no one gets to hear what I had to say. Sad that—by the end—all I could be was defensive. So, if you really want to know what I think about conspiracy theory, conspiracy theorising, and the like, well:
you can either listen to the podcast I co-host with Josh Addison, The Podcaster’s Guide to the Conspiracy: https://conspiracism.podbean.com
read my latest book, Taking Conspiracy Theories Seriously (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018): https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781786608284/Taking-Conspiracy-Theories-Seriously
or check out my academic profile at PhilPeople: https://philpeople.org/profiles/matthew-dentith
You’ll find that I’m certainly not an Establishment shill, and that no one has ever picked me up in a diplomatic car to take me to a five star hotel…