Thursday 30 October 2014

Sorry conspiracy theory nuts – sometimes a crash is just a crash

Published 28/03/2014 | 02:30

People place their candles after a candlelight vigil for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 in central Kuala Lumpur yesterday
People place their candles after a candlelight vigil for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 in central Kuala Lumpur yesterday

Well, that's a bit of a bummer, isn't it? Yeah, yeah, so the families of the 239 people who went down on Flight MH370 will finally find some much-needed closure. And sure, when you're feeling all grown up and mature about things, you are prepared to accept that the 300 pieces of wreckage they found in the ocean yesterday provides incontrovertible proof that the airliner crashed. But still, aren't you just a little bit disappointed? Isn't the truth so banal and uninteresting?

In fact, such were the similarities between this case and Lost that people are now looking at the mundane facts of the crash with as much disappointment as they felt when they watched the last ever episode of that infuriating show.

Obviously, any time a plane crashes, it's news. The bigger the plane the bigger the story, and they don't get much bigger than the Boeing 777 which, until now, had an enviable flying record. But what we've witnessed over the last two weeks quickly waved goodbye to mere 'news'; and became a febrile asylum of claims, accusations and conspiracies, the madder the better.

But, as fascinating as any plane crash is, and understandable though it may have been for people to fill their gaps in information with deranged theories, one simple fact remained – planes crash, bad things happen and people die all the time. The simple truth is that sometimes we would do well to remember the words of that wise sage Homer Simpson who reminds us that life is just a bunch of stuff that happens.

It became depressingly obvious just how far the once respectable trade of journalism has slipped when CNN anchor Don Lemon devoted an entire section of his show to possible 'supernatural' explanations, which saw him actually ask his guests: "Is it preposterous to consider a black hole as a possibility?"

Well, the simple answer to that question is... um, yes, it is extremely preposterous. And dumb. And scientifically absurd. Having dealt with the black hole theory – the guests declared they thought it an unlikely explanation – the Bermuda Triangle was then discussed as a possible culprit. Now, I'm no expert, but I would have thought the Bermuda Triangle was located somewhere around, um, Bermuda, rather than the Indian Ocean.

CNN's sister network, HLN, even featured a psychic, Lisa Williams, who reckoned the plane had landed near water or trees and boasted that: "Naturally, I don't have hard, concrete evidence. I think any psychic who has hard, concrete evidence can't do their job correctly, because they get misinformed."

You have to hand it to her, and the producers who booked her on the programme, because it takes a remarkably hard neck to take pride in eschewing evidence and thinking that hard facts can 'misinform' you. Just as nature hates a vacuum, it's human nature to fill gaps in our knowledge with conjecture. But the possible explanations simply became ever more outlandish, and we saw everybody from Pakistan and Iran to North Korea and the Americans blamed for stealing it, all with the now customary scant evidence.

So now that the mystery seems to have been solved, have people finally regained their senses and started to accept that sometimes a crash is just a crash? Well, not exactly. One might have thought that, having made a fool of herself, psychic Williams would have backed away from limelight. You might be forgiven for assuming that she is now hiding in a cave somewhere, fervently praying that people will soon forget about her farcical TV appearance. But not a bit of it.

Instead, she came out swinging yesterday and insisted that: "A larger organisation is behind this and the wreckage is there to throw us off the scent."

The one thing all the theories had in common is that they were all rather unnecessarily elaborate and convoluted, but such was people's furious need to know something, anything, they were prepared to believe in something, anything.

This demand for immediate answers was perfectly reflected by the indignant consternation so many people felt at the very idea of the plane going missing. As the web and Google Earth fooled people into believing the world is a smaller place than it actually is, we began to forget that there are vast tracts of ocean out there that we simply haven't mapped.

Maybe it's instant global communication, maybe it's down to the fact that we live in a culture where, as one pundit quipped, people now think their microwave takes too long. But far too many of us have simply lost the capacity to accept that we just don't know exactly what happened and we have no automatic rights to all the answers.

That is why conspiracies have replaced religion as the great opium of the modern masses – because just like religion, conspiracies rely on accepted truth rather than something as tedious as actual empirical evidence.

And just as some religious types react hysterically when their faith is challenged, the truly paranoid will respond with their own slurs and accusations – usually accusing the media of being involved in a vast cover-up.

Whether it's the Kennedy assassination, 9/11 or Flight MH370, people want to believe in conspiracies for the same reason that they want to believe in a God – because they look at the chaos and random nature of the world and have to believe that someone, even if they are cruel and wicked, is controlling things. For them, even cruel and wicked is better than facing the prospect that not only are governments not routinely involved in vast plots, but they are actually incapable of doing so, even if they wanted to.

The reality, that there is no master plan and the world's leaders are just muddling about in a state of perpetual confusion, is more terrifying to some than the idea of a shadowy cabal gathered in some secret bunker pulling the strings.

But sometimes there are no conspiracies. Sometimes bad things happen for no apparent reason. And sometimes we just have to accept that we don't live in an instant world with all the answers on tap.

Meanwhile, 239 people are still dead.

Irish Independent

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