Conspiracy theories are everywhere these days, becoming especially prevalent since the Internet provided a voice for all and sundry. Usually of course, they can be laughed off as utter nonsense. Professor Brian Cox has a particularly amusing, albeit somewhat rude, expression to describe those who believe the Moon landings were a hoax. Sometimes, however, conspiracy theories are not amusing, and can be extremely harmful.
For example, just the other day I read about a theory surrounding the Sandy Hook school shooting. For those who don’t remember, the shooting occurred in 2012 at an elementary school in Connecticut, USA, when 20 children aged six and seven, together with six adult staff members, were shot and killed. It was the deadliest mass shooting at a high school or grade school in U.S. history. The theorists, however, don’t believe it happened. They believe it was a conspiracy, staged by “some sort of New World Order global elitists”, intent on taking away their guns and their liberty. That’s crazy enough, but what really shocked me was when I read that one of the theorists had stolen playground signs memorializing two of the victims, and then called their parents to say that the burglary shouldn’t affect them, since their children had never existed – they had been ‘created’ to fit the conspiracy.
Conspiracy theories can most certainly be harmful.
The particular conspiracy theory that I want to refer to here is the one that maintains that the family justice system is secret, biased and corrupt. Of course, it is none of those things (as I have often pointed out – see, for example, here and here), but the good conspiracy theorist never lets a small matter like the facts get in the way of their theory. They also seize every opportunity to promulgate their warped ideas, as a quick look through the comments of any family law blog will confirm (even if the subject of the post has nothing to do with what they have to say). Sadly, many who are unaware of the truth fall for those ideas, especially if they provide them with a simple answer to their family law-related problem: blame the system for the problem, not themselves.
Perhaps the most unfortunate victim of this theory is the debate about the future of family law. Whenever anyone attempts to discuss the issue of what is good or bad about the family justice system the conspiracy theorists hijack the debate, repeating their mantra about how the system is corrupt/biased/secret etc etc. We try to give everyone a say in the debate, but they abuse the privilege, with the consequence that the debate can become skewed and, ultimately, pointless. This is why I rarely bother responding to comments on my posts – over the ten years since I began blogging I have spent hundreds of hours attempting to engage in a sensible debate with the conspiracy theorists, but there is no sensible debate to be had with them, and I have therefore now given up (I certainly have better things to do with my time!).
However, the shrill outrage of the conspiracy theorists drowning out sensible, reasoned, debate has consequences that are not just limited to family law blogs. Their shouts are heard by the media who, eager for a sensational story, give the theory not just publicity but also a legitimacy that it does not deserve. Inevitably, the theory comes to the attention of our politicians, some of whom may fall for it (especially if they see votes in it).
At best, the conspiracy theories may be a distraction, forcing those debating the future of the family justice system to waste precious time and resources dealing with them. At worst, they can actually have a bearing upon the direction of policy, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see just what a conspiracy theory-led policy might look like.
There is a very serious debate to be had over the future direction of family justice in this country. We must not allow that debate to be de-railed by those who prefer to follow a cheap conspiracy theory, rather than engage in principled and rational discussion. Only then might we end up with a truly better system, fit for the 21st Century.