In light of the recent high-voted IAmA thread by 95 year old former Canadian Defense Minister, Paul Hellyer, who was proclaiming a wide array of conspiracy theories as "truth" in order to promote his book, I was reminded of the fictional publishing house Manutius from Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum (1988).
This novel is an incisive, yet humanizing, critique on conspiracy theories and their believers. Beyond the delineation of conspiracies, Eco delivers a complex perspective on the origins of systems of belief and how they are perpetuated. From the Templar Knights, to Catholic syncretism in Brazil, to Kabbalah and the Occult, the novel provides the fruits of Eco's research on historical beginnings and the fabulist tangents that become reality to certain individuals.
Foucault's Pendulum helped me understand why people believe in conspiracies. The novel achieves this feat without mindless vilification, but through the strength of building empathy in the reader.
The characters are brilliantly described, and their development throughout the course of the 70s and into the 80s in Italy (for the most part) is a great part of the pleasure in reading this book. Eco builds characters all over the spectrum of conspiracist ideation in the various belief systems the novel introduces, and so the reader will experience nearly a complete picture of the cast of characters.
This is how the novel helps its readers to combat the fabulism of conspiracy theorists: through its honest and rigorous character depiction, and without blatant mockery of everyone involved.
That is not to say that Foucault's Pendulum is without humor, or a certain degree of mysticism-building itself, but I would argue that the book's central theme is focused on how humanity interprets the written word and what happens when what is written is birthed through the fantasy of attempting to understand how the world works.
Naturally, I assume there are people who have a different interpretation of their reading. Or those who would argue against everything I wrote. And that just goes to show that Eco was right, at least partly. 🙂
Source: reddit post