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Anti-vaxxers, the Jewish Conspiracy and 6.5 children

Tiny vaccine robots, 5G and sheep insults – we might think we are experiencing a time of growing interest in conspiracy theories, but actually theories like these are nothing new. Education will always be the best tool to combat misinformation.

At the start of his new series, 6.5 Children, Ashley Blaker explains that the reason he has yet another show on Radio 4 is because of the Jewish Conspiracy. Throughout the series, he does not shy away from using lightness of touch when dealing with dark thoughts, though this is not what the series is really about. It is the story of bringing up a large family – well, large from an Anglican perspective, though actually quite small from an Orthodox Jewish perspective. Ashley has six children; the average in Orthodox Jewish families is 6.5. He admits that he is not able to keep up with how many children some of his friends have, comparing this to the Fast and Furious film franchise, wondering “are they still producing them?” This also allows him to slip into some material that would have happily played out at a late night show in the Catskills (“I was fast and she was furious”).

Blaker has a ready-made cast in his six children, forever needing money, dealing with a perpetual shortage of phone chargers and piping up with perceived injustices inflicted on each other. His wife is there to remind Blaker that it is all very well him talking about being the parent of six children, but it’s her who is left to be the sole carer when he gads about on one of his stand-up tours.

This may well also be the first time you have heard of Schindler’s List being used as sexual foreplay: “You don’t want to have sex tonight, that’s exactly what Hitler would have wanted.”

It might comes as a relief or a hideous revelation to discover that conspiracy thinking has been prolific for a long time

While Blaker brushes off Jewish Conspiracy theories with a self-effacing one liner, the first episode of Conspiracies: The Secret Knowledge examined how fact and fiction feed the paranoid and bigoted mind. We seem to be living in times of febrile conspiracy thinking, as anyone who heard some of the grotesque speeches at a recent Trafalgar Square anti-lockdown rally knows. As there was no lockdown that weekend, I used the time to go out and about and visit a music festival, while others preferred to use such time of freedom to scream about doctors and nurses being hanged. I think those people need to be vaccinated fast because it might only be Bill Gates’s tiny robots that can reorganise their brains into some semblance of sanity.

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Though we might fear that these are new boom times for conspiracy thinking, it might come as a relief or a hideous revelation to discover that conspiracy thinking has been prolific for a long time.

In Conspiracies, Phil Tinline began with GK Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, a delightful and ultimately absurd adventure involving an anarchist terrorist group which turns out to be entirely made up of undercover agents trying to infiltrate it. From there, Tinline explored the rise of the Jewish industrialist as arch nemesis of polite society in early 20th-century thrillers, including the work of John Buchan and Graham Greene. For those who wished to believe in the truth of the Jewish plot, a central piece of evidence were the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, published in the Morning Post in 1920 and comprehensively debunked in 1921. Not only was it a fake, it was plagiarised from published fictions and satires. Despite this, you will still find it used today to stoke up anti-semitism. It falls into the ugly place in the human mind that is able to justify itself by saying, “just because it isn’t true doesn’t mean that it can’t reveal a deeper reality.” This is one of the many reasons why arguing with evidence and actual facts is not always the route to persuade people.

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Which is also why I recommend listening to Vaxxers, adapted from Sarah Gilbert and Catherine Green’s book about how they developed and tested the Astra Zeneca vaccine. It is the story of a scientific triumph (and there’s barely any tiny robots in it at all).

6.5 Children is available on BBC Radio 4.

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