Sometimes conspiracies are real. Yes, there is on occasion a devious plot attempted in secret, complete with prearranged cover-ups and targeted fall guys. These are usually works of profound evil, a small cabal seeking to claim something from the world, some purity, speeding up the slow corruption of civilization. There are examples of this, and we should shouldn’t be so naive to imagine that all leaders have everyone’s best interests at heart.
However, the idea of a conspiracy–a conspiracy theory–is based wholly on belief (or disbelief) that something without explanation is hidden from view. This is how many people engage with the world today, casting themselves as metaphysical detectives, heroic figures who are the only ones capable to crack the code and expose the dark truth.
We live in a distrustful age where anyone we don’t agree with must be up to something sinister. How could someone believe something so different than what I do? Why would they? It is important to accept the fact that the paranoid people are very imaginative and almost always believe they have figured out the way the world actually works. (There are some wild conspiracy theories out there, such as a hollow earth, filled with reptilian overlords who have been controlling the fate and evolution of humanity since they first landed on the planet millions of years ago [http://homepages.uc.edu/~harmonti/hollow/index.html])
Conspiracy theorist are people who buy into absurd, plot-holed science fiction scenarios. Some of these faithful followers are employed by an industry that has turned speculative fantasy into a best-selling non-fiction genre. They cannot see past the fact that they can only demonize their rival by attributing to them crazy plans that are, most likely, had their side been in charge, they would have been maliciously involved with. And so they shout out conspiracy theories enviously, enraged that they were not recruited for a part. And it is plagiarism, isn’t it? It was your idea, your plan to take over the world, and those people have stolen and bastardized it.
It is necessary for me to mention the latest crackpot rage (from 10/23-10/24/2018), that the bombs sent to two former presidents of the United States, a former Senator and Secretary of State, two other Democratic political figures (both who have been through their own petty scandals and have been viciously targeted by the current President), and an international news network that has made it hard for Donald Trump to get away with lying, even to the extent of pressing their own faulty opinions on the narrative Mr. Trump is trying to sell. It has made it so people cannot believe in anything.
President Trump sells paranoia with remarkable authority, having for years been peddling conspiracy theories, some more believable than others (some perhaps even true). This is, after all, the man who helped form a movement that eventually got him elected President. He was able to convince enough people that Barrack Obama was not only a foreign born, and therefore ineligible for the highest office in the land, but that Obama was, in fact, a foreign agent, seeking to destroy the nation from the inside out. These beliefs still exist today, for some who need to justify their hatred and racial animus, and possibly even with the President too (although I believe that he actually believe in nothing). It is an easy explanation, attributing rampant corruption someone they do not agree with. How could they succeed otherwise? And the left has done this with Trump too. For whatever crimes he may be guilty of (and all Presidents break the laws they are meant to uphold), there are some crazy theories that he has pulled the strings of things that are not possible. And one side being guilty of a crime, Trump tells his followers, makes it okay for him to do the same things under his reign. It is not about justice, but about taking away the trust we once had for Democracy. This makes it easier to change the world into a place more to your liking.
Donald Trump is a marvelous salesman, able to play off the anxieties of a world that is changing far too rapidly, leaving yesterday’s worries behind in the daily spate of new ones. When people claim that President Trump understands something deep about the American character (and I would expand this notion to the entire world), they are right. He sees the anger, the frustration, the absolute terror that people race around with, and he knows that the best way to offer them hope is to offer an explanation, like the secular messiah he seeks to become.
Now of course the opposition to Trump is, at least in factions, every bit as conspiratorial. These are the “Truthers,” those batshit lunatics who turned George W. Bush, an affable man with serious right-wing leanings, someone they believe to be among the stupidest people in the world, into a mad scientist of political manipulation, faking a terrorist attack that nearly shattered the nation (we are living in the panicked shards of this event). They offer stray bits of esoteric proof, also based on mumbling, paranoid conjecture, as opposed to anything verifiable. This is merely ranting, an outrage, and terror so deep and helpless that anything is better than what has actually happened.
With a hidden conspiracy, the truth is now out in the open (an intentional oxymoron). Doubt is instilled about everything. There is nothing we cannot believe.
We need someone familiar to blame, and not just the intemperate reactions of the insane. Crazy people are not enough, we tell ourselves in this tribal political atmosphere. We are consumed by a mindset that leads to real conspiracies, those criminal acts that are meant to undermine society. We have a need to attribute blame. This creates a common enemy; it divides the culture even more, giving the ‘truth-tellers’ a notion of why something terrible has happened, an understanding that no one else seems to have.
And they turn themselves into prophets, these conspiracy theorists. They develop a gospel that attracts other terrified people. The movement is set. It wants to overthrow the society that they believe the conspirators are trying to overthrow.
It is important to look back at history to realize just how pervasive conspiracy theories are in the development of political movements. Taking just as one example, we can study the development of radical Islam (or Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and every other philosophical system that has invented its own meaning for the world). Fundamentalist Muslims are among the most paranoid people that exist, attempting to explain away reality with some demonic insight. They see everything as a plot, whether by the Jews or a nation or an economic system. They will blame anything to take responsibilities away from themselves for their own failing culture.
Of course there are outside influences on the consequences that have lead to nationalistic paranoia–the real terrible things that other people have done. Nations of people have been starved, had assistance blocked in times of hunger or national tragedy. Sometimes irrational and wrong-headed actions are inflicted during a war. There are real people to blame, and then there are reasons to blame, and the reasons can never truly be justified.
I want to ask a question, and I am very serious here, not trying to start trouble. I want to comment on the radical belief of many people on the right that these mailed bombs are somehow self-inflicted for a political goal: Do you believe that the anti-fascist movement (ANTIFA), that angry group of paranoid anarchists who are supported by no one outside of themselves, do you believe that they might, in fact, be getting paid by some shadowy, far right-wing consortium dedicated to overthrowing America? Is it at all possible, in your way of seeing things, that these people with absolutely no beliefs in anything are doing it just for the money, are a tool in a grand conspiracy to degrade the Democrats in the coming election? Doesn’t it make the left seem like a psychopathic gang of thugs, putting the whole world at risk? And isn’t it easy to lump everyone you might disagree with into a massive conspiracy theory, destroying the reputation of people who equally think ANTIFA are insane? Doesn’t it make sense that some right-wing George Soros sort of kingpin would plot and fund this? And if you don’t buy into this, then why not? It is the exact same thing as the Democratic fake bomb theory.
For some reason people on the far opposite sides of an issue need to paint their own leaders as the only ones capable of telling the truth, greedily gobbling up the notion that anyone but themselves can have the best intentions. It is a belief that your idols can do no wrong, like some deity king. But of course decent and bad intentions and greed and selfishness are not partisan characteristics of humanity. They are wide-spread. People of every sort will lie to protect themselves. Even George Washington, of whom it has been absurdly taught to children, could not tell a lie, based on the cherry tree fairy tale, even this mostly noble man must have at least lied to his wife when he was screwing one of his slaves.
Lies are the foundation of conspiracy theories, the fact that others lie to us all the time and our willingness to deceive even ourselves to escape responsibility for our own failures. And with this sort of mistrust, in such a paranoid world where people can believe that literally anything can and does happen, the only reason that all of us have degenerated into this nervous, quivering mass is that the terrorists have already won.
©2018 Lance Polin