The Comfort of Conspiracy Theories

The thing about conspiracy theories are … they are comforting. They assure you that there is some ORDER in the universe, that there are connections between not just some events, but ALL events. There are no such things as coincidences in the middle of a conspiracy theory. When I’ve been in love with someone, and he hasn’t loved me back … I tend to read into all the coincidences – he likes this and so do I – therefore THAT means that we should be together … etc. I draw conclusions based on COINCIDENCES. This is a very human thing, but I certainly wouldn’t want to LIVE in that mind-space. Where everything means something, and every random event means something. It must be what it feels like to be an end-of-the-world apocalyptic Christian. The wind blows from the East … Therefore, the end of the world is coming. It is a place of CERTAINTY. I know that human beings, in general, are uncomfortable with uncertainty. Of course. It’s awful to just accept that you CAN’T know what is going to happen. But that’s the deal, that to me is one of the points of life: to be able to BEAR uncertainty. Conspiracy theorists absolutely cannot bear uncertainty. And the truly paranoid ones are the ones who just can’t deal with reality. The reality sometimes is quite simple. But it’s NEVER simple to a conspiracy theorist.

If you are a conspiracy theorist – you see connecting threads everywhere. Your mindset becomes grandiose, paranoid … You believe in the essential BIG-ness of things. By that I mean: everything happens on a grand scale. There is some kind of over-riding SENSE to be made of things … and if you can only connect enough of the threads … you will be able to see clearly, through the veil of lies put out by some enormous organization – the government, the CIA, the ATF, the Rat Pack (Marilyn Monroe’s death, in case you’re wondering), whatever – you will pierce through the lies and come close to the actual root of all power. You believe that there IS a root of all power. NOTHING is coincidental. There is no chaos. EVERYTHING makes sense, in a kind of unbearable way. It appears on the surface to be chaos, but if you can just make sense of the cacophony, you will see the wizard behind the curtain. You will actually SEE him. The most important thing for a conspiracy theorist is that they actually have to believe that there IS a wizard in the first place. They have to believe that someone, somewhere, no matter how hidden, knows the TRUTH of what is going on … and someone, somewhere, holds the KEY to putting the pieces together …

To a conspiracy theorist, there is actually such a thing as power – plus efficiency. Power plus efficiency plus an ability to keep a secret. These three things MUST exist in a very very real way to conspiracy theorists, and they must be interlocked. I believe in power. I believe in efficiency. And I believe that there is such a thing as being able to keep a secret. But do I believe that those three particular things can actually go hand in hand? Not on your LIFE.

I’m fascinated by conspiracy theorists. It seems to me it would be very comforting if I could believe what they believe. If I could believe that someone, somewhere, knew what the hell they were doing … and if only I could pierce through the web of LIES … I could come close to the source of real power. It would be comforting to actually believe that there WAS a secret, and that I could pull back the curtain to see the phony wizard.

I can see why people succumb to the conspiracy theory mindset. It makes perfect sense to me.

It’s a childlike response to the unfairness of things – the fact that we can’t KNOW everything – the fact that some things just HAPPEN. The conspiracy theorist cannot stop asking “Why?” Asking “why” is not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, people who don’t ask “Why” freak me out. They seem like dumbbells. Sheep. Willing to believe anything. They have their OWN kind of certainty. But if you know any conspiracy theorists – and I do – then you know that their “Why”s get more and more elaborate, more and more paranoid … Nothing ever just IS to a conspiracy theorist. That CAN’T be all there is. There are NO accidents.

Now, to me – I can certainly succumb to a conspiracy theory mindset. It is extremely compelling and attractive. How wonderful would it be to truly believe that someone out there knew what the hell he was doing. Whoever that person is. This is one of the reasons why politics, government, coup d’etats, revolutions – all that stuff – has so gripped my fascination for so many years. Why? I was talking to CW about this once (because frankly, he seems like the kind of guy who “knows stuff” – hahaha), and I said, “I just … want to get high enough up in my learning … so that I can know what the big guys know. Like … how high up in power do you have to go to really get a nice view of the whole landscape?” I want to get up high enough to really be able to SEE … surely SOMEONE out there has the whole picture in mind!

But I actually think that, in general, very very very few people have the whole picture. I have my own opinion about the people who have large pictures in their minds … you might have your own. To me, guys like Robert Kaplan are looking at a large picture. Christopher Hitchens. VS Naipaul. Ryzsard Kapuscinski (his essay called “The Soccer War” is a perfect example of what I am talking about. The ability to be improvisational, flexible, and to admit that you do not KNOW something – Kapuscinski didn’t know what was going on, and yet – all signals pointed to war, because of the riot at a soccer game. Maybe that doesn’t seem logical – so what that they’re rioting at a soccer game? … but impending war was what he sensed, and turns out that he was right, that was what was REALLY going on. Anyone who gives a crap about how things really happen in this world should read “The Soccer War” and that’s all I’m saying. Genius.) People like Bernard Lewis. Elias Canetti. Or the obvious choice of Samuel Huntington. Perhaps the best example is Rebecca West. Now there was a woman with large global pictures in her head. Her accomplishment in this regard has so far not been matched. Now you may disagree with some of these people’s conclusions. I disagree with some of their conclusions too. But to me? Those people are BIG PICTURE PEOPLE, and what they see is a reflection of what I see. It’s just that they have better access than I do, and bigger vocabularies. But when I read their stuff, I start to feel like I can actually get a GLIMPSE of how things work.

You’ll notice that NONE of these people are government people. They are independent thinkers, writers, journalists.

But again – it’s a short list. Like I said: “very very very few people”. And “very very very few people” cannot create some vast conspiracy involving multiple government agencies. My small group of friends can barely keep a secret among us. Fuggedaboutit.

Lastly: in general, I think that government is pretty much incompetent. I mean, please. Let us look at how much governments have gotten WRONG in the last 100 years. Enormous globe-changing events NOT predicted or foreseen – despite the fact that massive bureaucracies have been put into place for that sole purpose alone, signals missed, signals crossed, signals misinterpreted, huge wars hitting us by surprise … etc. etc. Now, if there was some all-powerful Wizard behind some curtain – wouldn’t you think he would be able to SEE what was coming?

I don’t think the government is competent enough to tie its own shoes, let alone create vast international conspiracies. Bureacracies in general. Sheesh. Filled with incompetent people who don’t give a shite. On a tiny level: Have you called the DMV lately and tried to get a change of address on your license? Incompetence is indemic.

The other thing about conspiracy theorists is that unless you believe what they believe they are impossible to talk to. There is not a rational mind at work there. They are delusional. And these people are not crazy. They are regular people, not in need of institutionalization, but they are delusional. You can’t have a rational discussion with them, and try to point out the holes in their big elaborate theories. It’s like trying to have a rational discussion about interpretations of the Bible with an evangelical born-again Christian. You cannot pierce their certainty. You cannot. Their entire worldview is set up so that their certainty is unpierceable. You can never get “in there” with them. Because they know the truth. And that’s final. The Bible is THEIRS. End of story. They’ve got an answer for everything. How comforting, right? How comforting to truly believe that you know it all.

However, again – I see the attraction. I’m as fascinated by Area 51 as the next girl. And after I read Marilyn: The Last Take I became CONVINCED that Marilyn’s death was orchestrated by the highest levels of our government, to shut her up. Now … some of this may indeed be true – but again, when you come right down to it: what I know about most governnmental organizations is that they are slothful bureaucratic mazes full of incompetent unimaginative people who could not be flexible or improvisational if you put a gun to their heads.

It would be comforting to believe in vast interlinking conspiracies. It really would be. It would be comforting to believe that bureaucracies were actually EFFICIENT enough to cover up ANYTHING … instead of believing that they were bumbling careerists trying to protect their small bit of turf. It would be comforting to believe that there IS a big picture, and, like I said to CW … if I could just get high enough up … I could SEE what was REALLY going on up there.

I just don’t believe that there is any “there there”.

This entry was posted in Miscellania and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to The Comfort of Conspiracy Theories

  1. JuliaR says:

    You’re right – it comes down to the secret-keeping. How many people can really keep a secret? Especially one that doesn’t need keeping.

  2. Joe says:

    That’s a great post. Thanks Sheila.

  3. peteb says:

    There’s a definite comfort factor in a conspiracy theory.. as you’ve identified, Sheila.. the idea that what appears to be chaos, is actually under control, albeit someone else’s control and therefore there is someone to blame for spoiling what would otherwise be a ideal world.

    A short-cut to a spoiled Utopia..

    But it’s also part of a very human tendency to seek patterns, to look for connections in events, to attribute design to the world and, by doing so, establish a place for oneself within that pattern.

    It’s an extreme form, certainly.. and can take very extreme forms.. but the fact that it’s often disassociated from how an individual may relate to the everything else in their world could present an argument that it’s a therapeutic form for the individual concerned.

  4. red says:

    peteb – I agree. In rough personal times, it does help to believe that “everything happens for a reason”. And I can look back on particularly awful times, and now I can see WHY that happened – but that’s mainly because of perspective, getting a bit of distance … But I agree. That viewpoint can be very therapeutic.

    But when it becomes a fetish – that’s when there are problems.

  5. red says:

    bill –

    Good lord.

    Fine actor. Raving lunatic.

  6. John says:

    Hah. I believe that you are a little more interested in Area 51 than the “next girl” in your particular locale, given the number of “next girls” I have observed in Manhattan.

  7. Alex says:

    Umm…..Michael Moriarty needs to go back to the bottle.

    Brilliant post Sheila. Brilliant!!!!!

  8. Cullen says:

    *radio crackle* She has talked herself out of it again. Continue operation Continue to Screw Everyone Else Even Though It’s Not in Our Best Interest To Do So. *radio crackle*

  9. red says:

    John –

    hahahaha You may be right.

    But I’m serious: WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON AT AREA 51????


  10. red says:

    cullen –

    hahahaha You know, a black helicopter just flew over my house, but I’m sure it’s just the traffic copter. Right?

  11. Cullen says:

    What black helicopter?

  12. Ken Hall says:

    Nothing to fnord see here, citizen. Go about fnord your fnord business.


  13. CW says:

    Great post Red… I love this stuff too!

    What’s going on at Area 51? Maybe the gov’t is making it out to be a big secret because decades ago, when they were slightly less incompetent, they so polluted the environment with really nasty carcinogens while building stealth fighters and so forth that now they have to keep the whole place under wraps to avoid the bad publicity?

    I used to be like you Red – I wanted to “know what was going on”. But the more I learned the more I started to believe as you do, that there’s really no “there there”. The guys at the top don’t really know more about what is going on than you and I do – maybe less, because they get their information from CNN and the intelligence agencies (who also get their information from CNN), rather than from other smart bloggers.

    I think you are absolutely right – there just isn’t enough order – much less control or competence – in the world to sustain grand conspiracies. Most things happen “just because”. There may be some big secrets – but usually I suspect the big secret is that some small-minded person or group of people is simply trying to cover up for their laziness or stupidity. When there are conspiracies – like maybe the JFK assassination or the death of Vince Foster (?) – I suspect it’s pretty much just people covering up their mistakes.

    I think that if you and I saw what was “really going on” – we’d be horrified – because there really isn’t much going on at all.

  14. red says:

    CW – yeah, it’s kind of disheartening, isn’t it? I would love to know that there was a wizard behind the curtain – even if he were an evil wizard. Then I could be comforted in knowing that something made SENSE.

  15. red says:

    Come to think of it, CW – I think the whole Scientology thing is one of the best-organized conspiracies around.

    It might be falling apart now because of the Internet and now we all know about Xenu – but they have managed to hide their true nature for 50 years – and con countless people to hand over their life-savings.

  16. Ken Hall says:

    The (highly snarky and supercilious) author Trevanian once said something to the effect that the enemy isn’t Mephistopheles, it’s Sancho Panza. I think it might be from Shibumi; I’ll have to try to find it.

  17. CW says:

    That’s a great point about Scientology. Maybe that’s why we hate them? Because they really have a conspiracy that works.

    But it isn’t mysterious – there’s plenty of evidence all about their conspiracy… how transparent, and cynical it is, etc. It works, however – they get away with it, and they really do have that control that we imagine governments having that they really don’t.

  18. red says:

    CW – exactly. They have created a totalitarian atmosphere – right here in our midst.

    But a conspiracy would mean that somehwere, in the upper echelons, everyone KNOWS it’s a scam. (Like the guy in the South Park episode – who balks at the thought of NOT charging for all the classes and screams: “DON’T YOU KNOW THIS WHOLE THING IS A MONEY-MAKING SCHEME?”) If Hubbard actually did say that he wanted to create a religion to become rich (that’s true right – not a rumor?) – then the entire thing began as a conspiracy.

    The question is: who is still “in” on it?

    Is Muscavige? Do these people really believe all that Xenu shit? Or are they shisters and con artists?

    it’s a great scam, whatever it is.

  19. CW says:

    I think the senior levels of Scientology do explicitly realize that it’s a scam. If you research the background and history of David Miscavige, it becomes pretty apparent. Hubbard was known to have made fun of the whole business at times, overtly said it was a scam, etc. Somewhere on the internet I saw a video of Hubbard in the mid-60s making fun of his own followers as gullible idiots.

    I think the celebrities on the other hand, really are that stupid and gullible.

Comments are closed.