Considering Conspiracy Theories

Daquella manera9/11 Conspiracy

I’ve been thinking recently about conspiracy theories, and I have a theory about them. A couple in fact. I should also note that I’ve done no research, so these theories about the theories may be either well-known and verified or obscure and unlikely.

It seems to me that there are two primary reasons that people would believe that the US government was behind 9/11, that Elvis isn’t dead, or that there were really extra-terrestrials at Roswell. They are about groups and fantasy.

The first theory is the most obvious: people want to believe the fantastic is possible. You have to excuse the slightly awkward use of “fantastic.” In common parlance the word has become a synonym for “great” or “super.” Here I intend the making real of fantasy.

Surely it’s a tragedy that nearly 3000 people were killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center, but it’s hard to deny that the idea that government knew in advance and carried out the bombing of the towers is rather fantastic. To believe that such a powerful, secretive, and ultimately inhuman force exists takes at least a small jump out of reality and into the fantastic.

Some people, like myself, don’t take in fiction from the pages of books we’re too lazy to read. And these instances of the fantastic are an easy time to take the flight of fancy that one may not otherwise experience.

Another related possibility is that people can’t bare to come face to face with reality. They can’t believe that Elvis really did die, or that there really are people from countries we’ve never heard of that want to, and are able to, kill us. Because those realities can be hard to swallow, what’s substituted is the belief that that reality must be untrue. That instead some fantasy is chosen and substituted to create a more comfortable “reality.”

The other possibility works on group psychology. There is, in many ways, nothing more uncomfortable than being alone. One way out of solitude is to join in the community of conspiracy theorists.

Many believe–I think correctly–that one of the primary reasons (other than belief) that people attend a church the feeling of community and belonging. Belief in the fantastics of conspiracy theories offers a similar belonging. Belief in a theory is enough to offer the feeling of being in a selective “in” group. A group that then understands those that doubt the conspiracy as too ignorant to belong.

It’s an interesting thing, the persistence of conspiracy theories. Though the theories about September 11, 2001 are relatively young, people still seem to believe the half-decade old Roswell theory with an uncomfortable level of sincerity. And though neither of these explanations strikes me as sufficient to fully explain that fervor, it does make their persistence a little easier for me to grasp.


The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto

Source: art_es_annaBenazir Bhutto

I saw it this morning, at about eight. I said, “Oh… my… God.” Benazir Bhutto, long–and probably accurately–seen as the best choice for prime minister of the troubled mess that is Pakistan, was assassinated.

For good or ill, it’s the most important political assassination I remember. I’m far too young to have experienced the deaths of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, or Robert Kennedy. Too young, too, to have seen the attempts to assassinate Ronald Reagan, or Pope John Paul II.

I faintly remember the death of Diana, but I didn’t understand and didn’t worry. Britain is a much more stable state than Pakistan has ever been.

Perhaps the best reference I have, and one I was coincidently reminded of as I wiled away some down time on the internet, is September 11, 2001. And surely the analogy fails in some ways–roughly 3000 Americans compared with about 20 Pakistanis.

But the 9/11 analogy succeeds in other ways. I am, as on that Tuesday in September, waiting desperately for a comfort that almost certainly won’t come. Vainly hoping that these deaths, like all those, will be corrected. That from somewhere the universe will say “Sorry, I screwed that up. Let me undo this terrible mistake.”

But despite my desires, there’s an almost unavoidable fact that neither God nor the universe believes in taking back ugly events. The Holocaust has still happened. The Crusades have still happened. Colonialism and slavery are still present in the history of the human race. Genocides and wars still happen today. Injustice, violence, and loss seem like house guests who don’t recognize how much everyone wishes they would just leave us in peace.

Perhaps I’ve been waiting for someone to explain to me the reason for all this. But The Economist, the crutch on which I depend to make sense of the world, didn’t do it any better than the AP. The calculations of a small group of determined souls makes no more sense than they did when I first heard the news. Or when I first heard about the World Trade Center.

Assassinations are perhaps the oldest form of terrorism. And I have little doubt that breaking Bhutto’s Pakistan’s People’s Party (the country’s largest), and Pakistan nascent hope for long-term stability were exactly the aim of the assassin.

It seems that all I can hope for on this December day, two days after Christmas, as I stare out into the swirling snow, is that someday this shock and despair will be unknown throughout the world. That peace and stability will be the only realities that anyone knows. A foolish hope perhaps, but one that I’m sure is worth having.