Thursday, September 09, 2010

No, It's Not a Conspiracy - You're Just an Idiot

Every year as the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, many readers write in to express their outrage and grief over the increasing apathy for the 2,985 people were murdered by crazed Jihadists who believed Christians were unclean, Jews were demons, and western women were whores for wearing skirts and going to school. This year their anguish is further compounded by the decision to allow a radical anti-Semite to build a mosque on the very site where the majority of the horror occurred that day.

Almost every month a new documentary appears mocking the brave men and women who are fighting and dying to ensure our safety, or another inane book is written accusing the United States and Israel of conspiring with the "Military Industrial Complex" of plotting 9/11 so they could line the pockets of the rich and have a convenient excuse to invade Iraq. If you believe such things, I'm inclined to think you're an idiot who eats things off the floors of public washrooms and shouldn't be allowed to use sharp scissors.

Still, many people do believe such outlandish things, and dedicate much of their lives trying to connect half-truths, propaganda and out-right lies to try and prove these delusions - but why? A reader of some importance asked to me to try to answer that question, and I have before, but I thought I would try to dig a little deeper this time - and it's been a long night.

For the last three hours I have been staring at a cryptic paragraph plucked from an online edition of The Fitchburg Sentinel newspaper from January of 1877. It's a small paragraph that makes little sense and seems benign enough - depending on what you consider "benign".  A thimble is an enormous bucket to an ant, but a marble is a tiny sphere to a human - that is, unless that human slips on it, breaks her back, and is forced to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. That small marble quickly becomes a wrecking ball.

But why do I find myself reading a 113 year old article three hours into a blog that should have taken 45 minutes? Because some say this is where it all started - an article that makes reference to a strange courtroom transcript.  An article that mentions a term that probably would have been very foreign to people of that age.

A few decades later in 1909, the Oxford English Dictionary decided to put two words together, officially making  the term mentioned in the newspaper part of the English lexicon - "Conspiracy Theory."

In the process of writing what I thought would be a simple blog peice, I found myself searching for the "first conspiracy theory", only to find that the debate over what the original conspiracy theory is, is considered another conspiracy theory. It's actually far worse than that. Those who ply in the trade of conspiracies hardly spend any time at all exploring the history of this phenomenon, and eventually find themselves trying to make sense of the same obscure article I stumbled upon, losing interest when, it seems to me, the story is really becoming interesting.

This is no small matter to me, because when we engage in fanciful thinking, we not only debase historical discourse, we debase history itself - and I love history.

History is a white wall and to engage in healthy debate of history is to take a fine quill pen and make an interesting mark upon it. Plying in conspiracy theories, on the other hand, is to take a can of spray paint and recklessly scar that wall with crass graffiti. Why do extremely intelligent people continue to believe in such fanciful notions?

Let me give you a few examples:

In the early '90's, DNA evidence proved beyond dispute that Anastasia was murdered with the rest of her family and didn't escape to some fairy tale life.

People forget that a conclusive study in 1993 by military professionals, historians, computer and ballistics experts showed that not only was there no magic bullet or 2nd shooter in the JFK assassination, but the trajectories and locations of Oswald's bullets were the only ones possible. This reality was actually a surprise to all involved.

Many very smart people who believe the moon landing was faked don't realize their assumptions are grounded in faulty evidence. For example, there is no "Zero Gravity Room" at NASA. The vomit comet is actually a Boeing 707 airplane. There actually IS gravity in space, and an astronaut can survive a tear in his spacesuit outside a shuttle. The Apollo missions did not take off from Cape Canaveral, but Merritt Island. Long before the moon landing conspiracy ever reached America, it was taught by Cuban and Nicaraguan schoolteachers as political propaganda.

Take 9/11 - If the Bush/Cheney administration really wanted to bilk middle eastern oil that badly, wouldn't it have been a lot easier just to re-negotiate the Iraqi oil deals they struck in the mid-eighties? Why are rational people so eager to believe their government conspired with Israel to slaughter thousands of it's own citizens for a few Halliburton contracts?

The world wouldn't lack mystery and magic if conspiracy theories went away. God fills our world with so much beauty and mystery we could not even begin to scratch the surface in four lifetimes. Theology and philosophy, even these are things that are filled with questions that have no certain answers and offer great meaning and fulfillment.

On March 1st, my first child will be born (well, the exact date and time is up to kid in the end). I have already seen the baby's heart beating. It beats between 160 and 169 beats per minute. I have seen it's little arms and legs. It already has tooth buds and can recognize and is comforted by my wife's voice. I too, am comforted - comforted by the fact that my baby will always give my life purpose.

It's a short stroll down the path called crazy, and the trail is littered with greasy haired wingnuts adorned with tinfoil hats slurring from behind fumes of bong smoke that "it's all a cover up, dude.  Open your eyes, man." But when we open our eyes to their kinds of magical thinking, we are closing our minds to the oftentimes much simpler truth.