What’s Wrong With America: Conspiracy Theories

You hear them all the time. Obama is really a plant by some secret socialist Islamofascist cabal. The oil companies are trying to squash the electric car. The Twin Towers were detonated, not hit by planes. What do all these have in common?

They all require setting aside 50 IQ points to actually believe. Let’s leave Obama and the oil companies aside and look at the Twin Towers for a moment. We keep hearing all sorts of explanations of how jet fuel could not possibly have collapsed the towers or questions as to why WTC #7 went down hours later. (Um… Because the foundation was severely damaged by two big ass towers collapsing about 100 yards away?) What people who keep insisting that this is an issue never mention is that the demolition theory of the Twin Towers fall drives real demolition experts up a tree. Not a single demolition expert I’ve heard (and even talked to) believes that you could lace a building with that much explosive at all the proper stress points without anyone noticing. Not. A. Single. One. They would have had to gut the buildings first. New Yorkers tend to notice such things when they loom over their skyline.

So why does this persist?

Because we, my fellow Americans, are a nation of control freaks. As a people, we are pathologically incapable of understanding one of the most fundamental and inescapable laws of the universe: Shit happens. It’s even in the Bible. Go look it up. Luke 13:1-5.

Part of the problem is our greatest strength as a species, the very thing that has kept the robot apocalypse from happening: Pattern recognition. Pattern recognition has driven technology, religion, science, philosophy, and economics since the days when the first humans learned to communicate in something more than a few well-placed grunts, possibly even earlier. After all, language is a pattern, so we had to have the talent to recognize them before we could apply it verbally. Pattern recognition led to understanding that the Earth orbits the sun. It told us when the seasons would come and go. It let us circumnavigate the globe. Unfortunately, we’re so good at this that we see patterns that aren’t there.

Or if they are there, our inner control freak wants to read more into it than is really there. Take, for instance, that old bugaboo about America being little more than a Freemason conspiracy. In the 1700’s, the Freemasons were the great fraternal organization of the day. If you wanted to get anything done in life, you joined. If Star Trek had existed in 1774, and the Founding Fathers were all fans of it, the government buildings all over the country would be plastered with the Starfleet logo and IDIC symbols while the Prime Directive would be written into the Constitution. Since they were Freemasons (and clearly not living in their mothers’ basements), we get the Freemason symbol and the Eye of God on our buildings. What I want to know is what the conspiracy is. Does anyone really put together an organization with the sole intent of “making sure bad shit happens all through history.” (Usually followed by a Dr. Evil laugh.) Terrorist organizations do this, but terrorists generally all have the same mission statement: We’re pissed off, and we’re going to make everyone else miserable for it. Last I checked, the Freemasons were not a terrorist organization. In fact, King George III was a Freemason. What? They had a meeting and told him, “Sorry, George, but we’re going to take away your American colonies and hold the world hostage for… One hundred billion pounds!”? (Again, cue evil laugh.)

Let’s apply Occam’s razor to this. What’s more likely? The King of England agreed with a Super Secret Society™ that’s been scripting history since it plotted the extermination of the Neanderthals? (Had to wipe them out. They smelled and made lousy margaritas.) Or that the citizens of the British Empire on America’s Eastern Seaboard get so infuriated with Parliament ignoring them while sticking its collective hand in their pockets that they spit in the face of the most powerful nation on Earth to go their own way? Let’s see. Today, we have the Tea Party up in arms over taxes and Occupy wanting to bring down capitalism’s worst offenders. Yeah, that’s got Freemason conspiracy written all over. Never mind that most Tea Partiers and Occupiers aren’t big on Freemasonry.

The problem with the conspiracy theory mentality is two-fold. It only fosters paranoia. And it shirks personal responsibility. Paranoia is not good. The old saying goes “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean there’s even a “they.” Ever notice that “They” is always in the shadows? “They” is more often than not unnamed or underground, hidden. The hallmark of any really good conspiracy theory is a villain whose existence cannot be proven. If you’re an atheist into conspiracy theories, this really makes you look stupid, since you’re already a proponent of not believing in something that can’t be proven.

As for personal responsibility, this is the part where you need to look really hard into the mirror. Are all your problems the fault of Barack Obama or Exxon or Super Secret Society™? Nope. Here’s the bad news. Most of your problems are your fault. Go yell at the guy in the mirror. And those things you can’t control, that aren’t you fault? Life is random. Bad things happen. Sometimes, spectacularly bad things happen. Everything people do affects everyone else. You’d go insane trying to fathom it all. You can only face it head on if it impacts you negatively.

Besides, as Dennis Miller once said, if there is an All-Powerful They, what makes you think they give a damn about you?