A person could drive herself crazy over the places her brain takes her. Well, we all could, really. Trying to make sense of what goes on in this world engages every brain cell. Eventually, the cells that have to do the figuring out become fatigued. Then the other brain cells, the B-team cells, take over. But they’re left to manage all this fear and confusion lurking behind the shrubbery in our heads, which leap out when we’re feeling fragile, vulnerable and weak. And, so, our brains, now working only with the B-team up at bat, sort through all the clutter and come up with false correlation, coincidence, and conspiracy.
Not too long ago, a coworker of mine told me that the Apollo moon landing is believed by some to be a conspiracy—a hoax foisted on the American public because we couldn’t let the Russians think we were lame players in the space exploration field. Armstrong and Aldrin never walked on the moon. They stepped off a kitchen ladder, purchased from Home Depot, made to look like the steps coming down from the spaceship Apollo. The entire scene was in the back lot of NASA HQ on a movie set with Styrofoam props for moon rocks and dirt. It was all done with cameras and skilled film cutting. I was horrified when I heard this. I quickly navigated away from the moon landing conspiracy site for fear that someone in IT would report me for being a communist.
Apparently, quite a few people still cling to the belief that Area 51 in Nevada is home to a secret government testing facility. Aliens are brought there to be tested, analyzed, fitted for army combat gear, given a smartphone and taught to speak English like a native. An entire gated community of elderly aliens is living in Area 51, retired from their stints as government lab animals. Picture them sitting in front of the TV, remote in hand, scratching their alien backsides.
We’ve also got to be suspicious of naturally occurring or manmade phenomena, such as “chem trails.” Chem trails are the puffy vapors left behind by airplanes as they travel through our skies. Some people believe that the government uses the planes to dispense chemicals to control the weather, the population, vaccinate against disease, and so on. I look at them and say, “Ooh. Pretty!”
Another sleepless fringe element has long claimed that barcodes are a government or corporate plot to control us. Some of these imaginative folk believe that “666″ or “the mark of the beast” is embedded in every product bar code in America, allowing Satan to infiltrate our lives beyond the occasional swear word and office supply theft. The bar code scanner is the eye of Satan. He sees us buying that bag of Cheetos and thinks, “Ah, another one in my grasp.”
Here’s another one: I like this conspiracy theory, because it’s directed against my nemesis, Microsoft. Microsoft created the popular Wingdings font and includes it with their Windows operating system. But it just so happens that the character sequence, NYC is rendered as:
Some people interpreted this collection of symbols as approving the killing of Jews, especially those living in New York City. Of course, Microsoft strongly denied this arrangement of symbols was intentional, that it was simply random. Ok, I’ll certainly buy that, but I still think Microsoft is trying to claim world domination and make me get rid of my Mac.
Far more heinous and insidious are the conspiracy theories having to do with the assertion that the Holocaust didn’t happen and that Obama’s birth certificate was faked; therefore, he’s not legitimately allowed to be President of the U.S. To develop that kind of conspiracy manufacturing takes irrational fear, hatred and racism, and possibly a lot of mushrooms.
It seems to me that only a little bit of energy goes into developing conspiracy theories, making false correlations and drawing crazy conclusions from coincidence, but a ton of effort (and money) goes into sustaining them. What a waste. Facts die a quick death under those circumstances. And talk show hosts make millions out of duping their listeners into spreading the lies and conspiracies. It’s not even remotely as innocent as the childhood game, “rumor,” in which one kid whispers something into the next kid’s ear, and so on.
The other kind of “adult” conspiracy mongering and its dissemination destroys lives and careers and leads voters to make frightful decisions. And, yet, we have leaders in our government, such as John Boehner, who refuse to state emphatically that claims about Obama’s birth and a conspiracy to cover it up, are lies. LIES. Just a 4-letter word is all it would take from them and other influential folks to end it all now. And then we could get on to the business of making the U.S. a better place to live for all. That is, after all, the job of our elected officials, right?
The conspiracy mongering benefits the group that holds onto it and spreads it. At the root of all conspiracies is a deep hatred for and demonization of a person, a culture, a group. Fear of individuals and these groups is the engine that keeps the conspiracy theory running. People who hang on to conspiracy theories need to work at getting to the root of the fear that sustains it. A conspiracy theory has deep roots that can get a firm hold on us, though.
I admit that I’ve got a few personal conspiracy theories remaining in my head. They’re sitting on a shelf tucked into a corner gathering dust. One of them involves the underwire bra. For years I believed that the underwire bra was a conspiracy developed by men to keep us women so distracted by the pointy end poking into our boobs, that we’d never notice we’re still making 77 cents to their dollar (in 2008). Then I found out the underwire bra was invented by a woman. I wonder how many men she conspired with to drive up sales for her torture device.
Another conspiracy theory I developed comes back to me once in a while. In 1971, my parents and my grandma took me to New York City to see the Dick Cavett show live. I can only recall one of the guests on the show: JI Rodale, proponent of healthy eating, organic food and a healthy lifestyle.
I’ll never forget the interview between Cavett and the 72-year old Rodale. Rodale spent most of the time talking about and promoting a healthy lifestyle. His most memorable words, probably the last he uttered, were:
“I never felt better in my life. I’ve decided to live to be a hundred.”
Then Cavett brought in his next guest who sat down next to Rodale. As Cavett was interviewing Pete Hamill, Rodale’s head dropped to his chest and he let out what sounded like a snore. Cavett looked at him in amusement and asked, “Are we boring you, Mr. Rodale?” He didn’t get a response. Mr. Rodale was dead. We in the audience were all asked to leave, and to this day, the tape of this show has never been aired. Apparently, Cavett has it locked up in a safe somewhere.
There still remains just a little fragment of suspicion in my mind. Could it be that all of the fast food companies got together and conspired to do away with Rodale because the health food guru was such a threat to their profits? Or, that God heard him and said, “Oh, yeah? I decide when you’re kicking the bucket, Mr. Granola and Grains.”
Or, it’s just plain ironic coincidence. Chew on that, folks.