Since the dawn of humanity, there have been, I suspect, conspiracy theories. I might go a step further and postulate that there is a human need for conspiracy theories, just as there appears to be a human need for religion. Various explanations for this need are almost as plentiful as the theories themselves. One explanation for a type of conspiracy theory is a need to rationalize and externalize blame for our short comings and failures. If one’s life is not what one had hoped it would be, ah, so easy to eschew personal responsibility and cast blame on some outside group or cabal. Feel like a loser? You shouldn’t. The “Other”- that all powerful group- has been holding you back since day one from getting that promotion, that acceptance letter, that man of the year trophy or the girl or guy of your dreams. This type of conspiracy theory occupies its own niche and is paradoxical. On the one hand you’re an underachiever and “loser” (low self-esteem) but by the same token you’re so important and powerful that you represent a threat and “They” are out to get you (delusions of grandeur).
Another brand of conspiracy theory also has paranoid elements, but the conspirators are not singling out an individual but an entire group or race of individuals. One of the most enduring of these is that for hundreds of years Jews have been pulling the strings as the puppet masters of non-Jews. The various incarnations of global Jewish control may be an outgrowth of a general antisemitism that at least goes back to the early days of Christianity, and was memorialized in the fabricated text “”Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion” which was “discovered” in the early 20th Century and vigorously promoted by Henry Ford. This supposedly ancient tome mapped out the path to Jewish world hegemony. Powerful Jews, like the Rothschild family which emerged later, will take over the banking institution and control the World’s economy, or so say the theorists.
Probably the Granddaddy of conspiracy theories concerns the JFK assassination. Hundreds of conspiracy books were spawned by this singular event. For those of us old enough to remember, at some point it was difficult to not get drawn into the conspiracy vortex, and within a few years those who adhered to the “Lone Gunman” theory became outliers. How could one person (Lee Harvey Oswald) possibly commit the crime of the century alone? But as time passed, and the evidence of a wide ranging conspiracy grew specious upon further and more modern forensic examination, the Warren Commission’s conclusion of a single assassin gained greater credence. And then there are those pesky elements of logic and common sense. If dozens, if not hundreds of co-conspirators were involved, as most of the theorists posited, after 54 years one might expect a death bed confession, or a tell all to the tabloids.
The theories come and go. Some lie dormant and resurrect depending on the times and the players. Bill Clinton, a White male from Arkansas with basically centrist positions (did he not take a Republican deficit and create a surplus? Did he not work in unison with the Republicans to affect a paring down of welfare that was arguably draconian?) , somehow was vilified by every disparate far right group or polemicist imaginable ( to say nothing of his wife, his “partner in crime”who fell again into their cross hairs twenty years later). The Clintons, they maintained, were mass murderers who for some reason had a penchant for dispatching their friends (i.e. Vince Foster, Ron Brown, James Mcdougal et al.) while not laying a finger on their enemies (prosecutor Ken Starr, etc.). This period in the Nineties spawned militia groups, a belief in sinister black helicopters and the United Nations internment camps on U.S. soil. Again, why Clinton, moderate bubba that he was?
The Birther Theory (Obama was really born in Kenya) may have been a turning point in conspiracy theories. For the first time, a conspiracy theory was given “birth” by a non-event, as opposed to a tragedy or calamitous happening. Barack Hussein Obama. His name alone opened the floodgates of both xenophobia and racism. The first Black president with the added authority of having an Islamic name that even his supporters often stumbled over (Obama- Osama?) The rules of the conspiracy game were about to change. Traditionally, the accuser will have some evidence to support the accusation (i.e. I accuse you of sleeping with my wife last night, and I have a picture to prove it.) With the Birthers, with Donald Trump as point man, the conspiracy theory required only an accusation (I accuse you of sleeping with my wife- now prove that you didn’t.) With prior conspiracy theories, as absurd as they were, there was at least some grouping of facts (Vince Foster and Ron Brown really did die.) The purported causes of their deaths may have been unfactual (homicide), and the theories’ conclusions fallacious, but at least there was some theoretical underpinning.
But the theories became more absurd and stomach turning. The despicable Sandy Hook conspiracy theory, promulgated by the sublime Alex Jones, postulated that 20 children and six adults were not slaughtered at the elementary school; it was in fact a hoax utilizing “victim” actors. Based on what smoking gun? What series of facts leading to a logical conclusion? The conclusion came first, independent and apart from facts.
Pizzagate? Hillary Clinton and Democratic operatives were running a Satanic child sex slave ring out of a D.C. pizzeria during her presidential campaign. Preposterous at face value? Not for thousands, including a man who opened fire on the pizzeria with an AR-15. Support for the theory? A twitter account that posted White Supremacist rants stated that John Podesta’s hacked emails contained codes spilling the beans on the true goings on at the pizza shop. It soon went viral.
And so it has become. Welcome to the new world where any hate monger, yahoo or idiotic bigot can pop lunacy into social media and it becomes true simply because it’s there. All are welcome on the World Wide Net, without examination or vetting. Critical thinking is a dying art and logic is no longer relevant.
Life involves a series of decisions- one of which is- how stupid do we choose to be?