The Book!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Conspiracy Strikes Again

In A Culture of Conspiracy, Syracuse University professor Michael Barkun writes that "a conspiracist worldview implies a universe governed by design rather than by randomness." He finds three principles in virtually every conspiracy theory: "Nothing happens by accident." "Nothing is as it seems." "Everything is connected."

This is also, importantly, the essence of “paranoia,” or “paranoid schizophrenia.” “Paranoia” means, more or less literally, “meaning everywhere.” Whether this is considered normal or hopelessly insane largely seems to depend on whether you accept the same paranoid delusion as do a fair number of your neighbours.

Tragically, this all should be self-evident. The reason why the conspiracist or paranoid worldview is so compelling is simply that it is true. God exists; and he really is pulling all the strings beyond our sight. And so is the devil. God designed the universe; it is designed. It has a plan. This design is called, theologically, the Logos.

There are, therefore, no accidents. Nothing happens randomly, and everything is connected. Because of “the Deceiver,” the “Father of Lies,” that is, the devil, and with the willing cooperation of our egos, who want to see things as we want them to be, few things are as they seem. Appearance and reality usually do not correspond. This is doubly true because the world is largely invisible--largely spiritual.

Because this is so, sooner or later this becomes apparent to us—to at least the brightest of us. Sooner or later we realize that the “official” explanation of things does not fit the facts. Things that are not supposed to be connected plainly are. Improbable things happen often. Things seem to be acting purposefully all around us.

This should not be a problem; this should be our salvation. It should call us to faith. The truth sets us free.

And indeed, the existence of God is always the most obvious and most logical explanation for these things. This is true purely by Occam’s Razor: it explains everything by positing only one, or perhaps two, beings. By contrast, any conspiracy theory must posit an ever-expanding number of ever more devious and clever conspirators to remain plausible. Moreover, the existence of God can more or less be logically proven; the existence of a really widespread and efficient conspiracy defies common experience and common sense.

Nevertheless, there are two things fighting hard against the religious hypothesis. First, we are commonly conscious of having sinned, and we do not wish to believe we will have to stand in judgment for it, as the existence of God implies. If God exists, he sees us with our trousers down. Every time. We want license, too, to continue to sin, to do what is our will regardless of the right and wrong; though we probably hope they apply to others. Accepting that all is in God’s hands (as opposed, say, to ours) argues that we cannot. Second, the powers of the social world, certainly at the present time, and probably in most or all times, also wish to deny and suppress the religious understanding of the world. For, if it is true, it also stands in judgment of them, individually and collectively. They too, like the rest of us, wish to sin boldly when it suits them. They will promote formal religion only if it is entirely under their own control.

Many of us, therefore, miss the obvious religious truth, and resort instead to elaborate conspiracy theories. As Chesterton said, those who will not believe in God will believe in anything. Things are being invisibly controlled by the CIA. Or by alien beings. Or by the bankers. Or by the Jews. Or witches, or the capitalists, or Big Business, or the oil companies, or the CPR, or the Trilateral Commission, or the bourgeoisie, or the Catholic Church, or the neocons, or the British, or the Americans, or the straight white males, and on and yawn. At a pinch, it might even be the neighbour’s dog.

Of course, some organizations really do attempt conspiracies: Al Qaeda, the KKK, the Nazis, the Mafia, the various Communist parties. But they generally do not amount to much in practice, succeeding, when they do, mostly by sheer coincidence in their own terms, and always, almost necessarily, disproving their own founding thesis by succeeding. Moreover, they are usually formed defensively, the idea being to protect their members from some larger imagined conspiracy that threatens them. Al Qaeda defends its members and clients against the worldwide conspiracy of the infidel forces, represented most clearly by the USA. The KKK in its own mind defended the South against the carpetbagger conspiracy to destroy their native culture. The Nazis of course protected the German nation against a supposed worldwide conspiracy of cosmopolitan Jews. The Mafia originally protected Sicilians against a mistrusted foreign government—the same condition many Italians perceived, as immigrants, in the US. And the Communists, of course, protect the masses against the evil capitalist bourgeoisie.

To summarize:

When one begins to think in a “paranoid” way, and chooses the same explanation as one’s neighbours, it tends to lead rather swiftly to the persecution of some designated group.

When one begins to think in a “paranoid” way, and chooses a different explanation from one’s neighbours, it tends to lead rather swiftly to persecution by one’s neighbours. One is judged “insane”—literally, “unclean.”

When one begins to think in a “paranoid” way, and accepts the religious explanation, it tends to lead rather swiftly to a sense of general contentment, even joy, in this world, let alone the next.

When one has never thought in a paranoid way, one is probably just not very bright.

No comments: