The Conspiracy Theorists

It feels really good to be back at work. I’m doin’ stuff, writing code, etc. Three more days before I can show you all the big giant thing I’ve been working on for the past several months.

I told you before that I’ve been watching this show on Trio called The Secret Rulers of the World this week. I don’t think it’s an ongoing thing, just a mini-series of different events and coverage of different conspiracy theorists and movements. So far, I’ve seen episodes on the Oklahoma City bombing, Ruby Ridge, David Icke and the Bilderberg Group. I TiVo’ed one last night that I haven’t seen yet about the shadowy satanic elite that I think is the last one in the series. I’ve been struck by several things while watching them. Jon Ronson, the filmmaker responsible, does a great job at treating everyone he interviews with respect even though their viewpoints are extreme and even implausible to most people. While he treats them with respect, he doesn’t shy away from asking tough questions, which I admire to no end. He got people to open up that I don’t think would have even talked to most journalists. He gets some calm and well thought out responses from the conspiracy theorists that I’d never heard before. With all of that, the series is an eye-opener, not only in what people believe, but the lengths they go to try and validate and justify them.

I think I’ve got the conspiracy theorists figured out to some degree; I at least have my own theory on how they’re created and find people to believe them. This is a theory in two parts. First is the idea that there really are no global conspiracies, just small groups of people who feel their cause is the Right Thing™ to do, and at some point lose all perspective in getting their Right Thing™ to happen. They start believing that they need to accomplish their goal by any means neccessary. In the end, it doesn’t matter to them the side effects of getting to their goal: the people they hurt, the damage they do to the environment, the laws or ethics they throw to the wayside. They must do this Right Thing™. The second is that people need a way to explain their marginalization. They need some way to understand how the world works, why they have a crappy job, no one understands them, and they’re not rich like the people on the TV. To get to this understanding, they’re willing to make extreme leaps in logic to create a reality that explains their problems as someone else’s fault.

Conspiracies don’t exist on large scales. The best example from the series that illustrates this point is in the David Icke episode. Who’s David Icke? Well, among other things, he believes the world is run by twelve-foot tall reptiles of extra-terrestrial origin. The ADL (Anti-Defamation League) believes that to David Icke, reptile = Jew, and have labeled him an anti-semite. I don’t know whether reptile = Jew to Mr. Icke, and well, it doesn’t matter to me. The show didn’t come down on either side, and from what I saw, I’m not sure Mr. Icke knows if reptile = Jew to himself. Doesn’t matter for this story. In the show, Icke is in Vancouver to do some appearances in support of his book, go on some radio shows, give lectures, etc. The local ADL chapter gets wind of his appearance and goes into action. The hold meetings, which they allow Mr. Ronson to videotape. They decide to start a campaign to get him off of the radio shows he’s been scheduled on and try to organize a protest in front of the hall his lectures are held in. They succeed in blocking the radio appearances, which to Mr. Icke, looks like the work of this Reptilian conspiracy, even though it’s the work of a relatively small group of people doing what they see as The Right Thing™. Nevermind free speech and freedom of the press (which I hear exist even in Canada), Mr. Icke had to be stopped from spreading his disease to the masses. Conspiracies are easy and comfortable ways to explain the crappy things that happen to us on a daily basis. Do I believe there are conspiracies? Oh yeah, I do. I just think they’re on a much smaller scale. But, I think the people who start them really believe they’re doing (again, just to say it again) The Right Thing™. Their resolve gets twisted at some point by zealotry or greed and doing The Right Thing™ becomes all-consuming.

Conspiracy theorists need to explain their place in society. Ok, everyone needs to explain their place in society. Conspiracy theorists just go a little farther than the rest of us. They’re the folks on the fringes of society who have no other way to explain their place than to blame it on vast organizations of the powerful, and shadow worldwide governments. Again and again in the series, Mr. Ronson interviewed Neo-Nazis, members of the Militia movement, the anti-New World Order folks, etc. In each case, they passionately believe in their causes. But, in each case, they display some tragic flaw. Either they seemed a little less than brilliant, or a little short on logic. Each conspiracy theory has tremendous leaps in logic not backed up by evidence. If there is evidence, what I saw were second hand accounts and conjecture.

The scariest part about all of this is the way the series opened up these fissures in our society where these people exist. The shows about the Oklahoma City bombing and Ruby Ridge showed places like Elohim City, a collection of trailers and half-built houses where separatists live apart from the world. The scariest part wasn’t what they believed, but that there were children there who looked dirty and unfed, being indoctrinated into this world. What happens when they grow up? Do they perpetuate the society they grew up in? If they wanted to, could they really break free and join the mainstream (with all of mainstream society’s problems, I admit)?

I hope Trio replays the series at some point. It was extremely interesting to me. I can only imagine the searches this post will generate. To sum up, I’m trying to be objective about all of these movements and their beliefs. It’s hard. It was really hard to watch the David Icke episode with a straight face. It was hard not to be completely repulsed by the neo-Nazi’s. Ok, I admit, I was repulsed. I tried to get past it and understand their point of view, and get at the reasons behind their belief. It helped paint a clearer picture of who these people are, and crack open my cartoon image of these groups. The other thing I realized is that zealotry is any form is a bad idea. If you believe something so strongly that you’re willing to give up anything to be a part of it, willing to do anything to bring it to pass, it’s time to re-examine that belief. True Believers are truly dangerous. If the the Right Thing™ is the only thing, something is out of whack. Man, I sure hope this made sense… What did I screw up? Or, better yet, ignore everything I just said and go read an interview with Mr. Ronson.