Friday, June 12, 2009

Conspiracy Theorists Believe In God

We take as today's text some sentences from the fourth paragraph from the end of Secrets of the Tomb, a fairly meaningless work (you can read my micro-review here), but in the closing lines the author, Alexandra Robbins makes some statements that illustrate the illogic of most conspiracy theorizing, both pro and contra.

"However sinister the notion of an all-powerful secret society might be, the existence of a Skull and Bones also brings us some measure of relief. The secret society allows us to believe that things don't just happen: genocide isn't just caused by one crazy individual, presidents aren't just assassinated, family political dynasties aren't just born. Even chaos, the society's conspiracy theories tell us, has causality. The secret society -- like the power of the elitist, old-school colleges, the small groups of mogul networks, and the political dynasties -- survives because people like to believe that seemingly random events are orchestrated by someone or something in control. … Perhaps one of the reasons people are so fascinated with conspiracy theories, particularly the far-reaching networks associated with secret societies and old-school power, is that they need causality in much the same way as they need a God. People's need for the Skull and Bones conspiracies to elucidate an underlying order is similar to the need for relifion to explain death and purpose. Underground control suggests order and order implies reason. Explanations, however implausible are somehow reassuring."

I've mentioned in the aforementioned review how distasteful the 'logical' argument being made here that genocide is just caused by one madmen; Robbins replaces the mysterious causality of conspiracy with not only an uncaring randomness in the universe, but a febrile, insanely powerful randomness. "Well, too bad that one guy, all alone and unaided, caused the Holocaust. What can you do?" and the shrugged shoulders get back to their place at the grindstone...

But what really interests me here is the synonymy between Conspiracy Theories and religion. Weak-minded people believe in these crazy things, she seems to say, because it gives comfort and meaning to their otherwise random lives. I can see her point. If I imagined myself a pinball being slapped by the random flippers of chance, I too would search for some explanation, "however implausible", to assuage my fear of the haphazard bolts of force which seem otherwise to lash out at me and my world without cause or reason. These fables (conspiracies and religion) are the solace only of those unable to stomach the harsh, chaotic reality of the world in which all real men and women live. Not only that, but this desperate longing for meaning is the true source of the awful power these weaklings fear: "political dynasties … [survive] because people like to believe that seemingly random events are orchestrated by someone or something in control" (my emphasis). Apparently, if Conspiracy Theories did not exist, it would be necessary to invent them.

So we are left with Hobson's choice: either we are deluded into believing in secret forces in the universe behind every rock, chair, or tomb; or we rationally realize that the secret forces feared by the masses are actually called into being by the hoipolloi's selfsame fears. The closed universe closes in tighter, as conspiracies provide an order that does not exist, and God explains away death "and purpose"[?]. And, Robbins does not go on to say, belief in the superiority of those who "see through" such chimaeras goes a long way to explain away any disparity in wealth and access to power. Reassurance is only for the weak; if you can live without needing solace, power will surely follow you all your days.

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