The Musings of

Something full of magic, religion, bullsh*t.

Monday, January 31, 2005

The truth is out there

Remember when conspiracy theories were cool? I was discussing this a few days ago with a friend of mine. There was a time in the mid-90s when conspiracy theorists were seen as more than just geeks or people who forgot to take their meds. I call it the "X-Files" effect. Chris Carter started with that show, then moved on to Millennium and the lesser-known Lone Gunman. Next thing you know, we've got JFK, Conspiracy Theory, Enemy of the State, and Keith Hernandez spitting on Kramer ("Back, and to the left!").

During my time in politics I met my share of conspiracy theorists -- John Bircher types and others -- who believed in all sorts of fantastic machinations that were affecting their lives and ours from behind the great curtain. One campaign worker in Montana refused to go through metal detectors because he believed that the Government could tell how much cash he had on him by reading the little metal strips in the bills (needless to say, he also didn't keep his money in a financial institution).

There was the guy who lived in the mountains in Virginia who was convinced that he was keeping the world safe by not selling his farm to the Trilateral Commission, who owned the property next to him. It seems that they were trying to take over the world by starting a John F. Kennedy University on the land, but he was blocking them by refusing to sell out. He even claimed to have seen everyone from Henry Kissinger to Elizabeth Taylor drive down the rural route in front of his house heading next door.

The most bizarre experience I ever had with a conspiracy nut was in Lansing, Michigan. I was doing some work establishing state affiliates for national organizations, and someone suggested I look this guy up. He was thrilled to hear from me and invited me over. I arrived to find an immense ramshackle house with plastic sheets hanging from the roof. I knocked on the door and this little bald man with a huge white beard answered. He shuffled me upstairs -- right past a woman who had to weigh upwards of 400 lbs. sitting on a couch watching a soap opera with a hat made of . . . wait for it . . . tin foil. I had to ask about this woman, and my host gave me some vague statement about how he was a holistic health expert who was helping her to lose weight. We ended up in his study, a room filled with a desk, a dozen overflowing filing cabinets, and papers strewed about. Before I had a chance to extricate myself, he curled my toes with tales of government evildoing, including the fact that the ATF deliberately caused the Oklahoma City bombing and that Communist agents were infiltrating South American fruit warehouses and injecting fruit bound for the U.S. with sleeping agents. He told me that he was able to beat the latter by only buying local organic produce, but that he had actually caught the Commies trying to get into his cupboard.

Despite my distrust of government, I have never been a big believer in conspiracy theories for two reasons. First, I know that the more people involved in keeping a secret, the harder it is to keep. If 2 people know something, the spread of information is pretty well policed. But when a hundred know, it's only a matter of time before someone writes a book or goes on 60 Minutes. I think Occum's Razor tells us that vast conspiracies involving the CIA, the Mafia, and Fidel Castro are just too unwieldy to remain effective and secret.

The second reason I don't buy big conspiracy theories is that I do not think bureaucrats are competent enough to pull off a bake sale, much less a war. For some reason, most conspiracy theorists are able to reconcile the traditional conservative belief that government is a train wreck waiting to happen with the suspicion that it can do anything. Covertly.

What spurred this introspection on was a surprising study that was released by the Rand Corporation regarding the conspiracy beliefs of blacks as they relate to condom usage. Rand found that blacks who believe conspiracy theories regarding the government and AIDS are less likely to use condoms. I found some of the statistics fascinating. For example, 53% of blacks agree with the statement "there is a cure for AIDS, but it is being withheld from the poor," and a whopping 16% believe that AIDS was developed to control the black population. Wow. It blows my mind that 1 out of every 6 black citizens believe that their government is actively working to kill them off. The irony is that those who believe that AIDs was intended as "a form of genocide against African Americans" also have no trust for public health organizations and are therefore less likely to believe them when they report that condoms can protect against HIV. Rand suggests that marketing campaigns be geared toward this community in an effort to increase their usage of condoms. I cannot imagine what that billboard would say. "Condoms are good -- Brought to you by Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition"? How do you sell people who think their own government is out to kill them?

For a return to the old days of "Blood for Oil," try the George W. Bush Conspiracy Theory Generator. Hey, it could happen.

Update: For those interested in conspiracy theories, there is no better book than Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum.
Centinel 2:11 PM #


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