I have been
a conspiracy buff for over 45 years. I got my spurs at age 16 when
I wrote a paper on Roosevelt and Pearl Harbor. As far as I am concerned,
that one is still in the top five. But I’m not greedy. It’ll let
others have their top five.
Over the years,
I have stumbled into lots more conspiracies. Their name is legion.
Some are more evil than others. Some are harder to prove than others.
Some are hidden in plain sight — or, in the case of 9/11, plane
site. Others are deep.
There are so
many of them that no one can pursue all of them. In fact, the mark
of a deranged conspiracy buff is someone who pursues dozens of them
at once. He believes that there is one grand conspiracy behind all
of them. If he did not conclude this, he could not dream of ending
them all, which is his foremost dream.
All of us who
have spent any time following through on this or that conspiracy
have met these deranged people. Their world is filled with conspiracies.
They are surrounded on all sides. They whisper and look both ways
in a room where only you and they are present.
I feel sorry
for them. They do not specialize. They really do not know much about
any of these conspiracies. Their fears are scattered like pollen
in the spring.
There is another
variety of conspiracy buff who, while less pathetic, is more of
a pain. That is the man who has discovered his first conspiracy.
Not the conspiracy of conspiracies, but his very first, real-life
cover-up. And woe unto you if you do not embrace it as the discovery
of the century.
He is possessed,
not with conspiracies in general, but with this one. He eats, breathes,
and sleeps this one. If he is the first one to discover it, he is
not only obsessed with it, he defines himself in terms of it. He
sees his life’s work as exposing it. If you will not join him in
his crusade, you are not worth talking to.
an email from one of these young fanatics recently. He had found
some atrocity in the Iraq war that no doubt deserves more exposure.
He is in the military and may even be risking his career to expose
it. Surely, it is a valid goal to expose such a cover-up. But the
young man has this naïve view of the military, namely, that its
code of honor actually governs the actual operations in the field.
It doesn’t. It hasn’t since Sherman’s march to the sea.
He has risked
his career to persuade the public to bring pressure on the Administration
to Do The Right Thing. In short, he has the combination of honor
and naïveté. This is a personally debilitating combination.
Eventually, it will destroy either his sanity or his career in the
military. He cannot retain both.
In his letter
to me, which was related to my request for historical documents
for a proposed high school curriculum, he mentioned Herodotus and
Thucydides. But it was clear that my curriculum was not his reason
for writing. His cause was.
involved in the “infowar” against the controlled media, using
my former military specialties of public affairs and intelligence
to get out free information around the censors. That you haven’t
heard a word about censorship is really not surprising, since
it would be the censored media that would have to tell you!
it may sound, I had heard a word about censorship. More than one,
actually. I replied by thanking him for his bibliographical suggestions,
saying that I did plan to use extracts from these two Greek authors.
But this was not enough for my correspondent.
much for the great classics… Are you (or better still, your students)
interested in my minor infowar classic?
I see. He has
penned a “minor infowar classic.” I knew I was in big trouble.
I had actually
clicked to his website. There is not much there, really: just one
more site about one more cover-up in one more war.
I wrote back:
are forever. This is just one more. The public doesn’t know what
it wants to do. Until it does, Bush will do whatever he wants to
I had my reply:
and I differ on the role of intelligent men in society. I contacted
you with the aim of transcending, not rationalizing, intellectual
indifference. I’ll read your article, as I suspect you read mine.
Should any of your students be pulled into the quicksand, it’s clear
that you’ve already made your peace with your conscience. Lucky
you. I have no further interest in corresponding.
And so, one
more lonely, ignored, and audience-deprived conspiracy theorist
has lost another potential supporter. For these people, there are
only four kinds of people: conspirators, the ignorant masses, disciples,
and enemies. I had not become a disciple. So, I had become an enemy.
OF PARANOID LABOR
Chapter 4 of The Road to Serfdom with a description of idealistic
groups that want the state to plan the economy. The members of each
group think that their cause is the most important cause of all,
and that the state will favor their cause in its planning program.
They forget that the state must coordinate the economy. It cannot
favor one group.
I find the
same unilateral thinking in dedicated conspiracy buffs who have
found that one crucial conspiracy. The problem is, there is a vastly
greater supply of conspiracy theories than demand for them. So,
the price of most conspiracy theories is zero — zero support, zero
interest, and zero future interest (probably).
It takes a
fanatic to pursue one of them with the passion required to keep
it alive. Without fanatics, most of these theories die. They are
like newly hatched turtles in the sand that are now racing to the
ocean. The predatory birds pick off most of them.
turn off most people. In some cases, they literally turn off people.
“I have no further interest in corresponding.” To which the recipient
thinks, “That’s a relief!”
theories to thrive, there must be a willingness on the part of specialists
to pursue a favorite conspiracy with the devotion that it deserves,
yet remain open as interested bystanders to lots of other ones.
We are all
in this together. Most of the conspiracies we love to hate are not
much more powerful than we are. That is the good news. On the other
hand, a few of them are very powerful. These are usually the ones
that have a well-accepted public persona and a hidden elite. The
Communists used to organize front groups. By the time they figured
out this technique, it was already ancient.
rarely had the Federal government behind any of their fronts, ready
to write a check. The conspiracies that matter do. This is why they
matter. Self-funded conspiracies rarely amount to anything. They
have neither the leadership nor the supporters to produce anything
of significance. It is when they get the state involved that their
schemes become a major threat to the public good.
I’ll listen to your story of a super-powerful conspiracy if you’ll
listen to mine. But remember: I’ve probably been at this a lot longer
than you have. Your eyes will glaze over before mine will.