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.
A LONE WOLF BITES
I received 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.
I’m currently 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!
Amazingly as 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.
So 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:
Cover-ups 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 do.
Within minutes, I had my reply:
You 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.
THE DIVISION OF PARANOID LABOR
Hayek ended 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.
Yet fanatics 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!”
For conspiracy 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.
The Communists 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.
So, 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.
January 26, 2006
Copyright © 2006 LewRockwell.com