The Lure of Conspiracy and Doomsday Theories; Thoughts on Conflict
Someone very dear to me is a hardcore conspiracy theorist (hereafter referred to as a "CT"). He combs through the internet for hours on end, seeking the latest in no-hope speculation. He subscribes to mailing lists, watches videos, consumes essays and news reports, blogs and “experience reports” by the hundred, and seems to give them all equal credit, at least in terms of plausibility. “You can’t just disregard them completely,” he says. “Who knows?”
After numerous discussions with my friend, I'm not sure which disaster I'm supposed to fear the most: the end of the world in 2012 or the upcoming enslavement of the human race. All I know is, I better stock up on popcorn, because it's going to be one heck of a show.
If there’s one thing all conspiracies have in common, it’s that they are never good news. The aliens don’t come in peace. Chip implants are for the good of the few—a handful, really—and the rest of humanity will suffer. Governments want to control your every action or kill you or both; the CTs can’t seem to decide which, so they tend to go with the last. Logic takes flight.
They say the purpose of their research and educational endeavors (have you ever had a guy explain how the government plans to exterminate the chattel while you're sipping coffee in a busy cafe?) is to spread awareness. Although real solutions are rarely offered—the conspiracies usually expand to the point where there is no hope at all—the least we can do is to be aware. After all, without knowledge, what hope is there?
. . . Perhaps you can understand my frustration.
I don’t think the point is to be aware, because there’s rarely any point to being aware. So what is the point?
In true CT tradition, I’m starting to see patterns everywhere. I have my own theory--the human need for conflict.
First, I often observe people picking fights for no apparent reason. I don’t think most of us really care about the result of an argument. Most arguments are utterly ridiculous. Sometimes we realize this halfway through and decide to back out. “What am I doing?” we think to ourselves. And we know from experience that most people won’t admit to being wrong. It would defeat the true (and useful) purpose of the conflict if we came to that conclusion too easily. It’s all about the process. These conflicts are rarely satisfying if you play expressly to win. . .And don't we all know that?
That guy She accidentally offended didn’t want an apology. He wanted to argue. The apology was icing, if He got one. She didn’t care about the apology either. What would it have cost Her, after all, to say a few words that She didn’t mean? They both wanted conflict and so a conflict was born (it takes two to tango).
I’ve met some religious folks who don’t even seem to believe in their deity—they don’t follow any of the guidelines set down by their faith, and by their own supposed beliefs, they are surely heading for a terrible place—but boy, do they love to argue.
Many people take up a cause. It’s the perfect solution. You get to satisfy your need for conflict without feeling any guilt or remorse. Indeed, you can feel good about yourself, safe in the belief that you are doing good works. But how many people who fight for a cause even know what the cause is about? You may have noticed that many of those with radical political views—or really, any intense feelings at all—can rarely justify them. It doesn’t matter what the cause is for, only that they have one.
As painfully obvious as it may be to all who meet them, few of these people will ever admit their own ignorance, even to themselves. They have found a “safe” way to exercise their internal demons, which might violently claw their way free if not given the outlet. I think this is ultimately why the (by no means a reflection of all) religious folks mentioned above take up religion in the first place. To them, it is a cause no different from saving the whales.
Ask someone why the whales need to be saved, and they all-too-often just stare slack-jawed and say, “Well, do you want the whales to die?” with wide eyes threatening ultimate condemnation.
Why, yes. If that’s the best answer you can come up with, my friend, I have but one request: send me a nice big steak so I know what they taste like before the last one is gone. And now we have a conflict.
Many of us fight with ourselves. We agonise over dilemmas when we already know what our decision will be or should be. Sometimes we make the wrong decision, even when we know better. The reason should be obvious by now if you’ve read this far. We fret over morality when morality is instinctive. Again, the answer to this conundrum is obvious. Obey social rules so as to avoid trouble you can’t handle (don’t run through town in the nude). Otherwise, do as you feel. Be as you feel. We all know this balancing act is the best practical solution, and yet we still engage in internal debate.
I covered racism in my last blog, and I think it is merely another example of contrived conflict in the contemporary political environment. There are many people with differing views on this issue who will never allow it to die, simply because it is their chosen method of release, or their luck of the draw from the great Conflict Lottery in the sky. It is the perfect, politically correct leash through which to exercise those terrible demons that plague us all. And who can resist such a perfect outlet?
But the real question is, why do we all feel this need for conflict?
Conflicts take myriad forms, and the different kinds have different purposes.
I think the classic debate helps to facilitate our learning, discovery and creative processes. Many times I have learned more about my own position through defending it. In other words, I didn’t have any good reason for thinking as I did before the debate started, but by the end of it, I had discovered enough to actually justify it. Other times, when I realised I didn’t have a clue what I was talking about, I had to seek out new answers. Sometimes those answers were provided by my opponent. Other times, it turned out we were both idiots. I have learned a great deal from such conversations over the course of my life. Often, though, the debate only serves as an outlet for my own instinctive need for conflict. Yes, I have no shame in admitting it.
My name is Kit Summers and I am addicted to conflict. Keep the chip; I don’t want one.
Conflict is essential to human life, a necessary “evil”, if you like, though I do hate that word. I think that, in a way, it is an integral component of our continuing evolution.
But let’s get back to the original topic. Global conspiracy. Doomsday. Cataclysm. These are contrived conflicts taken to the extreme.
Most of us don’t have to worry about wolves and bears or lions and leopards any more. The necessity of violent struggle for survival is gone. Those days have passed, but the instincts remain, hardcoded in our DNA. So we generate another type of conflict, this one a true detriment to our kind, and, sadly, linked too often to the helpful conflict of debate. We take our arguments too far, culminating in violence against each other. The lines become blurred and people start to condemn all manner of conflict, unwittingly spearheading a classic cause and generating their own conflicts, deluding themselves, just like the rest of us.
I think conspiracy theory is the lesser beast in this category. It provides the sensations of mortal threat and impending doom without actually going anywhere. Few CTs ever act on what they think. The worst that happens is they become depressed, as my own friend has. I feel impotent in this situation, unable to dissuade him from anything he thinks, or even to provide comfort or solace. He has built his own mental prison from spending too much time on the “Prison Planet” website, among others.
At its most basic level, conspiracy theory is no different from the fight for animal rights, the glory of the Celestial Teapot, or the protection and preservation of the African barking spider (AKA a man’s right to break wind whenever and wherever he wishes). It serves a primal need, no more.
I have much more to say on the subject, but like CNN, I’ll "leave it there" for now. I have a tendency to be long-winded and I fear I have written too much already.
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