The Season of Mumbo Jumbo Galore – Conspiracy Theories
Posted by intellisg on February 15, 2007
Conspiracy theories are the tag along of the brave new age: espoused as your right to think freely, brought to you at the press of a button, pronounced true twice, false thrice and undecided four times every minute.
Long before the internet, man had shown an insatiable appetite for the bizarre and superfluous. In the middle ages, the legend of Prester John riveted European courtiers no end as charlatans recounted the legend of a mighty Christian king who supposedly ruled a twelfth-century Asian realm rich in sapphires and free of snakes, scorpions and noisy frogs. And long before that Romans believed the waters of the river Tiber were poisoned by a dwarf like creature (now you know why dwarf throwing is a sport on the continent), boosting the production and sale of cups made of lead which supposedly neutralized this poison (this could explain why the Romans are no longer a super power these days).
These days with the advent of the internet, conspiracy theories abound like demented jacks-in-the-box. One in five Americans believe the World Trade center was brought down by the CIA to justify a war against Iraq. One in ten Americans do not believe a plane slammed into the pentagon. (If that is so, where did a plane, half the size of a football pitch, and over 200 passengers, go?) Yes, in conspiracy theory ganja land, when all fails, we always have the trusted “get out of jail free” card: The Bermuda triangle.
Nearly 80% of Muslims believe that Lady Diana was killed by the royal mafia. If you try to argue with them, they will show you historical precedents going all the way back to Henry VIII when British monarchs regularly lobbed heads off like dandelions, irrevocable proof that an evil murderous bloodline runs through the house of Windsor mafia clan. Over 300,000 Americans believe Elvis is still driving around Texas in a pink convertible Cadillac and nearly three times this number have actually claimed to have seen him. One in three people actually believe the Vatican and NASA have entered a secret pact to convert little green men into Catholics. And just in case you are wondering, there are actually people who believe in a conspiracy that the water supply in America is laced with mind bending LSD. Closer to home, Malaysian media reports point to the Pulau Tekong reclamation work as the cause for the floods across the causeway.
My favorite conspiracy theory is the one propagated by the ministry of very homely affairs headed of course by my 86 year old grumpy granny who has a theory that the chicken rice man actually paints his birds a yellow tinge to give it a healthy and natural glow. Of course I humor her by removing the skin, but it hardly helps when the topic of discussion every weekend when we eat there is: where did the chicken man hide his pail of ICI? The funny thing about conspiracy theories is, they are a bit like culture (I am not referring to art galleries rather the Petri dish variety) – they multiply and grow. So, one day, when the chicken tasted a bit gamey, I could have sworn that it tasted a bit like paint – see what I mean. As far as conspiracy theories go, we Singaporeans are still very much tender foot babies. So far, our mania has been confined to bubble tea, bleached chopsticks and doggy Malaysian veggies. We haven’t really gone overboard have we? We are, after all, the level headed sort (yes, I need a side table to put my tiger beer and chips during my football matches, so if you are female, pretty and level headed please do volunteer to complete my Ikea collection.).
In a world where anything is possible, skepticism towards power and authority becomes credulousness. And any form of opposition, no matter how implausible, garners its fair share of adherents. Like drinkers, there is never a shortage of people who will always gravitate towards the harder stuff, while others are content to stick to plain orange juice.
What is it about conspiracy theories which continue to draw us all into their web of intrigue?
One psychological school of thought suggests conspiracy theories are the ideologies of the impotent. They are the “alternate truths” people typically turn towards when they feel they have absolutely no control over events and even less hope of effecting meaningful change. Against this rudderless world, it’s easy to insert whatever sort of “truths” which simply take hold and that may be blown out of proportion.
In a world where Zionists/Freemasons/Opus dei/ the Kennedy clan/ Mickey mouse fan club are secretly and furiously at work to control every aspect of our lives, it is easy to construct or tear down anything. It’s one that compels most people to ask, what’s the mysterious force behind conspiracy theories? Is it perhaps perpetrated by a bald evil man stroking a cat? Deep down in the engine room of every conspiracy theory there is a deeper, almost religious force, one that plays on our natural human propensity to rebel against the cruel randomness of life – Pascal one said,
“The sum of our greatest fears isn’t so much what we really fear as what we choose not to fear.”
If we believe big events like the sinking of the Titanic can happen at the hands of a single unknown individual who never bothered to stay awake at the watch tower, or that the world trade center wasn’t so much brought down by an Islamic superpower as much as someone who rides a donkey and lives in a cave in Torah Bora, it only serves to heighten our sense of unpredictability and sharpens our awareness to the randomness of life. And because it is unsettling, we manufacture the truth. It is easier to believe doggy steel was at the heart of the Titanic tragedy, a conspiracy of cigar chomping greedy capitalists who wanted to maximize their returns on investment even at the cost of compromising safety, that they planned it right down to the last detail. How else can you explain the string quartet playing on the deck while the Titanic was sinking?
Another reason why conspiracy theories continue to proliferate is due to the erosion of the traditional beacons of authority. Governments, churches, role models, the guy on TV and even Barney can’t be trusted any longer. Barney after all killed mother goose. Show me one kid today who has ever heard of the little Red Riding Hood, and I’ll show you a few hundred who know how to kill over 4,037 aliens to get to the 7th level of Warcraft. As trust in traditional institutions hemorrhage we increasingly turn away to other sources of beliefs.
The susceptibility of so many people in blogosphere to draw all sorts of conspiracy theories concerning what the PAP actually means by “covert” and “counter-insurgency,” for example, is partly the result of a natural psychological process. When we are faced with a threat, our brains naturally try to find familiar terms of reference. Something big and evil is coming this way; who do we know supports the PAP? They must be the so called anonymous PAP counter-insurgency force which is so stealthy that I suspect the PAP may have actually hired the army of the 7th month hungry ghost. Still, that doesn’t stop us all from wondering who actually fits the bill. After all, they could even be amongst us, only to tear out of their tummies when we are hacking away at our keyboards, so we better get them before they get us.
It cannot be seemingly just random words could it? The PAP is, after all, a well oiled machine. Never mind that it’s almost impossible to mount anything covert on the net these days, that’s why the CIA maintains a fact file department to prevent hackers from regularly accessing their databanks. In the parallel world of the conspiracy theorists, Diana’s death can’t have been caused by a driver who had too many drinks. It’s got to be the evil queen Elizabeth and her horse face son Charlie, the heir apparent of the Royal mafia.
Neither was the Kennedy clan brought down by Lee Harvey Oswald. No, it’s got to be an ultra secret wing operating within the CIA who also incidentally happen to be deaf and mute relying solely on sign language and cue cards otherwise they would have been taped by now.
If we admit to ourselves that the very important can be wiped out by the unbearably small statistically insignificant, then we have to admit that the ground beneath our feet is very fragile. It is more comforting to believe there is a malevolent force controlling events than to acknowledge that we are simply arbitrarily evolved bits of carbon floating in a vacuum of space. It is easier to confect an endless contorted conspiracy seminal thesis on words such as “covert” and “counter-insurgency.” After all how could it possibly be just random words spoken for the remembrance of things past?
(By Astroboy / Satire / Sociology / EP 9-30035373/ 2007 / The Brotherhood Press)
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