Saturday, January 27, 2018

Conspiracy Theories, or Don't Give a Seashell the Time of Day.



Here we are. January 2018. If you wander around even the sanest parts of the Internet, you might bump into a few conspiracy theories. Weird ones abound. Some are even taking shots at our trusted institutions. 

In the mid-1970s, when I was a senior in high school, I worked full time in a gasoline service station. I went to classes in the morning, and was on a work/study program so I could get out of school at noon. My work hours were from 1:30 PM until closing at 9 PM. I liked the hours, after the boss went home and I cleaned the tools, mopped the floors, swept the garage, it gave me more than two hours of quiet time. During the week gas business was slow, so I always brought a library book to read. 

One “regular” customer named Ed would either stop for gas, or just come in and buy cigarettes from the machine in the office. He would come in at least twice, maybe three times a week, depending on his gasoline or smoking needs. One night I saw his car drive in and as he wandered in with his usual friendly greeting, he noticed the book I was reading. Whatever the library book I had checked out, it greatly excited Ed. 

Ed extended his usually brief visit by quite a bit that evening and the next time he stopped, enthusiastically brought with him several mimeographed pages of what I only can describe as conspiracy theories. He left them with my weak promise to read every single paragraph. Being young and impressionable, but smart enough to realize Ed’s ideas were “out there.” I carefully read each page with a teenager’s vigor and quest for knowledge of any type. On Ed’s next visit he asked me if I wanted to join him and also his wife to discuss his ideas further. Politely, I declined because, frankly, they both creeped me out. Valiantly, he inquired if he could leave some more “reading material’ in my car from time to time. I feebly pointed to my orange Volkswagen Beetle and told him it’d be okay. 

Weirdness soon became the norm. Not only did I find reams of propaganda on my car’s seat weekly, but I started getting random gasoline customers shoving carefully crafted pamphlets into my hands. One day, I recall vividly, another regular customer, Dave, was chatting with me as I filled his pickup truck’s gas tank when a person handed me a pamphlet. Dave asked for one too. Before his truck’s tank was full he had read the material and tossed in in the trash, looking at me and rolling his eyes. Dave asked if this was normal, and I told him to check my VW if he wanted to practice rolling his eyes, because I knew there were several pages of conspiracy ideas on my seat. 

From what I recall, years later, these theories varied greatly. Some were warnings of the “deep state,” a kind of compartment deep inside the government whose sole purpose was disrupting political norms. These “deep state” theories live on in some form or another to this day. Some theories exposed Bohemian Grove, with the thinking that about twenty people rule the whole world. The alien-underworld-undead people material was always the most interesting, especially the material packed with information on Transylvania and the Hoia-Baciu forest in Romania. In the spirit of complete transparency, my maternal great-grandfather was born smack dab in the middle of the Hoia-Baciu forest. So, if you believe in conspiracy theories, I might be part alien. All humor aside, conspiracy theories have always been around. They are not inclusive to weird talk of aliens, spaceships hiding behind the moon, lizard people, weird owl people, rogue FBI agents, and the list goes on and on. 

In my youth, I learned quickly of the description of “tin foil hat” when self-proclaimed rational people read Ed’s mimeographed pamphlets and schooled me in the weird “fringe” people. Moving on, the Internet has brought these like-minded people together, making communication instant, whereas back when I was a kid the only means to get their ideas out were print media and “meetings.” Today’s inter-connected world help make these gain more readers and ultimately, more believers.

Some of the people who spread these theories are well educated. Ed, as I later found out, had a PhD in philosophy. Some of the people who shoved papers in my hand seemed as dumb as oatmeal and perhaps were. People with weird ideas come from all facets of society, income, and education levels.  It doesn’t matter, though, what their education level is, the ideas that erupt from them suggest that they might belong to alternate species. Perhaps they haven’t read enough books, or read the wrong ones. 

In my youth, and as an adult, I still am more interested in the PEOPLE who spread these theories, rather than the theories themselves. I think that in 2018 a lot of people who spread these theories are sound-byte/ headline reading only people. In the current news climate, my opinion is a lot of people are either too busy or intellectually lazy to read/digest more information to prove their conspiracies wrong. It’s also easier to dismiss informational logic with the rallying cry of “Fake News” uttered by certain news outlets and even the president of The United States. 

We are living in a odd time in history, where conspiracy theories sometimes gain more news traction than real news. My brain gets tired from sorting out the truth from the weirdness, but my heart pushes on for a better tomorrow.


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