Look and you will find it – what is unsought will go undetected.—Sophocles
In a world where people escape deeper from first-hand experience into the “Matrix” of video games, online porn and social media, is it really surprising that brands and identity politics have so easily supplanting principled, critical thinking? In capitalist economies you die from abundance (obesity, diabetes, etc.), in socialist economies you die from waiting in line. Ennui triggers a vestigial paranoia that would have long gone extinct in this age of abundance if it didn’t continue to serve us well as an early warning against potential preemptive strikes from others with the same vestigial paranoia.
Let me be clear, I am not saying that there aren’t conspiracies. Hell, conspiracies are everywhere. Feminism is a conspiracy theory. Feminism is the theory that one gender has conspired to oppress another gender. I think this is true to varying degrees. Christianity is a conspiracy theory, too. Supposedly, Satan is conspiring to get you to do things that Jesus would not approve of. Look, your very conception was a conspiracy perpetrated by your parents, perhaps secretly in the back seat of a car. Anytime two or more people decide to do something discretely, they are engaging in a conspiracy. Remember, that surprise birthday party you threw for grandma? Conspiracy!
Does that make you a part of an evil cabal hell-bent on global hegemony? No. Does that mean that there aren’t evil cabals hell-bent upon global hegemony? No, nefarious conspiracies certainly exist. But sometimes we attribute meaning to meaningless noise. The man in the moon isn’t really a man; it is a bunch of craters, and our minds create a man out of random rock formations. For example, the fact that the recent TSA shooter at LAX, Paul Ciancia (spell his last name out loud, “CIAnCIA”, or CIA^2 for short) was 23 years old with a note about NWO has us trapped now in a conspiracy theorist’s wet-dream.
Ian Fleming’s “Spectre,” George Orwell’s “Emmanuel Goldstein,” Marvel comics’ “Hydra” and the “Illuminati” of conspiracy theory are all powerful narrative devices used to create paranoia. Whether that paranoia is healthy or not varies from consumer to consumer. This begs the question, “who are the producers?” Remember, whether you are a NeoCon pitching the Patriot Act or a conservative talk radio host schlepping survivalist gear, fear sells.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t sometimes a hidden pattern to the data; for sure, sometimes there is, and we certainly shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Heck, I wrote a whole book about the importance of Type II Errors, aka “statistical power,” in everyday life. It is amusing to watch people on the left complain of the conspiracies of corporations like Monsanto and then people on the right complain about the global warming conspiracy, while denigrating those that subscribe to a slightly different conspiracy than their own.
Here’s the good news. First, people that are conspirators are conspiratorial by definition and hence will even conspire against each other! Second, there are benevolent conspiracies out there, as well! Few people talk about the benevolent conspiracy of the free market. Everyday, millions of people conspire to put food on your table, heat your home, provide demand for your goods and services, etc. When paranoia is correct they call you “visionary”, “prescient” or “genius”. When paranoia is wrong they call you “delusional” or “mentally ill”. Calibrate your paranoia appropriately; the conspiracy of benevolence is out to get you too.
If you believe the universe is conspiring to destroy you, you’re wrong. It is actually conspiring to destroy all of us. Eventually, at some point, it succeeds. Our vain attempts at maintaining a semblance of order only serves to amuse unstoppable entropy/discord for a brief instant. This is why gratitude is crucial; because it keeps our attention on the grand conspiracy of benevolence that the universe is also waging, against your pessimism. This is why we should always count our blessings. Whatever you look for, you will find; if you look for reasons why the world sucks, you will find them. If you look for reasons why the world is amazing, you’ll find those. May I suggest you look for the latter?
(This essay originally appears in my newest book Strange Attractor)