But as I traveled hither through the land,
I find the people strangely fantasized,
Possessed with rumors, full of idle dreams,
Not knowing what they fear, but full of fear.
— Shakespeare, from King John
Shakespeare seems to be talking about the USA in 2017…
We too are “strangely fantasized” and “full of idle dreams”…
…despite the influence of The Enlightenment…
…despite the acceptance of scientific methodology…
…despite the expansion of public education.
We still embrace outlandish conspiracy theories.
What’s going on? What does the conspiracy theory do for us?
Well, the conspiracy theory does add a sense of mystery to our world…
…and at the same time, lifts the cover of that mystery for us. Everyone else is being fooled, but not us. We know the secret truth. The conspiracy theory can be a pump for the ego.
We’re in the know, yet relieved of the responsibility of acting on what we know. After all, the forces at work in the world are beyond our control. If you try to take action, “they” will crush you.*
The conspiracy theory says: the best you can do is be aware and do what you can to protect your own hide.
In our efforts to make sense of this absurd, convoluted world, we consult the convoluted, absurd conspiracy theory.
By escaping into its fanciful alternate reality, we can avoid certain painful truths of our current situation. Thus, we’re willing to ignore the flaws in its logic and the absence of hard facts.
In Shakespeare’s time, ordinary folk were pretty much at the mercy of the winds of change…
…as are we, to be honest. But certainly not to the same degree. We have much greater freedom to act.
So, I’m disappointed when I see how we put ourselves into boxes made of conspiracy. In so doing, we surrender so much of our power.
However, I take heart from some “non-conspiracy” messages I hear in our public discourse…
For instance, this quote from the comic strip Pogo by Walt Kelly:
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
That idea is so anti-conspiracy theory. We’re telling ourselves where the real problem lies. Not in some distant hidden chamber, but within the dark chambers of our own selves. Yes, we should fear the conspirator—the conspirator within.
I meet that enemy every darn day. He leaps into my thoughts; he leaps into my actions. He leaps before I can catch him. And when I see how he has leapt, I’m disappointed in myself once again. Why do I subvert my better nature? When given the choice between tall and small, why do I so often choose the later?
I feel so weak against that enemy. However, by accepting responsibility for the state of my world, I actually gain in power. Though the work be hard and slow and tedious, here’s something I can definitely change: myself.
Don’t get me wrong—I want to do more to change the larger world, the world outside my skin. But I can do a much better job of making peace out there if I first make peace in here.
By rejecting conspiracy ideas, I lose the ego inflation…But oddly enough, wrestling with painful realities gives me an sense of satisfaction. I feel like I’m doing some real work. Building emotional muscle.
In doing that work, I explore the mystery of my dark depths, our dark depths. I explore a true mystery—not the fabricated mystery of the conspiracy theory.
With all this in mind…
…I think we would do well to include the Kelly quote in our new mythology.
But perhaps we should add: having met the enemy, we can now make peace with ourselves.
(* A wise man (or woman) once said: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” Point taken: there are some shady manipulators in this world. But those who try to control can’t predict with certainty what the results of their actions will be. So is anyone really in control? Nobody here but us blind mice.)
© 2017, Michael R. Patton
sky rope poetry