Professor Ward could hardly talk from laryngitis yesterday, so after twenty minutes in which she collected a few assignments and handed back some graded ones, she dismissed us. Darren suggested we use the extra class time to discuss “some things we don’t ordinarily get to talk about in here.” Professor Ward snuck out and most everyone else in class left, too, but six of us stayed behind: Darren, Heather, Steph, Justin, James, and me. Heather must have had something to do, because she left after not too longer, too. The five of us then had a fascinating, if schizophrenic, conversation. I’ve written about conspiracy theories, I’ve read a little about them, but this was the first time I’ve ever discussed them with a group of people of varying opinions on the subject.
James and Darren got into it about religion, eventually, and that could have been a dogfight if it had gone on longer. James is a pit-bull, and I’m glad he and I seem to agree on most things, because I can see him making me fucking cry. Dude is relentless. James tried to keep Darren on the subject of God, because every time he tried to pin Darren down on this or that point, someone changed the subject and the conversation would veer off in another direction, but we kept going back to conspiracy theories.
Darren’s the 9/11 Truth guy; he believes a supremely powerful illuminati is controlling the governments of the world from the shadows, for the ultimate purpose of enslaving the human race. He also believes that Satan is behind the whole thing. My favorite moment from the group conversation came when there were only us guys remaining (Steph having departed for work or something). Justin, making a joke, said to Darren, “Okay, so if we draw the conspiracy as a pyramid, the guy sitting right at the top of the pyramid controlling the whole operation is Satan?”
“Absolutely,” Darren said. “Who else could have manipulated all of these factors over centuries of history?”
And I just had to jump in. “You’re absolutely right – no one except Satan could have done all that, Darren. You are absolutely right.” I thought it was a pretty good point, m’self. Anyway, the foursome got whittled down further when James left, and then a few minutes later Justin went out the door, too. Darren and I hung around and kept talking for what wound up being over two hours. It was nearly 4:30 when we left. We had a fascinating, illuminating talk.
Fascinating because I realized for the first time, I think, that Darren really, really believes this stuff. He’s a perfectly sane man, he’s reasonable (reasonably), he’s very intelligent, very curious, and he believes to his soul that there is an evil, organized global conspiracy threatening us all. At times he sounded like a dues-paying militia kook – “People ask me how many guns I own and I tell them: not enough” – and at times he sounded like a man worried about his family – “I’m 54 years old. I’m not worried about me. But I have two grandchildren, and I hate to think of those poor little children having to live in a world as slaves.” I find it difficult to argue with that motivation.
Illuminating because I found that Darren and I agree on a great many things. He just takes things a bit farther than I rationally can. We agree that congress and the White House and the courts are full of crooks and corrupt politicians who serve their own interests above the people’s; we agree that the media is not doing its job, not educating the public to the things its government is doing; and we agree that the rich could be making things easier for the poor in the world, but are instead making things harder for them, in the pursuit of a buck. Illuminating also because it demonstrated to me once again that life is always infinitely more complicated than it appears to be. Darren believes that 9/11 was orchestrated by the U.S. government and other sinister agents to serve their satanic agenda; I believe that 9/11 was the work of a group of terrorist zealots. Most of the world agrees with me, but a lot of very intelligent and qualified people agree with Darren.
Doesn’t make them right. Doesn’t make them anywhere close to right. But it does make it a matter of choice. How do you choose to see the world? Who do you believe? What makes sense to you? The Bible? Science? An infinitely powerful, impeccably executed worldwide scheme or a small but resourceful cabal of fanatics? Which evidence speaks to you? I know what I believe. So does Darren.
The whole thing makes me want to watch Rashomon again.