The Problem with Conspiracy Theories

I heard someone say yesterday, “The existence of an actual conspiracy is not an excuse for conspiratorial thinking.”

“Yes,” I thought.

Nefarious actors may be conspiring to deceive, cheat, steal, and murder. Just as likely not, though. Just as likely, incompetence and ambitious fumble around to breed calamity. Even so, what is gained through our furious dot-connecting and eyebrow-raising, our breathlessly-muttered certainty that there’s more at work than they are letting on? Nothing.

There is a lot to lose, however, and conspiratorial thinking is a great way to lose it. It is one of the best ways, in fact, of frittering away the moment’s opportunity in superstition and fantasy, more effective at that end than even a marathon viewing of The Lord of The Rings trilogy. “If only this can be proved,” it promises, “That will change everything.” But it can’t be. And if it were, the world would not fundamentally change. The conspiracy theory is the louse whispering in the dark that he’s about to leave his wife so that the two of you can live happily ever after. But he won’t. And if he did, you would not live happily ever after. He is still a louse.

Let’s keep this in view, then: thinking and acting as if the things that matter are still up to us is the better way. Assigning agency for things to undisclosed plots is a grave forfeiture of the agency we actually have to work out in the open for things that matter, like welcoming strangers and feeding the hungry and preserving health care.

Let’s not waste the day searching for evidence of the other shoe about to drop.

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