Convenient Conspiracies

I’ve been reading a novel my brother got me for Christmas, “The Eight” by Katherine Neville. On the front cover, it promises, “readers thrilled by ‘The DaVinci Code’ will relish the multi-layered secrets of ‘The Eight.'” So at first I figured it was a copycat of the Dan Brown book, which was so popular a few years ago. But when I looked at the publication date, it said 1988. So apparently they’re just re-marketing it to take advantage of the popularity of the genre.

It’s a fun read, a thriller full of famous characters from history, centered around a mystical formula that describes the nature of life, focused on (and hidden in) an ancient chess set. While reading it, though, I began to wonder about why we are so fascinated with books like this, based on puzzles that tie in disparate religious movements, mystical orders such as the Freemasons and the Rosicrucians, famous thinkers throughout history, and well-known works of art. Generally the theory is also somehow related to a life-or-death modern quest for knowledge – “before it’s too late!”

I think that we have an innate desire to “make sense of it all,” to form some kind of order from the chaotic swirl of human history and civilization. An author who can tie up a lot of loose ends, particularly regarding mythology and mysticism, satisfies that part of us that longs for a cohesive story.

You see this in other arenas, too. There are several religions across the globe which claim to be “the one and only true way.” If you faithfully follow their proven beliefs and practices, the reasoning goes, you’ll be assured of rewards in the afterlife, or a clean karmic slate, or a peaceful and easy life. All the “loose ends” and questions are tied up, in this case, by the religion’s leaders or sacred texts. The believer need not worry about pesky questions or situations not covered by the belief system, for those things are either explained away as they arise, or are reviled as evil, as a temptation to leave the fold, which should be resisted at all costs. This type of religious practice is appealing to many people because of its simplicity and seeming comprehensiveness. They need no longer question the vicissitudes of life, because there is a reason for everything, a reason that fits neatly into the spiritual picture-puzzle.

Among some modern intellectuals, who would claim to be above such simplistic belief in comprehensive explanations, the pull towards conspiracy theories is nonetheless strong. These days, it is seen in the gravitation towards theories regarding the terrorist attacks of 9/11, or the world-dominating plans of the neo-conservatives. Many books are written in which it is “proven” (see the connection here?) that people of power form a conscious network of power-over, which explains everything from foreign wars to the price of milk. Buying into these paranoid theories is easier than accepting that the people in leadership positions are people, like ourselves: some are greedy and selfish, some are well-meaning but deluded, some are kind and smart, and some are full of hatred. Granted, people in power whose motivations are bad can have a wide-reaching harmful effect on millions of others, and they should be accountable for their actions. However, it’s just too convenient to believe in a comprehensive “evil plan” that is responsible for all the world’s problems.

“But,” you might well ask, “doesn’t Starcat’s own metaphysical study fit into this category?” It’s a self-discovered web of practices and spiritual beliefs that enhances my life. However, I feel that there are some significant differences here: first, the study is something that I use as my own collection of personal truths, on my private spiritual path. I’m not imposing it on other people, or insisting that it is objective fact or “the one true way.” What works well for me might be a huge mistake for you. Second, I in no way claim to wrap up all the loose ends, or even to know about all of them! And rather than being frightening or disturbing, that is a source of excitement and joy – just think of all of the undiscovered wisdom out there, that I have the potential to learn about! And lastly, the study continually changes as I grow and learn. It is a working model, constantly being created, evaluated, and updated.

Sure, I too have this human need to create some kind of order out of the chaos of life in the multiverse. But I think a healthy dose of balance is applicable – the realization that chaos is also necessary, and provides the spark of inspiration and creativity that can keep us on the path of learning and growing.

Or, perhaps I’m completely wrong. Maybe the Rosicrucians are, at this very moment, deciphering this blog in order to prove I’m a metaphysical troublemaker, a trickster terrorist who must be immediately reported to the Pope! We’ll see…


Convenient Conspiracies — 1 Comment

  1. I think you’re right about our desire to “make sense of it all”; this desire is the foundation of inquiry and is closely related to the idea of wonder. We, as beings endowed with consciousness, to strive toward understanding on some level. But as you say, The Problem(tm) comes when fundamentalist attitudes (our way is the only way) start to pervade; these attitudes are, I think, based more in fear than in wonder. A certain quantity of the unknown can be terrifying, and fundamentalism of any kind is a convenient way to only see those parts of the world which happen to be in focus for that particular fundamentalist lens. All other parts of the world are marginalized and ignored.

    More to the point, I think as soon as anyone, intellectual or not, loses sight of these casualties of fundamentalism and falls prey to a fundamentalist outlook, they have “blocked the road to inquiry.”

    The “pull toward conspiracy theory” as you put it is, it seems to me, dangerous ground. First of all, what exactly is a “conspiracy theory”? By definition, any theory about any event that was perpetrated by more than one person is a conspiracy theory. Therefore, by definition, the official US govt account of 9/11 — that a group of mostly Saudi nationals brought down four planes using only boxcutters — is itself a conspiracy theory.

    It’s an interesting phenomenon to observe how this word, “conspiracy theory,” has been distorted and changed, almost like “piracy” or “freedom.” So now, “conspiracy theory” either refers to a)nearly any theory about nearly any historical event, and is therefore so broad a term as to be nearly meaningless, or b)any theory that contradicts most Fundamentalist American viewpoints of the world, which implies that the theory must be instantly reviled and discarded, if not marginalized and mocked. And, heaven forbid, if you subscribe to more than one “conspiracy theory,” you are then a “conspiracy theorist,” and aren’t even worth listening to, because nothing you say can be correct. Or something.

    But you are correct, balance is essential on many levels; between order and chaos certainly. I also think balance on an existential level is important. An existentialist would say that creating one’s own reality is paramount; as magical workers we do (or at least should) understand this. But an existentialist will also talk about faciticty, that series of happenings that have placed one in the situation one finds oneself in. So the balance between facticity and reality-shaping is just as important.

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