Conspiracy Theories Are Security Blankets

Get use to the truth: no one is in control.

Author by John Devore
Art credit: Eugenia Loli

Recently, a California man unsuccessfully tried to launch himself 1,800 feet into the air at 500 miles per hour in a home-made rocket, which was his attempt to prove the Earth is flat.

This would-be rocketeer believes malevolent powers have been in cahoots for centuries covering up, among other things, the shape of our planet. He is what is popularly known as a conspiracy theorist. You may know one. You may even be one, and if you are, welcome.

This important essay is my personal opinion of conspiracy theories and, as we all know, opinions are the most valuable resource in history. Why, without opinions, social media would grind to a halt and people would have to connect with one another in real life and we’d all be happier and healthier and more hopeful.

Conspiracy theories are, simply, stories that help some people manage their fear, like security blankets. They provide a sense of safety and comfort and control to grownups who are scared and anxious. And, for sure, there are endless reasons to be scared and anxious. Have you looked at Twitter? Read the internet? Watched the news? As I have already pointed out, opinions fuel social media and many of those opinions are “oh my god we’re all gonna to die!”

The aforementioned anti-Galileo copes with modern day stresses by concocting, and embracing, feverish fantasies and sinister alliances that, on some level, must be empowering. Or, at the very least, assuaging.

An old college friend of mine is a conspiracy theorist, which is a lofty way to say he is always texting me about how the mysterious world government is able to control the weather. He is very scared of, among other things, tornado weapons. (I’m pretty sure that was the plot to a recent Gerard Butler action movie. It was called “Geostorm,” I think.)

A “conspiracy theorist” is a proper-sounding title that sounds a little bit like, say, a “particle physics theorist,” except the latter is a scientist and the former is my friend who shall remain nameless, because right now, anyone could be reading this, even you. And who are you? Probably some kind of spy.

Every so often I try to argue with him. For instance: The moon landing couldn’t have been faked. It’s more plausible, to me at least, that we catapulted three dudes into outer space than the government was able to pull off a 50-year hoax. They can’t even pull off healthcare reform.

I am sympathetic to my friend, and his mostly virtual friends, who try to explain away their many fears and failures with ridiculous plots hatched by the scheming rich and powerful. Capitalism breeds paranoia. 

A recent study, published in the journal Health Psychology, claims that people who don’t believe in vaccinations — given the slightly sci-fi bad-guy name “anti-vaxxers” — are also more likely to believe other conspiracy theories, especially the ones that make great Oliver Stone movies.

This makes sense since “anti-vaxxers” are convinced in their hearts that vaccines don’t work, despite overwhelming evidence that they do, and are part of a long, long, very long conspiracy by all-powerful corporations to… I’m not 100% sure. Cause harm? General harm? Just basic mass mayhem?

I don’t really understand how a person can decide they “don’t believe” in vaccines. That’s like not believing in gravity. Or, uh, globes. Those miracle drugs are, largely, why 25 isn’t middle age anymore. I don’t want to yuck anybody’s yum here, but there is no evidence that vaccines are part of a vast mind control conspiracy. And there is plenty of evidence that not getting vaccinated can result in contracting disease.

Last year, for instance, there were 58 confirmed cases of measles in Minnesota — the biggest outbreak in 30 years. In response, doctors pointed fingers at people who refused to get vaccinations. I think we’re one generation away from people refusing to fly in planes because they’re obviously powered by demons.

For the previously mentioned study, researchers surveyed 5,300 people in 24 countries on five continents and discovered similarities across their answers. Respondents who said they didn’t believe in vaccines came across as individualistic, which is good. They were also convinced that the truth is out there, which is the tagline to a very popular science-fiction TV show. While we’re on this topic, you should support your local newspaper because the people working at it are usually the only ones actively asking powerful people questions that need answers.

The study also found that people with anti-vaccination attitudes hate blood and needles, which is totally understandable. Blood and needles are scary. It is perfectly normal to be scared of blood and needles.

Again, I am sympathetic. I listen to these paranoid folk tales because I know that, in a way, they make some people feel better. The undergirding message of almost every conspiracy theory is that the world is controlled by a secret society of evil puppet masters. This is, of course, not true. No one is in control.

The natural order is one ruled by chaos and brief moments when things come together, either accidentally or by design. The “deep state” is a sexy term for tens of thousands of bumbling bureaucrats making sh*t up as they go along.

My friend, the tin-foil hat enthusiast, is scared of so many things that are beyond his control, so he naturally gravitates toward stories that make him feel like someone — anyone — is in control.

If anyone were in control, wouldn’t things be more orderly than they are? What’s the point of being ruled by the Illuminati if they can’t make my subway arrive on time, like, ever?

Lean in closer. Closer, still. Read this: the world is nothing but puppets who think they’re puppet masters.

I suppose there really is something comforting in believing anything that goes wrong can be blamed on someone in the shadows who probably smokes cigarettes. If one’s life must be subject to outside forces, those forces might as well be evil. Maybe James Bond movies are, in fact, documentaries about super-villains who want to blow up the world.

Yes, bad things happen because of bad people. Bad things also happen because bad things happen, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that.

Humans are messy. They make mistakes. Our species can be cruel and thoughtless and, more often than not, compassionate and merciful. The story of human civilization is, in fact, many stories. But my favorite one is how, for thousands of years, the human spirit has triumphed over fear. Mountains climbed, cures found, love songs written.

Honestly, I have no idea how our society operates on the day-to-day, but it endures, and it endures despite the comforting lie that everything that happens is the result of a cult of alien lizard people.

I’m not judging security blankets, for the record. I have a security blanket and it’s called a fool’s faith that everything will turn out okay, even when I know it won’t. See, I have anxieties. I’m a simmering pressure cooker of fears. But I choose courage, which is a misunderstood virtue. Courage is accepting fear, and choosing not to be afraid even when you’re afraid. I know there are things I can control and things I can’t control.  Meanwhile, I choose to put my fears in a headlock and stay the course.

I can control my thoughts and attitude. I can do research and inform myself. I can be scared but not act like I’m scared. We’re all going to be okay. Or not. Que será, será. Whatever will be, will be.

That is my opinion and opinions are basically a cryptocurrency.

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