This past month has been pretty exciting, eh? Lots of talk about conspiracies…. I was listening to the Alex Jones ahow a couple of days ago, and he was talking about the “V for Victory” campaign. He said that the remedy for 1984 is 1776, which may or may not be true. But what I started thinking about is the whole business of conspiracy theories in general.
In conspiracy circles, at least among some of the most eager of adherents, some, during their most vitriolic moments, often refer to the American people as “sheeple”. Sheep+people=sheeple. What they mean is that they think that most Americans follow whoever leads them like sheep. Most people are exactly as Nietzsche said, motivated by the “herd mentality”. The sentiment is that, after decades of being feed mind-numbing diets of MSG, aspertame, high fructose corn syrup, dumbed-down infotainment, and substandard political “leaders” the American public has been rendered passive, accepting whatever directive GOVERNMENT tells them, led like sheep to slaughter. Because most people are inclined to blindly follow any sweet-talking demagogue, following rather than questioning, many conspiracy theorists tell their cohorts to beware of the herd. It’s not just conspiracy theorists who have had this point of view.
Socrates and Nietzsche both rattled the cages of conformity. George Orwell wrote of a society led by “groupthink”. Right now, I’m hearing The Police song “Synchronicity II” in my head (listen to the 2nd verse). Everybody’s got their list of examples of herd mentality triumphing over common sense. If everybody jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you? This is a problem for us because Americans aren’t supposed to be conformists. We’re supposed to be a nation of self-sufficient, self-determined, self-made, rugged individuals. We’re a people who praise the self-made man who, with the sole support of his own bootstraps, pull themselves from the bottom rungs to the highest reaches of success. This is the American story. Of course, there’s plenty of philosophy to back this up: Rousseau wrote of the state of nature where man relied on his own smarts and autonomy to provide for himself. In fact, Rousseau wrote that man is by nature so independent, that he only need companionship for the brief duration that it requires to complete the reproductive act.
The deal is, is this totally independent man never existed. Nor does he exist now. When you think about it, the idea that man is by nature solitary sounds kind of counter intutitve. It seems that a creature that does not need anyone other than himself would never feel loneliness, but we do. In Sunday school, we’re taught that we’re our brother’s keepers, and that we will be judged by how we treat others. Getting in to Heaven is more of a group effort then we’d like to admit. We tell ourselves that people who spend too much time alone end up nutty. A lot of the talk, besides talk about conspiracy theories, about the unpleasantness in Arizona has been a lot of asking why no one that knew that dude did anything to get that guy help.
We might not want to admit it, perhaps for fear of being overtaken by the herd, but humans are herd animals. We call our herds families or society or our culture. We know that conformity is a good thing. If we did not conform, our social bonds would dissolve and we’d end up in the bad kind of anarchy. You know, the kind where only Mel Gibson can help us out anarchy. Americans are a label-loving society. And the fact that we are such conformists makes us all the easier to label. We love keeping up with the Joneses and hate being the odd man out. We say that we love those who march to the beat of a different drummer, but only if that person plays a tune that we like.
I don’t know if I’m coming up with anything revelatory here, but I noticed that even those who are down on the public at large on their onformity rely heavily on conformity when it comes to their own beliefs. Conspiracy theorists want to be heard. They want to be believed. Dare I say, they want to be followed. That’s why they put out videos, have radio shows, and go on TruTV talking about the goings on at Bohemian Grove. I don’t know how many people have seen this, but I’ve had the supreme displeasure of witnessing duelling conspiracy theorists (this one is easy to set up: find one friend that thinks that the WTC was brought down by explosives and one who does not. Sit back and watch the tempers flare and the sparks fly). I think that any conspiracy theorist would have to admit this, but it’s not the problem whether people are “sheeple” or not. What the issue is who they choose to follow. It’s whether you believe that we’re being assaulted by the New World Order or whether you choose to believe that nothing nefarious is afoot. Each side wants conformity to their point of view. To get the people to rise up and overthrow the puppet masters, you need people who will follow — that’s a brute fact.
You know, now that I’m thinking about it, there’s something else that seems quite odd about the whole 1984/1776 thing… In Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother had a slogan, “Freedom is Slavery”. And the answer to Big Brother’s message is 1776. That’s of course, a reference to Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence, where he wrote that all men have a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”. So, the solution is to follow the words of a man who actually owned slaves, right? I mean, 1984was just a book. But, then, that’s a whole other conversation.