Foundational Conspiracy


We have all noticed by now that the world is filled with conspiracies. It really is scary and strange out there. I have been trying to figure out why that is the case.

Anna Merlan in her book, Republic of Lies: American conspiracy theorists and their surprising rise to power reminds us, that conspiracies, particularly in the United States have been around forever. Particularly they have been around since the United States was founded. This is what she said,

The Trump era has merely focused our attention back on to something that has reappeared with reliable persistence: the conspiratorial thinking and dark suspicions that have never fully left us.”

I didn’t realize this but there were conspiracies among white settlers of North America who speculated that North American Indians, as they were mistakenly called, were literally in league with the devil. They thought the natives were conspiring with the devil in order to enlist demons to help them drive out these invaders.  It was a crazy theory.

Now Native Americans one the other hand had good reason to be desperate for help, but enlisting the devil was unlikely to be very helpful. They are the ones who would have rational fears about the invaders. Mysterious diseases accompanied them and indigenous people around North America were dying in incredible numbers. To the inhabitants it was incomprehensible. But it was the invaders that had the most conspiracy theories.

I have actually thought that fear has been one of the driving aspects of conspiracies. Richard Hofstadter in his book The Paranoid Style in American Politics said that paranoia was the foundation of conspiracy. Those are unreasonable fears. A good friend of mine, who actually knows some history, warned me to be careful about Hofstadter even though he won 2 Pulitzer prizes. He said his books have been challenged by historians for their lack of accuracy. But I believe Hofstadter is right on this point at least. Paranoia is an unreasonable fear. Sometimes it springs from a guilty conscience.

According to Merlan,

“The elements of suspicion were present long before the 2016 election, quietly shaping the way large numbers of people see the government, the media and the nature of what’s true and trustworthy.

And for all of our bogus suspicions, there are those that have been given credence by the government itself. We have seen a sizeable number of real conspiracies revealed over the past half century, from Watergate to recently declassified evidence of secret CIA programmes, to the fact that elements within the Russian government really did conspire to interfere with US elections. There is a perpetual tug between conspiracy theorists and actual conspiracies, between things that are genuinely not believable and truths that are so outlandish they can be hard, at first, to believe.”


I don’t have data to support this theory, but I think, the United States has been particularly susceptible to conspiracy theories. Right now we see them all around us, each one weirder than the one before. Whether that is true or not I wonder why so many conspiracy theories flourish in that country. What is there about that country, even more than many other countries, that leads them to believe crazy stuff? Why are they so eager to embrace conspiracy theories?

I have a theory too. (I just admit I have no data to support it) I think it is because they have a guilty conscience. After all genocide of Native American Indians, as they call them, and slavery, both lie at the foundation of that country. That is enough to generate a lot guilt and fear. Those are two pretty good bases for conspiracies. Don’t you think? Maybe that is why they have such a devotion to wild theories .


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