One of the more pernicious effects of the Trump administration is that non-crazy people now have to distrust government agencies. And that conspiracy theorists are difficult to mock.
Neither of these things used to be true. The idea that government is inherently untrustworthy or that they are inefficient at their jobs … is mostly wrong. Most government agencies work quite well, and lots of government officials are very good at what they do (and they provide amazing services).
For every long-line DMV anecdote, I can point to several amazing NOAA predictions and services that saved lives. For every weird OSHA regulation that seems unnecessary, I can point to fewer workplace deaths and accidents. Our rivers are no longer on fire because of the EPA. Fewer die from lung disease because of the Clean Air Act. Government works really well quite often.
An aside: Capitalists love to point out areas of governmental weakness while never mentioning the Bernie Madoffs, the Enrons, the tech bubbles, or the epic crashes that mar their favored system. And those who loathe governments and socialism paradoxically lust over the police, fire departments, and the military that are pure examples of both. No system is perfect — and searching to reinforce a bias against one system is dangerously easy.
Another aside: I highly, highly, highly recommend Michael Lewis’s fantastic book THE FIFTH RISK if you want to change your mind about the effectiveness and efficiency of government agencies and employees.
Government is largely good. Conspiracy theories are largely bad.
I really hate conspiracy theories. They’re not just dumb, they aren’t even very imaginative or entertaining. And when I say “dumb,” I’m talking epically stupid. As in: not even internally logical or consistent. And they usually don’t lead anywhere interesting; they just peter out or lose their legs after a few leaps of logic. Example:
Democrats colluded with Russia to assemble fake dossier on Trump to sabotage his election and then kept it super secret from everyone to get Trump elected, so they could infiltrate the government and form a deep state which then sat around helplessly while Trump did all the stupid things he wanted to do anyway, and all the people we don’t like are being rounded up and sent to Gitmo while body doubles take their place, because…
I’m not making that one up. It’s a real theory. How about this one:
“There’s a super secret cabal of people in charge, and they manufactured a virus to sow panic and released it in China. But … they are covering it up because they don’t want to cause panic which might wipe out the markets, because they want to make a lot of money when the markets go up. But … they are also behind the big drops in the market because they also shorted it, and it’s all to make us learn Esperanto and pay with Euros because a global government will mean … something bad somehow?“
Conspiracy theories are addictive because of the sense of secret knowledge that only you know. And since no one can be trusted, anything that doesn’t fit your narrative is a lie. Which gives you the freedom to concoct any cool story out of the ginormous froth of information out there. Remember the Bible Code? How a computer algorithm found all kinds of predictions in the King James version of the Bible? Gather enough noise, and you can create a signal.
In the off chance that someone from a usually distrusted source says something you agree with, you can suddenly trust that information and say they screwed up and mistakenly said the truth for once, or they are a hidden do-gooder, or the secret cabal didn’t kill them in time. Or really whatever you want. Incidentally, this is how books are written. My books, anyway. You come up with semi-plausible things that string along in twists and turns … the more sensational the better.
The idea that governments couldn’t be trusted was never that big of a leap. Governments keep secrets all the time, and have all kinds of hidden agendas. They’re just usually not as idiotic as most conspiracy theories. Real conspiracies are usually bros doing insider trading, or rich parents bribing schools to sneak their moronic kids past admissions. Or perverts covering up their molestations and people in authority hiding their bigotry.
It was never as dumb as any actual conspiracy theory. And then along comes Trump. Now I don’t know the difference between the regular conspiracies that have always gone on, the idiotic conspiracy theories I love making fun of, and headlines on www.TheOnion.com.
These days, official government hurricane forecasts get Sharpie edits because Trump is worse at geography than a second grader and there are inter-agency squabbles about not being able to correct Trump when he screws up which state is where because he’s a man-baby with a glass ego. These days (not kidding), the National Archives is ordered to blur out protest signs in inauguration photos to protect that same glass ego. Or press secretaries are told to lie about the size of a crowd. Like … the stuff that happens now is just about as dumb as the conspiracy theories I enjoy mocking. And government agencies are leaned on to fudge stuff or risk getting fired … which feeds into the conspiracy theorist’s most powerful tool: the ability to cast doubt on truth and evidence.
Not sure if any of you follow the Qanon stuff, but it is gloriously dumb and highly entertaining and also scary as hell. I mean … people who believe this nuttery are allowed to vote. Some actually serve in office. They really think liberals are being rounded up and replaced with body doubles. And other wacky stuff.
While working on this blog post, I had an email exchange with a fellow writer who has much more elaborate theories than I could ever come up with (probably why they sell more books than I do). One theory is that COVID-19 was developed and deployed as a weapon (I would never write a series based on so facile a stunt). It was deployed in Wuhan, near one of China’s two bioweapons laboratories, so the maker of the weaponized flu strain could blame it on China and destroy their economy while also blaming them!
But we all know that if this virus came from a lab, it escaped when a worker snagged their hazmat suit on the corner of a lab bench, sweatily put some tape over the rip, snuck out of the lab without telling anyone about the incident, and called into work sick the next day with a terrible cough, only to kiss his girlfriend on the mouth in super-slow-motion with spittle on his lips…
Look, all conspiracy theories are bunk. And we are right to mock them. The only people we ought to trust in this world are scientists who work with facts and deliver the straight truth. Speaking of which, the current best theory for why our universe seems empty of intelligent life is that we live in a simulation. No, for real. It’s pretty much a mathematical certainty that none of this is real. Scientists can prove it.
Which would explain the terrible writing. It would explain how we ever got a presidential ticket of Bush and Dick, how our last election was probably decided by a guy named Weiner sending out dick picks, and how there was ever a professional race car driver named Dick Trickle in a sport where access to bathroom breaks is heavily restricted for hours at a time.
Conspiracy theories aren’t real. Because none of this is. It’s all a poorly written mess written by a bunch of dicks who are obviously obsessed with penises and who probably look like little mushroom men. And they’re just jerking us around.