Saturday, March 17, 2012
The Conspiracy Bugs
"Paranoia is reason in the service of the irrational." - Pat Santy
I recently saw the 2006 movie, "Bug." It bombed at the box office, and no wonder: there is a scene in which the main character, who is a paranoid schizophrenic, wrenches out two of his teeth with a pair of vice grips, because he believes the government has implanted insect egg sacs under his fillings. He also has sores all over his body from digging out non-existent bugs.
It's a bloody, violent, repulsive film. That's on the surface. Underneath, it's a brilliant.
Here's why: mental illness is just normal traits taken to an extreme and made permanent. The main character, being a paranoid schizophrenic, is grandiose, paranoid, and believes there is a -- non-existent and impossibly complex -- conspiracy out to get him. Sounds familiar? It does to me.
There is a lot inherently wrong with the human race. One of those things wrong is the belief in non-existent, indeed impossible conspiracies. It's been noticed as far back as Isaiah in the Old Testament, which warns against falling for such beliefs.
These days, it's the 9-11 "Truthers" who are the nuts, who believe the impossible and the non-existent. Of course, they are not the only ones, just these days the most obvious.
Those who are obsessed with 9-11, and write about it all the time, and devote their lives to it, and who will never, ever give it up, no matter how much evidence is against them, are showing signs of mental illness. That's what the movie is saying.
I wouldn't call them mentally ill, just pretty damn close. Whatever they are, they are not right in the head.
Going on fifty years later, there are still people who refuse to believe Oswald was the only one who shot Kennedy. They have 20 books and boxes and boxes of papers, convinced there were three shooters triangulating on Kennedy, or his driver turned around and shot him, or who knows what else. They will never give it up, just the way people who think the moon landings are a hoax will never give up their beliefs.
Vincent Bugliosi correctly called the obsessive belief in non-existent conspiracies "poison." He is exactly right: it is poison that will ruin peoples' lives.
There is something else in the movie: a lonely woman who has pretty much ruined her life. She's a loser in the correct sense of the word: she had lost almost everything.
She gets sucked into the schizophrenic's world and comes to believe as he does. She comes to believe there are bugs everywhere. She sees them where there are none. In the end, they both die.
What the movie is saying about her and people like her, is that those who have no meaning, importance or community in their lives are the ones who get sucked into believing non-existent conspiracies. It makes them feel important.
If they are not the center of a plot, the focus of terrible, brilliant evil enemies, then what are they? Insignificant? Unimportant? Nobody? At the least, the belief in these conspiracies allows them to blame their problems on someone else.
Chris Hedges, in his book, "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning," writes this: "The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our airwaves. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble."
The belief in these conspiracies is always connected to scapegoating, to paranoia, then to murder and human sacrifice. This is something that those who believe everything is a conspiracy don't understand. The Nazis believed in conspiracies against them, as did the Communists.
The death toll for the 20th century through war bought around by the belief in non-existent conspiracies -- 177 million to 200 million.
People who believe in non-existent and impossibly complex conspiracies believe they are at war. And they enjoy it, because it gives them what they lack: meaning to their lives. That is, until the war comes home to them.