In February of 2004, just as the brutal election year was about to gather steam, I wrote:
Arguably beginning with Hillary Clinton’s “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy” quip in early 1998, why have so many conspiracy theories been coming from the left?
There’s little doubt in my mind that conspiracy theories have become more and more commonplace. One of my most chilling experiences was a conversation I had a couple of years ago with a good friend of mine. We were sitting having lunch and chatting when she quite casually mentioned that she believes Bush knew all about 9/11 beforehand and let it go forward for his own purposes. A lovely person (a therapist, no less–naturally!), up until that moment she’d never shown any indication of that sort of mindset. But she could not be dissuaded from her idea, and I must say I gave her a wider berth after that.
Along with Dean, I’m an Occam’s Razor person myself. I tend to think people are far more likely to be incompetent than cannily and successfully conspiratorial. And I’m aghast that so many people seem to think otherwise.
What’s the origin of the need to see a conspiracy behind every unpleasant event? One reason is the desire for order and control–even though, paradoxically, conspiracy theories posit a shadowy world out of the control of most of us. But, like children who want everything to have a reason and an explanation, conspiracy theorists can rest assured that at least someone (if only the conspirators) is in control and that there are few accidents, few random terrible and unpredictable events that we cannot control.
The same, I believe, is true for some of the demonization of Bush: better to believe he’s evil but in control than that the situation is inherently somewhat chaotic.
And of course, neither side sees an America they’re all that happy with: the right sees nothing but political correctness and a government seemingly impotent to fight its deleterious effects. The far left sees a theocracy in power, much of their 1972-era dreams up in smoke, and have rejected repeated attempts to return to the center. “Nature–and people–seem to abhor the vacuum of anarchy”, Neo writes, “and conspiracy theories rush in to fill the void”.