Every day, Facebook asks me questions.
Was my mind blown yesterday by that video of the dog cuddling with the duck? No? My mind remains unblown? Then have I considered that I might be depressed? Is it because of that thing in the news two weeks ago that only just reached Facebook today? Am I angry? If not, how dare I not be? If I am, how dare I not be angry about that other thing?
All of these questions can be compressed into just one: why am I still on Facebook? Why do I willingly linger in this cultural urinal, glancing down at the intellectual and emotional excretions of strangers as they trickle down the trough towards the drain of irrelevance?
I suppose the simple answer is that I hang around for the conspiracy theories. Just when I think it’s time to leave, another one will float onto my screen, one of those superficially glamorous mysteries that attract a certain kind of restless, dissatisfied mind, sucking them down the rabbit hole where one plus one equals Illuminati and the British royal family are scone-munching iguanas. (This is, of course, ridiculous. British royals are not iguanas. They are super-evolved Komodo dragons. There’s a huge difference.)
I think I delight in these moments because they provide a glimpse behind the curtain of middle-class niceness that social media presents. Kindly grannies posing with quilts; square-jawed family men posting their latest marathon time; mild-mannered tax consultants hedging their updates with disclaimers: when they post conspiracy theories, they upend their carefully constructed façades and reveal the seething mess inside.
This week it was alien architects. Human beings are physically incapable of cutting or laying stones neatly, Cheryl from Roodepoort insisted, so obviously the pyramids and various ancient structures were the work of aliens who travelled here from Alpha Centauri to teach us intergalactic bricklaying and, well, nothing else. You’d think they could have passed on some tips about oral hygiene or given us the secrets of Velcro, but c’est la vie.
Some of her friends were sceptical. How do we know that the aliens were from deep space? Could they not have been here already, the ancestors of the lizard people who still control our every move, walking among us in skin costumes? Don’t be preposterous, said Cheryl. That’s just bonkers.
Not as bonkers, of course, as chemtrails. That was last week, via Mike of Blairgowrie. In a nutshell (with the emphasis on “nut”), the chemtrail conspiracy theory holds that the condensation trails that form behind high-flying airliners aren’t made of condensing moisture. Rather, they are plumes of chemicals being sprayed out of the jets onto unsuspecting populations below.
why are rational people drawn to elaborate explanations…?
The motive? Well, that depends on your politics. If you’re a hairy socialist living off the grid, surviving on protein smoothies you make with the lice you harvest from your own body, you’re sure it’s the military-industrial complex killing the bees so Monsanto can replace them with tiny hovering robots. If you’re a right-wing end-times lone wolf living in a lead-lined log cabin, you’re adamant that it’s the Zionists of the World Government spraying gun-owning patriots with gay genes.
So why are we like this? Why are otherwise rational people drawn to elaborate, paranoid explanations for relatively straightforward things?
Some studies have noted a link between a lack of education and a penchant for believing conspiracy theories. Then again, if you’ve spoken to a human being you’ll also have noted a link between 12 years of education and a total lack of critical faculties, so perhaps it’s more than that.
According to two recent studies published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, the answer might lie in how powerful or powerless we feel. People who don’t feel in control of their lives, the studies suggested, try to make sense of the chaos they feel by joining dots. The problem with this, explained academic Jan-Willem van Prooijen, is that this dot-joining “leads them to connect dots that aren’t necessarily connected in reality.”
Is this a good explanation, or is it just part of a massive conspiracy to discredit dot-joiners who are getting too close to the truth? Lindi of Durban knows, posting a link to an article written by a former lizard person (who was successfully cured by Banting) that reveals that 103% of all academic studies have been funded by the Bilderberg Group. Which means the CIA publishes Applied Cognitive Psychology. Inside the cargo hold of a British Airways Boeing, just next to the chemtrail storage tanks.
The believers will insist that the truth is out there. But perhaps the truth is inside here; inside anxious modern humans, trying to reconcile with modernity through ancient stonemasons; desperate for meaning, for sense, for one plus one to equal everything’s going to be okay.
Are there aliens among us? Absolutely. They just happen to be people. Alienated, exiled to a strange, confusing world a million light years from anywhere that feels like home.