It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a conspiracy!

Posted: Jul 21, 2006 12:01 AM

Recently, I wrote a piece in which I scoffed at people who seem to thrive on conspiracy theories. Well, as to be expected, I heard from a number of them. Most of them, I’m happy to report, were congenial. Instead of the usual name-calling I get when folks disagree with me, they mainly gave me credit for being well-intentioned but hopelessly naïve.

I have concluded that there are those who simply can’t help viewing the world as a series of conspiracies. If something bad occurs, it’s never simply an act of God or an unfortunate accident. Some cabal is behind the curtain causing even hurricanes and tidal waves. If not for the conspirators lurking in the shadows, these people are convinced we’d be living in a paradise unblemished by famine, pestilence or even, I suppose, Jim Carrey movies.

It’s fair to say that, by and large, I don’t believe in conspiracies. Oh, I accept that the Mafia exists, but I do not believe that someone invented a little pill that would power a car, thus freeing us of our dependence on you-know-what, and that he was killed and his pill was swallowed by the CEO of Shell Oil. I also do not believe that someone else sealed his own doom by inventing a light bulb that would last 5,000 years or a perpetual motion machine or a cloth that would never wear out.

The main reason I place no stock in conspiracy theories is because I happen to believe that if two people know a secret, one of them will tell someone else within 17 seconds. If more than two people are privy to the secret, you can cut that time in half.

In my experience, it’s always people who have no real access to big secrets who are always sure they know the straight poop. They may not know that their wife is carrying on a torrid affair with the next door neighbor, but they know who was on the grassy knoll down in Dallas. They have no idea that their kids are flunking out of junior high, but they know all there is to know about black helicopters and what the space aliens out in Roswell, New Mexico, had for breakfast this morning. They may not know how to spell NASA, but they’re convinced that the moon landing was staged in a studio outside Newark.

When I was very young most conspiracy buffs devoted their undivided attention to flying saucers. Even as a kid, I was willing to bet that it would take two of these guys working together to break 100 on an IQ test. It struck me, but not them, that it was very odd that these sightings always seemed to take place in very out-of-the-way places. I used to wonder why these creatures from another galaxy would bother flying millions of miles only to land in some godforsaken Mississippi swamp and talk things over with Lum and Abner when they could have flown for another few minutes and had a heart-to-heart with the president.

I could come to only one of two conclusions. Either they had come all this way to get a recipe for barbecued possum or some fair number of my fellow earthlings are just incredibly goofy.