Human beings are good at recognizing patterns and diagnosing problems.  But sometimes this skill can betray us.  While we can run down an electrical problem in our car, find the source of a leak in a pipe, manage to figure out how to put together a jigsaw puzzle or solve a murder, it also allows us to create fantasies.

            We look at the random blotches on the moon and picture a rabbit, a woman, or a man.  The clouds boiling in the sky above us become cows and chickens and monsters.  The random stars across the black night come to life as mythological shapes: the hunter Orion battles the bull Taurus, while accompanied by his dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor.  To the north, the Little Dipper and Big Dipper—or Little Bear and Big Bear—circle the North Star from sunset to sunrise.

            More peculiar, it is not uncommon for human beings to try to find explanations for the events in their lives and in history.  Rather than accept that things can just randomly go wrong, they attempt to find explanations.  So, when Germany lost World War I, there were those who imagined that rather than having been bested by superior armies, t instead they had been defeated by traitors within German society: the myth of being “stabbed in the back.”  As the economy went bad in the 1920’s—along with the economy of the world—there were those in Germany who sought someone to blame, imagining that a nefarious group had, on purpose, sent the economy into a tailspin.  Scapegoats chosen for blame are inevitably a minority within the society, never the majority.  Given the longstanding hatred of Jewish people in German society—and European society as a whole—they became an easy target, since they made up less than three percent of the population.

            Thus, it is not uncommon in some parts of the world to find every bad thing that happens, every disaster, every bump in the road being blamed on the Zionists—or the Americans.  Often times America and the Jews are linked together in the minds and pronouncements of the demagogues who seek to blame outsiders for their nations’ troubles in order to distract their people from recognizing the true causes of their suffering: the corruption and incompetence of the dictators themselves.

            Not all conspiracy theories and theorists are as dangerous as the Germans who blamed the Jewish people for everything.  Most conspiracy theorists are harmless, even laughable.  They like imagining complicated explanations for well-known events, wanting to believe in a bigger cause for the big disasters that confront us.  They commonly want the latest disaster to be the work of those they already hate, or already have created a conspiracy for.  Or they find a big event so hard to wrap their minds around that they recoil from it—and choose to believe that it didn’t really happen like everyone thinks.  They spend enormous time and energy weaving elaborate tales woven from numerous bits of unrelated data in which they alone discern a beautiful pattern.

            Thus, we find ignorant autodidacts imagining the American government responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001.  They choose to believe their own government, which they already hate, is responsible.  How could a mere handful of Moslem extremists have done something so monstrous, they ask.  Surely it took more than than a couple of airplanes full of jet fuel to destroy the tallest buildings in the United States—or so these conspiracy mongers prefer to believe.

            That human beings, barely six and a half decades after learning how to build heavier than air machines, could actually fly to the moon and back seems more incredible to some people than the incredibly complex conspiracy theory they believe—contrary to all the facts—that the moon landings never occurred and were created by the wizards that make special effects in the movies.

            Knowing that our government and others have secret research projects, one finds people willing to believe that sometime around October 28, 1943, in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, an attempt to render the destroyer escort USS Eldridge invisible instead sent it skittering about in space and time.  The successful time travel event was then covered up.  Evidence that the Eldridge wasn’t even in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard at the time is considered further proof that there really is a cover-up and that the experiment really happened.

            Countering conspiracy theories is impossible, at least in confronting true believers.  If you disagree, you are labeled either a member of the conspiracy, or a helpless dupe.  There are always answers to explain away any objection.  Those who wish to believe the moon landings were created on soundstages in secret government warehouses will never be talked out of their beliefs, even if you took them to the moon and showed them the hardware the astronauts left behind.  Sometimes people simply prefer to believe a complicated conspiracy theory rather than the simple truth.  People find it comforting, perhaps, to believe that there is a person or group who are orchestrating the events that they read in their newspapers.

But bad things can happen sometimes for really stupid reasons.  An important person really can be murdered by a random unemployed nobody who was nuts.  Rich men sometimes do succumb to a minor infection that they left untreated for too long.  Economies randomly cycle up and down just because that’s the way free markets behave.  Bad people do bad things all by their lonesome. 

Just because the clouds look like a bunny rabbit doesn’t mean they really are a bunny rabbit.  Time and chance, as the author of Ecclesiastes wrote, happen to all.  Most of the problems in the world, most of the disasters, are just that: time and chance. No one person or group is running everything.  Stuff happens.

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