The American Nightmare

It’s not a secret that American society has a deep fascination, borderline obsession, with secrets. If “we the people” weren’t so engrossed with the idea of illicit knowledge, then companies like TMZ and People wouldn’t cross the borders of privacy to churn out a tabloid industry worth billions of dollars. The pathological need of the average citizen to control information extends far beyond trite celebrity scandals.

Despite there being an immense amount of problems faced by humanity today, including the escalation of fatal diseases, the depletion of earth’s natural resources, and the upsurge of famine, Americans give a larger amount of attention to conspiracy theories on the supposed internal affairs of our country.

Although countless conspiracies are absolutely baseless (for instance, the widely accepted belief that the US government doused the southern hemisphere with plastic snow last winter), conspiracy theories have played a vital role in balancing power dynamics between the people and the government by lending transparency to the sometimes shady undertakings of politicians. Many Americans have paranoid beliefs about current events; however, understanding the roots of this paranoia and how it contributes to real-life situations in both positive and negative fashions is crucial to understanding the psychological implications of historical events throughout American history.

To understand the power of conspiracy theories, which were once erroneously classified as a product of mental illness, one must first understand the psychological attraction of these theories.

An overarching aspect of mortality is the fear of the unknown. A complete understanding of even a minute fraction of everything in the universe, or even on the Earth, is physically impossible for the human brain. There is an infinite amount of ideas in the universe that individuals simply do not have the brainpower to comprehend, thus enabling imagination to take over.

However, conspiracies are not only a product of human nature, but also the state of the nation. Humanity’s inclination to simplify complexities combined with the intense level of secrecy possessed by governments across the world creates a need for conspiracy theories. When a significant unknown is presented to the public, whether it concerns technology, nature, or politics, it is regular behavior to try to explain it by whatever means necessary.

Furthermore, those who are more inclined to cynicism are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories. It is easy to believe that our government is plotting its constituents’ destruction when one’s perspective has already been marred by global despondency.

Psychologists studying the effect of conspiracy theories on the brain also note that these theories become more believable the more one is exposed to them.  An experiment lead by Michael J. Wood, a researcher at the University of Kent, measured test subjects’ opinions on five conspiracies surrounding Princess Diana’s death.  Four of the five theories stated that malicious parties murdered Diana, whereas the final one detailed Diana’s plot to fake her own death. The participants in this study were found to believe multiple theories on Diana’s passing, despite each story’s contradictions, the more of them they read. This demonstrates the ability of conspiracies to enslave the minds of those who believe.  Therefore, even the most logic-defying conspiracy theories are attractive, and, unfortunately, almost addictive in nature.

In examining some of the more popular conspiracy theories it is evident that they represent a particular fear of the unknown augmented by the political and cultural state of the nation. The widely perpetuated belief that the moon landings of the 60s and 70s were hoaxes initiated by the U.S. government to best our Soviet rivals is emblematic of the change the nation was experiencing at that time.

The Space Race was the most historically significant period of American innovation in space. In this era, rockets, seemingly fueled by the wildest fantasies of that generation, crossed boundary after boundary. Humans were interacting with space physically for the first time in recorded history.

That expanse was once nothing more than a captivating yet inaccessible view and an explanation for astrology. Studying it certainly did not appear to have a practical purpose.  With the advent of spaceflight, everything changed. Space became a human concern and with that so did its marvels, its beauty, and its dangers.

Humanity was reminded that a whole universe existed outside of earth that rendered the daily lives of humans contextually insignificant.This was undoubtedly an intimidating prospect for a generation of people who were raised on the idea that victory in warfare superseded all else. Thus, for many, a simple way of managing that reality was to brand it as a hoax perpetrated by the government.

Additionally, the moon landings occurred in a post-Watergate era, in which politicians were regarded with a certain level of wariness by average citizens. Even though many of the points that made up the conspiracy theories surrounding the moon landings have been disproven, those particular theories provide a concrete example of how extreme uncertainty can lead to widespread suspicion.

Although conspiracy theories are often based on comically incorrect notions, a disheartening number of them have actually been substantiated, including that of the highly inhumane, covert MK-ULTRA program. From the 1950s to the 1970s, rumors ran rampant that the CIA was formulating a mind-control drug and testing it on unsuspecting people. Although this claim would seem to have been taken directly from the plot of some sci-fi movie that bombed tremendously at the box office, it was eventually revealed that the CIA actually engendered this program.

In 1975 a presidential committee called the Rockefeller Commission found that CIA had experimented on mostly unaware subjects with drugs, commonly LSD, in order to stimulate atypical behavior and a multitude of other things pertaining to disoriented brain functions. These callous experiments lead to a wide range of irreversible psychological and physical damage on their subjects, even, sometimes, resulting in their deaths, and contributed to the psychosis of the Unabomber, who underwent severe abuse due to MK-ULTRA during his time at Harvard University.

In the end the CIA was not able to achieve its goal and had ruined the lives of many innocent people in vain. Without the conspiracy theories that first popularized the idea of a government-run mind-control program, it is unlikely that this would have ever been revealed; the substantiation of MK-ULTRA was a defining moment for conspiracy theories.

From the moon landings to mind control, conspiracy theories have molded history by creating a distrust that dramatically impacts the relationship between the government and the public.Although some conspiracy theories are so stunningly illogical that the only benefit that can be derived from them entertainment, many conspiracy theories, both correct and incorrect, can reveal people’s deep fears, passionate desires, and collective expectations for the future.

If nothing else, conspiracy theories are necessary to remind people to never follow anyone or anything blindly and to stay vigilant to the happenings of the world.


— Colette Juran, Staff Writer

Posted by on October 29, 2014. Filed under World News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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