We always have a tendency, and it is a natural thing, to think that whatever happens to us is new, unique, and extraordinary. And it is so because it happens during our lifetime, which, after all, is especially important for us. In many cases, however, events or movements of ideas today have precedents in the depths of history, and it is not without purpose if we were to search for them to better understand how others have dealt with these events or movements, and how we can deal with them too.
Of course, one can go back quite far and quite easily to find examples, in the last few centuries, of situations where people have developed theories accusing a group of people of being secretly responsible for the misfortunes of other folks. An iconic example is “the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a text first written in 1864 accusing Napoleon III of wanting to rule the world, then presented in 1903 by the Russian secret police as a text supposedly written and signed by the world’s leading Jewish and Freemasonic leaders explaining how they were going to take control of the planet. Other examples, which are even older, can easily be found, including the so-called conspiracies and blasphemies of the Knights Templar, which were invented by Philip the Fair and the Papacy only to end, in 1314, with an order that was powerful and ambitious and then it was no longer so. And many other cases.
But there is more: in fact, conspiracy refers to a very natural tendency of the human mind: the search for a single cause for every even and phenomenon. Even the least explicable ones.
In the West, we find traces of this very early on, with Aristotle, who sought to discern a cause emanating from the universe behind everything, and who found such cause in a unifying principle, which he called “the prime mover.” After him, others sought and still seek through science the hidden cause of the Universe, without prejudging good and evil. First Democritus with his atomic theory, then Lorentz with his ether theory, then again with the discovery of the various forces of nature. Despite the dismay caused by Albert Einstein’s work, the search for a single cause has not stopped, and still continues, with the discovery of the boson, string theory and many other fascinating and still provisional speculations.
Others, since the earliest antiquity, have been searching for a single benevolent cause, or at least a fair one. We find them, in the first texts transcribing the first monotheistic narratives, the Bible. Then in other revelations, which find in the divine mystery, an explanation of the human condition. Hope. What we could call, in a vulgar vocabulary, a type of conspiracy for good.
Still, there are others who have sought the hidden cause of evil, which is ever present in the world. Some have found it in the thousands of deities vying for control of humanity, others in the idea of a Devil, and others in plots led by human beings for their personal benefit. Or out of pure taste for evil.
Today’s poor conspiracy theories are part of this long history. They are poor amalgams of trivial evidence and absurd lies. They are only given importance because social networks give them unprecedented resonance, and because they can do a lot of harm in the process.
To fight these conspiracies, we must first understand that most human beings cannot admit that the world is absurd or inexplicable. And that some need an enemy to hate and others need a god to worship. Some need both. Moreover, others need a rational explanation. Others know how to reconcile reason with faith and science with revelation.
We can understand then that conspiracy, satisfied with just pointing out scapegoats, is just the false, dull, rigged, devious version of the grandiose human quest for unifying the Universe.