Why Are Conspiracy Theories So Addictive?

A couple of weeks ago, for reasons I can’t entirely remember, I started reading a book by David McGowan (who was a major figure in the 9/11 Truth movement) called “Weird Scenes from the Canyon.”

Weird Scenes from the Canyon is not about 9/11. It’s about popular culture. McGowan, who died back in 2015, argues that the hippie culture of the 1960s, which many people from “my generation” (Generation X to be specific) resent having missed, was not about peace, love and idealism. Rather, the iconic counterculture of the 1960s was actually a psyop by the CIA and Army Intelligence to misdirect the anti-war movement into world of hedonism and selfish individualism. But it gets even better. The counterculture of the 1960s was more than just a dirty trick to make anti-war protesters tune in, turn on, and drop out (of the anti-war movement) is was a sinister world of death, drugs, and pedophilia. I was shocked, for example, to learn that Neil Young (whom I’ve worshipped for years) was good friends with Charles Manson.

Weird Scenes from the Canyon is not a well-argued or well-written book. McGowan doesn’t even come close to proving his case. Just about the only thing he succeeds in doing is compiling a list of just how many iconic rock musicians had some connection to the military industrial complex. Jim Morrison’s father, for example, was the high ranking naval officer who planned the Gulf of Tonkin hoax. Frank Zappa’s family was involved in making chemical weapons. David Crosby is from a ruling class family closely connected with New York Van Cortlandts. Even working class Chicago Polish kid Ray Manzarek attempted to enlist in the Army Intelligence Corps, and, while he proved a bit too flaky to last, was allowed to sell drugs before he was discharged. The drug deals funded his graduate school at UCLA, where he met Jim Morrison. It’s all fascinating trivia but in the end, it’s only trivia. World War II meant an almost universal military mobilization. If every early Boomer with relatives who worked for the Military Industrial Complex had been part of some sinister conspiracy there wouldn’t have been many people outside of it. What’s more, McGowan goes on long tangents about unrelated issues, jumps around in time, and never quite gets to making his case. It’s a tedious read that makes you feel stupid after you’ve put it down, intellectual junk food.

I’m an educated man. I have a degree in English from a fairly reputable university and I’m working on a second degree in computer science and applied mathematics from another fairly reputable university. My family, for all its problems, was secular and liberal. I’ve studied history. It’s almost impossible to fool me with a fake Lincoln or Jefferson quote because I’m a pretty good judge of what language people used in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and how different it is from our own. I’ve read Marx and Adam Smith. I’ve studied economics. I know that there’s no grand, unifying, sinister conspiracy controlling history. And yet, I find grand, unifying conspiracy theories endlessly fascinating, almost necessary for my sanity. Last week, for example, when they finally arrested Jeffrey Epstein, my first impulse was to log onto the Internet and try to find some semi-coherent conspiracy explaining why they finally arrested him after all these years when almost everybody not in a coma for the past decade has long since realized he was a pedophile and a sex trafficker for the elite. Yes, I realize that every once in awhile the American ruling class will thrown some particularly egregious one of their own (Bernie Madoff, Martin Shkreli, and now Epstein) to the wolves, if only to prove that the system “works,” that “we’re a nation of laws.” But I couldn’t help but wonder. “Why now?”

In an excellent article in an online magazine called The Cut, Lisa Miller gives a rational explanation for both my fascination with Weird Scenes from the Canyon and my befuddlement over why the establishment finally decided to put Jeffrey Epstein in jail. Miller is a few years older than I am, part of what I like to call the “Boomer X Generation,” people born from 1960 to 1968, too young for the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s but too old to be part of Generation X proper. Jeffrey Epstein, she argues, dredging up bad memories from my childhood about the cynicism and vulgarity of the late 1970s and early 1980s that had replaced the idealism of the 1960s, is what happens when the “sexual revolution” turns rancid, when it stops being about imagining a better world and starts being about an excuse for the rich and privileged to exploit the poor and vulnerable.

“The sexual revolution,” writes Maurice Isserman in America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, “was an insurgency rooted in the conviction that the erotic should be celebrated as an utterly normal part of life.” This conviction, though admirable in concept, has mostly failed in practice. A generation of entrepreneurial and “brilliant” men took the job of defining the “erotic” for everyone else, without consulting or including the intepretations of women, and then purveyed to the masses an eros that degraded women and girls while pitching it as “healthy.” And then a generation of high-minded consumers accepted that definition — together with their belief in their natural right to be titillated — without making any meaningful distinctions between preferences and kinks and crimes.


While there was no grand, unifying conspiracy organized by Army Intelligence and the CIA, the counterculture of the 1960s had been a scam. We had all been duped, not only those early Boomers who thought that smoking pot and fucking could replace doing the hard work of ending the war and racism, but us Generation Xers who longed for a time when popular mass culture was “good,” when Grace Slick and Marty Balin were writing Somebody to Love and not We Built this City. The rich and powerful had gotten even more rich and powerful. The working class got nothing a long cultural hangover and meaningless nostalgia.

Shortly after Watergate Stevie Wonder wrote one of the greatest protest songs in American history.

While You Haven’t Done Nothin’ was written as an attack on Richard Nixon, it seems more suited to the current day Democrats, to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. The Republicans under Trump aren’t even pretending that they’re going to “change right from wrong.” All they offer is nihilism and racism, the idea that the world is a shitty place and that the strong (rightfully) eat the weak. They are what they are. Cunts. The Democrats, on the other hand, pretend to be something different, enlightened liberals who, if only we give them another chance, will make the world a better place this time, honest. After Barack Obama won in 2008 on the ideas of “hope and change” and then proceeded to give us 8 more years of George W. Bush, of war and elite privilege, repression and hypocrisy, nobody believes them. Or should I say no working class person believes them. The upper-middle-class, the lawyers, doctors, university professors and professional journalists, the “professional managerial class” still seem to buy into the idea that the Democrats are playing some kind of “12-Dimensional Chess,” that if only we keep voting for them they’re going to “change right from wrong.” Is it “bad faith?”? No. it’s worst. Upper middle-class Americans have convinced themselves that bad faith isn’t bad faith at all but intelligence and sophistication, the ability to see “nuance.” Sure Obama let the criminal bankers who crashed the economy in 2008 off the hook scot free but if only us peasants understood the law, we’d understand that he had to.

In her article in Politico, a write named Holly Otterbein points out that the class differences between Democrats who support Elizabeth Warren and Democrats who support Bernie Sanders has more to do with class than ideology or race. The professional managerial class supports Warren. The working class supports Sanders.


It’s not hard to see why. Sanders did attend the University of Chicago, an elite institution by any definition, but unlike most politicians he did not go onto law school. Instead he moved to Vermont and struggled for years before he finally emerged as the Mayor of Burlington and then a US Senator. Unlike Warren and Harris, both lawyers, Bernie Sanders doesn’t seem to be temperamentally capable of mistaking bad faith for intelligence. Everybody knows that Warren and Harris will eventually back off of their promises to support Medicare for All. The working class knows it. The professional managerial class knows it. But unlike the Professional Managerial Class the working class won’t confuse bullshit for intelligence. They seem confident that while Sanders may fail to enact Medicare for All that at least he’ll probably try. Warren and Harris on the other hand will argue that their watered down, fake version of Medicare for All (which will undoubtedly have the blessings of the big insurance companies) is what we needed all along, if only all of us ignorant proles could understand the reasons.

That in the end brings me back to conspiracy theories. Why are they so popular? They assume “bad faith” on the part of the corporate media and mainstream politicians, and they never try to bullshit us into thinking that this bad faith is actually intelligence, sophistication and nuance. At this point, with a gutted, underfunded media, captured regulatory agencies, and lying bought out main stream politicians it’s probably the most rational way to look at the world. As ridiculous as many conspiracy theories are, when somebody is pissing on your head, none of them try to convince you that it’s raining. Just the opposite. That pigeon who shit on my head last week? He meant it.

13 thoughts on “Why Are Conspiracy Theories So Addictive?”

  1. How’s this take? While I don’t believe in world-wide or nation-wide conspiracies per se, I do believe in a “mass mind,” which is heavily influenced by the media of the day, including newspapers, books, periodicals, television, radio, movies, and these days, the internet and social media.

    Advertisers and propagandists, religions, and governments (as well as pollsters) specialize in tapping the trends of the “mass mind” and turning it to their advantage, or trying to. While this does not add up to “conspiracy,” because each group has its own agenda, it does give rise to an ever-evolving idea of what constitutes “normal.”

    How many people do you know who actually do their own thinking? Referring to your example of “Medicare for All,” how many people actually ask what this means, or is it just a catch-phrase for PR purposes? No one is talking about what people could expect under such a system. They only talk about the money, but even this in vague terms.

    1. How many people do you know who actually do their own thinking? Referring to your example of “Medicare for All,” how many people actually ask what this means

      (Anybody who’s ever had an elderly parent get sick understands exactly what it is and why it’s a good thing. It’s a little more confusing to me why so many people who would benefit from Medicare for all insist that we need insurance industry executives making 8 figure salaries profiting off the sick. Some other government programs, like nuclear weapons that if they’re ever used will end life on earth, I’m all for abolishing.)

      1. I guess the sticking point is over insurance. I believe everyone should have access to good, basic health care, but I don’t understand the need for insurance, which acts like a toll bridge between patients and actual care. Rather, I would suggest VA for all, in the sense that all taxpayers pay for the VA system, but only vets have access. The families, at least,, who do most of the caretaking, should have VA privileges.

        I know the VA has a bad reputation, but I’ve worked in several of them, and the system itself is pretty good, for training, lines of command and responsibility/accountability, and competence/attitude. Bureaucracy is the pits and has gotten worse over the years, especially since Tricare (insurance) has insinuated itself into the mix.

        It’s a system that’s already in place, could eliminate the middle men, and expanding its domain would cost far less than the fragmented Medicare/Medicaid money pit we have today.

        Why do we pay the government for services when the government contracts them out? It’s like delegating the power to print money to the Fed and borrowing from it. What kind of insanity is that?

    2. Speaking of the 60s counterculture and the debate over Medicare here’s Phil Ochs way back in 1963 on the opponents of Medicare for only old people.

      1. I never liked Ronald Reagan, and I believe government by its nature is inherently socialist. Again, I think it’s important to frame the question to address health care itself, not health care insurance. Different levels of government already run several health care systems, such as public health departments on the local levels. My father was a public health doctor and did things like go to schools to check for head lice, and read chest x-rays taken by a mobile unit that went to the various inner-city neighborhoods. TB was still a significant problem then.

        I could go on and on about how insurance has undermined health care. For instance, because health insurance is often tied to employee “benefits,” (because employers get tax breaks), it has created an artificial need for medical services. In other words, people are more likely to go to the doctor (and get time off work) for minor problems that they wouldn’t otherwise concern themselves with. Most problems are self-limiting, but we do tend to forget that. People with genuine problems that need attention often can’t get timely appointments so end up in the emergency room. Why should the insurance reviewer be in charge of making decisions about care?

        Insurance also removes the patient from the decision-making loop, to a large extent. Negotiations are between the medical staff and the insurance company, so patients get minimal information or input into the decisions. How many people today even know what medications they are on? Most of the ones (public and VA patients) I saw didn’t know what they were on or what the meds were for.

        I could make a case for medical insurance and other government programs keeping patients in a perpetual dependent, child-like role, but this is enough of My Opinion for now.

        And a healthy good evening to you.

        1. I’m not particularly familiar with the history of insurance. I do know my parents had my father’s employer based insurance from my very early childhood until he retired in the 1990s when the company declared bankruptcy and relocated to Mexico. He lost his pension and his insurance. Thankfully by that time they were both in good health and had enough savings and investments to get by. I literally didn’t think about the healthcare system again until they were both on Medicare, which, although it required supplementing saved them both from going broke and allowed them to get a high level of healthcare they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to get.

          So I have a very good opinion of the idea of Medicare for All. It seems to work with elderly people who need a lot of healthcare. Why wouldn’t it work even better bringing young people into the system who need much less healthcare and would still be paying taxes? Medicare for Also eliminates the insurance industry and for my part I think if you’re going to be compelled to buy health care as we are after Obama, that health care should be public and subject to the democratic process. We shouldn’t be subsidizing private insurance companies with our tax money. Also, wouldn’t Medicare for All be less likely to cultivate dependency? Doesn’t that impulse on the part of insurance companies come from the profit motive? Sure there’s the institutional tendency of bureaucracy to increase for the sake of increasing, but that at least would be subject to the control of elected representatives, not multi millionaire insurance CEOs.

          ps My father was a liberal Democrat for most of his life but for some bizarre reason he bought into the Swift Boat propaganda and voted for Bush in 2004. He later expressed regret for it since he was a Marine Corps vet and lost some of his benefits due to DIck Cheney (or so he said and I’ve never looked too deeply into it).

          1. I’m glad your parents got good care through Medicare, but you need to know that Medicare is insurance, administered mostly through Blue Cross/Blue Shield. It is funded through payroll taxes payed equally by workersand employers. Payroll taxes (Medicare and Social Security) fund about 40 percent of federal revenues, and income taxes provide another 40 percent. Right now, the younger people subsidize the older people’s health care, but if the system is expanded, the current Ponzi scheme will fall apart. Medicare already rations health care, and if it is expanded, you can expect to see a lot more rationing.

            1. I think at some point you make a decision about what you want to fund and what you don’t want to fund. Medicare is ultimately just a mechanism like anything else (although it does have certain advantages like the bulk buying of drugs and the elimination of the huge profits insurance companies make because you don’t really have to continue to use Blue Cross/Blue Shield). I think Carl Sagan said it best. What are our priorities?

              I’m happy in some way neither of my parents lived to see the Trump era. They were both frail at the end of their lives and would have probably needed extended care in a nursing home. My family is far from the poorest of the poor but I don’t know how either my brother or I would have managed that. Kind of horrifying in a way that I feel that kind of relief at no longer having parents but there it is.

              p.s. I don’t think “Ponzi Scheme” is an appropriate term for a genuine part of the economy like health care. Wall Street is a Ponzi Scheme. Amway is a Ponzi Scheme. But healthcare? That’s a necessity that we should be spending more on.

  2. Some see “end of USA Empire”, I’m seeing a “cabal” above Trump, and connected with players in Britain, France and Germany, that has worked against “environmental responsibility” for decades. But I wonder why that cabal is sooooo attached to oil and industrial expansion, it doesn’t look like simply “money” that inspires this “ecocide”, some Bilderberg/Illuminati “religious ideal” beyond normal human greed.

    1. Well big oil’s no more of a secret than Wall Street. I remember during the Bush years marching against he Iraq war carrying a sign that said “no blood for oil.” It’s simply one of the major powers that control the American economy.

      Even Obama brags about it.

      The only thing that really baffles me is that there are Americans dumb enough to believe that sanctions against Venezuela are about “human rights.” Yeah. The American ruling class cares about human rights. That’s why the Saudi government can chop one of their own journalists up alive with a bone saw and still remain an American ally.

      Another interesting thing is that it’s not really the ruling class that celebrates ecocide but the pro-Trump working class. Ever hear of the term “rolling coal?”


      Destroying the earth to own the libs.

      1. Its a death cult. They all want to psychologically comfort themselves about the death of the earth by actively speeding it up because at least then even the death of the earth is all about them.

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