Friday, 28 January 2011

Chris Port Blog #65. Marty Gull - On Conspiracy and Paranoia

© Chris Port, 2010

Conspiracies are a bit like black holes. You can’t see them but you suspect that they’re there. Just because something is invisible doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Like many a physicist before them, conspiracy theorists can publish ‘til they’re damned. It’s proving it that’s the hard part. This takes relentless, obsessive time and effort which can appear similar to (or, indeed, lead to) mental illness.

So, how to tell the difference between a conspiracy and a paranoid delusion? To some extent, one demonstrates the presence of the other. Conspiracies are often a sign of paranoia, and paranoia often creates conspiracies of gossip. The trick is to assume that both theories are possible, then to start observing the behaviour of others and to start comparing the probabilities.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the same methodology used by paranoid conspirators themselves. It’s a vicious gravitational collapse of dialogue into a singular logic. Eventually, one theory becomes more probable than the other. It is not proved, just more probable. Conspiracy theories, like scientific theories, are just a balance of probabilities, a consistency of evidence, a story that makes sense. Any good writer, like any good scientist or detective, is always open to different stories. It’s only when people are uneasy talking openly that a story seems to be hidden. Uneasiness is also one of the first indicators of a conspiracy.

What, then, is a conspiracy? A black hole is the laws of physics gone mad, locked away from the rest of the universe. Similarly, a conspiracy is the law of the land gone mad, collapsing in on itself inexorably until it becomes a law unto itself. Unfortunately, however, conspiracies are still very much part of our universe. Black holes may lurk at the heart of every galaxy, but conspiracies lurk at the heart of every human power system when an ego gets too massive. From a distance, all seems to behave lawfully. Get too close, however, and some unseen force devours the unwary, warping its surroundings like some gravitational venus flytrap.

You can, however, detect the presence of a conspiracy indirectly. Just like black holes, conspiracies have a distorting effect on their neighbours. Roll a loose pebble of conversation and see where it goes. Look for bizarre wobbles in the orbits of your colleagues’ behaviour. Do words correlate with actions and body language? Look into their eyes for those spectrographic traces of red-shifted deceit as their human warmth recedes from you. When someone is sucked over the event horizon of a conspiracy, there are death throes of light and humour as they disappear from the universe of normal social interactions. Eventually you realize that where once stood a person now stands a vacuum, detectable only by unseen edicts, fearful strings, wheels within wheels and fires within fires. All distrust leads, inexorably, to madness. To work with human beings who are strangely ‘not there’ is like being stalked by a little man in the corner of your eye. Turn, and he’s not there...

‘Antigonish’ (or ‘The Little Man Who Wasn’t There’) by Hughes Mearns sums the feeling up quite accurately...

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away...

When I came home last night at three
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door... (slam!)

Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away

So, how to expose a conspiracy? The trick is to realize that, like life itself, it’s only a story. You might tear a leaf from the Prince of Denmark’s madness and put on a play. Something like ‘The Murder of Gonzago’ retitled as ‘The Mouse-trap’. Or ‘Marty Gull’. Watch the expression of the king and his courtiers. Why should an innocent man see anything other than a play? Unless he’s paranoid, of course? Or suspects a conspiracy against him?

‘... The play's the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.’

Are there wheels within wheels in this village, and fires within fires? Probably. It would be a rare seaside town that didn’t have its share of conspiracies. Life, after all, is just stories within stories. Conspiracy or paranoia? They’re both the same thing. Especially when people start to think that deceit is more clever than decency...

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