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Why We Persist in Monster Hunting and Conspiracy Theories

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Think Pieces | July 28, 2014 |


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Finding Bigfoot aired their season six finale last night. They still didn’t find Bigfoot so their show is as increasingly misnamed as the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. Well I mean, I assume they didn’t find him since I didn’t watch it or anything, because I have standards and no cable. And those two increasingly go together as well.

When you’re getting that level of cynical heat from someone who’s writing this with a copy of Mulder’s “I Want to Believe” poster of a UFO tacked onto the wall next to him, you know you’ve really crossed the line.

I used to love the conspiracy theory stuff. Aliens and government cover-ups. The JFK assassination and government cover-ups. Strange and inexplicable occurrences and government cover-ups. I’m sensing a pattern. One of my favorites was the argument that the television show Star Trek was part of a popish plot to brainwash American youth. The government probably covered it up, otherwise you’d know more about it. Either that or the terrible truth is that it worked.

And then I grew up.

That’s not to say that I started becoming boring, started not wanting there to be magic in the world, or even that I stopped believing that there actually was. It’s that I learned how to look at evidence and actually evaluate it. Most of these shows will spend thousands of dollars and hours upon hours of television time setting up elaborate cameras, find a single fuzzy looking bit on a single frame, declare that it is obviously something, and then jump to Photoshop to try to turn those four miscolored pixels into whatever it is that they’re looking for. Eager and mindblown, they’ll declare that this here is a tail, and that’s a head, and in that second frame when one pixel shifts shade slightly, that’s OBVIOUSLY the creature noticing the camera.

It’s easy to mock, but it serves as little purpose as waterboarding a trout. They’re so deep into the territory of blind faith, of believing that they already know the answers and any evidence is either manufactured or false, that Jim Jones’ ghost is asking for their koolaid recipe.

None of this is news to anyone reading this, nor to me, but what has bugged me is the ‘why’ of it all. Why is this something that captivated me at one point and then at some point didn’t? The root of it, I realized, is in why I found conspiracy theories fascinating in the first place. They were always presented as being based on some evidence that was unexplained by current understanding, the little bit of evidence that didn’t line up, the smoking gun at the end of the sentence “how can that be true if this”.

And that was fantastically appealing. It was the establishment of mysteries in the world, of questions that we still didn’t have answers to. It fueled the revelation that the universe was a mystery and needed explored. To a young scientist, that is a most wonderful thing to discover. To someone who wants to solve the mysteries of the universe, being presented with a pile of unexplained events is a goldmine of inspiration.

But once you start following the evidence, those mysteries collapse. It turns out that one after another, the unexplained is something quite mundanely explained. And here’s the breaking point, where people tend to go one of three directions. There are those who see mysteries debunked and conclude that there are no mysteries, and allow themselves to fade into a mundane life. There are those who conclude that while these mysteries are not mysterious in the least, they were at least a jumping board to thinking about mystery, in order to delve into the mysteries that really do exist. They see the easy mysteries solved and move on up to the hard mysteries, the ones that require blood, sweat, and math. And then there are those who reject the rejection of their mystery.

Those sorts are the ones who were never looking for answers anyway, despite what they might say. They had already decided they had the answer, and spent their time instead trying to find the unexplained questions that they could fit their answer into. There’s an incredible feeling to knowing that you alone have the answer to something. That the answer is wrong and doesn’t have a question isn’t something that bothers them much, nor centuries of saints before them.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.


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