“They will hate you if you are beautiful. They will hate you if you are successful. They will hate you if you are right. They will hate you if you are popular. They will hate you when you get attention. They will hate you when people in their life like you. They will hate you if you worship a different version of their God. They will hate you if you are spiritual. They will hate you if you have courage. They will hate you if you have an opinion. They will hate you when people support you. They will hate you when they see you happy. Heck, they will hate you while they post prayers and religious quotes on Pinterest and Facebook. They just hate. However, remember this: They hate you because you represent something they feel they don’t have. It really isn’t about you. It is about the hatred they have for themselves. So smile today because there is something you are doing right that has a lot of people thinking about you” ― Shannon L. Alder
Civilization exists out of spite. Spite for nature. Spite for gods. Spite for our fellow man. Let’s face it, we organize into communities and social groups so that we may thumb our noses at the universe. You drop an Ice Age on us, we invent clothing and fire. Screw you, weather. You’re a big three ton hairy mammal with tusks. I’ve flaked a Clovis point for you, buddy. Angry gods flood the earth or sends a drought to kill our crops? Well we showed you. We built boats, and canals, and stashed away enough grain to get through the hard times. Can’t trust Caveman Bob to not club you over the head in your sleep and steal the shiny doodad you stole from somebody else? Well, we’ll just form the body politic, enact some laws, invent some monsters and divine justice, and everyone decides to play the odds and keep in line just in case there’s any kind of afterlife or system of karmic retribution. Civilization is the conspiracy at the heart of philosopher Thomas Hobbe’s “war of all against all”. And it works pretty darn well. Most of us even pay off our student loans. As Scottish politician John Buchan said, “Civilization is a conspiracy. Modern life is the silent compact of comfortable folk to keep up pretenses”. Darn it, I’ll just note anything weird on the cave wall and move on with my life of collecting nuts and berries and killing sabertooth tigers. Got to make a living. Or at least avoid dying.
Astonishingly, we haven’t come very far. I get up every morning. Make some coffee. Take the kids to school. Pay my bills. Write some text analysis software for a megacorp that couldn’t care less whether it’s some sort of conceptual advancement or not as long as the clicks increase, collect my paycheck, and during my downtime, I wonder what the hell is wrong with reality. And what’s wrong with reality is that it is a cultural conspiracy of consensus. Act normal. Do your job. Raise kids. Adopt a dog, for god’s sake. Don’t you understand that your life is short? You’re born, you live, you die, and the most you can be expected to hope for is that your children don’t hate you and you can pass a little of your money and world view on to the next generation. Unfortunately, at the root of our collective angst is the notion that this annoying human consciousness is capable of something more, able to discern some of the subtleties of existence, that we persist as a vector for something more than genetic material.
Every generation produces a portion of the intellectually anarchistic, who recognize that we have encapsulated ourselves in a functional world view. It’s all very practical. Most folks find living to be its own reward. Grow up strong. Find the love of your life. Raise beautiful children that care about their fellow man. Sometimes it’s called orthodoxy. Other times we call it logic and rationality. And about all other things we remain skeptical. Yet, you can’t hate a skeptic. A skeptic says, “this world view works, most of the time, for most people”. And as much as I’m loathe to admit it, they are right. When I watch something scary with my son, I too tell him that ghosts aren’t real. I don’t want him to have nightmares or grow up jumping at shadows. Of course my wife did invent, and I wholeheartedly approve of, the “Green Car Fairy” (a close relative to the Tooth Fairy), who pays a dollar for every ten green cars you can spot on the highway. You’d be amazed at how easy it makes long distance road trips. We’ve agreed to this fiction. While the die hard and uncompromising atheist will find this to be the foundation of all religion and belief in the supernatural, I would instead argue that we have all been trained, throughout history as to when it is appropriate to suspend disbelief. Obviously, this is influenced by time and culture. It’s not about stupidity or credulity. In the Dark Ages, we believed the priest. In the modernist world we believe the scientist. When anomalies emerge, we fall back on our civilized consensus about what is allowed to exist.
Yet, beneath our firm convictions in what the ontological status of our existence is, we suspect we are being conned. Not being conned by the hoaxers, salesmen, or luminaries of our current paradigm, but by civilization itself, which has been and always will be the ultimate bait and switch. The world is a vast and scary place, filled with dark thoughts and malign motivations from which we must defend ourselves, and while we quite practically agree to the compromise civilization offers us, that is safety and security in return for compliance (if not acceptance), the very nature of this devil’s bargain is rooted in a willingness to ignore that we are ourselves conspirators, and while we may not be initiates of the highest order, we understand the value of pretense. We conspire against ourselves.
Thus, when things go wrong, logic fails, or anomalies emerge, rather than recognize that the contract we have signed with civilization requires us to take a certain disinterest or turn a blind eye, we maintain a sneaking suspicion that conspiracy is afoot, which is perfectly reasonable, since we ourselves are part of the conspiracy. We’re sure that “someone knows”, someone in our political, social, and educational institutions is aware of an “unarmed truth” carefully hidden from the rest of us. This is why anomalous phenomena are so closely linked to conspiracy theories, be it a paradigmatic and classificatory conspiracy that polices the boundaries of the real and unreal, or a secret knowledge that is hoarded by a select few for nefarious purposes.
Consequently, a current of thought that underlies many of the subfields of anomalistics is a confidence that everything will be clear after a mysterious vanishing point called “disclosure” – that we know as a society that UFO’s, ghosts, Bigfoot, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster exist and we simply need to unearth the conspiracy that has purposefully kept them obscure for millennia, lurking about the fringes of consciousness, rationality, and polite society. These are the things that will never be true in this culture, and this place, but may once have been true somewhere else and may once again in the future. We see the conspiracy, but as co-conspirators in creating our current ideosphere, we can do nothing about. Unless you want to live in a small cabin in the hills of Montana, that is. And even then, one is accepting their status as contagion in the body of civilization.
It seems imprudent to imagine there is truth simply awaiting its moment to be revealed, since we are conscious creatures that both articulate and disarticulate the boundaries of existence, creating and recreating realities, carefully filing plausibilities and implausibilities on their respective shelves for future examination. It’s a poker game in dark room where the dealer keeps smiling at you as if he knows something, when in fact he can’t see his cards any better than you can.
Civilization exists to push the monsters back out into the forest and away from the comforting circle of the campfire, until such time as we feel we can confidently assert the monsters no longer exist. Civilization is our fearful and spiteful reaction to a strange universe filled with the unpredictable, the unexplainable, and the uncanny, a bulwark against the possibility that the dearly held beliefs that rule the day may be challenged at any moment, or to put it succinctly, our conspiracy will be uncovered. Perhaps, anomalists and seekers after the strange would be wise to take to heart Hunter S. Thompson’s observation that “There is no such thing as paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any moment”.
but monsters don’t always eat faces.
great writing you have here
That’s true. I’m given to understand that many of our bones are quite crunchy and delicious as well.
Our society no longer has a need for invented monsters. We are the monsters :).
I don’t believe that the “Cave Man” ever existed in the form meemed by the media and education. There have always been people who live in caves. It’s all part of the “Linear Conspiracy” that supports “Progress”. Progress is a word that means we are going somewhere when we are not, that we are better or better-off in some undefined way than were those who went before us – very difficult to prove. Progress is the word used by those who already have too much money, wanting more – not difficult to prove.
Civilization is about being ruled by a government, king or a dictator who sees the rest of us as the enemy.
I would say that there is a very old conspiracy at work here somewhere?