Conspiracy Theories


With the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination looming, there will be the usual spate of documentaries and articles… many of them revisiting the various theories about what really happened on that morning in Dallas. I watched a bit of one the other night, and at one point the semi-sleazy “investigator” was poking around Dealey Plaza, eventually looking out the window of the book depository next to the one Oswald fired from. And he said, in a tone that came close to suggesting thoughtfulness, “this is a really difficult place to make a shot from.”

Which, pardon me, is utter bullshit.

I’ve been to Dealey Plaza, looked out that same window. It’s a ridiculously easy place to take a shot from. Elm Street slopes gently downward and away from the window, and a car moving at 10 mph would likely seem to stay suspended there for an eternity. It’s all very compact and surprisingly tiny, and you can easily imagine how simple it would be, in the torpor of 1963 Dallas, for a nobody like Oswald to bring a rifle upstairs, open a window, and fire it a few times.

When you assume Oswald acted alone, it’s all very simple and everything falls into place. But when you start picking away at details like how a human head reacts when it’s shot from behind, or the fuzzy implications of 50-year-old acoustics captured on a radio, you quickly fall down a rabbit hole in which anything might have happened. Several shooters? The Dallas police in on the whole thing? The hit ordered by Lyndon Johnson… or Fidel Castro… or the Mafia?  Or, hell, all of them? The more shadowy it gets, the more you get to project your own stuff onto the event, until it’s not about Kennedy anymore. It’s all about you.

Meanwhile, many of the people who are into endlessly poring over this event are lying to themselves about what they’re really up to. Which is having a convenient excuse to indulge a prurient fascination with watching a handsome young President’s head blow apart, over and over and over. And, often, an excuse to neglect their own issues, their own relationships and responsibilities that need tending to while they zoom in on blurry photographs and ponder, endlessly.

So yeah, I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. Do people conspire and collude, and lie? Of course. Just look at tobacco companies, to take a convenient example. But I don’t believe that the President has special superhuman powers, or that the government has secret, shadowy knowledge and intentions. Who is “the government,” anyway? It’s a bunch of politicians and bureaucrats who are anxious, above all else, to hang on to their jobs. Have you ever been in a government office? Been to the DMV? Seen the ancient computers, felt the dead atmosphere of sloth and anxiety, cynicism and indifference? Do you think those people are capable of mounting a conspiracy? They can’t even take a decent driver’s license photo.

For that matter, I don’t believe in UFOs, alien abductions, faked moon landings, 9/11 “trutherism” or any of that nonsense. To me, it’s not just bullshit but an expression of deep powerlessness… an adult version of a child’s perception that Daddy and Mommy know everything, and are doing strange unknowable things in the other room that end up controlling and thwarting us. “They” know the Truth, but they aren’t telling us.

Here’s the thing: when you grow up, you realize that Daddy and Mommy are human beings, limited and flawed and doing what they can just to make it through another day. And screwing you up with only the best intentions. Or perhaps just telling themselves they have the best intentions. I don’t believe in conspiracies, but I believe in accidents and messes and fuckups. I believe in stupidity and selfishness and ineptitude. Callousness and willful blindness and plain old mistakes. Oh, yes, I do believe in those.

And as endemic as they are, who needs a conspiracy?

Photo from arstechnica