Of Rorschach and conspiracies
Many myths and conspiracy theories can be reduced to a feature of the human nervous system, finely honed through many years of fight for survival. You see, when you're in the jungle, and you're looking at the confusing pattern of green leaves around you, if something in your brain thinks there's a vague spot of color somewhere that remotely resembles a tiger, there's no doubt about your reaction: you will stop everything you're doing, freeze in place, and try your utmost to figure out where the possible threat is coming from and how to deal with it.
It doesn't matter that the information is vague. It's much better to get scared 10 times every day and be wrong every single time, than ignore a piece of information which is vague but true and get eaten by the tiger. Mother Nature made us see patterns where patterns are not, simply because this overshooting detection mechanism enabled us to survive better.
So this is why we look at random inkblots, made by simply throwing ink on a paper, no intentional design whatsoever (the Rorschach test used in psychology) and we see figures and objects and shapes and whole stories. That's why a child is lying in bed looking at the ceiling, and sees all sorts of creatures and faces, as if it's not just cracked paint on the wall but real cinema. That's why we look at series of random events, completely unconnected but similar in one way or another, and we don't see randomness but conspiracy. The tigers in the primordial forest took care of that.
So if there are similarities between various myths and religions, instead of seeing them as generated by common traits in human psychology, which is the rational and scientific explanation, there is this tendency to suspect vast multi-millenary conspiracies to delude and enslave the unsuspecting people.
Are the financial magnates doing unethical things to obtain more wealth and power? Probably, some of them at least. Are they sometimes working together for their mutual benefit, at the expense of everyone else? I would say yes, I'm sure there are all sorts of secret dealings and groups and cabals at that level in finance. Are they attempting to curb the way of history for profit? Very likely, yes.
But to go from here to an alleged world-wide conspiracy, spanning ages and cultures and continents, uninterrupted, consistent and all-powerful, it's lunacy.
Look at a school of fish, how they appear to swim synchronized with each other, the whole group a thousand individuals strong appearing to move, stop and turn as one. Does that mean there's somehow a "group mind" at work here? No, it's just a bunch of dumb fish, each one of them looking only at a handful of neighbors and attempting to coordinate its swimming with them according to very simple rules. Look at the bees in a hive building the hexagonal lattice of the honeycomb, so regular and beautiful and perfect. Are they "conspiring" with each other, is there a conscious group consensus guiding them? No, it turns out each bee builds its own tiny cell and because they all work exactly the same, according to very simple but very rigid rules, the amazing complexity emerges as simply the sum of a large number of trivial interactions.
Similarly, there may be dishonest politicians or unethical bankers twisting or sometimes straight out breaking the rules for their own selfish interest, making everyone else a victim. This kind of individuals have always existed, still exist now and will probably continue to exist. What powerful people want above all, is more power, of course. What rich people want above all, is more money. It's just human nature. But does that imply there's some sort of "hive mind", an evil conspiracy of the rich and powerful, reaching from the depths of history to enslave all of us in the future?
You may answer "yes", if the pattern detection mechanisms in your brain are overshooting just a bit more than the average, and if you're carrying some hidden (or sometimes not so hidden) paranoic tendencies - the fear of the tiger, distilled and handed down from parent to child across innumerable generations. For everyone else, still in possession of their rational faculties, and able to employ a healthy sense of realism when judging the situation, the answer can only be "no".
A lesson from Umberto Eco
Switching to literature, if you ask me who are my favourite authors, very likely somewhere in the Top 5 list you'll find the name Umberto Eco. While teaching semiology at the University of Bologna, he is also the author of several successful novels published over the last 30 years or so. I enjoyed very much reading his first title, "The Name of the Rose", also made into a film starring Sean Connery (just read the book, the movie is entirely optional); it's a book for people who love books, I guess that's the best way to describe it. But of all his works of fiction my favorite is the next one, "Foucault's Pendulum".
It's hard to characterize "Foucault's Pendulum" in just a few words. It has been described as "the thinking person's Da Vinci Code", but that's like saying a Rolls Royce is the rich person's scooter. It's slightly biographic, due to similarities between some characters and the author. It's detective fiction worthy of Agatha Christie or A.C. Doyle. It deals with secret societies and, finally, its entire structure is based on the ten Sefiroth of the Kabbalah.
And it's very satisfyingly complex. At the beginning of his career, Eco used to support the theory of infinite semiosis - which means, from any given symbol, potentially an infinite number of meanings and messages can be derived. He later abandoned this extreme view, but a remnant of it is still visible in his works of fiction - everything is a symbol, and scores upon scores of interpretations pile up upon each other. The complexity is both horizontal (many different details weaving the plot) and vertical (many different levels of interpretation for essentially everything in the book). The focal point zooms left and right, back and forth, up and down through this three-dimensional network of details and interpretations, gradually exposing a big lattice of symbols and meanings, valid at every level, dense in every point, vast in its scope.
There's a series of characters in this book, which at first appear to be just your garden-variety New Age lunatics, obsessed with secret societies, and "mystical powers", and magic, and "occult knowledge". Rightfully, the author calls them (through the words of one of his main characters) "the diabolicals", not so much due to some luciferian magic they may possess (ultimately, they do not, although the book, not willing to put a finite cap on the process of semiosis, is predictably ambivalent in that regard), but for the inherent evil accompanying any distortion of truth, any voluntary relinquishment of the fact-based, reality-based thinking in favor of misty dreamy paperback-style imagination.
The "diabolicals" in the "...Pendulum" might be seen as plain deluded individuals, feverish as they are with the dream (or rather nightmare) of secret societies jousting for world domination, but they do act based on their delusions - and then evil ensues, not of the magical persuasion, but regular down to earth thievery, blackmail and murder. They act based simply on dreams and illusions, but dreams and illusions can be very powerful when they substitute reality and attempt to change reality when it refuses to acknowledge them and give them its fiat and its stamp of approval.
You'll have to read the book to get all the nuances and the entire scope and depth of it, but for the moment just heed my word - it paints an image of scorching criticism of the "diabolicals", of the obsessed and the deluded and the secret societies nutjobs. Watching "Zeitgeist" I was instantly reminded of this book and of the "diabolicals". This is a movie that the "diabolicals" would make and would enjoy watching. This is a movie that plays to every single fiber of paranoia and every single figment of delusion of this kind of people. Unable to grasp the world in the clear and firm hold of reason, they paint it over in the colors of unreality and call it "secret truth" and scoff at any attempt to wake them up from the unwholesome trance.
And maybe that's not the right thing to do - waking them up. Not having the firm foundation of reason to stand upon, all they can do is fill the void with imagination. Clutching at straws for meaning and coherence, and not being able to obtain them, anything else will do - secret societies, the Synarchy, the government, the financial tycoons... something, ANYthing has to explain the mystery and dispel the confusion. Quote Umberto Eco, via two of his characters in the book (both of them atheists):
When I told Lia about this episode, she said: "If you ask me, he was sincere. He really did want to get it all off his chest. You think he can find anyone at police headquarters who will listen to him wonder whether Jeanne Canudo was right-wing or left? He only wanted to find out if it's his fault he can't understand it or if the whole thing is too difficult. And you weren't able to give him the one true answer."
"The one true answer?"
"Of course. That there's nothing to understand. Synarchy is God."
"Yes. Mankind can't endure the thought that the world was born by chance, by mistake, just because four brainless atoms bumped into one another on a slippery highway. So a cosmic plot has to be found - God, angels, devils. Synarchy performs the same function on a lesser scale."
"Then I should have told him that people put bombs on trains because they're looking for God?"
And there you have it. The ultimate explanation for the deeds of the "diabolicals" in the book. The ultimate explanation and the reason of being of the movie "Zeitgeist" - when the mind is asleep and the reason is taking a day off, all sorts of other things pile up to fill in the void. Then you see patterns where patterns are not. You see evil plots and group consciousness where it's really just a school of dumb fish. And the whole world is a giant Rorschach test, secrets and conspiracies and false flags seemingly springing forth out of the inkblot of reality.
For, without a mind, reality indeed is as dark and obscure as ink. Stop for a moment, quell the childish excitement and fantasy, and open your eyes. There's a wonderful world out there, intricate and surprising and beautiful. If only you start thinking about it.