A few weeks back I did an article on Jeffrey Epstein, convicted human trafficker and mega millionaire, and how his life was a tragic case of a man giving into temptation. Now, at the time I am writing this, Epstein has passed away via an apparent suicide. I say “apparent” due to the controversy that’s arisen surrounding his death. He was supposed to be on suicide watch yet details have emerged suggesting some potential foul play. And though I’m not one for mass conspiracy theories, this one was of particular interest to me.
Before we get going, it should be said that whenever I hear the word “conspiracy”, I am immediately drawn to skepticism. To think that secret societies have aligned themselves for the purpose of “controlling the masses” is a far-fetched idea. One that’s been explored in the pages of many dystopian fictions, but never fully realized in real life. Yet that doesn’t mean people haven’t tried (see World War II). Nor does it mean some theories have been put to rest because sufficient time has passed (see the Kennedy assassination and the moon landing).
At the heart of every conspiracy is an Us vs. the World posture. A belief there’s someone — or some entity — organizing a calculated and focused suppression of information and free exchange of thought. We just need to figure out who it is and stop them. Before it’s too late.
As such, conspiracy theories aren’t all that difficult to believe in. Every one of us feels this tension at one point or another. And from a bystander’s point of view, Epstein’s death could appear to have inconsistencies worth noting. Epstein’s status as rich, powerful, and well connected would lead us to think his life, even behind bars, would be protected. However, his premature death appears to be, for lack of a better word, suspicious. The figures just don’t add up. So even if you’re someone who doesn’t prescribe to conspiracies, or perhaps you’re just curious to see where this is going, I’m willing to pose a question that perplexes me as much as a good conspiracy perplexes the theorist: why might we believe so ardently in conspiracies?
Deciphering Truth From Experience
It’s said that if you repeat something enough, it becomes the truth. A lie can live or die based upon the willingness of its listener base. In other words, as long as there are people willing to believe a lie, a lie can exist.
The tricky part is figuring out what’s a lie and what’s the truth. For example, the first half of our life is spent taking people’s words at face value. When we’re young, our minds are like sponges. Parents, guardians, and teachers become established points of authority on all things unknown. Even our peers can be of influence on us. If we don’t know something, we rely heavily on others to give us the answers we are seeking.
As we grow and mature, we may start to test the validity of those answers. Some doing so faster than others. And if our experience does not align itself with our previous understandings, then a skeptical mindset can arise. We have . We can choose to ignore or we can choose to explore. The majority of people, I contest, do not explore. We’d rather live with a comfortable ignorance. Why? Because it’s a lot of work to filter every new bit of information we encounter. We’d rather keep certain things on our periphery. We don’t have the bandwidth to do all the research that’s necessary to stay on top of everything. Divvying up the cognitive labor is a must.
And hey, that’s okay. To be wary of every new development would make us paranoid; anxious. We have to be able to trust the words of somebody. Not trusting anybody, or anything, would be a grueling burden.
But being even a little paranoid isn’t enough to turn us into full blown conspiracy theorists, is it? What makes us gravitate in that direction?
What Causes Us to Search for the Truth?
Is it boredom? Is it the persuasions of someone close to us? Is it a need for predictability? We may not profess our search for truth from the mountaintops, but our actions can reveal what we are questing after.
My own interest in Epstein’s suicide is one such example. As a Christian, I acknowledge the corruptible nature of humanity. How people, despite their best efforts, can fall into temptation. My Biblical worldview sees a tragedy like Epstein’s as one piece of a larger narrative. That there are those, like Epstein, who have used their power and influence to exert themselves over others. My worldview beckons I recognize these evils and be more aware of their dealings. So that I don’t fall into the same traps and that I might be able to pray and be mobilized against anything that would spread the spirit of the offense further.
Uprooting human trafficking is but one evil a Biblical worldview detests. There are several others, of course. And depending upon your own worldview, you may see yourself drifting towards narratives that seek to expose what you perceive as a crime also. Do you have a penchant for environmentalism? You may be quick to agree with a narrative that pushes back against CO2 emissions and deforestation. You may even align yourself with initiatives seeking to take down organizations that are counter to your worldview.
Whether they are defined or undefined, our worldviews propel us towards the places where we believe we will find the truth. A conspiracy theory plays on our worldviews like bait on a hook. When we have a specific lens through which we see the world, we will actively go looking for the confirmation we need to justify that worldview. Even if the information available is only a fraction’s worth.
We Think Others Would Conceal the Truth, Because We Do
Perhaps the biggest reason why people jump on conspiracy theories is because, at some level, we understand how easy it is to lie. We have a hard time fessing up to something we did wrong. And we’re quite adept at pointing blame in another person’s direction. This conclusion does not require a Biblical worldview either. We can simply acknowledge how people have a propensity to cover their tracks. Thus, when given an excessive amount of resources, what would stop someone from using those resources to deflect the truth on a larger scale?
This is how ideas surrounding secret societies might formulate. We take a micro-level truth — such as the omission of truth-telling — and then we broadcast it across an entire group. This idea compounds itself when we believe the group omitting the truth is in opposition to us; to our worldview. Then what complicates the story even further is when we believe the other side is not only in opposition to us, but is some representative of evil as well. Because what else would suppress the truth? Something perverse and evil, of course.
In this way, our quest is a noble one. Unlocking the mystery could make us a hero. I’m sure many conspiracy theorists believe their work is validated because of this reason. Am I not doing something good? Is this not a righteous cause to get behind? And honestly, who doesn’t want to be seen as a hero if given the chance to?
To me, conspiracy theories are like albino deer. Elusive and intriguing, we could spend a lifetime hunting one down only to fall short of ever catching one. The case of Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide, like so many others before it, may never see an appropriate measure of closure. But its breadcrumbs will keep skeptics digging at the details, hoping to discern the truth behind the story. And I’ll admit, I’m one of those interested in seeing where the breadcrumbs are headed.
Does that make me a conspiracy theorist? Until details emerge that might convince me otherwise, sure. Either way, I know I’ll have company in the meantime.