Conspiracy theories impose order on chaos

Russell Wangersky
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Sometimes, you read something and it rings so completely true that you can’t comprehend a better way to say it. That’s what I thought when I read a snippet on conspiracies attributed to Alan Moore, an English comic book writer whose work includes series like “Watchmen” and “V for Vendetta.”

Here it is: “The main thing that I learned about conspiracy theory is that conspiracy theorists actually believe in a conspiracy because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is chaotic. The truth is, that it is not the Jewish banking conspiracy or the grey aliens or the 12-foot reptiloids from another dimension that are in control. The truth is more frightening: nobody is in control. The world is rudderless.”

I’ve touched on this before: I started working in the media in 1984, and ever since then, I’ve regularly heard from people who were victims of large, organized conspiracies.

Sometimes, they phone the various newsrooms I’ve worked at.

Sometimes, they simply show up at the front desk.

They are utterly convinced and often, as a result, are utterly convincing.

Until you start trying to actually connect the dots they’re offering.

And that’s where the wheels start falling off.


Well, perhaps for the same reason that a whole host of government programs and plans regularly fall off the rails: because they have to be implemented by that most imperfect of things. Humans.

We make mistakes, we gossip, we talk to family members about our work and they talk to other family members, and news spreads.

Hermetically sealed, secret-order brain trusts are not the everyday currency of the human experience, although they might be common in Alan Moore’s graphica world.

That doesn’t stop us from believing that there might be some great secret scheme at work, though.

There was, for years, a prominent Newfoundlander who would chew your ear off with the argument that the referendum that saw Newfoundland join Canada was rigged, and central to his argument was the “fact” that — get this — the complete lack of evidence of such rigging was conclusive proof of the extent of the conspiracy. There’s a brain-twister. (Try it in court: “We have no evidence whatsoever that Mr. Smith robbed the store, your Honour, but that’s proof of what kind of a master criminal he actually is.”)

The basic logic flaw at its core doesn’t stop people from building elaborate constructs, just the same.

Now, people will point to almost anything as proof that massive conspiracies exist: take the ill-fated Sprung greenhouse or the collapse of the northern cod stocks or the constituency allowance scandal.

Sprung wasn’t a conspiracy — it was a stupid mistake followed by the kind of face-saving, arse-

covering foolishness that powerful people resort to when their big ideas turn out to be costly flops.

The collapse of northern cod?

Complex and chaotic for sure, but at the centre, a crisis of misguided intentions.

Given a range of possible total allowable catches by scientists, successive federal fisheries ministers chose the best-case scenario for fish stocks every time, trying to have the least-possible effect on voters — and, in the process, essentially doubling down on every bet until they lost the whole shooting match, as they were guaranteed to eventually do.

Add to that the volume of illegal, unregistered catches by both local and foreign fleets, and the grand conspiracy looks more like the straightforward math problem 10 minus 10 equals zero.

The constituency allowance scandal?

Well, it was more about greed than it was ever about running an effective conspiracy: greedy people helped themselves to a wide-open cookie jar and had to have known that they would eventually get caught.

If it actually had been a master plan of some kind, those involved could have done a much better job of hiding some of the clumsiest legislative thefts ever attempted in this province.

If the constituency scandal proves anything, it proves the democratic system can elect some real dopes.

Almost every major scandal I’ve ever worked on, from Mount Cashel on down, has been exactly the same: unwilling to back down from or admit to a mistake, powerful people have compounded that mistake by digging their heels in and building a house of cards on a broken foundation.

The only thing that kept them from knowing that they’d be caught was their own flawed belief in their power to control the chaos that surrounds us.

Moore is right: fearing a massive, well-ordered conspiracy is just a more comfortable belief system than the painful idea that something might just be in the right place at the wrong time.

It’s hard to accept chaos as a driving force; we all like to believe that our lives are more important than a coin-toss in an uncaring cosmos.

You might go so far as to ask if our own need for personal importance drives our creation of, and belief in, the unseen workings of systems like organized religion — but that might be a topic for another day.



Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. Email

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Ed power
    January 06, 2013 - 09:40

    Crista, please enlighten me as to "WHERE IT IS WRITTEN!!!!" is actually written. I would really like to know "who is the BLAME AND WHO IS THE FAULT".

  • Colin Burke
    January 06, 2013 - 08:56

    I agree with Cotton: the idea that this realistic world of ours contains like-minded persons is strictly mythical.

  • Ordo Ab Chao
    January 06, 2013 - 06:37

    Order is derived from chaos. Chaos must be created in order to create a new order. This is the mantra of the mystery schools of Babylon - such as the Skull and Bones of which Prescott, George Herbert, George Walker and John Kerry are members of. Conspiracy is a fact of life, it's how the elite mold the world to their own desires. This has been going on since man first discovered fire. It's not new and to suggest that conspiracy doesn't exist because of a few uneducated morons is absurd. Mind control is a real, factual and documented CIA program that has been active in its research and execution for over 50 years. However as soon as you mention the word, you're whitewashed a tinfoil hat loon. That's exactly what our condensed media has conditioned us to do because that's how we're supposed to think about it. That and several other very real conspiracies that are active daily.

  • Anon
    January 06, 2013 - 06:32

    First off, you're giving lunatics too much credit. A conspiracy hypothesis is the lone idea of a lone nutjob or a small group of nutjobs. The sprung greenhouse crap (which I've heard before from nutjobs) is a conspracy hypothesis. There is no collective agreement among researchers to arrive at the same conclusion. Conspiracy theories are often times more concrete and widely believed. To their credit, they usually are better equipped with facts and evidence such as the 9/11 conspiracy theory which is derived off of countless facts and is only dismissed by closed-minded people who lump all "conspiracies" in the same nutjob bracket. Keep in mind, it was those "crazy conspiracy theorists" who asserted that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a false flag attack designed to get America into the Vietnam war much like the controlled demolition of the world trade center was designed to get us in position to conquer the middle east and control the last remaining copper and oil supplies there. The US has long since admitted that the gulf of Tonkin WAS indeed a false flag attack. They've also admitted that they had advanced warning of the Pearly Harbor and 9/11 attacks. So Mr. Wangersky, mark the difference between a conspiracy hypothesis and a conspiracy theory. One is the formulation of a nutjob who could never come to the same conclusion multiple times amongst multiple researchers. A conspiracy theory is a kind of unanimous conclusion drawn from research. Much like the theory of evolution vs an evolutionary hypothesis which may or may not draw the same conclusion as its parent theory.

  • Fintip
    January 05, 2013 - 21:01

    What's the matter Russell - you're personal pendulums swung too far to one side? You feel the need to disassociate the real you from your public persona? You need to rehabilitate yourself as a flake-free member of the establishment - feet firmly planted on the ground? There are no rules per se, but normal practice I think when writing an editorial, column - anything for that matter - is to offer some frame of reference for the topic, to ground it in reality, or tie it to some current issue or public preoccupation. This particular column is more ephemeral than usual. Maybe it's me but I can't seem to make head nor tail of it. Either it was a dull week absent of any great insight as the basis for a column, or you have a bee in your bonnet but don't want to come right out and share it with us. Each to his own and no intent to offend, but your writing can be exasperating. Here was me thinking you were the kind that saw a boogeyman in every closet, a darth vader in every boardroom and government office, a ------ (pejorative term for African American) in every woodpile. Now I'm just plain confused. Your choice of Sprung is a peculiar whipping post for conspiracy theorists. It smacks of straw-man-manship - you know, where you deliberately set the bar for proving its non-existence so low so that you could stagger over it after a fifth of scotch. We know there a lots of crazies who are drawn to conspiracies like moths to flames - the people for example who insist the moon landing was staged. Does this mean there aren't any conspiracies? Hardly! The world is full of them. Some of them - like Mount Cashel - are replete with legal proof of their existence (making your comments that much odder). A group of clerics abusing young children in their trust with the knowledge of religious and government officials - including a chief of police. But my guess is that your column is something of an underhanded smack at Greg Malone's new book 'Don't Tell the Newfoundlanders' - a glancing, careful blow designed so as not to leave fingerprints. To be sure, there is as yet no definitive proof - no irrefutable smoking gun - that the vote itself was rigged, even if everything leading up to it was the result of a private pact between 10 Downing and 24 Sussex. You will no doubt contest even the latter assertion, but I think objective rational observers are satisfied that that level of conspiracy existed. Proof of a rigged vote is unlikely ever to surface but I believe our children and grandchildren will see further evidence of the grand bargain (one designed to exclude America) once Ottawa and London no longer fear any backlash. As my pappy used to say Russell, "just because your paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you". Apologies to readers for lack of paragraph breaks which bit of technology the Telegram has yet to master.

  • Daniel Corbett
    January 05, 2013 - 15:36

    Dear Russell, What are you trying to say? Your column states “Almost every major scandal I’ve ever worked on, from Mount Cashel on down, has been exactly the same: unwilling to back down from or admit to a mistake, powerful people have compounded that mistake by digging their heels in and building a house of cards on a broken foundation.” Does the human effort involved in the daily maintenance and sand bagging around this broken foundation amount to a harmless prank? Doesn’t the construction of the house of cards on the broken foundation qualify as a conspiracy? With regard to the Mount Cashel fiasco, since the time of the initial complaints of physical and sexual assault of children, the response of the Newfoundland and Labrador Justice System has evolved from initially refusing to take any action, to actively taking steps to cover up the complaints of the children involved. The refusal of those responsible for the administration of Justice to take any action against the perpetrators led to further assaults and more cover-ups to a point where, to this very day, various departments of the Provincial Government appear to have been complicit in the atrocities against innocent children. There are certainly grounds to have the Provincial Government’s role in the Mount Cashel affair examined by a competent and independent authority. That independent examination should take place for the sole purpose of building a sound foundation for a Justice System that people of the province can have some degree of confidence in. The fact that the Government’s role in this fiasco has not been properly examined does, in my humble opinion, qualify as a conspiracy. With all due respect Russell you are looking too far afield for grand conspiracies when there are all sorts of ugly issues that qualify around the town you know so well. Happy New Year! Daniel Corbett

  • Cotton
    January 05, 2013 - 15:00

    Yes Russell, it's not like history is rife with conspiracies or anything. No, conspiracies are akin to the unicorn or dragons, they just don't exist.....

    • david
      January 05, 2013 - 18:53

      History is "rife" with conspiracy theorists, and relatively lacking in actual, known conspiracies. Cotton, you're clearly one of the "chaos-deniers".

  • crista
    January 05, 2013 - 14:46

    IT IS WRITTEN!!!! if you belief in heaven you have to belief in HELL????.And if you have beliefs you have to believe in reasons that is gone on and going on in the world and society this corruption and destruction did not happen by it self along with the scandals and wrong doings that go on each and every day so who is the BLAME AND WHO IS THE FAULT who is going to take the blame YOU FOR WHAT HAS GONE ON,YOU DECIDE????or were they mistakes????, or is there a reason what do you think????

  • Brad Cabana
    January 05, 2013 - 08:42

    Russell, your article seems to ignore the definition of conspiracy. Conspriracy is an agreement between two or more people to achieve an objective that injures another , whether by lawful or unlawful means - Supreme Court of Canada. So, for instance, to suggest the constituency fraud scandal was not a conspiracy is simply false.Furthermore, it sounds as though you reject the notion there are "backrooms" in politics which by their nature are designed to impose order on chaos. If your intention is to define people who believe in conspiracies as nutters of the "tin foil hat brigade" then fine, however I suggest you not file any employment applications with the CIA or other such "non-conspiratorial organization" cause they don't exist..

  • EDfromRED
    January 05, 2013 - 07:45

    I remember the notion that the Provincial PC Party was using paid employees to skew media polls and create pro-government comments was mocked as being a conspiracy theory...but last weekends Telegram showed it was a conspiracy Fact.

    • John Smith
      January 06, 2013 - 11:24

      Well, Ed...let me tell you that is not a fact. For many, many months I commented here in The Telegram, on nearly every story that was written about Muskrat Falls. many, many times I was the only comment in favor of the project...among the winstons, and the maurices, and the rest of the know nothing naysayers...I was the lone voice in support. Don't you think if the PC party was planting people to comment that there would be more than one person in support? I have nothing to do with the PC party...I have no connection, in anyway..whatsoever to the PC party of NL....but I do support the Muskrat Falls project...because it is the best option. So, while the NDP may direct it's members to skew the vote on the VOCM daily poll...I have yet to see one scintilla of proof that the PCs were rigging comment sections of the paper. Although I would have welcomed the help...LOL

    • david
      January 07, 2013 - 09:31

      Methinks John doth protest too much.....

  • Pierre Neary
    January 05, 2013 - 07:39

    Interesting read.