By Stan Stewart.
Things were simple when I was growing up. Cowboys were good. Indians (red) were bad. English and American people were good. German and Japanese were bad. Protestants were good (Baptists, were the best) Roman Catholics were bad. The Labor Party was good for the working class (us). The Liberal Party was the party of the rich, not for us. Communists were bad. British made products were well made and reliable. Japanese products were rubbish.
By the time I reached my 20’s I realised that some of these ‘good - bad’ designations didn’t work. For instance, my Dad brought a new English car with leather seats. It needed mechanical repairs constantly. Our neighbour bought a Japanese car. Dad said it was” junk”. It never, ever broke down.
My son and I used to argue about the news. He said my sources could not be trusted. According to him, stories in the newspapers were doctored and packaged to suit the aims of faceless, powerful groups. I said I relied on the BBC which I considered the gold standard of independent news reporting. He said that was not so. He told me that world news was systematized to suit the purposes of a faceless and nameless few.
Now we live in the Coromandel and to my amazement I have found ‘The hills are alive’ with conspiracy theories. Everyone seems to agree that we live in paradise. But according to the conspiracy theorists, soon it will be ‘paradise lost’. Nothing is what it seems. People from overseas, in the powerhouses of Europe and America are plotting to steal our birthright and close down free thinking and free expression.
Lunchroom talk: My relatives in Queensland work with machines, large machines, and some incredible behemoths. They are all required to take breaks in lunchrooms provided by the company. What do they talk about during these lunch breaks? Football? Cars? Fishing? Horses? Probably sometimes, but a major topic is conspiracy theories. The lunchroom stories my relatives have told me have amazed me. The gist of these stories is that the world is not what it seems; nothing is what it seems - police, government, international affairs, corporations – nothing! This secret knowledge is accessed through the internet – but not through the popular sites. To access these ‘secret knowledge’ sites you need to know a special, exclusive code. It seems that in the lunchrooms my relatives use, there is always one who knows the code. In hushed tones the in-the-know person shares this secret knowledge to the lunch-room audience.
We hear about how internet-based theories and stories influence elections in the United Sates. The stories I have heard here in Australia have not been primarily about politics. They are about reality. What is reality? The basic premise is that we are surrounded by smoke and mirrors. Our vision is tricked. This uncertainty affects everything. It affects our values and ambitions, our hopes and dreams. It drives people to want to escape, to go to the bush and to live in their own private isolated space. In suburban settings, it motivates people to draw down the blinds and disconnect from their neighbours and community. In an extreme form, this impulse to escape from a corrupt and devious world was behind Jim Jones and his community of ‘Jonestown how he persuaded them to escape to the jungles of Guyana and finally we find out of the mass ‘suicide’ of hundreds.
To say the least, endless conspiracy theories demotivate us. We might as well dose ourselves with feel-good substances and let the world roll on to its ultimate and irreversible destruction.
It brings to my mind a time when I wanted to withdraw from the community. It was in a holiday caravan park. I had the smallest, oldest caravan in the park. With well-established beer drinking neighbours looking on, I struggled for an hour to hook up our pathetic awning. When I finally had the awning hooked, they clapped. I retreated into the van and never wanted to come out. My four-year-old, disabled daughter was outside and immediately went over and made friends with our neighbours. She called me to come and meet them. Finally, she led me by the hand into what I considered ‘The Lion’s Lair’ and guess what? We made friends.
In fact, the most powerful beings on the planet are babies and small children. They can save us from being sucked down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and the need to isolate. Children don’t want to be locked away behind drawn shades. They relish life and want us to join them. Babies and children can break down the fortress doors of adult isolation. Babies can soften unsmiling staunch men. When I see a pregnant woman, I want to rush over and congratulate her. But I know that would not be wise. That kind of behaviour could land me in jail. Simple as that!