Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Write Club is a monthly, literary bloodsport in which contenders face off against each other with 7-minute essays on competing topics. Throughout the pandemic, Write Club shifted to a virtual format, asking contestants to create 5-minute videos and streaming the performances on Twitch. Below was my combatant essay based on the prompt “CONSPIRACY,” facing off against “COINCIDENCE.” This essay was presented on March 16, 2021, and was victorious in its bout.
Most of us have heard of Occam’s Razor — the aphorism expressed by 13th-century Franciscan friar William of Occam, which suggests that when faced with an unanswered question, one should always presume the least complicated explanation, that which contains the fewest factors and variables.
I would hazard that very few of us can readily reference any other thoughts of 13th-century Franciscans, including the other arguably innovative writings of William of Occam. But this one maxim has survived and been stitched carefully into the popular consciousness, reinterpreted time and again until it has become a cool, catchy, elevator-speech version of itself. “Assume the simplest solution is true.” But now ask yourself:
Who benefits when you believe that?
Because the fact of the matter is that not every mystery or dangling narrative is going to be explained by the simplest solution.
For every sudden catastrophe that can be rightly attributed to human error.
Every curious phenomenon that we have determined to be the result of natural forces.
There are those that we absolutely must recognize as the fruits of conspiracy.
This is a fraught proposition. We exist in an era when the notion of conspiracy is both fertile and potent, the sort of environment that makes you jump at every mention of the name “Vladimir Putin” or compels you to attack a pizzeria with firearms. When we decide to entertain the possibility of conspiracy we walk wearing blindfolds into the valley of thorns. We emerge covered in scars, asking ourselves if what little we learned was worth the pain of learning it, and risk being branded further with an array of scarlet C’s:
We have been so meticulously groomed by the edges of Occam’s Razor that we now assume all conspiracy to be an inherently negative quantity at best, an outright fabrication at worst. But conspiracies happen. They have happened, they will happen, they are happening right now, and no insistence on naming the simplest solution or pleading coincidence can change that. Conspiracies are not only real, they are valid. They are useful.
Not every conspiracy is an assassination or an insurrection, after all. An Underground Railroad is a conspiracy. The first meetings of a nascent labor union are a conspiracy. Journalists and victims meeting in secret for several months before they drop a long-deserved daisy cutter upon the empire of a media tyrant is a conspiracy. We as a society are made better when these conspiracies succeed.
But what of the actual falsehoods? What of the relentless unsubstantiated theories? Surely these, you declare, are an unqualified blight upon our fragile civilization.
It might seem that the prevalence of conspiracy theories represents a deep and abiding cynicism, the belief that our fates are no longer our own, manipulated by a nefarious few. But the truth is that those who assert coincidence are those most stricken by nihilism, who believe that there are no patterns to observe and that chaos will forever reign supreme. To consider a conspiracy theory is to express a certain unshakeable optimism — that there is power in community far beyond individuals and far beyond entropy. It is to believe that despite our myriad differences, a group of people can come together to conceal the existence of extraterrestrials.
We should not fear the conspiracy, because we need the conspiracy. The conspiracy is single-use, it either fulfills its purpose or dies trying. What we fear is the conspiracy left unresolved to metastasize, because these gradually bloat and bloom into institutions, the sort of conspiracies large enough to birth other conspiracies.
The sort of institutions that will neither confirm nor deny. The sort of institutions that tell you there is no conspiracy.
This is merely coincidence, they will tell you. Coincidence is the simplest answer, and you should assume the simplest answer is true.