Call me naïve, but I believe humans have been to the moon. I know several intelligent people who do not believe humans have been to the moon and, while I believe they are mistaken, I do not think them crazy.
Because I know this: consensus reality is not capital-R, Reality.
Or, as Napoleon Bonaparte is credited with saying, “History is a set of lies agreed upon.” (I owe thanks to Mr. Vickers, my high school history teacher, for posting that quote on the classroom wall and incorporating it into his lectures.)
We are a story-telling species, and we shape our past into a set of manageable narratives. But we are liars. In our agreed-upon lies, we so often reduce humans to white hats and black hats, as if we were fallen angels instead of risen apes. And more often than not, we edit these stories to paint ourselves in a favorable light, to give ourselves the white hat.
This is the biggest conspiracy of all, this quirk of human nature, because, as Sir Winston Churchill definitely said, “History is written by the victors.” You’d have to be blind to deny the truth of Churchill’s statement. The stories told by the powerful shape our consensus reality far more profoundly than do the stories told by the defeated. And every day, that imbalance comes into play as we invent tomorrow’s history.
Of course, there’s a benefit to accepting the consensus reality we are being sold, to remaining willfully blind to the stories that challenge the group narrative embraced by our own tribe. It allows us to escape the dread and to enjoy our lives. To maintain this benefit, we often ignore overwhelming evidence of the falsity of so many of our historical narratives, and of tomorrow’s historical narratives currently being written.
So we spout bromides like, “Three can keep a secret if two are dead.” And then we look away.
On the other side of the spectrum, there’s a benefit to embracing every conspiracy theory, however crazy, which calls into question the actions of the powerful. If the entire world is run by twelve men, (and you might be shocked to learn how many people believe this), then we are not really responsible for our dashed dreams and failed relationships. Our ex-bosses and ex-lovers are sheeple; they could never appreciate we who are awake to the giant con that is the world. Furthermore, we are provided a Big Bad Guy upon whom to blame all the suffering in the world, and we are absolved from facing the chaos. And we remain fallen angels, not risen apes.
For the record: I do not believe that the world is run by twelve men. We are far too messy in our affairs for this to be true.
Most of us who feel the allure of conspiracy theories fall between these extremes. We cannot blind ourselves to the existence of conspiracies, when such evidence comes to light that even the official historical record must be amended to admit formerly secret misdeeds.
And there are just so damn many. The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, Operation Paperclip, Operation Northwoods, The Gulf of Tonkin, MKUltra, Iran/Contra—just a few safe choices by way of example—undisputable conspiracies that came to light after years in darkness, forcing us to revise previous “lies agreed upon.” And more every day, especially since Wikileaks and Snowden became part of our vocabulary.
I don’t mean to pick on the United States here—every country on earth has misdeeds hidden behind its narrative history, its consensus reality. Hell, every city, even every family has a narrative history that leaves out some of the ugly stuff.
We are, after all, a story-telling species. Casting a skeptical eye on consensus reality, finding the holes and contradictions, and asking what if, might just save us in the end. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Researching and writing The Devil’s Game was an opportunity to explore both conspiracies that could be true, and some that are round-the-bend crazy.
I had a blast.
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Sean Chercover is a former private detective turned novelist and screenwriter. A native of Toronto, he has held a motley assortment of jobs, including video editor, scuba diver, nightclub magician, encyclopedia salesman, and truck driver. His fiction has won the Anthony, Shamus, CWA Dagger, Dilys, and Crimespree awards, and been shortlisted for the Edgar, Barry, Macavity, Arthur Ellis and ITW Thriller awards. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @seanchercover.