Author’s Note: I speak of the old saying that a broken clock is right at least twice a day. Nevertheless, even if you were to find it at a moment when it told the right time, you shouldn’t trust it as the underlying mechanism is wrong.
Last year, I met two people in Coeur d’Alene who seemed all normal, friendly, possibly new lifetime acquaintances. Then: “when are you going to evacuate?”
Oh, dear reader, these otherwise normal people were certain that the government was going to herd gun owners into concentration camps. We hadn’t heard? It was about to start. And let’s not even start with the chem trails being sprayed by the government (just look for it on the internet, they said—I kid you not). Oh my, I chuckled and broke contact as soon as possible.
I’ve written before about meeting many people across this great land of ours and how conspiracies can creep into those conversations. From people certain our wars are the result of fiat currency, or a global Jewish conspiracy, to those who assume JFK was a saint killed by the Deep State, conspiracies are stories the paranoid or powerless tell themselves to make sense of the world.
I remember after the 9-11 attacks there were a couple ways you could fold the twenty-dollar bill to make it look like the twin towers smoking. It was meant to show that the government was in on the attack, or at least knew about it. I remember thinking that it was a cool coincidence and nothing more. What was really interesting was that people were out there folding twenty dollar bills until they saw something. And the conspiracies proliferated, though the people who espoused such views were sidelined as the drumbeats of war took center stage. The same thing happened to the people who claimed that the stated reasons for the Iraq war were lies (I wish I had listened to those ones more.)
Let’s just say that at this juncture of my life, though I’m not exactly ready to dismiss all conspiracies, I do subscribe to the view that the powers that be use money to influence people. And if something sounds outrageous, I want to see more evidence for it (like Russia having a Manchurian candidate in Trump). And if someone seems to pass the buck (us citizens blaming bankers for war, when we’ve played quite the part) or they blame the powerless, I expect to see even more evidence.
Today, it could be said America has 300 million views to include conspiracies. Some say this proliferation of too many narratives is the result of a decaying Republic and its institutions, or the internet’s fractalizing effects on communication or the changing demographics which have led to the shattering of previous narratives alongside the creation of new ones. Each of these views is an attempt to make sense of the world and to peddle influence both in being correct about the world—be a prophet, start an email list, profit—and to help one self’s ego. But having seen the future make mincemeat of so many predictions and having seen these people remain comfortable and confident even after being wrong, I wonder how foolish the entire endeavor is.
So why, then, are there so many broken clocks? And if it is the new norm, how does one use them to be better informed about the world? That the punditry—whose only real stature comes from decorum—are just as wrong as those on the fringes only cements the idea that we’re surrounded by broken clocks. What then does one do to better make sense of the world around us? What do you do to keep inane conspiracies at bay while making sure one does not fall prey to real conspiracies? For example: I’m pretty sure the government wasn’t behind 9-11, not outside of incompetence, but I am sure that before most wars, truth is indeed the first casualty. But this applies to both sides. What the lie is, then, is important to identify. For example, focusing on chem trails seems odd when other lies and obfuscations result in the very real poisoning of poor people with lead. Or companies polluting water via fossil fuel extraction methods. Jade Helm  speaks of throwing many gun owners into camps, never mind that we currently rival Stalin in incarcerating a large portion of our population and immigrants (the members of our domestic colonies, as X would say). And let me note that here even people like me are to blame for being silent for so long.
Broken clocks aside, a lot of this is a matter of historical sense as well. History is filled with stories of conspiracies and dark tales giving strength to the phrase that it is a nightmare which we all wish to awaken from—a phrase, I’m afraid to admit, which only made real, visceral sense to me in my mid-thirties. Alternatively, some people simply see nothing but good in history, or else they make a clean cut between it and contemporary moments—usually marked by the start of their own innocent lives. And this is where I’ve learned much from the likes of James Baldwin: that it’s hard enough to take one’s own life into historical account, but we make it harder when we deny the past as it only hinders our future.
Conspiracies where there are none, and the resulting broken clocks, then, are a symptom of this suppression of the past, this inability to grow up. I’m not saying that I’m innocent of this behavior, this sickness, for I know that I certainly have much to learn. But I’m trying, I’m trying real hard to not be a broken clock.
Nelson Lowhim is a veteran and writer. He is the author of many novels, short stories and essays to include CityMuse, The Struggle, 1000001 American Nights and the Labyrinth of Souls. You can find more about him and his work at nelsonlowhim.blogspot.com. Find him on Twitter @nlowhim