Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hoarding and Conspiracy Theories

Are there secret codes in everyday things?  Of course not.  Sober up.

People who hoard garbage in their homes and people who forward conspiracy theory e-mails have one thing in common - the believe they are being altruistic in their actions.   They are also both crazy, which illustrates why altruism is suspect, if not always evil.

Smithsonian magazine is going through another orgy of redesign, it seems.  No two issues seem to have the same graphic format these days. However, it is easy to tell the articles from the ads, as the ads are all for toxic deals, such as crappy cheap watches, "Gov't Gold", Jitterbug phones, and other shit you can sell to the senile old people who are their reader base.

However, once in a while you find a diamond in a pile of dogshit, and a recent article about people who obsessively try to find codes or hidden meanings in ordinary things, made me think.   As I noted before, the mind is a powerful neural network, and a pattern recognition machine.  We see the face of Jesus in a taco, because our brains are programmed to look for familiar faces (a survival skill from our primitive days).

And we see patterns where there are none, which is a sign of an overactive mind, running at high idle, with nothing else to do.  You may remember that movie, A Beautiful Mind, about mathematician John Nash, who was a cryptologist, but lost his mind to schizophrenia, finding codes in everyday things, obsessively.  At the climax of the movie, his wife comes out to his workshop, and finds the place papered with newspaper and magazine clippings and various crazy writings all over the wall.  He is finding non-existent codes in everyday things, as his mind was trained to look for such patterns.

Similarly, you find people who like to obsess about conspiracy theories, bible codes, or other bullshit and nonsense.   They see patterns where there are none, simply because they want to see a pattern, and want an "answer" or clear map to what is an utterly chaotic system (real life).   And they are crazy.

But what struck me was the comment in the Smithsonian article that many of these people are altruistic, or believe themselves to be so, in that promoting or decoding these conspiracies - whether they be 9/11 "truthers" or Kennedy-assassination nuts, or perpetual motion dweebs, or gold bugs, or Obama "birthers", or area 51 fans, or whatever bullshit-du-jour is selling paperbacks these days - they believe they are "helping" the world by spreading the "truth" even if they are just spreading manure.

That struck me, as I recall reading another article about hoarders that mentioned the same thing - that the hoarder believes he is "saving the world" by keeping old crap about.  Someday, someone might need the very thing that others would throw out, and he will be the hero for having saved it and saved the day!

It is, of course a delusion - a delusion of a sick mind.

But it made me think.  There is a connection between the crazy cat lady with 50 cats (two dead in the freezer - it's the law!), the man living in a house so full of boxes he can barely walk around, The guy down the street with 10 junked cars on his lawn, the teenager who posts "fire can't melt steel!" on a 9/11 "truther" site, or the guy down the block who will bend your ears for hours about how his Chevy Suburban could get 100 mpg, if only "the big oil companies" hadn't suppressed the 100-mpg carburetor.

And the irony is, of course, that far from being altruistic - that is to say, helping others or the world - these sort of folks are a drag on the world.   Eventually, the authorities have to be called in to clean out the hoarder's house and put them in a rest home, at great expense to the rest of us.   And eventually, the authorities have to be called in during the tense stand-off with the paranoid conspiracy theorist, who by the way has managed to hoard 50,000 rounds of ammunition.    Or we all pay for their craziness in terms of mental health support services or just in dealing with their crap all the time.

And what is the common denominator here?   Alleged altruism.   People who are often pretty smart, but don't have enough to do in their own lives, so they set out to save the world.   The reality is, of course, that these folks have more than enough to do in their own lives - they often live in a pile of their own filth - pizza boxes, dirty laundry, and other crap - but choose instead to squander what little energy they have "solving" the mysteries of the pyramids.   They are chronically late for work, but have all the latest info on the Kennedy assassination.  They are broke all the time, but know all the inside dope the Federal Reserve and the trilateral commission.   And while they can barely take care of themselves, they have the time and energy - they believe - to take care of 40 cats, 10 dogs and a horse.

But on a lesser scale, we see this same type of behavior in "normal" people.   Folks who get all up-in-arms about political issues, while not bothering to register to vote - or contribute to a candidate's election.   Your vote and your dollars are all that matter in elections.   And your vote might not matter as much as your dollars, frankly. Waxing on at length about "birther" theories isn't going to accomplish anything, other than to detract from your own life.  And no, such nonsense isn't going to save the world, or anyone else, but rather merely squander yourself.