Our Peak Crazy Social Psyche
Today’s New York Times (September 28, 2016) asks if our national psyche has reached a “peak craziness” with regard to our penchant for accepting conspiracy theories. “Peak Craziness” was a new concept for me. A search shows that it is not a widely used idea; however, I find it a helpful one. It suggests a reaching of a distorted, foolish summit or high point in human experience and discourse.
Upon reading the NY Times commentary it was clear that while conspiracy theories aren’t a new phenomenon in our society, the changes in the way we receive our news and the power of social media, give a credence to conspiracy theories that is dense in saliency and reach. Our “news” comes at us fast and furiously and these theories become an ordering mechanism for the hurried, anxious or fearful.
One couldn’t help but chuckle on Tuesday morning when Donald Trump complained that his microphone had malfunctioned during his recent debate with Hillary Clinton. Trump went on to say that “he didn’t want to believe in conspiracy theories” and wondered why he had microphone problems and Mrs. Clinton did not. It is no surprise, I guess, that the candidate who has been the most active in bringing our nation to a peak craziness around conspiracy theories would suggest that any failure on his part is the result of some conspiracy. Truth is, that both Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton have painted pictures of “vast conspiracies” as part of their election narrative.
While I give more credence to Ms. Clinton’s concerns — whether about the crazed conjecturing about Benghazi, White Water, missing emails, etc. — it seems that she gives too much attention to some vast plot or “hidden hand” that determines present and future circumstance. Of course, Mr. Trump’s conspiracy theories are more pernicious — filled with racism and xenophobia. In fact, the record is clear, Trump’s “birther” conspiracy comments, freighted with bigoted attempts to undermine Barack Obama’s legitimacy as president, was a major factor in his staying in public consciousness. We will no doubt hear of other “conspiracies” as Mr. Trump plays a kind of ideological bumper cars with the truth and our national psyche.
Thinking about the idea of Peak Craziness reminds me of our recent visit to Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park. Mary Schaffer is said to be the first person of European ancestry to “discover” Maligne Lake. Using a map provided by Samson Beaver, a First Nations chief of the Stoney People, Mary Schaffer’s small party found this nonpareil site. The glory of the lake and the surrounding peaks filled them with wonder. An artist, Mary Schaffer, spoke of this as a place beyond ever fully capturing by words or brush. Depending on where one stands there are peaks and glaciers in every direction surrounding the lake.
Near the glacier-fed headwaters is Spirit Island. The island is a sacred ground for the First Nations people who spoke of this as the temple of the gods.
One wonders if the humanly constructed “peaks of craziness” in our national psyche are blocking our view, preventing us from seeing the genuine peaks of wonder all around. Perhaps we need to spend more time on our own Spirit Islands to to see the true beauty of this election season. There they are, towering beyond all our conspiracy theories, the peaks of shared humanity, the remarkable wonder of democracy — even when messy — and the towering responsibility of citizenship.
Let’s live as a Spirit island people, who work and vote in a world as free of conspiracy peaks as possible.