CEMETERIES are good places to read in. Once, pausing in my reading, I looked up and saw a red plane leaving a trail of white in the blue sky.
Or was it something else? Couldn’t it be a high-flying jet fighter?
A spy plane leaving not just a contrail of residue when hot emissions interact with cold, humid air.
No, this was a chemtrail, fine droplets of a mind-altering substance sprayed to poison further the Cebuanos against imperial Manila, already poisonous towards a Cebu-biased president.
Lack of proof or even plausibility in my theory shouldn’t matter. In these heady days of conspiracies, the easiest treason to commit is against Truth.
“The truth is out there” was the truism every “X-Files” episode enshrined. What Scully and Mulder never said was that anyone could take potshots at truth.
That iconic TV series played up to our love for conspiracies, a modern syndrome that makes us paranoid about our institutions but which drives us to embrace the first simplistic explanation supplanting our crisis of faith.
According to a “Scientific American Mind” article (www.sciam.com) written by Thomas Grueter, the Internet has turned this quirk into an epidemic of sorts. Chemtrail believers run several Web sites warning visitors about chemical conspiracies. The British Broadcasting Corporation identified 36,000 sites explaining Lady Di’s death in a car crash—with the most popular theories not the one asserting that her driver was just fleeing the paparazzi.
According to Grueter, the delusional can still be sane. They just cling to a sense of reality that is more subjective than objective. Thus, a person who hangs around a cemetery and glimpses political machinations during moments of sky-gazing may still be sane, though borderline.
Such precaution is not only due to psychologists’ dislike for labeling. Grueter writes about the Martha Mitchell effect, a trap by which a belief is mistakenly diagnosed as a delusion. During the Watergate investigation, White House sources blamed former U.S. attorney general John Mitchell for planning the break-in at the Democratic campaign headquarters in the Watergate hotel at Washington, D.C.
Mitchell’s wife Martha repeatedly told the press that her husband was only used as a scapegoat to protect the real culprit, then president Richard Nixon. White House sources retaliated by mounting a campaign smearing Martha as a delusional alcoholic. It was only after Nixon resigned that the press corrected the view about mad Martha.
But what can really shake our faith in each other are not just our biases. It may be that some fears are justified. Racism was said to be the reason why African-Americans suspected their government of creating the Aids virus in secret laboratories and infecting blacks with it.
Grueter writes that this paranoia can be traced to a 1932 government experiment in Tuskegee, Alabama, when forerunners of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used almost 400 poor illiterate African-American men as guinea pigs to study the effects of syphilis.
To learn how the infection leads to death, the clinicians withheld diagnosis and treatment, even though penicillin, the first effective cure for the disease, was readily available in 1947. Many of the subjects died while 40 of their wives were infected and 19 of their children, born with congenital syphilis. It was only when journalist Jean Heller of the Associated Press exposed the study in 1972 that the federal government ended the “unethical” experiment.
Though participants and their families were compensated financially and with free health care, no researcher or administrator was criminally tried. Grueter writes that it was only in 1997—65 years later—that then president Bill Clinton apologized to the remaining eight survivors.
Belief in cover-ups, concludes Grueter, will enjoy a boom time in the first chaotic years of the 21st century. This is not to promote sky-divining, but perhaps we can all be saner if we are just careful about what we believe in.
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