Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Alternate Reality

I come from a family of doubters. Whatever you have to say, they challenge. If you repeat something you've seen on the news, you're being brainwashed by the mass media. When you share a story someone told you, you're reminded that the teller could have been exaggerating or messing with you. Had your feelings hurt? Don't expect solace or sympathy. You're overreacting. Misinterpreting. Being melodramatic. Besides, whatever happened, it's probably your fault. You get no credit for emotional intelligence because you can't possibly have any. Even your personal anecdotes are questionable – your perspective is tainted by your subjectivity.

This phenomenon is partly due to a belief that the majority opinion is the result of group-think, and disagreement makes you look smart. But it turns out that being a contrarian, like everything else, is genetic. I know this because I am the mother of a 15 year old conspiracy theorist.

We got an indication of this when our son was ten and started questioning whether George Washington ever really existed. Just because they put some funny looking guy on the dollar bill and call him George doesn't mean he was ever flesh and blood, right?

As the boy matured, the theories got a little more sophisticated. We never really landed on the moon. How could they have done it with those huge computers and tin can technology? And why is the American flag flapping in the lunar wind when the moon has no atmosphere? Proof positive that those photos of Neal Armstrong were the product of some primitive, pre-photoshop trickery.

Now, we've graduated to the big time. The kind of conspiracy theory paranoid geeks make into "documentaries" for other paranoid geeks to watch on their computers. The "9/11 was carried out by the Pentagon " conspiracy theory. Or the "AIDS is actually a polio vaccine gone wrong" conspiracy theory.

If there's a down side, or a dark side, my son will find it. The police, politicians and basically all forms of authority are evil and corrupt, and the only valid system of governance is anarchy. Last year, an older friend entertained himself by telling the boy Ben and Jerry were members of the KKK. It took me at least fifteen minutes to convince my son that the two ice cream magnates were actually die-hard liberals.

A fifteen year old anarchist is challenging to raise. But that's OK, because, as said anarchist explained to me last week, "Mom, teenage boys like to raise themselves."

Good luck with that, kid. I hope you do a good job.

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