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Writers, Truthers, & Logistics

In editing a piece of promotional work for someone, I was reminded again of the many similarities between writers, who tell fantastic stories for a living and have no intention that they be taken as fact, and “truthers” or conspiracy theorists, who tell fantastic stories for a variety of reasons with every intention that they be taken as fact.

In truther circles, as in plotting a story, the narratives often become increasingly elaborate as they expand. Take Jade Helm, for example, or the Birther Movement, or Sandy Hook, or 9/11 or the corona virus conspiracies (it came from a weapons lab in a) China, b) North Korea, or c) North Carolina) or any one of a number of conspiracy theories that have grown up over the course of the last decade.

These theories often become increasingly byzantine as the theorists seek to answer the inevitable logistical questions that their theories evoke.

One of the most complicated was Jade Helm. This was the nickname of the multi-state war games the US military has carried out for decades on private land in remote parts of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. Some Texans were convinced that it was a plot to take over the state. Part of the plot involved sweeping citizens off the streets and disappearing them. 

This led inevitably to several Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Where will the US military put these fearsome Texans while taking over that sovereign nation . . . er, embattled territory . . . uh, I mean, US state?

A: We-e-ll … there are several empty Wal-Marts in various locations in a number of Texas cities. That’s where the enemies of the Federal Government will be taken.

Q: But how will they be gotten to and from these centers without anyone noticing?

A: Ah, underground tunnels that connect the empty Wal-Marts to train yards or other points of dispersal.

Q: Dispersal to where? Where would an incursion of prisoners not be noticed?

A: Obviously, to FEMA camps set up in unpopulated areas of the country so isolated that no one knows they’re there.

This line of questioning could go on for sometime, but I’ll stop there.

Setting aside for the moment the fact that the existence of that many empty Wal-Marts, or underground tunnels (built by whom and when?) that connect them to train yards has never been established, a question that is seldom asked (or, if asked, is treated superficially as if it, too, was a matter of simple logistics) is WHY?

Why does the US military wish to forcibly “take over” one of the states that is already part of our Union?

Answer: Because the Feds want them to do it. But this only leads to yet another WHY: Why does the Federal government want to capture rank and file Texans?

Answer: Because the POTUS (Barrack Obama specifically) wants it to.

As you can see, we’re no closer to a the Big ANSWER to the Big WHY: WHY does the POTUS want to militarily take over a state that is already part of the Union of which he is the presiding executive, and imprison random Texans (at great expense)?

Answer:  Because he hates America (why?) or that he wants ISIS (or the Chinese) to take over the country (why?) Well, because he’s a Muslim (WHY?) or because . . . Well, you get the drift.

At this point, “just coz” simply doesn’t work. And if you think it doesn’t work in the real world in any real sense, be doubly assured that it will not work in your fiction. In fiction, far more than in real life, we expect coherent patterns to emerge in the narrative.

Above all, we expect to be able to comprehend the motives and rationales of the characters, else we cannot follow their story lines, much less empathize with them. This comprehension is comforting. I think it’s one of the reasons that many of us enjoy reading. Fiction makes sense, the real world not so much. 

What I’m suggesting is a relationship of scale between a character or group of characters motives and their behavior. That is, there must be a motive that merits the scale of the events the writer (or conspiracist) proposes occurred.

The trick to writing readable stories in just about any genre is to make the characters’ logic accessible to the reader even if that logic is flawed, based on false premises, ethically and morally bankrupt, or completely alien. A character’s motives—their Big WHYs—must make sense to readers on some level or readers will be unable to suspend their disbelief or follow the narrative. Their reaction may be much like my reaction to conspiracist logic: “Wut—? You’ve got to be . . . LOL . . . Wait … Seriously? OMG, I can’t even . . . Oy. Headache.”

A phrase that’s been floating around the blogosphere for awhile is “word salad”, which is the verbal outcome of thought salad. One article I read referred to verbal incoherence as a “sentence-like string of words”.

The author also described trying to extract real meaning or logic from these strings of words as “a category error”, as in: You are attempting to understand logically something that is not logical, but is merely a logic-like string of thoughts. 

He likened it to attempting to polish a duck.

I believe writers owe their readers more than something that only seems like a logical thought because it’s set in what looks like a real sentence describing a real Thing.

Perhaps there are writers (or public figures) clever enough that they can get away with murder (literary murder, at any rate) because their sentence-like strings of words sound enough like the real deal to dazzle readers into thinking they have experienced a coherent idea, felt a particular emotion, or discovered a truth. Some polemicists, for example, make such good use of evocative phrases and emotionally charged words that they give the perception that they’ve said something factual, when no facts have been offered.

Some politicians are especially adept at stringing together evocative words that, if confronted with those words later on can—in all honesty—say, “No, I didn’t say that.” And, by golly, a careful reading of what they wrote or said reveals that they may or may not have actually said what people thought they said. This form of plausible deniability allows every reader or listener to take away from the sentence-like sequence of words whatever they wish.

I’d like my stories to contain real sentences that grow out of coherent thoughts. I’d like to give my readers the real Thing, not a semblance of that Thing, even at my most ambiguous. And that’s why when I begin to turn ideas into stories, I ask myself WHY; why would my character do this, say this, feel this? If the answer is, just coz I want or need them to, I’m not doing my job.

In closing, I’d like to go back to the real world: If you’re confronted with trutherism in relation to any of the circumstances I’ve mentioned in this series or others—whether it’s Jade Helm or Parkland’s Valentine’s Day Massacre. I encourage you to ask “Why?” And to ask any truthers to walk you through the logistics of how all this works.

Occam’s Razor demands that conspiracy theorists and writers be able to offer rational and feasible mechanisms to support their narratives.

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