So, in Orange County last night, for the first time, I met someone who’s part of this %20 of the population who believes that Obama’s a Muslim. It was absolutely fascinating actually! More than that, the guy had this Cabbalist notion that if you permuted the letters of Obama’s name and applied some highly specialized interpretive practices, that leads you to see that Obama’s the anti-christ, or something to that effect. When I said that I couldn’t quite see the connection, the gentleman responded: “But why do you think things have gotten so bad?” Hard to argue with that.
Before meeting this guy, to be honest, I didn’t think this demographic existed, or at least not in the numbers that the polling suggests. This is just some sort of media hype I assumed. I thought sure, there probably are some people who must have such views, but they’re just nuts. Now, I feel like I have a deeper appreciation for the phenomenon. Obama conspiracy theories are a form of folklore. Apart from the content of what this guy was saying, I tried to see what it meant to him, the place that it held in his world. He was deeply proud of this idea. Being able to elaborate this highly complex series of connections was clearly a form of intense intellectual stimulation for him. It was an idea that was in process that could be extended indefinitely. Moreover, it gave him a sort of currency that he could contribute and share with others, and one that entailed an introduction to a different way of looking at the most common facts of life.
The point is this: people need intellectual stimulation. They need explanations, even wrong ones. They need to find some reason for why things are the way they are, especially at a time like this, when so many of the explanations for how the world is supposed to work seem to be breaking down. No one really believes in God anymore. Now, we’re finding it harder to even believe in capitalism. What’s left? Obama bin Laid-an BeRock Hussin’! This is an entirely predictable and understandable response to the circumstances with which people are faced today, especially intellectually. If wherever you look in the public discourse, there’s no real viable explanation for why things are the way they are that resonates with you, then it’s up to you to craft your own explanation. This is energy that needs to be channeled before it goes off in every possible direction and leads all of us away from a collective conversation.