Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Forget conspiracies and own your complicity



I am packing up again. Books that have survived several moves and lendings out will soon line the shelves of nearby op shops and second hand book dealers. Clothes I have worn to present myself in public sit in green bags awaiting new lives. Despite the sentimentalism that supposedly courses my hoarder blood, I let these things pass.

Madonna in Frozen video clipIn letting them go. I'm relieving myself of my acts and my choices that that give these things meaning.

I pick up an old book with a black spine (a 'classic') which I read when I was 19 and didn't really know there were good books, important books, with other coloured spines. Instead of triggering an involuntary memory of walking down an ivy-clad pathway feeling smug, holding the book invokes a sense of desperation and inferiority. What it recalls is something close to feeling like an outsider and feeling not good enough, which are feelings that, I later learned, largely go away when you start contributing in some meaningful way to people other than yourself.

At that desperate age, friends and I would sometimes sit around a computer monitor drinking cheap red wine and watching Illuminati/New World Order conspiracy theory documentaries. Triangular prisms and music videos of Madonna scuttling through the desert in a black cape formed the bulk of evidence supporting the existence of truly powerful secret societies, which made us laugh, but also, I'm sure, gave some of us a framework to understand how people were allowed to suffer as much as they do.

It was safer to believe that, for example, terrible wealth inequality was orchestrated by an autonomous motive force: that a secret body was acting deliberately to ensure that wealth and power and freedom and happiness was kept from us.

Harder to believe that our own tacit faith in the cultural values we lived by — that hard work itself would be rewarded, that competition always motivated positive change in the world, that we should bend the system to benefit ourselves rather than collapse its inherent inequities — produced that suffering, for ourselves, and for others.

The normal qualities of our normalised ideology produce inequality, and they are upheld by our normal acts of living.

An object or event accrues meaning through forgetting. When I pick up my kaleidoscopic cotton dress I remember walking along a river in a village in Vietnam at night, holding a plastic bag of sliced green mango. Am I near Saigon or Ho Chi Minh? I don't remember. I remember that I am walking with a wise and funny friend I haven't seen for maybe six years, I am feeling blissful and lucky, I can't wait to eat my mango. I feel hopeful. The dress exits for me as I forget it: how much it was or where I bought it, other memories that might be threaded into it, are gone.


"Letting things go, letting the accrued meaning of a narrative arc that fits a particular persuasion go, is acknowledging your stake in the narrative."


Meaning is forgetting as much as it is recalling. An event as it is experienced, wrote Walter Benjamin, 'is finite — at any rate, confined to one sphere of experience; a remembered event is infinite, because it is only a key to everything that happened before it and after it'.

It shouldn't be confounding, then, that when I open my browser, the heads that talk say the same things I heard on Illuminati documentaries. In place of Pharrell Williams making suspicious hand gestures (triangles, triangles, triangles) though, the blame for the unpleasant outcomes of a healthy free market is bestowed on the western world's maligned: refugees, Indigenous people, new (and old, in Trump's case) migrants, queer people, the working poor. These talking heads, who feel desperate and inferior because they have never contributed anything to anyone other than themselves, are neither 20 nor are they drinking wine in an exposed brick student dive. They are, like everyone looking for an enemy, eschewing their complicity in harm.

Conspiracy theorism is not acknowledging that conspiracies are a normal function of international politics: there is plenty of evidence that proves the underhanded and malicious secret acts of governments and corporations in history. Conspiracy theorism, rather, is seeing every piece of counter-evidence, every lack of evidence, as evidence of a conspiracy. A conspiracy theory is defined around the fact it can't be falsified; it proves itself in its own articulation.

Letting things go, letting the accrued meaning of a narrative arc that fits a particular persuasion go, is acknowledging your stake in the narrative. That it sustains you, allows you to believe that you are not besieged with responsibility but that the terrible things you are complicit in are designed by forces more powerful than you. Put it in the bin and you might have to revise the story, start again.


Ellena SavageEllena Savage is Editor at The Lifted Brow, and is undertaking a PhD in creative writing at Monash University.

Main image: Madonna has been a popular target of Illuminati conspiracy theorists.

Topic tags: Ellena Savage, conspiracy theories, Donald Trump



submit a comment

Existing comments

Ellena Savage speaks eloquently in this article about just how easy it is for all of us to scapegoat others, or the government, or maybe we just feel good by ridiculing Pauline Hanson's overt racism. It is much harder, but ultimately much more rewarding, to own our complicity in this "free market Australia' - an Australia that leaves its victims scattered everywhere - our homeless people, CSA victims, imprisoned refugees & the indigenous citizens we have so badly neglected. It is ultimately liberating, and the source of real peace within, if we make our own little personal stands, if we choose to become helpers not blamers - if we can just admit to ourselves that "we are indeed the masters of our own individual human vessel". A paradox then becomes obvious - we find out that we receive much more than we give out. It is only when we CHOOSE to listen to, welcome & then follow this powerful life-force present within us all, that we begin to realise our full human potential.

John Cronin, Toowoomba | 08 August 2016  

I think I agree with what you say but not sure if I understand what you write. After 2 readings I'm still struggling. Serving the market economy makes me complicit with the plight of so many. Is that it?

John Pettit | 08 August 2016  

After I read your article, my (slightly dyslexic) thought processes pointed to the plumbers at Auschwitz . They were involved in something evil. What degree do we hold them accountable? Is the bow that I am drawing approaching the breaking strain of the implement I refer?

Rob | 08 August 2016  

What truly beautiful writing Elena Savage. I hope you go on & on & live to write many more such moving & poetic pieces.

David Hicks | 09 August 2016  

Similar Articles

Food for thought in atheist inspired animation

  • Tim Kroenert
  • 12 August 2016

There's a bagel character, coded as Jewish, and a lavash (Armenian flatbread), coded as Palestinian, who clash because they have to share an aisle. 'Isn't the aisle big enough for both of you?' asks Frank. In this and other ways the film points to the destructive power of religious belief corrupted by self- or socio-political interest. On the other hand it ignores the role religion can play in developing robust ethical thinking about the ways in which we can interact meaningfully with others and the world.


Exposed, illegal, adrift

  • Frances Roberts
  • 09 August 2016

This cramped corner of the decking planks is all you have on a pelagic wreck, a Medusa raft, splintered, rank ... Part of an interlocking human mat, you lie exposed and frightened, to escape the below deck stench of excrement and illness. Scant hope here of sleep ... The true villains in this outcome bask proudly in their stand firm against illegal entry by the family of man.