Let's Keep Maine Eccentric (But Not Crazy)
The physicist Niels Bohr, a patriarchal Dane who died in 1962, was regarded for a time as one of the few people on Earth able to make some sense of the web of paradoxes inherent in quantum physics. One story about Bohr is that he was present at the reading of a provocative paper by a younger scientist. The paper was received with a thunderous silence broken finally when Bohr rose and said, “We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question that divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct.”
Scientists (and others) love this quip, as they do another by the biologist J.B.S. Haldane, often quoted in variant form and mis-attributed to Albert Einstein: “Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”
Such grand thoughts about universal truth have a down-to-earth implication. Anyone seeking a final, definitive explanation to account for all the complexities of life is bound to be disappointed. Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t try to deepen our understanding of the world around us — only that we have to learn to live with a certain level of uncertainty and ambiguity.
That’s obviously difficult for many people. And so we have conspiracy theories.
Weird ideas — about government, history, 9-11, economic currency, fake space flights, “grammar control” and other topics — have been in the news this week, after the shooting in Arizona. Though we don’t really know much about the world-view, such as it is, of Jared Lee Loughner, it seems clear from a trail of internet postings that he subscribed to a range of odd notions on many topics. The Anti-Defamation League has posted a helpful, if tentative, analysis.
But here’s the thing. I’ve heard many of these same ideas around a kitchen table just down the road, at the home of a left-leaning artist friend. And thousands of Maine radio listeners were treated to a breathless recitation of this kind of nonsense — presented as objective truth, as such things generally are — on a popular community radio station just a couple of weeks ago. After 30 minutes of incoherent revelation by a “Vatic Master” (or possibly the Vatic Master), the phones were opened up, and a number of Mainers dialed in feverishly to cite their own favorite Things They Don’t Want You To Know. Really, you should listen to this, if you think insane, anti-government ranting is endemic to the rabid Southwest but rare in our more temperate cultural clime. And fortunately you can, via the station archives, under the charmingly misspelled heading “Millenialist Specials.”
All of which might still seem harmless enough. There are crazy people everywhere, right? But some of these wacky notions found their way last year into the official platform of the Maine Republican Party. I’ll defer to the Frum Report, a centrist Republican forum, for a quick recap:
“The new Maine GOP platform now calls for, among other things, getting rid of the Department of Education and the Federal Reserve. It also rails against ‘the UN Treaty of Child Rights’ and ‘Law of Sea Treaty’ on the grounds that we must push back against ‘efforts to create a one world government.’ The tea partiers also took the opportunity to call for an investigation of (this is an actual quote) the ‘collusion between government and industry in the global warming myth.’ Also, we’ve adopted Austrian economics… whatever that means.”
Pretty cool, huh? And these are the guys now running the asylum.
I used to tell people that moving to Maine had cured me of writing science fiction. Why bother making up imaginary worlds and populating them with strange characters, I would ask, when you can just drive up to Belfast and take notes? I followed my own advice (not always a good idea) and wrote a novel called Tex and Molly in the Afterlife, most of whose characters were, shall we say, strongly inspired by actual personalities.
One of these characters, or rather his human analog, was the very first caller to the “Millenialist Special” a couple of weeks ago.
I may have to take up science fiction again. This reality trip is getting a little too weird for me. And for some reason it’s not as much fun anymore.