From the Flat Earth to the Deep State, conspiracy theories have begun to pervade our popular discourse for better or worse. Probably worse. One of the latest tinfoil hat-worthy theories has popped up in recent weeks as the California wildfires continue to rage out of control. One of those fires, the Camp Fire, has become the deadliest and most destructive wildfire ever to ravage California. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined but was most likely sparked by a combination of recent weather and rampant human activity, or even by simple random happenstance.
Still, conspiracy theorists aren’t convinced that some evil cabal of all-powerful movers and shakers didn’t start the fire on purpose for nefarious ends. According to a new conspiracy theory making its way through the series of tubes, the California wildfires weren’t sparked by any of the usual causes, but instead by powerful direct energy laser weapons fired from high-altitude drones or satellites. Or maybe that is a usual cause.
One of the most compelling pieces of “evidence” presented for this theory is a map being passed around Twitter purporting to show that the wildfires just so happen to be burning the exact same areas proposed for a new California High Speed Rail System. Believers claim that the fires were intentionally started so that the state wouldn’t have to buy up all of the private property which happened to be in the way of the proposed rail line, or even perhaps to significantly lower those property values. However - and this is a real shocker - it turns out that the map is misleading; it shows the "red flag" fire advisory zones, not the actual current state of the fires, and uses an out-of-date projected path of the rail line. Who knew fire advisory zones would perfectly match areas with dense populations who might be best served by a rail line? Who knew conspiracy theorists would pick and choose misleading information and graphics?
As the word grows increasingly more complex in terms of the interconnected geopolitical, governmental, and economic systems that drive major events, many occurrences or trends no longer have clear cut cause-effect relationships. Still, many people would rather believe the world is driven by simple power relations and that there are all-powerful people pulling the strings as opposed to interrelated, complicated systems beyond our comprehension or control. Hence, the rise of conspiracy theories in our turbulent, ever-changing modern era.
When unexpected and seemingly random, meaningless events happen, it’s natural for people to try and want to find or create tidy explanations for them. Due to the way our brains and/or consciousnesses work, humans are bound to believe that nothing happens by pure accident. When significant events occur, we feel a need to believe there is a significant, easily explainable cause. The world is confusing, and it can be natural to want to seek out tidy explanations to make things easier to understand.
Could the California wildfires have been started by laser weapons fired from space? While it may be possible (who knows what’s up there at the moment), outdated and misleading maps aren’t exactly proof of anything. It might nice to imagine that catastrophic random events were orchestrated by omnipotent overlords, but sometimes we just have to admit that randomness, entropy, and chaos are most often the true engines of change in the world. Embrace it.