When I was a child my parents told me about this man named Santa Claus. Santa Claus, if you have never heard a similar tale, is allegedly this ageless guy who lives at the North Pole. Every Christmas he travels around the world in his magic sleigh pulled by reindeer, and somehow defies the passage of time by visiting the household of every child to deliver gifts. (Or at least the household of every nice child—naughty children got nothing, as my parents repeatedly warned me every time I acted “out of line.”)
Despite the ridiculous nature of the story, even to the pre-school version of me, I decided to believe it, to take their word for it—after all, why would my parents lie? Didn’t they have my best interests at heart? Didn’t they themselves repeatedly tell me that lying was “wrong,” was one of the Deadly Sins that would make Santa Claus skip my chimney come Christmas? Then, when I reached a certain age and confronted them about it, I found out that (as many of you have already discovered) the whole thing was a lie. The toys I opened on Christmas morn weren’t made by elves at the North Pole, they were made by poorly-paid laborers and purchased at local department stores. That day marked the beginning of my descent into paranoia.
Nobody really thinks about the whole Santa Claus phenomenon much. As a child, when you find out the truth you must still allow your younger siblings or cousins to find out on their own or risk getting in trouble—when the authorities lie, telling the truth is a crime. Then they grow up and tell their own kids about the fat man in the red suit without really thinking about why they’re doing it or what the implications are. Perhaps some clever students of sociology explain it as that culture’s particular rite of passage, initiation into the inner perimeter of adult society.
I like to look at it as a conspiracy. Ever since my Santa Claus illusions were shattered I have been very mistrustful of whatever “authority” figures tell me the truth is, knowing that they could be lying to me FOR ABSOLUTELY NO GOOD REASON. Conspiracies can exist without any of the members involved even being conscious that they are part of any conspiracy. The sad fact about conspiracies is that they do not need to be driven by some Power Elite sitting in a room somewhere puffing on cigars and planning which democratically-elected official to assassinate next, which Manchurian Candidate Lone Gunman to activate, which buildings to fly planes into. Conspiracies can just happen, arise out of social forces no one really understands. This is the lesson of the Santa Claus conspiracy.
But there are of course more lessons to be drawn from this. Those who scoff at conspiracy theories often pull out the line “How could you manage a conspiracy that large? It’s simply impossible!” Yet no conspiracy to kill Kennedy or conceal alien contact or get Bush elected has ever been postulated to be as large as the Santa Claus conspiracy actually IS: almost every adult and many children over the age of eight in North America alone. How does a conspiracy so large manage to operate? How can there still be small children to this day who are deceived, who believe in Santa Claus? The answer is simple: control of information. Any information a child runs into that denies the existence of Santa Claus is dismissed by the authorities he or she goes to to verify it. Famously, the Saturday Evening Post once told a small girl the bald-faced lie: “Yes, Virginia…” Older children who discover the truth either become co-conspirators or keep their mouth shut, out of fear of retribution for leaking the truth.
And of course, maybe the real conspiracy is that there IS a Santa Claus after all. Looking up in the sky once as a child I thought I saw his sled as it was pulled by the reindeer. The problem with paranoia is that it allows no verified truth to stand. Rather like the scientific method which can never completely prove a theory, merely disprove it, paranoia is a tool for deconstructing old realities but very poor for building new realities to replace them. Who can you believe?