I’ve never been one to buy into conspiracy theories, but I’ve always found them fascinating. In eighth grade, I went to a slumber party at the home of a girl whose parents were heavily involved with the John Birch Society. She had me and all the other girls at the party convinced that Communists had taken over the United States.
When my mother picked me up the next morning, I told her the terrifying news. “Oh, honey,” she said, “That’s just a bunch of hooey. It’s a conspiracy theory. Cross it off your worry list.” Mother went on to explain what a conspiracy theory is.
In the fifty-something years since that slumber party, I’ve spent a lot of time studying conspiracy theories and pondering how people can believe such nonsensical stuff. Here are my top five favorites: Elvis is alive and Paul McCartney is dead. Secret Societies–the Freemasons and the Illuminati, to name just a couple–control the world. The Holocaust never happened. The moon landing was faked. And my favorite during these coronavirus times: Bill Gates is going to see to it that a microchip is included in each syringe of Covid-19 vaccine so that he can track the movements of every person on earth who gets the shot. Wowie zowie.
While scrolling through Facebook a few days ago, I came across an interesting and new conspiracy theory. A friend had posted a meme picturing a piece of lined notebook paper on which was written this sentence— in cursive, of course. “Share if you think schools should teach children to write in cursive!”
I had no intention of responding. I’ve written a number of columns about the pros and cons of cursive handwriting and wasn’t in the mood to rehash any of those arguments. But, just for grins, I started scrolling through the comments. “Yes!!!” one of them said. “Most definitely!!!” said another. Then this comment: “We don’t have time to teach everything required as it is. I’m not sure cursive is a necessary skill.” I gave that one a thumbs-up.
And then I read this post from a young woman I don’t know and who shall remain nameless: “If children can’t read cursive, they can’t read the U.S. Constitution.”
No, no, no, I told myself. Let it go. Don’t add fuel to the fire. Exit Facebook NOW. But I couldn’t help myself. I placed my fingers on the keyboard and wrote these words. “I’m a political science major. I’ve read the Constitution countless times but never once in cursive. It was transcribed to type years ago.”
Her reply was instantaneous. “Who did the transcribing? How do we know it was accurate? That’s placing a significant amount of faith in an unknown source.” I knew the wingnut knock-out punch was coming and, sure enough, it did. “The attempt to strip us of our rights, one by one, happens daily in this country. We should all brush up on the Constitution and protect this great nation from those attempting to destroy it.”
Now what should I do? Should I tell this young woman that hers is one of the most ridiculous but amusing conspiracy theories I’ve ever run across? Should I ask if she’s ever read the Constitution in its original copperplate script, which is exceedingly difficult to decipher even by those who have extensive knowledge of cursive handwriting? Should I inquire as to precisely how and when someone was able to sneak an altered typed version past Constitutional scholars? Or why anyone would want to do such a thing?
Or should I let it go and not reply at all? That’s the option I chose, knowing that it would be way more fun to write an entire newspaper column about the crazy things some people believe.
(May 31, 2020)