When I was in college, I received multiple versions of the same email warning me that, if an oncoming car were to flash its high beams at me, I should under no circumstances respond in kind. The forwarded email went on to say that gangs had begun a new form of initiation in which the prospect flashed his brights at oncoming cars. When he got a car to flash back, the gangster-to-be was ordered to turn the car around and kill the driver of that car. Only then would he be granted full membership.
Around the same time, multiple friends forwarded a story to me about a person who smuggled a cactus into the states following a vacation in Mexico. He planted the cactus in his yard and began to water it conscientiously. The cactus grew and grew and soon doubled its size. Then one day, the homeowner was out back and he noticed the cactus shivering violently. Not knowing what to do, he called a local plant shop. After hearing his story, the store manager nervously asked some questions about the cactus and then, in a panic, told the man to hang up immediately and evacuate the house. Just as he did so, the cactus in the backyard exploded and sprayed thousands and thousands of poisonous spiders all over the man’s property.
This was in the days before snopes.com or Google. It was before everyone was naturally suspicious of anything that came as a forwarded email. (Actually, this was before Microsoft Windows. I read both of those emails in MS-DOS.) And it was long enough ago that I believed both of the stories when I read them. Then again, at that point I also believed that Oliver Stone’s JFK was an honest depiction of the Kennedy assassination.
I tell you all this to explain my current position on urban legends, forwarded emails and conspiracy theories. I don’t believe any of them. For me they are all false until proven true. And even then, I’m not sure. No doubt that means someday I’ll be on the wrong side of a conspiracy. I’ll refuse to believe one that is true. But more often than not, I believe I’ll be right.
There’s one glaring exception, one conspiracy theory that I embrace wholeheartedly. I’m going to tell you about it this Sunday. I hope you’ll be enough of a crackpot to believe it with me.