Inner City Diary
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Conspiracy theories run rampant in cities
December 2, 2001
Is there something about living in cities that breeds conspiracy theories?

When I first saw the movie, “Conspiracy Theory” I may have had more sympathy for poor Mel Gibson than many others. I’m not sure if it was memories of growing up in New York City, a city too big for reason. Maybe it’s the fact that there’s always more going on than what I know or understand.

Conspiracy theories are like weeds in city sidewalks. Pull them, spray them – hit them with all you’ve got. They’ll be back, mocking your efforts with their persistence.

I’ve heard lots of conspiracy theories in the last few years.

Shortly after our first formal church service at New Life, a nervous-looking man entered the building with a briefcase. He looked behind him to make sure he wasn’t being followed. Calming himself, he handed me a five page single-spaced dissertation explaining why he was the real prime minister of Canada and he needed my help to get back into office.

I’ve met my share of religious folk who blame everything on the devil. If there’s anything bad happening – from a flat tire to sickness - it’s all the devil’s doing, all part of his conspiracy. When I ask questions about rotating tires or giving up smoking, they look at me like a traitor to the “cause.”

Then there’s the woman we called the “Happy honker.” Each every time she neared an intersection on Ellice Avenue, she honked her horn repeatedly. It’s as if honking would protect her from people just waiting to hit her.

I remember chatting with a few black crack dealers down the street. They waxed eloquent about a racist plot to target them while leaving their white suppliers alone. I assured them that our hatred for coke was colorblind, and we’re pursuing their suppliers as well. Weeks later they’re still complaining that I’m complicit in a racist conspiracy to paint blacks as drug dealers. Give it a rest!

Then I got an email from one guy figuring that “the Jews” are behind everything nasty that’s wrong in the world. He tried to recast the Holocaust as historical fiction. I told him to take a hike and find a brain. Another fellow stopped by the church to enlist my support against the evil Jesuits because they “secretly control all the world’s institutions.” I was tempted to introduce them, to turn them loose on each other.

There’s the native kid I caught doing some vandalism in the neighbourhood. He may have been about 12 years old, late for school and leaving his mark on the neighbourhood. I got to him, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and wanted to haul him home – or to the school across the street. He looked at me and said, “What are you gonna do to me? My mom told me to look out for you white people. You’re all racists and you just want to hurt my people.”

I’ve met folks who get nutty about natives. “Send them all back to the reserve,” is their refrain.  They’re convinced that talk of an urban reserve is actually part of a plot to take over the whole city of Winnipeg. Their theories are packaged with exclusive attributions of drunkenness, poverty and crime to people they can’t even take the time to meet.

There is too much we don’t know. There are too many problems without solutions. And without a reasonable and quick solution, too many folks give in to temptations to concoct conspiracies and create villains.

Over coffee, through smoke, between bars, the theories develop. They take on a life of their own. It’s not long before all cops are crooked, all politicians are corrupt, all bankers are greedy, all landlords are slummers, all welfare recipients are scammers, and all suburbanites are uncaring.

Pretty soon, the world feels even colder than Portage and Main in the middle of January.

Much of my work these days seems to be about encouraging people to peek out from behind their paranoia long enough to do something positive. To take responsibility for the things they CAN control. To commit to the people they can love, rather than obsess over the people they fear.

There exists a good book which quotes the fact that “there is no fear in love.”

Here in my neighbourhood, I try to warn people of the flip side – there is no love in fear.
Copyright 2001
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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Contact info:
New Life Ministries
514 Maryland Street
Winnipeg, Mb R3G 1M5
(204) 775-4929
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