How can one explain the extraordinary degree of political distrust and, beyond that, the pervasive taste for mystery and conspiracy which is everywhere so conspicuous in America today? Old conspiracy theories (concerning Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, and the assassination of President Kennedy) are out of the dustbin and enjoying new life; there seem to be more than enough readers for five different treatments of that laughable non-mystery, the Bermuda Triangle; the flying-saucer faithful are riding high; and a new species of high-class monster movie (The Conversation, Chinatown, Night Moves, The Parallax View) ends with the monster alive and still menacing. The message in these movies seems to be that we are surrounded by unconquerably complex and sinister forces; withdrawal and resignation are offered as appropriate responses.
The customary explanation is that recent revelations concerning Watergate, Vietnam, the CIA and FBI, et al., have caused and perhaps justify the present mood of distrust and that truthfulness and rectitude on high will one day dispel it. However, close examination of the cultural scene re- veals that this is only part of the explanation and perhaps not the most important part. I believe we are dealing with habits of mind in the very center of our life and times which positively revel in mystification, which do not wish to know the truth and perhaps could not recognize it if they saw it.
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