Am I the only one who’s seeing this?

Recession, war: nothing slows U.S. paranoia productivity. And nation, we can’t fall behind.

(Photo illustration by Maclean’s)

Their economy is in decline, their military is bogged down in two wars and their Jon & Kate have split up, but Americans remain undisputed world leaders in one pursuit: the creation of conspiracy theories.

A building can’t be blown up, a prominent figure can’t be gunned down and a Marisa Tomei can’t be awarded an Oscar without a mistrustful minority of Americans blaming the shadowy hand of sinister forces beyond their sight and comprehension. The shootings at Fort Hood are just the latest example. Within hours, the attack was being described online as a Republican conspiracy to undermine opposition to the Iraq war, an Islamic conspiracy to undermine the Republicans or a CIA conspiracy to . . . well, that CIA is up to something.

Forget baseball and crystal meth: our neighbour’s real national pastime is paranoia. It’s as American as Mom, apple pie and childhood obesity. The assassination of JFK? A secret plot to install a New World Order. Efforts to fight climate change? A secret plot created by the New World Order. Discontinuing the McRib? You’ve gone too far, New World Order!

These skeptics have a number of things going for them. First, they have their moniker—conspiracy theorist. It makes them sound smart, and confers more credibility than, say, friendless shut-in. Second, they have the Internet. It’s hard to believe there was a time when the default domain of the conspiracy theorist was a blank sheet of foolscap crying out for cramped handwriting and spelling mistakes. Today, all that’s needed to disseminate one’s theory that the “moon landing” was filmed on Shelley Winters’ backside is an Internet connection and a knowledge of CAPS LOCK. (Because nothing makes you seem more rational than TYPING LIKE THIS.)

IN THE MIND OF THE CONSPI—oops, sorry . . . In the mind of the conspiracy theorist, every government decree is suspicious. Every “fact” is likely to be proven phony. Every newspaper headline is the handiwork of the cigarette-smoking man from The X-Files. In the writing of the conspiracy theorist, there is no such thing as a lone gunman, a benevolent Jew or punctuation.

This is not to say that all such theories are hogwash. There is, for instance, abundant evidence to support my belief that having Kathy Bates appear naked in About Schmidt was a vast Hollywood conspiracy to turn me gay. And everyone who’s anyone knows that Oprah is an amphibian shape-shifter.

The root of the appeal of these theories isn’t the conspiracy itself—it’s what the conspiracy means. It’s weirdly reassuring to believe the planet is secretly run by Jews, seven-foot-tall lizard people or—to push all limits of believability—seven-foot-tall Jews. Think about it: if dark, menacing influences are behind our every failing and calamity, we’re not to blame for screwing the world up. It was all the fault of the lizard Jews!

But you want to be careful when picking a conspiracy theory to probe, support and ADVOCATE ONLINE. Some are too underwhelming to warrant the kind of hysteria you’re going to want to express. Take the “birthers.” They believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya and is ineligible to serve as president. Alas, it’s hard to get people interested in a “conspiracy” that was allegedly masterminded by someone with 50 cents and access to a photocopier at Office Depot.

Other theories have disreputable connections. Consider the 9/11 “truthers.” They contend the 2001 terrorist attacks were the work of rogue elements in the Bush administration, or possibly rogue elements in the intelligence community, or maybe rogue Jews, or most likely all these people sitting together in an underground lair stroking their cats. The 9/11 conspiracy is big and exciting and it would be an excellent theory to get behind were it not for the fact its most prominent advocate is—and I am not making this up—Charlie Sheen.

Sheen is a hero among truthers. He has spoken about his belief that the twin towers were brought down by “controlled demolition.” (He has also spoken about his belief that his latest wife is “smokin’ hot,” a theory that is not in question.) The actor has even sponsored a contest offering a $14,000 prize for the video that best makes the case for a new investigation of the events of Sept. 11. And hey, if that video somehow manages to include a three-way with hookers, he’ll investigate that too, bro.

While the U.S. advances its dominance in manufactured conspiracies, Canada continues to lag. We can’t afford to fall further behind in paranoia productivity. First step: we need to develop an alternate history of some our country’s seminal moments. The failure at Dieppe? Aliens. The failure of the Meech Lake accord? Really boring aliens. That time when Kim Campbell was prime minister for 20 minutes? It was all the doing of a seven-foot-tall, Jewish Charlie Sheen.

And this column? This column never happened.