It took 9/11 to show me the real damage conspiracy theories can do. Since then, the gleeful and gullible ability of many to believe any and all conspiracy theories has convinced me that Lee Harvey Oswald probably did kill John F. Kennedy, and probably alone. The reason for our desperate need for conspiracy theories hasn’t been put any more eloquently than by Norman Mailer, in the passage below. In a way, the powerlessness we feel before world events and our own national institutions is so great that we almost reverse the process by pretending to know their great secrets.
Mailer writes that the apparent absurdity of someone like Oswald being able to kill someone like Kennedy is the kind of absurdity which “corrodes our species.” But as we are learning in 2019, not being able to face absurdity is just as damaging to our species, if not more:
It is virtually not assimilable to our reason that a small lonely man felled a giant in the midst of his limousines, his legions, his throng, and his security. If such a non-entity destroyed the leader of the most powerful nation on earth, then a world of disproportion engulfs us, and we live in a universe that is absurd. So the question reduces itself to some degree: If we should decide that Oswald killed Kennedy by himself, let us at least try to comprehend whether he was an assassin with a mission or a killer without one…. Let us recognize, however, that it makes some difference in our commonweal, each and every time, whether an act of murder is visionless or mindless or is a cry of wrath that rises from a skewed heart maddened by its own vision of injustice.
We have come at least to the philosophical crux of our inquiry: It would state that the sudden death of a man as large in his possibilities as John Fitzgerald Kennedy is more tolerable if we can perceive his killer as tragic rather than absurd. That is because absurdity corrodes our species.
– Norman Mailer, Oswald’s Tale: An American Mystery, 198