“I have said, and said it calmly, that this is the curiousest world I ever see in my life. And I shan’t take it back. I hain’t one to whiffle round and dispute myself. I made the statement cool and firm, and shall stand by it.”
Marietta Holly, My Wayward Pardner (1880)
“It was ordained that an age, a dupe to the frantic rage of impiety substituted to reason, a dupe to the oaths of hatred and the wish of crushing all religion, mistaken for toleration . . . to ignorance for science, to depravity for virtue, a dupe in short to all the intrigues and plots of the most profound wickedness mistaken for the proceedings and means of wisdom; it was ordained, I say, that this Age of Philosophy should also be a dupe to the plots of the rebellious Sophisters, mistaken for the love of society and the basis of public happiness.”
Abbé Barruel, Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism (1799)
Readers of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland know that those who go “down a rabbit hole” find the familiar world growing “curiouser and curiouser.” Indeed, the farther they venture into the rabbit hole, the more likely they begin to say, and say it in a way from which they can never after “whiffle round” and dispute, “that this is the curiousest world I ever see in my life.”
To “go down a rabbit hole” nowadays means to independently investigate a question, normally by aid of the internet, and by so doing discover that the answer is not the answer you were taught in Sunday or any other school. The answer you find “down a rabbit hole” is instead much more ambiguous than, or even the flat opposite of, the answer you were furnished aboveground by “the best authorities.”
This is why anyone who goes “down a rabbit hole” will sooner or later exclaim, like the fictional Alice, “curiouser and curiouser.” Or like the fictional Samantha Allen, that “this is the curiousest world I ever see in my life.”
* * * * *
Many who go “down a rabbit hole” also sooner or later emit another exclamation that begins with the letter c, and this exclamation is, of course, conspiracy!
There are many parts in a “conspiracy theory,” and conspirators use many of these parts to distract attention from the main part, which is the conspirators’ manipulation of the dupes. We have this word dupe from the jargon of French criminals, who themselves had it from the name of a bird called the hoopoe, which is, incidentally, the national bird of Israel. French criminals regarded the hoopoe (or dupe) as especially stupid, and therefore the word dupe as a fitting name for a stupid person who is easily tricked.
A person is duped when he is tricked, or fooled, into acting as an unwitting accomplice in a conspiracy against himself. A dupe is thus a cat’s paw, a patsy, a mug, a tool.
The British Prime Minister and novelist Benjamin Disraeli made the meaning of the word perfectly clear in his novel Vivian Grey (1826), where the eponymous hero says, mistakenly,
“I am not, I trust, the dupe, or tool, of anyone whatever.”
Vivian Grey’s illusion of clear-sightedness will not survive a plunge “down a rabbit hole,” because a plunge “down a rabbit hole” teaches a man that he has been the dupe of conspirators who have blown smoke in his eyes, and that no one is more completely duped than the dupe who is sure that he, for one, sees things clearly.
* * * * *
“There lives not a more complete dupe than he who sees through half the design of an accomplished dissembler.”
Sir Arthur Helps, Thoughts in the Cloister and the Crowd (1883).***
No one returns from a plunge “down a rabbit hole” with his illusions intact. Everyone returns feeling the chagrin of a disillusioned dupe. Everyone returns smarting with the knowledge that he has been hoodwinked and played by devious and designing men.
All are not, alas, humbled by this new knowledge of their susceptibility to mind-control and manipulation, and too many presume that, having “gone down a rabbit hole,” they have reached its very bottom.
This is why a partially disillusioned “conspiracy theorist” is so easily made the dupe of deeper conspiracies, and what the British statesman Sir Arthur Helps meant when he said that the most complete dupes are men who see through “half the design of an accomplished dissembler.”
Every successful conspirator is an accomplished dissembler because to dissemble is to dupe with a false appearance. To resemble is to look like something. It is to appear similar. To dissemble is to look like something other than what you really are. In fact, it is to appear as the opposite of what you really are.
As Abbé Barruel makes clear in my long epigraph, the great conspiracy of modern history is itself an accomplished dissembler that appears as the opposite of what it really is. Dissembling madness, it appears as philosophy and reason. Dissembling fanaticism, it appears as liberal toleration. Dissembling ignorance, it appears as science, dissembling depravity, it appears as virtue, dissembling malice, it appears as as philanthropic love.
And the only way to penetrate these false appearances is to “go down a rabbit hole” and see what goes on down below.
But those who go down a rabbit hole must never forget that a rabbit hole is itself very dark, that it gives way to an vast warren of innumerable twisting tunnels and doubtful dens, that there are at least as many accomplished dissemblers in the rabbit hole as out of it, and that the completest dupes are those who imagine they have found the bottom of the rabbit hole when they have not.
*) Marietta Holly, My Wayward Pardner; or, My Trials with Josiah, America, the Widow Bump, and Etcetery (Toronto: Rose-Belford Publishing Co., 1880), p. 19.
**) Abbé Barruel, Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, four vols., trans. Robert Clifford (Hartford: C. Davis, 1799), vol. 1, p. 225.
***) Sir Arthur Helps, Thoughts in the Cloister and the Crowd (Glasgow: Wilson and McCormick, 1883), p.100.