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The Mystery of What Goes On Behind the Scenes of Your Social Life

It’s comforting to imagine that conspiracies run our world. To think there is some hidden order to things, a superstructure held high over our heads by a shadowy cabal of insiders. Of course, there’s no hidden order—but then again, of course there is. It’s all of us. We’re all insiders, managing an intricate web of relationships, deploying hundreds of unseen gestures and soft power plays, soaking up gossip with all the urgency of counterintelligence. It’s at once mundane, and yet no less chilling than any other conspiracy, because it leaves you questioning the very fabric of reality, wondering what you don’t know.

Ask yourself—how many cover-ups have you taken part in? How many times have you heard something you weren’t supposed to hear, withheld certain details to make your case, deftly changed the subject, or tried to steer someone’s behavior without them knowing? If you can do all that without a second thought, everyone around you must be doing it, too.

Of course, you’d like to think you’ve got a clear view of the broader social landscape, but it’s possible you don’t have a clue. There are so many backstories that people keep to themselves, so many back channels you don’t even know exist. Random clusters of friends might be carrying on parallel conversations in another group text, or meeting up regularly at events you’re not invited to. People know far more about you than you think, holding on to secrets and rumors they use to inform your character but never mention in your presence. Some of your friends are vastly different people when they’re one-on-one with each other, such that both would seem unrecognizable. Even now an unexpected pair of them might be helping each other through a crisis, or carrying on a silent feud, or having a fling that you won’t hear about until years later. There might be a big dramatic event going on that bends the course of our lives, except for certain people left out of the loop, who’ll always have to wonder. And even if everything was open and honest, you’d still have to confront the ever-shifting labyrinth of interconnected relationships and personas and levels of intimacy you could scarcely even begin to fathom.

It’s enough to make you crazy, never knowing if you’re living in an alternate reality being constructed around you. But perhaps there’s some comfort in that uncertainty. After all, cui bono? Who benefits? For all you know, it might be you. Who knows how many colleagues called in favors to get you an interview or lobbied hard to save your job? How many little crises were happening on your wedding day that were deliberately hidden from your view? Protectors all around you might be sheltering you from looming dangers, so you never have to lose sleep knowing how at risk you really were. Your family might spend hours discussing where your life is going, comparing notes to figure out what you need the most right now. Sometimes your friends will wait until you leave the table before they all start singing your praises, only to change the subject just before you return. It’s not a crazy thought. It happens all the time.

None of us knows the full picture of what’s really going on. All we know for sure is that some mysterious force is working behind the scenes to keep our communities intact and our relationships running—sometimes smoothly, sometimes not. But we all sleep a little better, knowing some sort of conspiracy is afoot. Otherwise we’d be tossing and turning all night, haunted by the notion that we’re all just acting alone.

From amity, friendship + conspiracy, a collective plot to secretly pursue a sinister goal. Pronounced “am-uh-see.”

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