Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Conspiracy Theories

It seems like it's getting harder and harder to avoid conspiracy theories. In part because I have good friends who actually believe some of them and are pretty evangelical about it, in part because they keep surfacing in main stream media, probably because more and more activist voters seem too believe them. I've even known some very intelligent people who I have found to be very wise on a great many things who totally shocked me when I discovered that they believed some conspiracy theories that I considered pretty "out there." When intelligent people who know a great deal start believing conspiracy theories, I suppose they depart the realm of the lunatic fringe and become something that needs to be thought about.

I guess you could say that I do believe in conspiracy theories to some extent, after all whenever two or more people agree to work towards a common goal and do so on the QT, they can be said to be conspiring. However, a quick look at a few dictionary definitions shows that, given the way most people take the word, that common goal needs to be illegal or evil to be a conspiracy. That being the case, a lot may depend on your definition of evil. For example, to a Fundamentalist Christian who believes that homosexuality is evil, a meeting behind closed doors of a group dedicated to making gay marriage legal across all fifty of the United States could be considered a conspiracy. Partly what that means is, the narrower, shallower and more exclusive your definition of evil is, the more conspiracies you are likely to see in the world around you. However, that can run both ways. I'm sure that a group of gay people who want to legalize gay marriage would view a group of Fundamentalist Christians meeting behind closed doors to figure out how to prevent legalizing gay marriage as a conspiracy too. In a country as divided as to what evil is as the United States is, there will always be people who see conspiracies.

Criminal conspiracies on the other hand, would seem to be a greater matter for public concern. That there are criminal conspiracies, there can be no doubt. Organized crime is by its very definition a criminal conspiracy and there is no doubt that there are drug cartels, terrorist groups and any number of groups with the term "mafia" attached to them out there conspiring to break any number of laws. I assume that these conspiracies will always be with us. As long as there are laws there will be someone trying to get around them. I also don't doubt that there are criminal conspiracies in the hallowed halls of big business; again, as long as there are rules about how it is legal and illegal to make money, someone will be trying to figure out a way around them. I do dislike the fact that the government seems less concerned about the latter than the former, but I don't know how that will change as long as politicians need large sums of money to buy TV commercials during campaign season and as long as 50% of the American voters believe that they have to let big business do whatever they want to protect the economy. However, the conspiracies that I keep hearing people screaming about are political in nature.

I assume that a political conspiracy is the same thing as a criminal conspiracy but that it takes place within government. Most of the political conspiracy theories that I hear about are about concentrations of wealth and power and suggest that various people who already have wealth and power are the real government of the United States and that the organs of government created by the constitution are at this moment in history only for show. This I don't think that I believe because it seems fairly obvious that as much as we don't like our politicians, they do seem to be bending over backwards to convince us that what they do is right, because they want our votes. Sometimes the bend over backwards to give us what we want even if we don't quite know what we want, which doesn't make their job any easier. Sometimes they fight for what we want when what we want is foolish or misinformed.They fight each other because large chunks of the population want something that disagrees with what other large chunks of the population want. Politicians disagree based on whether they are from blue or red states. All of this behavior on the part of politicians does seem to be indicative of what you would expect in a democracy. I think that most of the problems we face as a nation are due to voters misunderstanding or being misinformed on issues, as well as bad decisions made in the suites of CEO's and board rooms of huge businesses. Whether or not those activities are criminal, evil or just stupid is another matter.

The first political conspiracy theory that I ever ran across was about something called The Trilateral Commission (Wikipedia has an article on them here:  and as it turns out, they have their own website at For a secret organization bent on ruling the world there seems to be a great deal of information available about them. Similar groups include The Bilderberg Group ( and and the Council On Foreign Relations ( and These organizations are made up of people who, separately and together, wield a great deal of power and money (except maybe the Council on Foreign relations which also seems to include journalists who don't have a great deal of money but could be said to have great influence).

Now, I know that those of us who don't have a great deal of power or money have a tendency to be suspicious of organized concentrations of a great deal of power and money, perhaps rightfully so, but, it only makes sense that  people with a great deal of power and money, like birds of a feather, will flock together. People who have common interests always form groups. It is no more surprising that rich and powerful people will get together and take action on common goals than that great writers ( or artists will group together, or that block clubs will form to take care of neighborhood problems (you can bet that some people in the neighborhood that aren't members of the block club or condo committee will think that the club is oppressive).

The question isn't really whether or not groups with great power promote a political agenda, I'm sure that the do and, we have every right to oppose that agenda. The real question is do those groups involve themselves in illegal activity? As with organized crime or white collar crime, that is a matter for law enforcement. Once a crime is committed, law enforcement seeks out a criminal. Whether or not law enforcement is competent or powerful enough to deal with crimes by the rich and powerful is another question but, as we shall see below, it isn't impossible for the rich and powerful to be brought low. In any event, if we want to maintain our own political right to freedom of assembly, the rich must be allowed the same right. I once knew a woman who went Yale and knew quite a few guys from Skull and Bones ( who was sure that the only thing they were up to was drinking and partying and I suppose that could be a criminal conspiracy if any of their members are under twenty one years old.

Now, there is a second class of political criminal conspiracies that are all too dangerous and real, namely, people in political power who use the power of their office to circumvent the law. Normally this is called corruption and seems all too common. The most spectacular example would be the Watergate scandal in which it was shown that a sitting president of the United States was using government intelligence assets and campaign contributions to spy on and sabotage political opponents. (As an aside, I would like to paraphrase something I once heard said by G.Gordon Liddy, who was a participant in and did time for that conspiracy. "I believe that there are political conspiracies, more than one, and that they compete with and oppose each other. So I'm not worried about them because they balance each other out.") The Iran/Contra scandal in which government officials illegally sold weapons to Iran in order to raise money to help rebels against the Nicaraguan government during the administration of President Ronald Regan also falls into this category, as would the assassination of President John F. Kennedy if, as many people think, he was murdered by the military or CIA, which, as far as I'm concerned, remains unproven,  but so does any Senator or Congressperson who takes a bribe, sexually harasses an employee or uses his or her power for something illegal.

As with organized and white collar crime, this will always be with us, however, I do have some faith in law enforcement. While I am sure that not everyone in politics who commits a crime gets caught or is adequately punished, I have enough faith to give me some confidence that law enforcement is at least trying to be on the case and, for what it's worth, I'm sure that only a fraction of all law breakers in every part of society are ever caught or punished. While big media may have fallen down on the job in many instances, news media brought down Richard Nixon, the president of the United States, as a result of the Watergate break in. I suppose it is a bad thing that corrupt politicians and white collar criminals don't often do a lot of hard time for their crimes but, removing them from power is something.

Then of course, there are the fringe conspiracy theories. I am tempted to call them "the lunatic fringe conspiracy theories" except that I have known some very sane and intelligent people who believe fringe conspiracy theories. One example is that of a very wise man that I knew who believed that the government agency FEMA is gearing up to set up death/prison camps. As wise as this guy was he didn't see that part of FEMA's mission would be to set up refugee camps in the event of a huge disaster, say, something like, San Francisco being destroyed by a massive earthquake and that you'd need the sort of gear that could also be used for setting up a death/prison camp to set up a refugee camp. I have no idea why he thought he saw what he saw in FEMA's stockpiled materials, I do know that when they needed to house refugees from New Orleans' after hurricane Katrina they were completely incompetent and one can only hope that they would be just as incompetent if ever called upon to set up prison/death camps.

There are way too many fringe conspiracy theories to discuss them all but I think many of them would (and do) make good novels, movies and TV shows, like, say, any of the many many conspiracy theories that involve aliens. (I have often wondered why beings that have the technology to travel distances that it takes light longer than the entire history of the human race to traverse would need to conquer/aid us via stealth.) A lot of fringe conspiracy theories are racist in nature, like the idea that our democracy is secretly controlled by something named ZOG (Zionist Occupation Government). Many are religious and go back to the problem of a narrow definition of evil, for example, that some of the organizations above are actually occultists or Satanists. (Actually, I'm all for occultists but many with a narrow definition of evil think that occultists and Satanists are the same thing.) Of course everyone's favorite of the last few years is that Barak Obama is a Kenyan born Muslim terrorist with a secret anti American agenda.

The more I think about conspiracy theories the more that they disturb me. The human psyche seems to create them as a reaction to fear and a sense that we have no control over our own lives. I suspect that most people learn to deal with insecurity fairly well, after all, it is a part of life that everyone does have to learn to deal with, but when I see preachers, pundits and politicians capitalizing on that fear for power, or, just to make a living, it makes me angry. I find it fairly easy to forgive an ignorant backwoods preacher who honestly believes that secret societies are out to destroy Democracy, Capitalism and Christianity or the deluded, but I think our civilization has a serious problem with people who market this fear for money, fame or political power. While fear may be an effective tool in getting people to do what you want, I don't believe that it is as easy to turn off as it is to turn on and it has long lasting consequences on the course that our society sets for itself. Furthermore, it spreads disinformation that clouds every issue and these days we have way to many seriously important issues to deal with that are already more complex than the average person wants to or has the training to deal with. That may be part of the problem. It may be that conspiracy theories make things seem simpler. We don't have to learn macroeconomic principles as part of deciding who to vote for if we know that the Rothschild's, the aliens and Satan have already taken control over the world. Conspiracy Theories help us to go back to a simpler time when everything was black and white. Well, unfortunately, it's not that simple and tilting and windmills projected by ignorance and paranoia isn't going to help.

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