From the Iranian theocracy to the Nazi Party, the tyranny of Stalin to right wing politicians warning of reds under the bed, conspiracy theories have been used both to ferment hatred towards political opponents and create scapegoats for the sins of politicians, despots and businessmen.
The number and diversity of these theories is where they first run into trouble. Jews, gays, feminists, Muslims, Jesuits, Catholics, communists, satanists, masons and bankers can’t all be secretly running the planet. Nowhere’s got that much meeting space and it’s not like they get on. Which begs the question that also flummoxes most religions. How do you know that the conspiracy theory you believe in is the right one?
Much like religion, conspiracy theory is doubtlessly attractive. It provides easy answers in a complex world and tells you who to hate and often who to love – or at least whose books to buy. At its more extreme it promises eternal life and access to heaven. Many conspiracy theories have their roots in fundamentalist religious groups, whilst those at the new age end of the spectrum claim we are eternal light beings who will one day escape the terrors of the human condition.
Far worse than promoting over-optimistic fairy stories however is that conspiracy theory not only lets capitalism off the hook, but in many cases goes even further and suggests that the few constraints left on capital are the problem. Many conspiracy theorists in the US sincerely believe the NHS is a communist plot. In the UK right wingers talk of a liberal elite, a gay mafia, or femi-nazis that are holding back the glories of the free market run rampant. One conspiracy theorist blamed the crimes of Tony Blair on a secret marxist feminist cabal operating at the heart of the UK Government. If only that were the case.
The truth is almost all conspiracy theories can be demolished under even the most basic analysis – though it is difficult to convince someone who believes that watching a youtube video makes them as expert on subjects such as structural engineering, Egyptology or vaccination as those who have spent decades studying the subjects. This problem is glibly dismissed by the conspiratorial minded for one of two reasons. First is the claim that some of the most highly qualified scientists, researchers and historians in the world are merely ‘sheeple’ who refuse to acknowledge the truth out of stupidity and dogma. Or secondly, and more bizarrely, that they are all somehow in on the plot.
One of the secrets of committing crime is that the less people who know what you are up to then the less chance you have of getting caught. Coppers aren’t that bright and most serious criminals are convicted because someone grasses them up. Even small conspiracies of this nature often collapse eventually. Drug traffickers get arrested the world over every day. Most people can’t even get away with shagging someone behind their partner’s back. Even Chris Huhne, with all his wealth and contacts, couldn’t dodge a speeding ticket.
This means that the more people are alleged to be involved in any conspiracy, then the less likely it is to be true. The idea that hundreds of people helped to rig the World Trade Centre with explosives, and then covered up for that fact, in this context seems ridiculously implausible. It shouldn’t be forgotten that conspiracy theorists are accusing those involved in the plot of the mass murder of their own citizens. People they might know personally in some cases. That’s a pretty big allegation even for the slime at the top of the US administration. To suggest that hundreds of others, with no real motivation for doing so, conspired in the atrocity and managed to keep their mouths shut, flies in the face of everything we know and experience about human beings in our daily lives.
Conspiracy theorists get particularly cross about journalists who they claim refuse to see the youtube evidence that is staring them in the face (or again, that they are in on it). The truth is the precise opposite. Journalists require evidence before publishing anything at all or they get sued. This makes their jobs harder not easier than the likes of David Icke and his ilk, who are happy to believe, and publish, anything that fits the narrative they have already decided upon. A world in which the press could make allegations of murder, theft or other crimes with no real evidence would not work out well for those at the bottom.
That doesn’t mean journalists don’t often have hidden agendas, or don’t sometimes get things wrong. But it makes no sense to criticise sloppy, or biased journalists and then believe any old tripe someone said on a website or in a book once. And extraordinary claims require an extraordinary standard of evidence.
There is no evidence for example that 911 was an’ inside job’, which is why no serious media publication has ever made the claim. Almost every qualified individual in the world who understands structural engineering, architecture or even explosives agrees why the towers fell. Osama Bin Laden himself eventually admitted Al Queda’s role in the attack whilst a wealth of both tragic witness testimony – given by those about to lose their lives – and hard physical evidence exists to support what conspiracy theorists scathingly call the ‘official narrative’. Even basic common sense suggests that the most likely reason those spindly towers fell is because a two great big fucking planes just crashed into them.
It is true that the US response to the attack was shambolic. But even this has been forensically analysed and that analysis published in the 911 Commission Report.
Over time none of this will matter. The legend will persist just as it does with the assassination of JFK, that this was a devious and murderous plot by Zionists, the Illuminati, freemasons, or almost anyone but Islamist terrorists who are apparently too inept, or just too darn lovely, to carry out such a crime. In time the conspiracy theory may even become regarded as fact, like the allegation that the Nazis burnt down the German Parliament to ease Hitler’s transition to full dictatorship. There’s no hard evidence that this was the case, although it may be true. It could equally have been the work of the allegedly drunken communist the Nazi Party fingered for the attack. Having known a few drunken communists, both scenarios are plausible. Sometimes, we just don’t know what happened. Simplistic solutions, such as it must have been the Nazis because they were evil, do not help us get any further to the truth.
None of this means that government don’t lie, that journalists aren’t sometimes lazy or even that rich and powerful people don’t sometimes conspire. But it seems perverse that conspiracy theory should flourish at the same time as we have a Government that couldn’t run a bath. Would you really want to be part of a serious criminal conspiracy alongside Iain Duncan Smith? If the answer is yes, then stick to shop lifting.
Posh people are shit are committing crimes. Despite their wealth, their schools, their lodges and clubs, they are no cleverer than any of the rest of us. Many of them are goody fucking two shoes, who hide their vile assaults on the marginalised with self-justifying religion, or nasty little prejudices. The public school boys at MI5 and MI6 are the type of kids who sucked up to teacher at school, told tales and stitched up classmates. They are as far from criminal masterminds as it is possible to be.
One thing that wealth and power do understand is money. And this is the reason behind so much suffering and conflict in the world. Traditional class divisions still very much exist. There are still bosses and workers, still landlords and tenants. It is in the interests of the rich to pay low wages, to privatise public services, to destroy social housing, or even to fight wars for oil, territory and long term economic objectives. They have no more shame in sending working class men and women to their death than they do in starving the poor and vulnerable or forcing them from their homes. Most were repeatedly told at school that they are the elite, here to govern, own, loot and occupy the commons of the world.
A consensus has developed amongst the powerful that free-market neo-liberalism – capitalism stripped of any concessions, whether they be a national health service, a welfare state or workers rights – is the only way the world can be organised. That this system also happens to be the one which makes them the most money is just a happy accident.
They don’t need to have secret meetings to achieve this. They are taught it in schools and universities across the globe. It is in their DNA, just as the struggle for workers rights, universal healthcare, strong welfare, and the eventual removal of these parasitic bastards should be in the DNA of all who suffer from their greed. It is class, not conspiracy that glues capitalism together.
Of course this all comes at a price, even for the powerful. As more people in the Western world are plunged into poverty due to neo-liberal austerity, the rich know they will need ever more totalitarian measures to control dissent. The last thing they want is to be murdered in their beds by their butlers or au pairs. And so greed and tyranny spreads out as those with real power – which comes from ownership of land, workplaces, property and bombs, not membership of non-existent secret societies – further enrich themselves at our expense.
This group are the one percent. But even this analysis favoured by many in the Occupy movement is flawed, placing the blame for the world’s ills on the evil rich or bent bankers rather than capitalism. The suffering of the world will not end with a nicer bunch of rich bastards in charge. It will not end if the Federal Reserve is shut down, or if bankers are more, or less regulated. No tinkering with the arcane rules of the City of London will end poverty or even corruption. Every banker could (and should) be jailed overnight, but without radical change they will quickly be replaced by another bunch of thieves.
Conspiracy theory promotes the rich and powerful to demi-god status, literally in some cases, when in reality they are merely greedy fools. It muddles and obscures the crimes of both governments and the rich they serve. Those researching CIA drug dealing, the horrific MK Ultra programme or elite paedophile rings in the UK are met with a wall of misinformation, misdirection and speculation spewed out across the endless number of conspiracy websites. Often well meaning individuals are helping to cover up some of the greatest atrocities the powerful have committed.
Conspiracy theory is the enemy of our class, not the path to truth. This is something the far right is only too well aware of. It is no accident that far right politics and conspiracy theory often walk hand in hand. Fascists and racial supremacists have never been that big on meticulously researching facts and evidence either. But they know the power of dividing communities and using dramatic myths to whip up hatred. As austerity bites, this bullshit cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. Otherwise we risk walking into a new nightmare that is all too real.
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