Friday, October 28, 2016
Separating Paranoid Balderdash From Rational Conspiracy Thinking
It is no secret that in certain nations governed by the Neoliberal security meme, any conspiracy thinking is regarded as - if not a specific pathology - at least a minor mental aberration ("tin foil hat" syndrome). This actually makes eminent logical sense given the leaders of a Neoliberal, security -based government must - by definition- be on the lookout for anyone who might inveigh against their hard-earned agenda for which any disclosures are unwelcome.
No surprise then that a long time Neoliberal columnist, David Brooks, wrote in a recent NY Times Op-Ed ('The Epidemic Of Worry'):
"It is a well-established fact that people who experience social exclusion have a tendency to slide toward superstitious and conspiratorial thinking"
But is this really so?
To a degree, yes, but it must be clarified. By "social exclusion" Brooks doesn't necessarily mean the affected people live like hermits or outright recluses. He means, rather, they are outside the loop of the elite political class, outside the knowledge -based enterprises. He means, in general: i) those with the least advanced education, ii) those without the economic freedom to enable choices to enhance their knowledge of the system (taken to mean the Neoliberal system), and iii) those whose employment is not knowledge, information based but rather tied to muscle, hence again divorced from the knowledge loop. Often in two ways, first because their work precludes admission, and second because their work leaves them too taxed to investigate on their own.
For this lot, one of the few options is to hitch their fortunes and futures to a person - a de facto "voice" - who apparently has all the answers. In this case, he may suggest the whole system is "rigged" including the media, without giving particulars. Never mind, it saves the "excluded" from having to put forth individual efforts of their own. So they adopt his way of thinking, which often also entails conspiracies, i.e. the opposition campaign is the beneficiary of a "global network of elites".
In other words, the conspiracies latched onto translate to a sense of powerlessness. This would fit into the template Dr. Pat Bannister once invoked to describe a "conspiracy culture", thereby to distinguish it from "conspiracy research community". The latter she envisaged as the province of mature, rational, educated adults. The former was the realm of the semi-literate or poorly educated who fancied themselves adults but really weren't. They were more like overgrown children playing elaborate paranoid games. Irrationalists like the indiscriminate conspiracy monger, Alex Jones, e.g.
Jones is notorious for whacky conspiracy ideation such as confecting the off the wall bunkum that the Sandy Hook/Newtown massacre was a federal "false flag" operation. Those twenty kids weren't really slain, they were merely actors- as well as the teachers- in an elaborate script to befuddle the public and make them demand gun confiscation across the land.
In one of his more recent outbursts, Jones fulminated on Tuesday about a crypto Jewish conspiracy afoot in the country:
“I mean it’s not that Jews are bad; it’s just they are the head of the Jewish Mafia in the United States. They run Uber. They run the health care. They’re going to scam you. They’re going to hurt you.”
Really, Alex? And where is the hard data, documents for that claim? Or is it merely the brain fart from a ruptured psychotic embolism in your amygdala? The word "tin foil" had not yet achieved wide currency by the time of Dr. Pat Bannister's work, but I've no doubt she would have applied it to the spurious neural eruptions of crazy loons like Alex Jones.
Donald Trump is roughly in the same balmy, nutso camp as Jones with his "rigged election" conspiracy balderdash. Like many loons he believes that merely repeating unsupported claims makes them so. Thus his incessant references to this election being "rigged", or "stolen" as through "voter fraud". But how is that happening if states control the electoral process and 31 of the 50 states are run by Republican governors. Is Trump saying that even the governors of his own party are rigging the election? (John Kasich, of Ohio, dismissed that notion last Thursday morning on CBS as total idiotic nonsense.)
Now, what about a different perspective, such as advanced by Wikileaks' Julian Assange (a former physicist) , who in one 6-page blog article ('Conspiracy as Governance') advanced a meta-theory of conspiracy, i.e. as inherent to the very nature and workings of Neoliberal governance.
The essay tied together authoritarian governments, corporations, certain terrorist organizations and even political parties as fundamentally organizational "conspiracies"- defined as groups that conceal and hoard secret information to win a competitive advantage over the general public. This advantage would seek to either: a) keep them in the dark as to deals or laws that would be to the public's detriment, or b) activities that over time undermine democracy, privacy and liberty - though on the surface the media assists in a continuing whitewash.
The classic historical case is the JFK assassination, which saw a nascent, genuinely liberal Presidency removed by force in a coup d'état to make way for a Neoliberal security state able to gradually foreclose citizen knowledge of its workings while eroding civil liberties. See e.g.
But given we already exist within the security state germinated since that critical event, it behooves us to examine what that state has managed to hide from us, but which by diligent effort has been exposed. A lot of this arrived in 2013 with Edward Snowden's whistle blowing on NSA programs like MUSCULAR, Xkeyscore, etc, that trampled on citizens' 4th amendment rights.
Years before Snowden's release of files showing NSA mass spying, Assange in his treatise argued that leaks cut the "conspiracies" open like a double-edged knife, empowering the public with privileged information while spreading confusion among the conspirators themselves ("Who let that cat out of the bag?", "Who released that FOIA document?", "Who leaked that info!?")
Further, if constant leakage was the rule, as opposed to the exception, Assange argued that conspiratorial organizations would be gripped by destructive, internecine paranoia leaving only transparent groups and governments to flourish.
While at first blush Assange's treatise sounds as cracked as one of Jones' radio rants, one must take care not to jump to conclusions and instead investigate history for such a basis. If one is intelligent and diligent enough he will find that in the early operations of Edward Bernays.
Bernays began his career in Woodrow Wilson's Committee on Public Information. The objective was to drumbeat millions of recalcitrants into seeing the need for War. War to 'make the world safe for democracy' - in the words forged by Bernays first PR hacks. Later, much later - PR firms and sales-marketing departments would use the CPI as a template for their own efforts to mold the American mass mind.
Bernays left much more of a foundation for manipulative deceit than merely the CPI. For example, in 1923 he published what became the official manifesto of all future public relations 'Crystallizing Public Opinion'. As the title implies, the basic goal was to drumbeat the maximum number of 'the masses' into a homogeneous and consistent consent. But do it without their awareness.
By now the groundwork for control of the public mind, as well as hoarding secret information to enable its facile manipulation, was well underway. Five years later came Bernays' definitive work 'Propaganda' - whose principles were to be later adopted wholesale by Goebbels and Reifenstahl. It was in this book that the master betrayed his intents - if ever there was any doubt before:
"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government, which is the true ruling power of our country."
And here we see for the first time the term 'invisible government'. This Bernays equated to 'the true ruling power of the country'. In effect, he had taken the Bill of Rights and smashed it into a thousand pieces, giving authority for governance to a presumed intellectual and political elite.
So we see the seeds for the governance that Assange postulated had actually arrived by 1923, and had been consolidated by 1928. Fast forward now to the present, if Assange's arguments have any heft then we'd need to see some kind further evidence, beyond Snowden's file releases, unearthed by careful, assiduous sleuthing in the real world. As it turns out a number of findngs have manifested in recent weeks from different sources including:
- That the Trans Pacific Partnership deal is a "Trojan Horse" with a provisions written in for "Investor-State Dispute Settlement" suits. This basically means foreign corporations and investors can trump U.S. appellate courts and instead bring lawsuits via private tribunals against citizens or communities deemed guilty of blocking say...their fracking operations, oil pipelines or food processing methods. (Cf. 'Free Trade's Trojan Horse' in Sierra magazine, Nov-Dec., p. 45)
- Project Censored's number one censored story for the year that US. military forces are now in 147 of the world's 195 nations, an 80 percent increase since 2010. In 135 nations a secret war is being conducted. See e.g.
- Another Project Censored hitherto concealed story: A Cybersecurity Sharing Act or CISA, which had originally been blocked by the Senate through a 56-40 vote, has since been signed into law by Obama as part of a revised 2,000 - page Omnibus spending bill - with total media silence. The Act:
"Authorizes the creation of a system for corporate informants to provide customers' data to the Department of Homeland Security which - in turn - can share this information with other federal agencies, including: the NSA, the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and others - without privacy protecting safeguards or special warrants. "
As one of the few alert media sources (The UK Guardian) reported, civil liberties experts were dismayed with the passage of the bill whose most invasive components "made a mockery of the democratic process".
From all these perspectives it appears, therefore, that Assange's "conspiracy as governance" postulate carries vastly more weight than any of Alex Jones' off the cuff paranoid ideations, and certainly Trump's rigged election nonsense . We have no concrete evidence to support such nutso blather, but we do have evidence of hoarding information - often to citizens' detriment - by the Neoliberal security statists (and their media apparatchiks - see the Project Censored link at the very end of this post.)
We may conclude from this, and I am sure Pat Bannister (if she were alive) would agree, that Assange's 6-page discourse comes closest to actual, rational conspiracy thinking - and serious research- while Alex Jones demonstrates more paranoid balderdash: useless spoutings that serve no point or purpose other than to fill Jones' air time on his 'Infowars'.
Are the Neoliberals ensconced in our government really out to get us? I believe it would be more accurate to say they want to keep us in the dark as much as possible concerning critical matters that affect our future welfare. If they can do so then they can advance their bid for consolidating power. The "conspiracy" then, isn't so much a single coherent plan carried out via meetings in secret enclaves but more a zeitgeist or central conviction shared by all, which unifies their goals. Hence provides a means by which they can ultimately expedite disparate actions all oriented to attainment of a defined agenda - in this case a worldwide Neoliberal economy. Of course, to assure such a vision, military force must often be used, and that is implemented under a pretext that the "governance" agrees upon.