Well, OK, I can't say that for certain. You might be a Buddhist monk, for instance. But, chances are, if you're even remotely like a normal American, you're a conspiracy theorist. “But! But!” -- you'll say -- “I'm not a 'truther' or a 'birther'... I still believe JFK was killed by a lone nut with a gun... I couldn't care less about contrails, alien autopsies, the CIA, the Bohemian Grove, the Council on Foreign Relations, etc. etc...”
Well, OK then – but are you also saying that you believe everything any politician says? No? OK... then, do you think it's possible that politicians get together now and then to compare notes, and to decide what particular kinds of mild deceit they're going to foist off on the American public next? Yes? Maybe? Bingo! You're a conspiracy theorist. Not a big one, perhaps... mild, low-key... but one nonetheless.
See, it isn't that hard to fall into this mindset. All you have to do is consider that those in power don't always tell the truth, and that they are not all acting as independent, free agents in this matter. So welcome to the club. But... wait... I know, you aren't about to go out and have yourself fitted for a tinfoil hat... or start hoarding gold bars... or storing up freeze-dried food. You still think that things are basically “OK” with this society, and that our leaders still have our best interests are heart, even if they show occasional signs of being fallen human beings. In other words, even if political games are being played pretty much all the time, there are no systematic conspiracies against the American people or their interests. Right? Except that the Tea Partiers, who represent a considerable chunk of the “conservative” portion of the populace, do seem to think that there are systematic, long-term conspiracies against the American people, on the part of liberals, “agents of change”, culture warriors, socialists, communists, collectivists of all stripes, Keynesians, the Fed, and so on. And the Tea Partiers are not even the most conservative or “right-wing” group among the populace; far from it. They are, in a sense, the newest addition to the political landscape – the people who have just awakened from their slumbers of many decades, called to attention by the cries of the mob for the heads of the middle class.
Then on the other side you have liberals, socialists, collectivists, etc. for whom paranoia is a way of life, since they have been, from the very cradle, engaged in a constant battle against “the man” -- against “fascism”, and big business, and law enforcement, and the military, and so on. And for every skirmish in the culture wars, there is a script that goes along with it, which is typically of the conspiracy theory type. It's always about those in power having ulterior motives... an unspoken agenda... goals that have nothing to do with their stated mission... etc.
Then we have the libertarians, who... well, basically, they agree with both sides, in terms of who is out to get them... or where the conspiracies are. Another way of putting it is, as I frequently think, the Left is correct about the Right and the Right is correct about the Left. Everything the Tea Partiers think is wrong with the country is, and everything the Occupy crowd thinks is wrong also is. Where their reality testing breaks down is in the area of insight, or self-knowledge. The Left talks about “rights” but advocates totalitarianism... and the Right talks about “small government” but advocates perpetual war. And so on. And the things each side proposes as cures for the situation are certain to lead to even greater catastrophes. For example, both sides in the current landscape of protest and debate think that government is the answer – even though, for the Tea Partiers, government is also the problem (and it is for the Left as well, but they'll never admit it). Both sides believe in some form of totalitarian oppression – the difference being in who is oppressed, and for what reason, and by whom. The option of just leaving people the hell alone never occurs to anyone – except the libertarians, who are considered beyond the pale. Believing in liberty, and individual rights, is considered “unrealistic” in this day and age – that is, if you accept the Regime's definition of what is or is not realistic.
So if all these people, according to my broad definition, are conspiracy theorists, who is left? Or, it might be of more interest to ask, if all of these people are, technically, conspiracy theorists, then what is it that differs them from the people they call conspiracy theorists? Is it a matter of degree, or of kind? If the pot is calling the kettle black, then are we, in fact, dealing with two shades of black? One variable that might shed light on the issue is the age-old question, who is really in charge? Now we know that politicians, on all levels, receive plenty of support from a great variety of individuals and organizations, all of which can be assumed to have a vested interest in the outcome of elections, and in the activities of the politicians they support. But this still assumes that it's the politicians who have the power, as supposedly granted to them by the people. They are still, ultimately, the “deciders”. But what if it turned out that the politicians were just “suits” -- just front men – sock puppets – and that the real power resided in not only their known supporters, but even more behind the scenes? There are certainly plenty of precedents for this point of view, and no, it wasn't just in the “bad old days” that things of this sort occurred. Things may have been cruder and more blatant then, but the only change between then and now is the subtlety of the process. We may not see the power behind the throne, but it's there.
But where, then, is the evidence? Well, where would you expect it to be – mainly in the sorts of programs, policies, and legislation sponsored and supported by the politicians in question. Are they in the interests of the American people, or of special interest groups, or in no one's interest, as far as can be determined? There is plenty of unexplained and senseless legislation and regulation out there, and the question in those cases is our old favorite, “cui bono?” -- who benefits? If we consider the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – arguably a fairly large chunk of our national budget – do they confer any discernible benefit on the American people? Not that I can tell. So then, we have to look to financial and political benefit to special interest groups – or to other nations. But what makes an elected official act in a way that is systematically against the interests of his own constituents? Clearly, a desire to remain in office and to increase in power and wealth... or, on the other side of the coin, good, old-fashioned fear. Fear of what? Disgrace, loss of reputation... things determined by the media (and who do they work for, by the way?)... even, in extreme cases, assassination (including “making it look like an accident” -- and there is a whole subset of conspiracy theory on this topic). Our politicians – our leaders – live in a bizarro world where all the promises they made on the way to the top have to be not only broken, but actually turned into their opposites. And there is nothing new about this. (Remember Woodrow Wilson, who was re-elected in 1916 because “he kept us out of war”?)
Another way of putting this is that all politicians, when seeking office, claim to be working for “the will of the people”. Once in office, they wind up working for the will of some of the people – usually those with power and influence. And the day may come when they don't seem to be working for the will of any of the people. This is the point at which one would think they would be removed from office, except few ever are. Sometimes we have to dig deep to answer the question, “cui bono?” -- but the answer always comes up eventually. And it's not always about money! And it's not always about overt power – given that money and power are fungible to a great extent. It may actually be about ideas – but not ones that the average person subscribes to, or even thinks about. And it may be about religion, despite our reverenced “wall of separation”. What is adds up to is that “the people” are deceived – chronically, profoundly, and repeatedly. The political world is kept alive for them by the use of word magic, superficial ideas, memes, promises of a better tomorrow, etc. And no amount of evidence that politicians are master deceivers and exploiters can sway the ignorant masses. Even the ones who don't vote are living according to the ideas that some politician, at some point, implanted in their skulls – either directly or via the media, public schools, or churches.
Now, the enlightened among our ruling elite – the subscribers to the Leviathan theory of government, if you will... or the Machiavellian theory – will say (in private) that it's actually better for the people if they are deceived, if they believe in anything rather than nothing, even if it's totally false. Because they are like so many sheep, and they need guidance lest they plunge headlong off a cliff. And besides, they are consumers, and sources of cheap labor, and where would our military be without them? This is, of course, an elitist and anti-democratic point of view, and yet I daresay that it lies at the heart of nearly all politicians' actions, and even more so at the heart of the actions of those who control our politicians. Everyone wants to consider themselves part of the elite – part of the 1% -- and our politicians are more deceived than most in this matter. They can be wined and dined at the tables of the ruling elite for a season, but when their time in the sun is over with, they are easily discarded – and deservedly so. The only thing they have of value, to offer their masters, is their face – their curb appeal. Once that is tarnished, they are of no further use and are treated as such.
But hold on – we were talking about conspiracy theories here, and now we're talking about deception. But isn't it the same thing? Don't we see, basically, a united front among our politicians and the media when it comes to most of the really important issues? For every question that is permitted to be asked, there are ten that are not – ten that are “begged”. Budget “debates” are typically about no more than 2% or 3% of the total – or (even more trivially) about minuscule “rates of increase”. Contrast the discussion of the defense budget, for instance, with Ron Paul's recommendations. Contrast just about anything with Ron Paul's recommendations, and you'll see what I mean – it's twiddling at the margins versus real change. And so the twiddlers exert themselves, and turn beet-red, and shout and rave on the floors of Congress... over, basically, nothing. But they have to keep up appearances, because one of the core memes of our society is that we have a “two-party system” and that those parties actually mean something.
So far, I've just been laying the groundwork – a baseline of competing conspiracy theories – the top layer, if you will -- that roughly correspond with political parties, “visions” of America, race, social class, etc. -- the everyday stuff of politics, in other words. We are, you might say, at the top of the bell curve – the “fat” part, where most of the data are located. At the low end are those Candide-esque oddballs who persist in believing that the government has our best interests at heart, and that politicians are engaged in an honest effort to actualize those interests. (I don't know who those people are – I've never met any myself – but I assume they exist.) But now we must take a long, slow slide – with great fear and trembling – down the other side, and try, along the way, to define the major bumps in the road.
On the “who's in charge” dimension, for example, we can pause to acknowledge the respective theories of Right and Left. The Right thinks that, any time there is a Democratic president, he (or she, theoretically) represents the forces of collectivism, totalitarianism, socialism, and the remnants, newly-shape-shifted, of communism. Which means, in turn, that that president answers not to the American people but to an international globalist, socialist, collectivist cabal that is the modern-day successor to the international communist conspiracy of old. Far-fetched? Well, isn't that what many people think about Obama? I mean, they may not always say it, but it's inherent in what they do say. And isn't that what most critiques of the U.N. were about, at least up until the “War on Terror”?
The Left, on the other hand, ever eager to burnish their paranoid armor, blames it all (whatever “it” is) on Big Business, and Wall Street, and racism/sexism/homophobia, and “hate”, and religion in general, and on the South, and on Chick-fil-A... and so on. Their theory typically doesn't extend to the international level, since they believe (a legacy of communism) that “if only we could be more like other countries” in terms of health care, tolerance, culture, wine and cheese, etc. Their answer to everything that is wrong with America is that America should be less like itself and more like other places – which explains their reverence for the U.N. and other international groups. The only way for the U.S. to vindicate itself for all past sins and offenses is to throw itself on some kind of cosmic funeral pyre and be reabsorbed into the great Nothingness that is global politics and the global economy. For this reason, we should go around the world “supporting” things – just about anything you can name – up to the point where we'll collapse from all this “supporting”. (And isn't this exactly what we see in our foreign policy, which is a creation, by and large, of liberals, even though it winds up being exploited by the Right as well?)
So the first major conceptual, or metaphysical, bump in the road is the notion that Americans are no longer (assuming they ever were) masters of their own fate – economically, militarily, culturally, and in every other way. And there is, in fact, plenty of evidence for this view. We are, militarily, at the beck and call of any other country we have a “mutual defense agreement” with – which is another way of saying that we'll defend them, but if someone ever attacks us they won't answer the phone. Economically, consider that we are on the hook to bail out Europe, not vice-versa. Consider also that many “domestic” banks are not domestic at all; if you get high enough up in the chain of command you find yourself in Europe. The top of many American pyramids (if not pyramid schemes), corporate and financial, is in Europe these days, which means that we are becoming more and more of a colony and less self-governing.
Now, you might say, but isn't the European economy in deep trouble? And isn't the euro on the ropes? And how about all those “PIIGS” that are leeching resources away from the productive, solvent countries? Well... frankly, I think a lot of that is just play-acting... a hoax, in fact, to draw us in and get us to commit resources (more “support”). I mean, look at the scam they played on us to get us into World War I. If it worked nearly 100 years ago, why can't it work now, when we are much more severely entangled in the European economy and when our own banks and other businesses so often answer to European masters?
Plus, frankly, we have troubles the Europeans don't have – have never dreamed of, in fact. Foremost is our insane military commitments and involvements. We have a race problem, and they have an immigrant problem which we also have. We're exhausting ourselves fighting a War on Drugs and a War on Terror, and wars on just about everything else you can imagine, while they just sit back and enjoy the show. What they are waiting for, basically, is for us to collapse of our own weight and our own folly, at which point they will move in and deal the final blow to our sovereignty. We have been good and faithful servants for, again, 100-odd years, and now it's time to put us out to pasture. The American experiment, about which they were always skeptical, has run aground... and more realistic, cynical minds are waiting to install their vision in its place. I see this as just another example of the cycles of history – you can hate it, you can regret it, but you really can't do anything about it; it seems to be the product of unwritten laws. The Europeans too will have their comeuppance – perhaps sooner than they would like. After all, China is near.
OK, so that's one bump in the road. The average American persists in believing that we remain masters of our own fate, but the conspiracy theorist knows better. Whether the true masters are nonetheless American, or European, matters little since they answer only to their own globalist agenda and priorities, and national ties mean little or nothing... and forget about “patriotism” in any real sense.
Another question is “what is behind certain key events” -- especially the “history-changing” kind? The most recent example is, of course, 9/11... but there is also the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the JFK assassination, Pearl Harbor, and so on. We like to put events like these on a kind of pedestal, and declare them extra-historical... i.e., unique and “defining”, and, in a sense, pure. It seems to sully things if we start speculating that these events are simply highlights in the same old endless, dreary tale that we have – note! -- already agreed on. If government is truly as corrupt as we think it is, and if our fate has long since not been in our own hands, than what makes us think that these events are not also part of that narrative? We believe in dark and unseen forces when we're talking about organized crime, for instance – but seem willing to let government, or international cartels, off the hook, especially when it comes to major catastrophes. Again, it's that sentimental thing: Foreign governments and entities may wish us harm, or be indifferent to our welfare, but our own government must – simply must! -- ultimately be acting in our interests, or at least not blatantly against them. But we've already talked about unwinnable wars... and what about all the economic manipulations that we see going on daily among the Fed, the Treasury Department, Wall Street, big business, and international finance? Are you going to tell me that that's all intended to benefit the average American? Pass me that joint, dude.
And as far as getting us into war, were the Gulf of Tonkin or Pearl Harbor any worse than the mythological WMDs that got us to attack Iraq? We now know that those in power at the time knew that there were no WMDs, and that the whole thing was a hoax. At least the Japanese really did attack Pearl Harbor, even if we knew it was coming and intentionally did nothing about it.
It's all about consciousness-raising, really. It's not just about getting people to hate or distrust the government; it's about getting them to realize what the government has become. It is, at most times and in most cases, the enemy of the people – or at least of their best interests. And this too may be part of a historical cycle, as depressing as that idea is. Things that are “too big to fail” will eventually fail anyway – but the failure will be more painful and destructive because they weren't allowed to fail at the appropriate time. How do we get our own government to “fail” -- in the areas where it should, i.e. that are corrupt or unconstitutional? One idea – simply vote against all incumbents. Get rid of seniority, and of career politicians. Enforce term limits in the voting booth. Another idea – vote against war... consistently and without fail. Vote against follies like the War on Drugs. Vote against foreign aid – period. “Vote” our military home from all of its overseas adventures. “Vote” the intelligence community down to... oh, let's say, 1/10 the size it is now. Vote against subsidies – period. And so on.
Yeah, I know, I'm asking people to try and turn this country into what it's not, and never was. And what I suspect is that if people started taking these things seriously, our politicians would figure out a way around it, as they have so many times. If your vote doesn't count now, the day may come when we'll do away with the electoral process altogether, as just being too much trouble. (And the half of the populace that doesn't vote won't care a bit.)
But here's the point. If Iraqi WMDs were a scam, and the Gulf of Tonkin was a scam – not too hard to accept in either case – then Pearl Harbor could have been a scam as well. “But oh, in that case, we had a demigod on the throne in the form of FDR, and a man of that stature and vision could never have...” you know the rest. But then what about 9/11? -- the real litmus test of conspiracy theories in our time. We had George W. Bush, a known blockhead, surrounded by evil men, and an attack that played right into their hands and the hands of their supporters and cronies, both foreign and domestic. “But oh my, they couldn't possibly have had anything to do with it, because... well... because it's just too horrible to contemplate. Besides, they seem so normal in other respects – well-dressed, well-groomed... no, it's simply impossible.” Uh huh. Well, the Nazis were well-dressed and well-groomed too... and family men, by and large... and nice to their household pets... See, as much as we talk about “the banality of evil” we still don't accept it. Evil men have to be blood-red, with horns, and spouting sulfuric smoke from their nostrils – or at least have a tall hat and a pencil-thin mustache like Snidely Whipsnade. These pink, balding guys in the power suits... well, they aren't exactly warm and fuzzy, but... to stoop to this level of pure evil? Unthinkable. But that's precisely the point. That's the point at which we are all made to suspend disbelief and become unquestioning, shuffling serfs. Confronted with the Big Lie, the event that is outside of history, our brains turn to mush and we run for the nearest comfort station. But the powers that be know this, and use it, because their lust for power is greater than all of their other motivations – both good and bad – combined. It's greater than anything the average person can imagine. So no price is too great – but it's the average schmo who has to pay that price.
Prior to 9/11 there was, of course, the JFK assassination – that other litmus test. And there the divide was even more sharply defined – by the government itself and its media servants. It had to be “a lone nut with a gun”, period. Nothing else was possible, or permissible – because once any other idea entered your head, all was lost. Then it became a conspiracy, and the government became, at least, part of a cover-up, or perhaps an actual part of the conspiracy. Oswald did it, he got killed, case closed. It seldom gets cleaner than that. Except that it wasn't. There were hundreds, thousands, of contradictions, loose ends... witnesses of all sorts... revelations... Sound familiar? Yeah – 9/11 is turning out the same way. The best, most air-tight conspiracies in the world are still devised and implemented by imperfect people, and sooner or later it starts to show. But again, if you don't accept the government's version of events, than all is lost. Start asking questions... even just one question... and you're challenging all of the most treasured and fervently-held-to scripts and memes of our time. The government may not be perfect, and it may be full of crooks and incompetents, but gosh, surely.... etc. Again, they've got you, and it's because of what you value (and they don't) that you're unwilling to consider the alternatives. People down through the ages have known darn well that there's a difference between them and their rulers... but we seem to have lost sight of the fact. For us, because we're Americans living in a “democracy”, there is no gulf, no divide, between the rulers and the ruled; in fact, we rule ourselves! So any threat against the government, and against the popular myths it promotes, is a threat against ourselves, and therefore can't be tolerated.
So yeah, I would say that JFK and 9/11 are the major bumps in the road in our lifetime – the twin acid tests when it comes to conspiracy theories, and the “great divide” when it comes to our most deeply-held ideas about ourselves and the government. Everyone has to decide where they will stand along this continuum, and I guess it's based on pre-existing attitudes as well as on what information they are willing to attend to, and accept. Am I any more “objective” or “reality-based” than the chucklehead who saunters down to the polls every two (or four) years and thinks he's really “making a difference” -- who, basically, believes everything the government and the media tell him? I'd like to think so, but how to prove it? Is it just his belief system against mine? Surely he doesn't have access to one world of facts and I to another – that's just plain metaphysical anarchy (the kind Bill Clinton embraced when he talked about “which truth” one adheres to). And even if one is an unabashed “conspiracy theorist”, one doesn't have to believe every one that comes down the pike. Lines can still be drawn, but then the question is, what are the criteria for drawing those lines, and how valid are they? All anyone can do is establish a value system, choose a place to stand, but remain open to, or at least tolerant of, other possibilities.