Tribal

The failure of conspiracy

Unmasking the clicktivist holy war         

Words & images © Paul Ransom

NB: The original version of this piece was published in The Pointless Revolution (Everytime Press, 2019). The version below is slightly amended.

Quick, drop everything (except your guns). Retire to the nearest awakened, organic bunker. The Asian, Muslim, central banking, lizard controlled, patriarchal lesbian cyborgs are just about to put their multi-thousand year action plan into overdrive. They’ve read every word in this book, and they listened in while you were reading it, and they’re prepping up chemtrails and vaccine shots in covert Rothschild financed water treatment plants situated beneath the Vatican, while their puppet PC politicians prepare to destroy parents’ rights and make it illegal to have a penis. Oh no – only the internet can save us now!*

* Except that the internet is also a tool of data mining oppression designed to disseminate ridiculous conspiracy theories in order to distract you from what’s REALLY going on.

Clearly, the life of the conspiracist is one of remorseless, dystopian oppression. They look out at the world and see a vale of poison. If penis wielding patriarchs aren’t systematically raping you with phallus shaped shards of the nearest glass ceiling, vagina toting ninja feminists are hiding around every corner ready to confiscate your cock and scramble your gender identity. Every time it rains evil chemicals designed to pacify you or render you infertile are leeching into your bloodstream. Illuminati agents disguised as doctors, nurses and aid workers are trawling health clinics, schools and squalid refugee camps giving innocent little kiddies injections designed to make them autistic. Next up, it’s Shari’a law and compulsory Mandarin classes. Then, to make matters worse, there’s a permanently looming apocalypse to contend with.

On the plus side though, there’s the smug satisfaction of being one of the awakened elite, of being in the vanguard of the new dawn, of heralding the great paradigm shift. Kinda like those kids who blow up other kids at pop concerts. Y’know, really taking a stand against oppression. Paving the way for the Mahdi and all that.

All jokes aside, the conspiracy mantra is one of the most loudly proclaimed and seductive slave narratives out there. It is textbook victim thinking; but hyped up into super-charged paranoia by a combination of lazy conflation, false equivalence, selective amnesia, mono-causal mania and – let’s be frank – a crudely reductionist and dehumanising view of the enemy of choice. These people think they’re sooo alternative and yet their apparent analysis is rooted in the same kind of monochromatic essentialisation we associate with McCarthyist ‘red scares’ and post-911 Islamophobia. Their enemy is always working covertly, employing invisible hands at every level for nefarious ends.

In addition, whilst castigating the mainstream media for its blatant fear mongering, conspiracists use the very same lures to get our attention – impending catastrophe, heinous villainy, simplistic narrative. Like ideologically driven zealots throughout history, conspiracy junkies resort to emotive propaganda.

If Disney did dystopia, this would be their cartoon 1984.

However, underneath their overblown hysteria and righteous slavethink, these folks are quite right to call into question the mechanisms of the power complex, and to highlight the distorting effects of entrenched privilege and the undue influence of extreme wealth. There is still plenty of injustice, prejudice, barefaced dishonesty, wanton disregard and even outright Machiavellian cynicism embedded in our economy, polity, and more broadly across our societies. Furthermore, there is undoubtedly collusion and conniving aplenty, with secret deals and all the rest of it. Then there are the brain crushingly dumb control narratives of religion and the lobotomised spectacles of contemporary Western democracy and celebrity worship.

So yes, it’s true, there are those who seek to control and exploit. Some of them are in power or sit on highly remunerated boards – but some are your friends, your parents, your spouse. Some may even be your kids. In fact, most of us have pulled this kinda shit at one time or another. I know I have.

The point here is that humans act in competitive, self-interested ways. (Not just white men or Jewish banking families, but all of us.) We seek specific advantage for ourselves and whatever in-group we feel part of. Once we have something we want to keep it, whether its power, territory, prestige or cash. Meanwhile, others may try to take it from us. Sometimes they’ll use violence and coercion, other times argument and moral pressure. They may even resort to lies, bribery and subterfuge.

Yet, blinded by the drama of their own fundamentalism, our conspiracy cousins have reduced the multi-variate complexity of individual and herd behaviour to an infantile storybook narrative, where people and individual responsibility are airbrushed out and mechanistic, centrally organised inevitability is wheeled in to replace it. If Disney did dystopia, this would be their cartoon 1984.

(Perhaps they could call the book tie-in Orwellian Hell For Dummies. That’d sell.)

Okay, so let’s run through three of the fundamental gaps in the conspiracy case, because, aside from narrative reduction, there are a number of glaring holes in their much cherished vision of totalitarian oppression.

1: Is such a conspiracy even necessary?

One of the central tenets of most conspiracy theories is that whichever secretive cabal supposedly rules us, it works assiduously to keep us stupid, selfish, myopic, competitive and distracted. The obvious question is, would you even need a conspiracy for that?

No disrespect folks – but seriously? Where is the evidence it would require a bunch of evil-doers to concoct the conditions for these things to exist and flourish? Selfishness, tribalism, nimbyism1, short term narrow focus, greed, prejudice and simplistic thinking are long established and commonplace human traits. As indeed is our evolved tendency for hierarchical social structures. It didn’t require an agricultural or industrial revolution to entrench the basic dynamics of power or to establish rules governing individual behaviour in the herd context.

As for ‘distracted’, let’s face it, most of us are not overly interested in the abstractions, complexities and minutiae of politics and power, so long as we feel able to conduct our private, family and communal lives with minimum (tolerable) levels of interference, a good amount of readily accessible social services, and reliable protection from random predation. In fact, we are quite happy to delegate the difficult headache of governing to others because we’d rather just live happy lives with those we love. (Which is a perfectly rational thing to want.)

The fact that our twenty-first century model of bread and circuses is a 24/7, multi-channel onslaught of pantomime, mob-amusing idiocy is a) hardly surprising; and b) says at least as much about the supposedly noble 99% as it ever has about the apparently nasty 1%. Indeed, to cast the populace as somehow innocent in this mix is more than just an absurd ideological us/them fantasy, it’s a full blown cop out.   

2: Would such a conspiracy succeed?

The standard conspiracy model posits a well developed and detailed plan for the deliberate and ongoing manipulation of every aspect of economy, polity, history and culture for the primary benefit of a tiny cadre – whatever form it might take.    

To succeed as a covert and totalitarian operation such a plan would require not only 100% agreement and superbly seamless co-operation and execution from said conspirators but – because the theory also goes that this is a repressive complex – a not inconsiderable enforcement apparatus and an effective propaganda arm. All of which means people. Party members, employees, consultants, hired goons, etc.

On paper and screen – in novels, films and on numerous websites – this appears doable. However, the theoretical edifice of conspiracy reckons without the flawed input of actual human beings. Y’know, those fractious, covetous, error prone, forgetful, lazy and impetuous creatures. Folks like us.

However, it’s not just regulation human frailty that the conspirators have to contend with. The sheer scale and nature of their cunning plan creates two obvious and empire shattering risks.

Every bunker stocking, pseudo-rebellious, paranoid slave on the internet appears to have unmasked the key villains and, moreover, posted a meme to that effect. In fact, don’t we already know that everything we’ve been told is a lie?

Firstly, given the enormity and complexity of the task, our small band of Big Brothers would need to co-opt an army of competent sidekicks, thereby creating the ‘problem of the palace guard’. Basically, our shadowy rulers would need to take on the enormous risk of creating and empowering the very force most likely to expose and/or overthrow them. For along with the huge organisational burden that furtively ruling the world entails comes a fair sized workforce; people in enough of the know to blow the whole thing to smithereens.

A cursory glance at history furnishes us with countless examples of palace coups, from the Praetorian Guard’s frequent toppling and murder of Roman emperors to the litany of military takeovers that have ousted kings, presidents and PMs across the millennia. Indeed, most revolutions are inside jobs.  

Secondly, the hugely secret nature of their plan automatically creates a massive incentive for bean-spilling, which in turn generates opportunities for blackmailing co-conspirators and for playing the heroic whistle-blower. To suppose that our conniving overlords, or indeed any of their numerous lieutenants, would somehow always remain beyond such petty temptation is to dehumanise them – to ascribe to them a machine like quality of adherence; or perversely, to make them slaves to their own power. (Uneasy rests the head that wears the crown.)

Whilst we may not be able to say with absolute certainty that no centrally organised and currently functioning coalition of global control exists, we can say that the probability, given the necessary participation of human beings, is extremely remote.

What’s more, if this wicked conspiracy is afoot it has already manifestly failed on the secrecy score. Every bunker stocking, pseudo-rebellious, paranoid slave on the internet appears to have unmasked the key villains and, moreover, posted a meme to that effect. In fact, don’t we already know that everything we’ve been told is a lie?    

3: Would such a conspiracy of dominion ever be seriously undertaken?

Let’s suppose we wanted to get together and hatch a plan for global domination, our principal motives being those old staples wealth and power.

At some point, if we were sane and thinking things through properly (doing our due diligence), the question would be asked:

Given that our goal is wealth and power, what’s the best way for us to achieve that objective and, furthermore, to ensure the continuation of our privilege into the foreseeable future?

Perhaps at first we would opt for brute force and theft. However, we would soon discover that violence, coercion and the greedy hoarding of all the best goodies automatically creates passionate opposition, or at the very least widespread resentment and mistrust.

So now we need troops to help us fend off the disgruntled mob. This will be both expensive and dangerous, because now we’ve trained and armed a force that could just as easily bribe us for a bigger share of the spoils, or maybe even kill us in our beds. Turns out the sword thing, live by/die by, is true after all – and now we’ve effectively condemned ourselves to a huge wage bill, an endless organisational headache and a fortress lifestyle of constant wariness, if not permanent and debilitating paranoia.

Power underwritten by forceful suppression is costly, time consuming and ultimately defeats its own purpose.

Again, assuming sanity and an ability to see beyond the next five minutes, we would eventually work out that the most sustainable power model involved a level of sharing out both the costs and the benefits of empire.

In addition, we would soon figure out that the creation and imposition of a control architecture that fostered a low-trust society would effectively bake in conditions for a risk-averse, potentially stagnant economy and, furthermore, a calcification of the socio-cultural space, and the loss of creativity and adaptability this would entail.

Whilst some will argue this is where humanity finds itself now, it is another to suppose that this state of affairs arose because a few sinister folk planned things with precisely this outcome in mind. If indeed we are in a ‘parlous state’ it is most likely the result of multiple/incremental follies and honest errors, as opposed to being the neatly sculpted by-product of an act of centrally organised and sustained suicidal insanity.

The fear-based, poison world society of the shadowy overlord is hardly a great pay-off for all that tiring conspiring and ever-present fear of exposure and palace rebellion. After all, where’s the fun in spending every minute micro-managing the exhaustive detail and tracking the finances of an oppressive power complex?

I mean, c’mon, when do we get to snort this top shelf coke from the tanned midriffs of the sexy young things we’ve lured onto our yacht?

In fact, the more we think about it the more ill-advised our investment in this world domination biz seems.

Instead, let’s say that in order to keep the mob pacified we agree to devolve some of our considerable power – even if we’re still pretty keen on the untold wealth idea. Trouble is, as we now know, an oppressive apparatus and the belief that everything is rigged create moribund social and economic conditions. Fear, mistrust and the orthodoxy they engender don’t tend to favour entrepreneurial spirit, bold innovation and wealth generating risk.

Rather than relying on our clique of ‘world rulers’ to come up with every single good idea and/or become the default universal wage payer, we would soon discover that there’s far more profit and sustainable growth to be had for much less effort in a dynamic, diversified economy; one in which people feel they have incentives other than the mere avoidance of expensively assembled death squads.

By now I’m sure you can see where this is heading. If, as conspiracy ideologues insist, there is a fixed and central cabal that ‘rules the world’ according to an agreed plan, then, provided these central banking reptiles are even vaguely sensible and self-regarding (let alone historically and economically literate), their best option would be an open, pluralistic, trust based society with a flexible, dynamic economy that required the least amount of violent enforcement and a minimum of deal-breaking secrets.

Our societies are, as they have invariably been for millennia, deeply hierarchical, and many structural injustices remain firmly in place.

Thus, if we were to gather in some gilded palace to devise a solid, ongoing means of divvying up the world between us, we would ultimately conclude that, on a risk/reward basis, a broad based peaceable freedom would be the most reliable and least onerous way of generating lasting wealth and privilege for ourselves. We would work out that to enslave others is to enslave ourselves. And what would be the point of that?

Considering the various probabilities, and factoring in the flawed humanity of the participants, an insane and completely unnecessary conspiracy doomed to almost certain failure seems to be something that only an intellectual minnow and/or psychopath with virtually no self-awareness or psycho-emotional savvy would even contemplate.                         

Again, absurdly unlikely as it seems, the global dystopia beloved of conspiracy zealots is not technically impossible. Like you and I, power elites will act in their own perceived interest.

Looking around, it’s plain to see evidence of this and, as many economic analysts have found, global wealth disparity has increased significantly since 1980, with social and financial inequality returning to pre-WW1 levels2. Clearly, many of those with power and influence have and will continue to feather their own nests, often at the expense of others. Our societies are, as they have invariably been for millennia, deeply hierarchical, and many structural injustices remain firmly in place.

Luckily for the rest of us, conspiracy fans are generally lazy fundamentalists.

Though this is undesirable, unfair and unjust we cannot honestly pretend that this is either a recent invention, the sole responsibility of a narrowly defined group or, indeed, all that astonishing.

To conclude, my bottom line issue with the conspiracy narrative is not so much its fantastical over-read and dehumanising prejudices, it’s that, as a critique of power, it is counter-productive.

Easily dismissed on account of its simplistic conceptualisation and moralising undergraduate tone, it de-legitimises its own agenda, making genuine analysis and activism easier to pigeon hole. In effect, conspiracy theorists prop up the status quo with their use of textbook propaganda techniques and their tabloid appeal to basic us/them, good/evil dichotomies, which then help to further dumb down and polemicise the discourse. The tropes of conspiracy are simply another version of the blame culture, another form of crude identity politics, another way of insisting upon an orthodox view.

I suspect that many of our comrades in the dystopia scene would make exemplary Stalinist tyrants.    

Luckily for the rest of us, conspiracy fans are generally lazy fundamentalists. For all their hardcore ideological angst they mostly lack the backbone to get off You Tube and do anything to make a better world for their fellow human beings – let alone set up a puritanically rigid dystopia of their own.

For this, we may give thanks.

PS: Keen to read more on themes like this? In which case, why not grab a copy of my 2019 book The Pointless Revolution by clicking this link.

1: Nimbyism, as Not In My Backyard. (I love the idea of safe injecting rooms, but not in my neighbourhood.)

2: Economists like Thomas Piketty and Joseph Stiglitz have long argued that inequality is returning to pre-WW1 levels. In addition, whatever one’s view of the statistical models used to underwrite this view, there is a concurrent and broad based perception – at least in the West – that this is true. Crucially, it is perhaps this perception that is helping to fuel the prominence of the conspiracist holy war narrative.

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