Keeping Our Heads: Global Politics and Conspiracy Theories

Prompted by the arrival of a new commentator, Paul, I decided to approach the thorny subjects of global politics and conspiracy theories. Paul posted a link to wikispooks (User:Peter) in a comment, saying that the preamble there was also his view. I responded by distancing myself from the content, to which Paul replied that he is

certain that events such as Woolwich, 9.11, Boston and 7.7 are state sponsored government psyops.

The weighty subject of world politics has often been in my thoughts, but I find myself unable to make much sense of it, with or without conspiracy theories. The latter are, of course, quite prevalent on the Net, and, after researching them for a little while, I usually end up finding most of them ridiculous, or having grains of truth buried under silos of nonsense … as far as I can tell; often I really don’t know what to think. It’s ok; I’m a sceptic. Not knowing comes naturally.

What Colour Pill Are You?

I sometimes also end up quite depressed, whether the theories I’m looking at are persuasive or not. “User:Peter” describes the political attitudes of people in the binary terms of a “red pill” and “blue pill”, borrowed from The Matrix. Blue pill folks are:

those living the ‘consensus trance’ which, by definition comprises the overwhelming majority.

Taking the red pill means realising that the

Consensus Narrative … is a clever ego-stroking Orwellian illusion designed, developed and molded by self-perpetuating Power Elites to serve purposes far and away removed from those of fond and credulous popular belief.

While the site appears to be a well-constructed wiki, a little more professional and thoughtful than the majority of conspiracy theory (CT) sites, this red-blue thing immediately made me wary. From my long and somewhat tedious dealings with CT proponents, I have formed the impression that there is a tendency in some people to dip their toe in the shady end of politics and, before you can say “Alex Jones”, fall into it up to their necks, pronouncing that they’ve seen the light and they’re no longer sheeple like the rest of us. The reality, as far as I can tell, is purpler than that…maybe even multi-coloured.

How multi-coloured is it? Well, “User:Peter” says

My own adherence to [the consensus narrative] was shattered by deep involvement in … The UK Campaign for Hunting – but it brought me face-to-face with gross abuse of political power.

But from what I can gather from his blog (where he’s called Sabretache), he wasn’t, as I first imagined, fighting against the hunters and finding himself stymied at every turn by privileged elites on horseback; he hunted, he was defending fox hunting, and he was incensed by the hunt-saboteur “animal rights terrorists” and the police, whom he seems to dump in the same category.

It would perhaps take a little more reading to discover how Sabretache, apparently a Tory and hunter, perceived himself on the receiving end of political elitism, but it seems that he, in this case at least, championed his individual freedom to set dogs on foxes, and this was being denied. He ranted that “‘Live-and-let-live’ is clearly an alien concept” to Ann Widdecombe, whose inclination on considering the evidence was to ban the sport.

This is undemocratic and elitist, to my mind, and Peter begins to look more like a spoilt toff not getting his way than a downtrodden prole. Somehow, however, he manages to equate what he saw as police in the anti-hunt protests (“armed, bone-headed enforcers of an oppressive State”) with the “Charles de Menenez and Forest Gate shootings”.

Whatever one thinks about this, it illustrates to me the complexity of political positions and allegiances. It is interesting to imagine the very likely scenario where he and a hunt saboteur are seeing the other as part of a political elite.

I Don’t Know What’s Going On But I’m Agin It

I am extremely worried about the state of the world. Things look very grim indeed. The political tension between the West and the Middle East has, over the last decade or so, turned from the irritation of a few extremists with nail-bombs operating out of a cave into a well-armed and burgeoning power, the cancer of the self-styled Islamic State.

In keeping with my main thesis that things are pretty damned complicated and we simplify them at our peril, I should point out that I am compromising a lot with simplicity in using the term “the West”, which vague means some agglomeration of the United States of America, UK, and sometimes the UN and/or EU states, Australia, the Commonwealth…who knows what? It would probably benefit from a great deal of unpacking if time allowed.

Further necessary simplification: the promise of emergent democracies in the Arab Spring soon died, unleashing more instability in North Africa. Israel meanwhile continued its cyclical, illegal pounding of Gaza and occupation of Palestine, which resorted to more extreme leadership under Hamas. As if that wasn’t enough, Putin began invading his neighbours on the grounds that “Russians” lived there. No doubt any number of Enlightened Beings will be ready to wade in asserting that all or most of these events were orchestrated by TPTB (the powers that be), and then that these are “the Zionists” or “Masons”, “the Bilderberg Group”, etc., even aliens from outer space. I am coming to the conclusion that most of these CTs are driven by a wish to simplify the complex world into a them-and-us Hollywood disaster movie, assuage guilt, feel superior and reduce anxiety. I’m ready to consider evidence, but the plots of these scenarios are often as far-fetched as a bad sci-fi.

I have never been very susceptible to the local propaganda of my homeland, that the West is free and beneficent towards the uncivilzed hoards elsewhere – the communist East, then the Arabs – but nor have I been persuaded that there is some overarching, or even deliberate, plan behind our aggression, but probably more the individualistic, competitive bull-headedness and stupidity we see everywhere. We each encounter it within just about every company we work for or government agency we have dealings with.

But I admit that I have let most of the political details wash over me. I say that the Israeli occupation of Palestine is illegal, for example, because I’ve read of the UN’s charges of war crimes. I have also read that the UN, in this morality-of-war arena, has few teeth these days. I know this isn’t my field at all. I don’t have a talent for remembering lots of information. I am, I think, a good theorist, and this is the way I approach these questions. It is not the best approach, which would include theoretical judgement along with a keen, retentive mind for the extensive details involved. I bring a certain amount of psychological knowledge to the subject, which is something that is often overlooked. I have been thinking about global politics for about 40 years, since I was a young teenager. I hope these thoughts are of some use, but I’m also looking to learn and, as usual, I invite discussion in the comments.

Wild Political Conjecture

At one end, I consider the possibility that an evil pyramid has been manipulating the whole world in an orchestrated way as extremely unlikely (let alone that it worships Satan, started in the Middle Ages with a bunch of knights or is comprised of shape-shifting aliens who created us by DNA splicing – the varietes of this nonsense are quite staggering). At the other, the idea that Good Ol’ Blighty and the Land of the Free are trying to maintain dignity, law and order, and gently persuade uncivilized peoples of the benefits of democracy is equally laughable. Peter/Sabretache makes out this is the blue-pill ideology the vast majority believes, which I doubt very much. He seems to imagine it’s the 1950s.

The question is where, between these extremes, the line fits best, and what the hidden landscape of global politics might look like. It is almost certain that there is hidden politics; there always was; there always will be.

It would be extremely important to know what the realities are, in order to help us mobilize fruitful mitigating action, at least if anything can be done at all, and I am not sure anything can. Pyramids develop naturally, however; they don’t have to be forced into shape and maintained by a top-down force. I tend to think there are probably lots of powers, some larger than others, seeking to influence the others by fair means or foul. The compound effect of this may be that a certain group – probably comprising mostly white European men – dominates world affairs, without the implication of a grand strategist or strategists at the helm.

The world is full of features we think have singular identities, when they are in fact emergent properties of simpler elements in relationship with each other. The rich of a country dominates and manipulates the poor without the need for secret handshakes or handbooks; money makes money; power attracts power (and, yes, corrupts). Each of us, in fact, at any level of society, makes largely selfish decisions, and assuaging this guilt may be part of the red-pill-taker’s motive for criticizing the ignorant sheeple who collude with the corridors of power. They imagine they’ve stepped out of all that somehow. They fill the car up with petrol and do their weekly shop with knowing cynicism and revolutionary zeal now, and cheer Russel Brand, who also hasn’t a clue what to do about the insidious power-and-wealth imbalance. Scum rises; whadayagonna do?

It is indescribably sad to contemplate humanity’s woeful condition, especially set against our wonderful potential. We have the knowledge and the technology to build a glorious future, but many of us want extremely different, mutually incompatible, futures. We have not found a solution to the problems of competition, greed and fear, which drive international aggression against each other, while our shared global environment becomes less and less able to support any of us.

Global warming has long been said to have a tipping point, beyond which it would be impossible, or require extraordinary intervention, to recover habitability. We’re close, if not beyond it. Similarly, we seem to be slipping rather rapidly towards World War III, and we might be beyond the tipping point of that. While I have no illusions (as far as I’m aware) that Western powers and citizens are largely to blame for both through our actions over hundreds of years, it is still hard to accept the weight of guilt this knowledge brings, even if having benefitted largely unwittingly or unwillingly.

At the same time, Western technological progress has raised us from ignorant peasants scratching a living from the soil to global citizens capable of accessing the world’s knowledge, participating freely in mutual education and, it may be worth mentioning, moving towards building the only infrastructure that could ever protect us from the sort of extinction disaster that killed off the dinosaurs.

We’re not a million miles from being able to build a relative paradise compared to earlier civilzations, where, with the help of advanced technology, we finally stop being slaves to the work ethic and become masterful players, artfully restoring, digitally enhancing and cherishing our natural environment, ourselves and each other. On the other hand, in order to reach this point, we burned vast amounts of carbon and oppressed half the world.

Beyond the Terror Tipping-point

As perhaps the most obvious side-effect politically, we have inflamed a proportion of the “Moslem” world, whose express desire is to “kill us all in our streets” in revenge for our “crusading”. While its grievances may have some basis in fact, unfortunately I don’t see much hope at this stage for apologising and making amends. Our crimes were too severe, perhaps. Apparently, at present, the Islamists’ anger is too great, and their cultural maturity too small, to stop chopping heads off and planting bombs for the sake of a peace plan, even if a broker could be found that all sides trusted.

Israel and Palestine make a reasonable microcosm of the whole, where a similar dynamic is at play. While a downtrodden people are intent on murdering their oppressor, the oppressor has no reason to relax sanctions, and while sanctions are not relaxed, the oppressed continue their terror, which is perhaps in truth also freedom-fighting, though badly misguided.

Recognising it as terrorism is important (rather than just as moral freedom-fighting), since aggression on either side continues the cycle of aggression. Yet, with sickening irony, I can see no way forward for the West, or indeed the vast majority of the world, than to attempt to destroy the Islamicist threat. We cannot be expected to be acquiescent to people who want to kill us all and install a culture based on a violent religious extremism. If only Islam could produce a Gandhi, there might be a way forward for it.

Political wisdom, at least for the underdog, as Gandhi demonstrated, lies in understanding that an oppressor state (the British Empire, in his case) is made up of people who want to live and thrive (and are mostly innocent), and who will defend themselves if attacked, even if you hate their oppressive regime and must act to end it. It lies in understanding that win-win is the only game in town, or, as he put it, “an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind”. The politics of revenge is immoral and useless, however understandable it might be. The politics of religious absolutism, preached by an underdog, is suicidal folly. Inshallah.

It would be nice to suggest that we – the oppressor (assuming that is a correct portrayal) – should employ the same principle and stop bombing IS. Unfortunately, the comparison with the Indian Raj runs out at this point, since IS isn’t anywhere near the maturity required for passive resistance. I think it is imperitive to maintain an invitation to a peaceful settlement, including such important gestures as amnesty for those who leave IS (although we will have to keep a very close eye on them for the rest of their lives), but I think it’s far too late to go soft on terror.

Gandhi was inspired by the wise, inclusive spirit of Hinduism (and, significantly, by hard-headed appreciation of the law), and essentially shamed the Raj into submission through refusing to fight back violently, but demanding change and refusing to co-operate at the same time.

There’s a poster at wikispooks, I think, that suggests a solution to terror: stop being scared. Another is to stop terrorizing, flying planes into buildings, or cutting people’s heads off and posting it on youtube. Of course, there are those who swear these things are fabricated by the West. The devil, as they say, is in the detail, but I don’t imagine many conspiracy theorists will put their necks on the line in the desert to prove their theory.

As well as saying that terrorism is largely a result of Western aggression over decades or centuries, the conspiracy narratives out there tend to portray the dangers as blown out of all proportion, used as a tactic to limit freedoms in the West (not necessarily as crudely as faking the decapitation videos or denying IS forces exist, but perhaps exaggerating the numbers or repeating mention of the terror threat in the media). If one believes 9/11 was an inside job, that would all make sense, but if it wasn’t, the accusation of exaggeration free-falls into its own footprint.

In many of the more extreme scenarios, there has been an extensive, deep and deliberate plan to create a global police state under a New World Order, and its victims are as much Western citizens as anyone else abroad. I am even less well acquainted with the details of such hypotheses, but my hunch is that most of this is paranoia and confirmation bias, and that any “deep politics” has been much more limited in scope, haphazard, ill-conceived and poorly executed.

Capital Punishment

Another major element of red-pill activism is the anti-capitalist movement. I think it is clear that the democratic power of nations has been gradually eroded in recent decades by the rise of global corporations, and this compromising of democracy by private interest is, as far as I can tell, increasingly corrupting the political process. As a current example, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership being hammered out between the EU and USA has clauses that would potentially allow big businesses to sue our governments if policy changes were shown to have damaged profits.

Capitalist short-term self-interest is undeniably behind a great deal of environmental and social destruction, from the palm-oil plantations and cattle ranches replacing our rainforests to the vast monocultures of our domestic agricultural landscapes. The whole sorry charade, we know, is funded by consumers and tax-payers subsidising poorly regulated bankers, who continued to grow wealthier through the current recession. A conspiracy theorist may be rejoicing that I’m finally on-message, but this is hardly red-pill country, I would have thought. This is one area, at least, where the radical is pretty commonplace – we, the 99%, know we’re being shafted, even if we didn’t before the banking crisis.

Perhaps the most worrying thing of all is the noxious cycles that have developed and are developing, as wealth bestows the power to accumulate more wealth, more violently and more destructively. Environmental, economic and political tensions are all on the rise, and this is likely to concentrate power and exaccerbate abuses of power. Long-term, I don’t have a great deal of hope for humanity. We evolved to deal with short-term threats in small communities, and we are now facing the stresses of living in a global village with enormous cultural differences and desires for the future. If there is hope, it lies, I believe, not so much with the proles but in science and reason, which has warned us of the limits to growth since at least the 1970s, and increasingly clarifies the dangers of, and potential solutions to, environmental degradation.

I guess my position must lie somewhere between the blue and red pills – I’m not naive about the West, but I doubt very much that the powers-that-be are stupid enough to engage in quite such blatant subterfuge as bombing our own people to persuade us of terrorist dangers.

The question is pretty important. If the “oppressors” are a secret organisation, they are not necessarily any more dangerous than disparate selfish agents chaotically trying to maximize their own benefit, but if the CTs are untrue, then repeating them becomes a serious danger, potentially an act of radicalization, encouraging terrorism. If impressionable Moslems decide to join IS on the back of rumours and confabulation, that is a serious moral responsibility to bear.

I am a little encouraged by the rapidly increasing, peaceful grass-roots campaigning of organisations like 38 Degrees, the Occupy Movement, Avaaz, etc., and by the rapidly increasing awareness of economic and environmental dangers. We must do what we can to bring about a fairer, peaceful future. To maximize our chances it is imperitive we don’t lose our heads, our critical faculties in judging the complex political scene, and that we channel our anger through means that are, as far as possible, measured, peaceful and legal, not to dilute their effect but to maximize it.

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7 Responses to Keeping Our Heads: Global Politics and Conspiracy Theories

  1. Yakaru says:

    Without disputing any of the criticism of Israel, I would want to throw a couple of ingredients into the mix. While the Palestinians would be justified attempting to throw off the oppression they have been subjected to for so long, Hamas is not conducting a struggle for liberation or asserting the civil and democratic rights of Palestinians. They are using their population essentially as hostages in an insane ISIS-style Jihad against the Jews.

    The Hamas Charter makes this as clear as their actions. The want to wipe out the Jews not because they are oppressors, but because they are Jews. Their Palestinians subjects are openly used as canon fodder. They subverted building materials to construct those tunnels, which, incidentally were dug by children — obviously a large number of whom would have suffered, been injured, or died horribly. They have executed unknown numbers of people for “informing” (or supporting Fatah). Possession of Hashish or drug use carries the death penalty, while they control smuggling and the black market.

    Unknown numbers of civilians in Gaza died from misfiring rockets launched from civilians areas – something clearly documented and filmed, but rarely reported. One incident involved 9 children killed by a failed launch next to a playground. Other incidents included Hamas rockets falling on Arab houses, destroying power lines into Gaza, and other incidents.

    And why were these rockets being fired in the first place? The liberal press answers it was out of “frustration” or it was “symbolic” or they are next to harmless. When it’s pointed out that they were fired to provoke Israel into killing the civilians who Hamas were ordering back into clearly targeted buildings, the press proclaims “Well Israel is losing the propaganda war.”

    Few remember the 8 hour unilateral ceasefire that Israel proclaimed and held to, while watching 150 missiles sail towards Tel Aviv.

    Hamas is not trying to free the Palestinians. They want to wipe out all Jews. They saw the recent war as a stage in the process. It’s not a war of liberation.

    Sorry for the rant. Hope it’s not too far off topic.

  2. Yakaru says:

    More on-topic: it’s interesting trying to figure out how to tell whether somethng’s a conspiracy theory or not. I’ve been sucked in a few times, and held remained up to my neck in it for long enough for it to be embarrassing later.

    I think the constant shifting of the goal posts is something I notice quickly nowadays. And also the attitude. There’s something infantile about it. As if they’ve just discovered that their parents might have other things on their mind than making their 13 year old’s life as comfortable as it could possibly be. Or like they are going up to the govt and demanding to be given the car keys.

    Yet, there was the Iran-Contra scandal, which without evidence would have sounded crazier than most conspiracy theories. And the Viet Nam War. And…..

  3. lettersquash says:

    Thanks for that Yakaru – I agree with your assessment of the Palestinian problem. It was difficult trying to keep the post to a reasonable length, but that is part of what I meant when I said that Israel-Palestine is like a microcosm of the West-Islamist problem. Just as we can’t extracate ourselves from Syria and Iraq, Israel can’t currently negotiate a peace settlement with Palestine, for the reasons you give. The Hamas Charter is a fair indication why. You were right on topic and just ranty enough for my liking.

    I hear by email that Paul doesn’t like my “very disappointing narrative.” He’s decided not to participate. He asked me to look into certain things and obviously I haven’t and I insist on believing total lies. Also, apparently, “conspiracy theory” isn’t very nice. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to call them – I suggested conspiracy hypothesis. As far as I can glean from his missive, the term is “facts”. Silly me.

  4. Yakaru says:

    “He asked me to look into certain things and obviously I haven’t…”

    Understandable. There are so many, um, theories about conspiracies, and many of them conflict with each other anyway, so how can one choose between them? In a way it is like swallowing a pill — you have to swallow it whole, or not at all, because there’s no usually no talking to them. There’s no way of sifting through and evaluating evidence. It’s all cut from whole cloth,

    My impression of many CT-ers is that they grew up believing one way or another in the supreme power of “the system” (a bit like small children see their parents as supremely powerful), and then when they discover the system in fact sucks and is highly exploitive, they simply switch pill-color, but still ultimately believe in the supremacy of the system. Only now the system is deliberately designed not just to exploit them, but also specifically designed to prevent them from speaking out. It’s a massive clockwork that runs perfectly, except for one vital flaw – if the guy in the tin-foil hat ever gets taken seriously, (no not that guy, the other one…) then the whole thing will come tumbling down.

    When in fact, the system is far more chaotic than they imagine. It’s a product as much of the behavioral and psychological quirks of human nature, and shares those weaknesses with us. It’s so chaotic in fact in that at times it even does good things – like make trains run on time (writing from Germany here!) or free the people of East Timor by mistake, or whatever….

  5. lettersquash says:

    It’s dawning on me that I approached this in a rather unfocused fashion – I should have spent an email or so getting Paul to clarify exactly what his particular “facts” are, and investigated just those. The current blog entry was meant as a starting point, and I thought the learning would start in the comments as he challenged my unconvinced position. Instead, now that I disagree with him, Paul says I shouldn’t write about things I don’t know about and “better you focus on organic farming in future , its your area of expertise after all” – which indicates that he’s read my blog about as carefully as those “truther” websites (or his irony is subtler than I realise).

    He does seem to fit your description, Yakaru, of someone who has swallowed the red pill whole. Here’s more of his first email response to this blog post: “I have spent several years researching these matters in depth and am absolutely certain based upon the EVIDENCE that 9/11 ( exploding towers, free fall speed, squibs, Building 7, Israeli ownership, dancing Israelis etc) and 7/7 , ( faked time tables, explosions under the train , shootings at Canary Wharf, Israeli foreknowledge, Sir Ian Blair ( 4 miserable bombers) Tony ( act in the name of Islam) etc and Woolwich ( car is a write off, prepared speeches, no damage to road signs, no proper CCTV, road closed in advance , kids talking about filming event, MI5/6 links to alleged culprits, Argos knife receipts etc”.

    As it happens, I have researched the first four of these (assuming I know what he means by “Building 7”, the impossibility of its collapse and/or the “Pull” comment), and it takes almost no work at all to establish how very unlikely is the truther rhetoric on these matters. Most are in fact pure lies that just keep being repeated. The towers didn’t “explode”, they didn’t fall at free-fall speed, the “squibs” (puffs of smoke and debris from several floors) were the result of the collapse, not the cause of it (so not evidence of controlled demolition), and Building 7 collapsed due to the fires that engulfed it from debris off the other towers. “Pull”, I have heard an expert assert, is not demolition-speak for “detonate”, and almost certainly meant, according to several witness statements, “pull out” …because it’s going to collapse (as it had a gaping gash in the side of it and had been on fire for about 6 hours). Etc., etc., etc. Endless examples. The orthodox explanations are so convincing and the CTs so ridiculous it does stretch my comprehension of the psychology behind it.

    These people must spend their lives making assertions and, whenever anyone requires more evidence or argues against them, they must repeatedly run away in a huff, like Paul did here, unable to argue their case, then go back to making the same assertions in a new arena. I guess they probably spend most of their time preaching to the converted and the sheeple are a background blur they try not to examine too closely. I should study the psychology more – it is supposed to be my area of expertise, after all. 😀

  6. Woody says:

    Happy new years lettersquash, you’re a great influence.

    All the best,

  7. lettersquash says:

    Happy New Year Woody (and everyone!) – thank you very much for your kind comment.

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