Wednesday, July 18, 2018

On Conspiracies (Part One)

I have a dear friend with whom I discuss all sorts of subjects. The two of us are particularly adept at a kind of conversation that is loose and rambling. These qualities, in and of themselves, are not unique; most people could probably name one or two other individuals with whom they share such a rapport. 

One of the things that made our correspondence special though is the fact that we’ve known each other for over a quarter-century, and as such, we enjoy the kind of conversational shorthand that all long-time colleagues share. Also, he lives on the other side of the world now, in Asia, and so he brings those experiences to bear on our discourse, which widens the scope of its proliferation.

It was during one of these loose and rambling discussions that he and I found ourselves speaking the subject of conspiracy. Now, the two of us share many perspectives in common, so it came as something of a shock to find unsettling differences revealed during our discourse, and it led to a response, which is presented in the exposition I proffer here.

There can be no doubt that conspiracies exist - in nature and human society - and have, for as long as living beings have been able to breathe together (which is the original meaning of the word conspiracy, generated from the Latin conspirare: con-[together with] and spirare [breathe]).  

Even among our faunal cousins, sympathetic forces align to disrupt the status quo; a head chimpanzee is displaced by a rival who is aided by other like-minded chimps; or the alpha of a wolf pack is tore to bits by would-be usurpers, who then turn on each other until a new leader emerges. 

Could these coups be accomplished without secret alliances, albeit ones formed on an instinctual level of awareness, using means of communication other than language? That seems unlikely...  

But it is conspiracies of the human kind that are, by far, the most imaginative and complex. This is entirely in order, since the peculiar property of Homo sapiens’ sentience is to make abstract realities seem almost tangible to the senses, while remaining just beyond reach of them. 

These realities are not just intellectual abstractions, but emotional ones, too, and more often than not, a combination of both. They can be identified by everyday nomenclature, in the language of law, mathematics, politics, commerce, art, religion, science, and so on. 

Realities represented by language, and the artifacts they produce are the stuff of imagination and reason set to work in the world; the mythos and the logos. My philosophical antecedent called these realities ‘true world theories’, which is as good a signifier as any. Civilization itself, in fact, is built upon the intimation of these realities, which arose in the deep well of time like a flame, a-lighting the dark…  

Steering clear of metaphysics for now - and having established that human awareness has the aforementioned property of conferring reality to a given perspective - we can bring that knowledge to bear on the subject of conspiracy. 

Firstly though, for the purposes of this essay, let’s define conspiracy as the intent of a few individuals to control the majority of the population using coercion, deception, misinformation, disinformation and propaganda.

Secondly, we’ll acknowledge that conspiracy narratives are about power and keeping the mass population in the dark, prostrate to those who benefit from the conspiracy, whether that is banks, big pharma, government, elites, et al.

With these basic definitions in place, a metric can be contrived to measure a range of conspiracy theories, from the proven to the fantastical.

Of three broad categories that will exist within the spectrum of this metric, the first is comprised of conspiracy theories that have been shown to be factually, historically and scientifically verifiable by institutions and persons charged with guarding the gate, metaphorically speaking, between what is known and what is unknown.

I know what you’re going to say now, reader - what if the guardians themselves are conspiring to keep us in fetters, putting blinds over our eyes to conceal and dissemble what truth can be found in this world? “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” as a Roman poet once asked, only the context here isn’t marital fidelity, but fidelity to an idea of knowledge that is incorruptible.   

In this case, I must offer a conceit concerning the subjects classified in this first category:  it is because of legal, historical, academic and scientific rigor that the conspiracies listed have been shown to meet the definitions of conspiratorial intent described a moment ago: coercion, deception, misinformation, disinformation and propaganda. The evidence offered as proof in each conspiracy’s case is nigh irrefutable.

If measurements on the conspiracy spectrum are made horizontally (ie, along the x-axis), the first category occupies a range of degrees closest to x,y (fig.1).

Proximity of one category to another along the x-axis is an effort to demonstrate a progressive tendency towards more extreme, fatalistic and fantastical beliefs represented in the conspiracy spectrum.

The x-axis measures epistemological veracity and dissonance (or the tension between knowledge and belief). As integers increase along this axis, associated conspiracy theories become less verifiable.         

Cognitive dissonance (or if you prefer, psychological tension) experienced by a conspiracy theorist is measured along the y-axis (vertically). The rate of change here is represented by the rise of an upward concave parabola.  

Least affected by cognitive dissonance are conspiracy theories classed in the first category, called Demonstrable Conspiracies (DC)

Few people would contest these conspiracy theories. Some of the more well-known include the N.S.A surveillance program revealed by Edward Snowden, the Bush administration’s intent to mislead the United Nations about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the Iran-Contra affair, Watergate, among many others. 

Strategies employed by the tobacco and lead industries to hide the dangers of their products in the early and mid-20th century would also appear in this category (although this wasn’t always the case, as I'll explain in a moment). 

Many of the conspiracies in this category are nefarious, like Kristallnacht, or the Catholic Church’s cultural assimilation of indigenous people and suppression of priest sex abuse scandals; others are so famous they’re the stuff of legend - Socrates trial and execution, Jesus’ crucifixion and the assassination of Julius Caesar are good examples… 

The DC category acts a control for the rest of this imaginary metric, and the conspiracies listed here will be obvious to motivated, informed, and curious observers – like you and me. These are events that are recorded in history, studied by scholars, documented by legal precedent, affirmed by experimentation, validated by institutional analysis, and so on. 

As certain as one might be about anything in public life, the DC designation indicates conspiracies that have been shown to be, for all intents and purposes, factually and positively true (or, for equivalency’s sake, real), in an Aristotelian – that is to say, quantifiable - sense. 

It’s worth noting, however, that events listed in the DC category did not start out there; it is by a sort of psychological rigor and due the passage of time that conspiracies are exposed.  

Bias is limited, too, as more information about a conspiracy becomes available. Of the classifications represented on the spectrum, the DC category is the one most associated with what might be described as objective knowledge, if such a thing might be imagined to exist…  

Degrees along the x-axis of the metric represent a gradation which corresponds with the epistemological veracity and dissonance of a given conspiracy theory, as I mentioned earlier. Suffice it to say, the conspiracies listed along the far right of the DC category might be considered verging on demonstrability

These conspiracies include the influence of the American military industrial complex, domestically and abroad, and the oil industry’s campaign of disinformation related to effects of pollution in the atmosphere. 

Here also we can observe the institutional and societal structures underlying the systemic oppression of women and people of color in the West, which have been created to benefit a white male minority. 

Economic and financial collusion between the members of a small group of global corporations would be classed in this designation as well.    

The distinction between degrees in the DC category as a whole is the presence of overwhelming legal precedence, coupled with ongoing and intense institutional analysis, and the passage of time. Societal change over successive generations coincides with the collective public response to the conspiracies classed in this category. 

Widespread acknowledgement of the conspiracies listed here results in revolutions, and leads to the prosecution (and sometimes termination) of corrupt entities and agents. 

This fact highlights the most obvious and important aspect of the theories classed in the DC category: Society and its culture are transformed in fundamental ways by the unmasking of conspiracy - provided the conspiracy has affected the lives and-or the well-being of a critical mass of people in that society.  

There is, nevertheless, ongoing resistance to disrupting the status quo and revealing the extent to which people are manipulated from the highest levels of government and commerce. 

Yet even in this time, the male-centric power structures and patriarchal-enforced hierarchies are under siege on all sides. Appeals to traditional authorities are not completely ineffectual, but this is an era of profound existential doubt in the West – a time of fake news and false prophets – and the way ahead is unclear, even, I think, to the most prescient among us.    

Overcoming pernicious doubt requires novel optimism, a spiritual disposition that is resilient in the face of life’s suffering, and not a denial of that suffering. If history provides a guide, political and economic hegemonies are impermanent; even with maintenance, they eventually falter, like a decrepit body, or an old machine. 

That’s why the passage of time is important, in relation to conspiracies involving civilization’s superstructure, its culture, economy and politics. For example, when oil companies fully transition to green energy production - some 20 years from now – it will be easier to acknowledge the corrupt veneer under which the industry operated for more than a century.

In short, conspiracy theories deposited in the DC category are verifiable. And if the conspirators haven’t been outed already – and punished - controlling the classified information they once attempted to suppress has lost value.

(End of Part One. Click here for Part Two)