Ruling classes and conspiracy theories

This video is called 10 Famous Hoaxes.

By Solomon Hughes in Britain:

Tinfoil despots: why powerful elites love conspiracy theories

Friday 4th December 2015

The left is often falsely accused of what the right is guilty of, writes SOLOMON HUGHES

MOVE away from the political mainstream, and pretty soon you’ll be accused of believing “conspiracy theories.”

Can we believe the world should be radically different without covering our windows with tinfoil?

Being a socialist by definition means thinking things are not quite the way they are described. At socialism’s heart is a belief the “free market” is really not so free, because inequality means some people are much more powerful than others. But the press, being run mostly by those that do very well by the free market, doesn’t dwell on that inequality.

The loudest voices in society belong to those with the most power, and changing that conversation has been part of the socialist programme for centuries. Before mass media, the church was a big voice for the powerful. Back then, socialists and other reformers said that the voice from the pulpit was saying things about keeping meek and lowly because they were serving Mammon, not God.

More recently, reporting what seemed unreported has been a big part of the socialist programme — pointing out poverty, exploitation or the waste of life that was under-reported by the established press.

Arguing people’s motives are not always what they say they are is a common socialist theme. The king says he rules for the good of the country, but the socialists say he rules for his own enrichment. The bankers say they do their best for their shareholders and customers and the wider economy, but actually they have trousered billions for themselves while wrecking the economy, their customers’ lives and their shareholders’ assets.

Sometimes Establishment folk say the left is getting caught up in “conspiracy theory.” But the socialist case is slightly different — it is an argument that material things are important, that how people make their money influences what they say and do. Common class interests make people act together.

They don’t have to actually have a conspiratorial meeting in a secret conference in a Swiss resort to make these decisions: they can make these decisions spontaneously and independently, because the decisions spring from their common class interests.

And some people who were not quite so powerful will spontaneously do the work for them, to curry favour with the powerful.

When King Henry II was sick of the Archbishop of Canterbury not doing his bidding, he didn’t give an assassination order. He just wondered: “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” and four knights went and cut the top of Thomas Becket’s head off. Which could lead plenty of sycophants to say this was “cock up, not conspiracy.” But actually it was how power works.

Pretty universally bankers lobbied for lighter regulation, just as they were using light regulations to get rich through crazy, risky deals. They didn’t need a conspiracy: they all felt like this from common economic interests.

This doesn’t mean there weren’t actual conspiracies of bankers. Conspiracy sometimes seemed like the collective noun for City folk. There were, for example, straightforward conspiracies to fix the Libor rate and many other conspiracies to fake the value of loans and “game” the regulators. These conspiracies were part of, but not essential to, bankers crashing the world economy.

By contrast, a conspiracy theory approach means you start with the secret, hidden meeting rather than the shared interest.

There certainly are real conspiracies. President Richard Nixon really did have a secret organisation running illegal operations against his Democratic opponents that led to the break-in at the Watergate building. However, Nixon’s conspiracies grew out of a general social trend rather than a particular conspiratorial group. The US government felt threatened by anti war and black rights activists in the 1970s, so the CIA and FBI launched illegal undercover operations against them. Nixon’s Watergate schemes were versions of these schemes. He acted like other members of the US Establishment, although in their terms he went “too far.”

There is a theory about conspiracy theories — a conspiracy theory theory — that they are the products of the sad, bewildered minds of lost little people. David Aaronovitch made this case recently in his book Voodoo Histories. It is heavily influenced by a very “cold war liberal” essay by Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics.

The argument is that the social and economic “losers” can’t make sense of the progress in a modern world, and turn to ugly conspiracy theories for comfort.

The problem with this argument is that it doesn’t really match the facts. The three most effective fake conspiracy theories I can think of that actually grabbed the minds of millions and changed their behaviour were believed by the “winners” at the top as much as the “losers” at the bottom.

The fake Protocols of the Elders of Zion, describing secret Jewish plots for power, has driven murderous anti-Jewish racism for decades. The Zinoviev Letter, describing a secret link between Lenin and his Russian revolutionaries and Britain’s Labour Party helped lose an election and leave a “red scare” feeling around the party.

A common theme in conspiracy theories is the hidden unity of opposites — that apparent enemies are secretly conspiring together. The Saddam-Al-Qaeda conspiracy theory, proposing a secret link between these two enemies, was promoted by much of the national press and leading politicians in Britain and the US.

This last had almost James Bond levels of conspiratorial window dressing, with secret meetings in Europe, secret terrorist training camps in Iraq, underground weapons bases, bioweapons exchanged, hitmen trained at secret bases. All of it entirely imaginary. But the theory launched a massive war.

But these three conspiracy theories were all pushed by the powerful, not the powerless. The Protocols were written by agents of the Tsar’s secret service and promoted by diverse powerful people including Henry Ford, and, to the most evil effect, by the nazis. The Zinoviev letter was promoted by the Daily Mail. The Iraq conspiracy was promoted by so many powerful political and media figures that I just don’t have room to list them here.

So we do need to reject a conspiratorial view of the world. Not least because it is so often promoted by the Establishment.

Solomon Hughes is an investigative journalist.

IN CASE YOU BELIEVE IN THIS KIND OF THING “In the first peer-reviewed study of its kind, researchers at the University of California, Irvine and the Carnegie Institution for Science found that the world’s leading atmospheric scientists overwhelmingly believe that condensation trails ― known in the scientific community as “contrails” and to conspiracy theorists as “chemtrails” ― are not the product of a government-funded program aimed at covertly spraying chemicals into the atmosphere to control everything from overpopulation to food supply.” [Carla Herreria, HuffPost]

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