Saturday, September 11, 2010

Two Cheers for Conspiracy Theories

I don’t have much of a dog in this race. But I confess that I’m put off by blanket attempts to distance anti-authoritarian politics from “conspiracy theories.”

In practical terms, whatever the literal meaning of the words, a conspiracy theory is an account of an event that differs significantly from the account of the event endorsed by the mainstream media and the political establishment—characteristically in a way that can be seen as injurious to the establishment’s interests, and often involving the attribution of responsibility for mischief to the establishment or its agents.

If those C. Wright Mills called “the power elite” are essentially thugs and bandits—as a sensible class analysis suggests that they are—then there is surely good reason to expect them to engage in theft and violence. If political leaders are selected for their ambition—and so their willingness to put principle to one side—and their inclination to serve the interests of the power elite, there is surely good reason to expect them, too, to engage in theft and violence. Thus, there’s an argument to be made that a story suggesting that members of the power elite or their retainers in the political class are up to no good is more likely to be true than a similar story about an ordinary member of the population.

Similarly, if the members of “the power elite” play a significant role in shaping both state policy and the stances of media companies, there is good reason to assume that the stories injurious to the interests of the power elite are less likely to receive support from the mainstream media and government officials than stories beneficial to their interests. So it is sensible to expect that true stories of misdeeds by the power elite will not be endorsed or publicized by the mainstream media.

That the members of the power elite and the political class are more likely than ordinary people to be involved in plunder and murder and that the mainstream media are unlikely to give much attention to stories of their involvement in such activities does not, of course, show that any particular story about elite misconduct that is ridiculed in the mainstream media is correct—each such story should be gauged on its own merits. However, it does provide good reason to suspect that some conspiracy theories might be correct and to refuse to dismiss such theories simply because they are treated as silly by the mainstream media.


Ayn R. Key said...

Well, Gary, an interesting topic you raised. In my first public speech (which I did very badly since it was my first) I spoke at the Karl Hess Club about conspiracy theory.

The two extremes are thus:

To accept conspiracy theory, you have to be willing to accept coincidence as connection, correlation as causation, and insufficient evidence as proof.

To dismiss conspiracy theory, you have to believe that the rich and the power have no interest in expanding their wealth and power.

Between those extremes lies fertile ground, but to plow that ground makes you a "conspiracy theorist."

Roderick T. Long said...

Something I wrote a while back.

mpolzkill said...

Great site, Mr. Chartier.

I imagine you've seen this already:

Huber tells of a series of criminal conspiracies, large and really large. The plotters fit your description of the elite perfectly.