Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. – W.B. Yeats
All that is solid melts into air. – Karl Marx
In a previous blog series I discussed how the gatekeepers of our culture exclude and demonize much progressive thought by associating it in the reader’s mind with bizarre right-wing claims, thereby delegitimizing both:
…countless websites and books devoted to narratives that marginalize anyone who questions the dominant paradigms of the culture. They typically do this by identifying “loony” theories from the perspective of the “rational center.” Such gatekeepers almost always lump all of the questioners together. Then with patronizing, pseudo-psychology they explore the unconscious motivations of conspiracy theorists, be they fascists or anarchists, Christians or Pagans, oligarchs or street people.
I’m talking about people who want us to forget about radical change because – they tell us – some of its adherents and some of their proposals are as laughably, preposterously unacceptable as are those on the other extreme.
The use of the term “conspiracy theory” is one of the main ways in which they banish any legitimate criticism of those in power to the realm of the truly illegitimate. The intent is insidious, even if often sincere. The only position that reasonable people could hold is the only one that remains, C – the consensual center that ranges between “not as crazy as A” to “not as crazy as B.” When they hear it often enough, people hold to that center so as to reaffirm their sense of American Innocence, and their identities.
I’ve read much by those who claim to objectively analyze conspiracy theories, and they all, left or right, serve that gatekeeping function. Even though most of what they say applies primarily to the right-wing loonies, they consistently associate the same faulty thinking with people further to the left.
But here is something new. In this age of fake news, “alternative facts”, high-resolution film and internet, when any image can be manipulated, some right wingers have become very skilled at offering theories with superficially progressive themes, but which, upon closer inspection, reveal reactionary agendas. They rely on the inability or unwillingness of countless good-hearted people who consume their well-funded rants and web posts to actually discriminate the former from the latter. One writer refers to these folks as “DRH” for “Down the Rabbit Hole.” I suggest another term: “New Age Conspiracists,” or NACs.
The wild popularity (seen by over 84 million people and translated into 27 languages) of the 2011 film Thrive is an example. Its creator Foster Gamble interviewed many progressive thinkers but hid his own libertarian views. Once they learned about those views, ten of the participants publicly denounced the film, claiming that Gamble had misrepresented himself. For more on that, see my blog, “The Mythic Foundations of Libertarianism” or Ben Boyce’s essay, in which he acknowledges “…how a skillfully edited documentary, backed with a big budget, can draw new adherents to a long-discredited political doctrine.” Later in this essay, I’ll describe how other “influencers” are manipulating thousands of people.
The pandemic year 2020 has seen massive resistance to social distancing and masking guidelines that have overlapped with vaccine skepticism. The great majority of it has emanated from right-wing and libertarian sources. But for now, I offer some confusing truths: quite a few left-wingers also favor personal choice on these matters – and the right is well aware of this. So we’re seeing slick, well-designed, “free-speech” websites such as Londonreal that, like Thrive, include articles by Noam Chomsky. But the further down one reads in their links, the more explicitly right-wing writings appear. This appears to be a deliberate strategy to influence young, anti-establishment, New Age readers.
Let’s get a few things straight. Of course, there are conspiracies in which powerful people or classes discuss their shared goals and strategies away from the public eye. After all, to con-spire is merely to “breathe together.” Call it the Committee of 300, the Illuminati, the British Royal Family, the Rothschilds or the Khazarian Mafia – or just call it late capitalism and neo-colonialism rationally pursuing its short-term goals. Such people would be crazy not to get together periodically to shape national policies and international trends in their interests. And for my money, in this kind of a world, Trumpus is a minor mob thug and a useful idiot, while George H.W. Bush was Capo di Tutti I Capi of the Deep State.
“Deep State” is a phrase that can mean anything to anyone, and it seems that NACs especially use it too loosely. So I’ll try to define it from three perspectives:
1 – From the Center: The Deep State is the entrenched status quo that (in public perception) gets nothing done, whose members, lazy career bureaucrats and unmotivated administrators, care only to protect their own positions and retirement benefits. From a slightly more charitable perspective, it is composed of areas of government, including regulatory agencies such as the (pre-Trumpus) EPA that exist permanently, keeping the whole thing going, regardless of periodic changes in the White House. For more, read here.
2 – From the Right: The Deep State is “Big Government,” ideologically devoted to piling up infinite numbers of regulations intended to crush personal initiative and redistribute the national wealth to the undeserving poor. As Ronald Reagan said, “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Note the mythological assumptions: only in America, with its aggrandizement of radical individualism, is poverty considered the fault of the individual. Similarly, we celebrate people who claim to have accumulated vast wealth without the benefits of inheritance or the assistance of that same State. For more on this topic, see my essay, “Blaming the Victim,” and take note of how deeply this cruel belief system has penetrated the American religious psyche, especially in New Age thinking.
This is the libertarian perspective of many NACs, who perceive federal regulatory agencies as instruments of a massive conspiracy to deprive them of the right to choose for themselves, especially in matters of health. To be clear, I agree with them to an extent, but it is very much a matter of discrimination, as we will see below. This thinking can slide down a long continuum that posits secret groups that control even the Deep State itself. In the most extreme scenarios, they are composed of alien (or Jewish) pedophiles determined to impose and dominate a New World Order; there is little practical difference between Big Government and the shadowy figures who conspire to control everything and everyone.
Note the mythological assumption: It’s a dualistic world of extreme good vs. extreme evil. This thinking has its roots in ancient Zoroastrianism, became solidified in Medieval Catholicism and justified centuries of European barbarism that led directly to the Holocaust.
3 – From the Left: The Deep State is what we used to call the Military-Industrial Complex. Now we could describe it as the Military / National Security / Intelligence / Corporate / Petrochemical / Big Pharma / Big Banking / Big Agriculture Complex. From this perspective, government is not inherently bad, but it has been so utterly corrupted by capitalism that the State itself creates and maintains a culture of fear to generate a perpetual state of war. It crushes the imagination and redistributes the national wealth to the undeserving rich. Note another mythological assumption: nothing in our 400-year history has so deeply held our attention and limited our natural kindness as fear of the Other (the internal Other of race and the external Others of immigration, communism and terrorism). In this model, there is hardly any practical difference between Big Business and Big Government. When Defense Secretary Charles Wilson said, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America” in 1953, he was speaking quite literally.
Of course, more than one person conspired to kill John F. Kennedy. Even the U.S. Senate found this to be likely. Of course, elements within the government conspired to assassinate Martin Luther King, Jr. Indeed, a court determined that this is a legal fact. Obviously, elements of the Bush administration had some foreknowledge of the 9-11 attacks and did nothing to prevent them. And there are plenty of broader conspiracies to worry about.
But many people who have rejected the official narratives, who clearly understand that the mainstream media have shaped a false picture of the world (and possibly of American innocence) for decades, also seem to be getting caught up in some really wacky, paranoid, misogynistic and certainly racist claims. It appears that once you reject the center as illegitimate and the media as mendacious and locate yourself as a maverick out on the margins, you naturally become open to other marginalized opinions. From this perspective, when you entertain the possibility that everything we’ve been taught is wrong, then any alternatives may well be right.
Not long ago, most so-called conspiracy theories were clearly divided between right (Obama “Truthers”) and left (assassinations, CIA drug dealing). Gradually, many people have come to muddy the distinctions (if with very different conclusions), beginning with health issues such as fluoridation and the vaccine controversy, with the right mistrusting the government for intruding on their liberties and the left rightly criticizing Big Pharma’s perversion of the FDA. Meanwhile, the liberal, rational center – the abode of the gatekeepers – desperately holds to a naïve trust in objective and uncorruptible science, a working democracy, mainstream media who inform us (rather than selling us to their sponsors) and a foreign policy that protects freedom.
But then something new happened. The palpably obvious lie of the official 9-11 narrative brought individuals on both right and left together, if again with wildly different conclusions. Meanwhile, the mainstream media circled the wagons to marginalize all dissent in favor of unified military belligerence, just as they had done 84 years before to drag the nation into World War One, 60 years before to drag the nation into World War Two, 37 years before to drag the nation into Viet Nam, and only nine years before to drag the nation into Iraq.
People such as David Icke (one of the few people interviewed in Thrive who has not repudiated the film) have taken advantage of this really large segment of the public – remember, 100 million potential voters have opted out of the system – to posit a world in which powerful yet secret groups are striving to control the destiny of the entire world. This leads us to the QAnon phenomenon.