Conspiracy Research as a Catalyst for Change
by Reid Mukai
With the novel "1984", George Orwell successfully predicted society's development of "double-speak": the use and acceptance of words with two, often opposing meanings. Subtle forms of double-speak are rampant throughout American culture today with the common use of deceptive euphemisms (ie. "peacekeepers", "collateral damage" and "post-traumatic stress disorder") and doctrinal meanings: usage of words in mainstream media and current political discourse that tend to serve the interests of the ruling class (ie. "family values", "racial preferences", and "free enterprise"). In the case of the word "conspiracy" the doctrinal meaning has become so prevailent it's often mistaken for the dictionary meaning, which is how we've arrived at the present situation where the term is practically synonymous with "paranoid delusion" or "fabricated story". The dictionary definition of a conspiracy, as I understand it, is a crime committed by a group of people in secret. Of course, what constitutes a criminal act could be determined by more than one particular set of laws or values, and within widely different contexts. What's perceived as criminal to an indigenous community, for example, may be "standard operating procedure" for a militant empire and vice-versa. As anyone familiar with the Hawaiian sovereignty movement can attest to, Hawaii's statehood, certainly "legal" to America, was the end result of a conspiracy initiated by leaders of the islands' five wealthiest plantation corporations with the support of key corporate, military, media, and political figures. Similar incidents have happened to indigenous peoples across the globe, but very rarely are those from countries who committed the injustices taught to view such episodes as morally unjust or criminal, if they are taught about them at all. This common inability of society to fairly judge itself points to one of the reasons why education and research outside of mainstream political and academic circles is, while not always accurate or substantial, often essential for a less distorted view of the world as well as a potential challenge to authoritarian elements of society. The number of people in a conspiratorial "group" can be as few as two people to as many as an entire global monoculture, in varying degrees of involvement. If the idea of a global monoculture seems far-fetched, consider these statistics reported by Robert W. McChesney in a recent essay on the current state of mass media: in 1983 there were 50 major US conglomerates, while in 1999, less than 2 dozen mega-corporations dominate almost the entire realm of global commercial media. The recent AOL-Time Warner merger will in all likelihood lead to another wave of mergers which will soon bring the number of competing multinational media conglomerates down to just a handful. So why should such a shining example of Capitalism at work seem like a conspiracy? The media mergers are part of a larger trend of corporate consolidation and monopolization in all aspects of the marketplace. Obviously, eliminating competition is not a good thing for the majority of the population, and is especially harmful when it concerns the communications industry. Media has a powerful affect on culture, socialization, cognitive development, and perception, with the potential to influence not only elections, but thoughts, opinions, attitudes, emotions, relationships, and behavior. When this capability becomes monopolized by a cabal of billionaires, we get the system we see developing today: self-censoring, jingoistic, corporate-interest journalism, hypercommercialism of everything, and increasingly insipid, mediocre mass entertainment products for mass consumption. Though perhaps not completely intentional, it has the net effect of regulating consciousness and accelerating global ecocide. By buying into this socio-economic pyramid scheme we both imprison and implicate ourselves in the conspiracy. As far as the aspect of "secretiveness" of conspiracies, it doesn't necessarilly mean that its existence and operation are kept completely concealed behind locked doors. A conspiracy could be broadcasted live on cable T.V. and still be "secret" as long as the majority of the population doesn't even perceive a conspiracy taking place. Take the World Trade Organization, which is obviously not a secret group but still, very little is known about them from what is presented on the news (or allowed to be reported). One would have to look a little beyond mainstream networks to realize this group of corporate elites are responsible for setting trade agreements that place governments of less prosperous countries at the mercy of multinational conglomerates. The decisions they make (during meetings so secret even mainstream media can't attend) often have the effect of undermining or neutralizing locally enacted laws designed to ensure the safety of workers, non-workers, consumers and the environment. As I've attempted to illustrate with these examples, it's neither irrational nor paranoid to be aware of conspiracies because many exist, often so familiar they're taken for granted by most. However, like the terms "truth", "justice", and "freedom", "conspiracy" is more a relative, non-absolute ideal than a definite thing. It's also a useful analytical, contextual framework with which data relating to a perceived problem or injustice can be connected and organized. With a less rigid, open understanding of "conspiracy", society can be deconstructed into various interracting, symbiotic conspiracies rather than viewed as an unyielding, monolithic and permanent institution. By creating a more accurate and useful vision of the overrall system there's a better chance of arriving at effective, workable solutions. This is what I consider one of the most valuable and essential roles of conspiracy research, but I realize it's not for everyone. To examine a situation through a conspiratorial lens is to put oneself in a skeptical, adversarial role against vast, complex, and intangible forces that others either can't perceive, deny exists, or do not consider harmful, unjust, or avoidable. It's often an uncomfortableand frightening experience to question one's most deeply ingrainedbeliefs and prejudices. It also takes a sense of stability and balance to seriously consider evidence of a conspiracy and its implications without becoming steeped in anger and disgust, incapacitated by chronic despair and disillusion, or overly distrustful of oneself and others. On top of that, in matters of public debate there's bound to be opposition, usually from those most naive about or faithful to establishment institutions (ie. school, church, government, military, and corporations) or from those who benefit most from a continuing conspiracy. This is not to say that there aren't conspiracy theories which are wildly speculative and delusional. However, to believe those are the only types of conspiracies is to understand a very narrow, stereotypical aspect of the term, and to ignore a majority of documented, proven crimes committed by governments, businesses and armed forces. A major role of the conspiracy theorist ought to be to inducequestioning and critical thinking about all beliefs and assumptions, not to encourage blind acceptance of a single dogmatic version of reality. Rather than be predisposed to automatically dismiss or reject claims of a conspiracy, I encourage others to learn about them, do independant research, and openly discuss or debate such topics with others. Done properly, a conspiracy theory can be a means of investigating the truth concerning systemic problems that harm the majority of people and in some cases the ecological balance as well. Conspiracies can't last for long when enough people, armed with knowledge, begin to confront the source of problems and take appropriate action.