Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. – Yeats
In a previous blog series I offered my perspective on how the gatekeepers of our culture deliberately exclude and demonize much progressive thought by associating it in the reader’s mind with excessively bizarre right-wing claims, thereby delegitimizing both:
There are countless websites and books devoted to narratives that marginalize those who question the dominant paradigms of the culture. They typically do this by offering lists of “loony” theories from the perspective of the “rational center.” In almost every case, such gatekeepers 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.
I’ve read much by those who claim to objectively analyze conspiracy theories, and they all, left or right, serve that gatekeeping function. Most of what they say applies primarily to the right-wing loonies, but they consistently associate the same faulty thinking with people further to the left, and that is precisely their intention.
But here is something new. In this age of fake news and 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, or at the very least, pro-capitalist agendas. They rely on the inability or unwillingness of countless good-hearted people who consume their well-funded rants to actually discriminate the former from the latter. For lack of a better phrase, I’m going to call such people “New Age Conspiracists,” or NACs.
The wild popularity among young people of the 2011 film Thrive is a sobering example. In it, Foster Gamble interviewed many progressive thinkers but hid his own libertarian and anti-regulatory views. Once they learned about those views, ten of the participants publicly denounced the film, claiming that Gamble had misrepresented his intentions. For more on that, see my blog # 252, “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.”
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. Such people would be crazy not to get together periodically so as to shape national policies and international trends in their interests. And for my money, in this kind of a world, Donald Trump is a minor mob thug and a useful idiot, while George H.W. Bush was Capo di Tutti I Capi of the Deep State.
The “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.
2 – From the Right: The Deep State is “Big Government,” ideologically devoted to piling up infinite numbers of regulations that are deliberately intended to crush 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, just as people appear to accumulate vast wealth without the benefits of inheritance or the assistance of that same State.
3 – From the Left: The Deep State is what we used to call the Military-Industrial Complex. Now it is more accurate to describe it as the Military / National Security / Intelligence / Corporate / Petrochemical / Big Pharma / Big Banking / Big Agriculture State. From this perspective, government is not inherently bad at all, but it has been so utterly corrupted by capitalism that the State itself creates and maintains a culture of fear that generates a perpetual state of war. It crushes the imagination and redistributes more and more of the national wealth to the undeserving rich. Note the mythological assumption: nothing in our 400-year history has so deeply held our attention and limited our natural kindness as fear of the Other.
Of course, more than one person conspired to killed John F. Kennedy (and probably his brother). Even the U.S. Senate found this to be likely. Of course, elements of the government conspired in the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Indeed, this is a legal fact. Obviously, elements within the Bush administration had at least some degree of foreknowledge of the 9-11 attacks and did nothing to prevent them.
But it also appears that many people who have rejected these official narratives, who clearly understand that the mainstream media have shaped a false picture of the world (and of American innocence) for decades, also seem to be getting caught up in some really wacky, paranoid, misogynistic and certainly racist stuff. It appears that once you define the center as illegitimate and the mainstream media as mendacious and then locate yourself as a maverick out on the margins, you naturally become wide open to hearing other opinions from other margins. When everything we’ve been taught is wrong, then any alternatives may well be right.
Not too 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 their pocketbooks), many on the left mistrusting Big Pharma’s control of regulatory agencies, and the liberal, rational center – the abode of almost all of the gatekeepers – desperately holding to a naïve trust in a “science” that is not only objective but utterly incorruptible, a political process that still works, and a foreign policy that would never support dictators. The obvious lie of the official 9-11 narrative brought right and left together, if again with different conclusions.
People such as David Icke (one of the few people interviewed in Thrive who has not repudiated the film) seem to be positing a world in which vast conglomerations of maliciously powerful and manipulative groups utterly control the destiny of the entire world. Then we have the hugely popular and unique “QAnon,” as described in the New York Times by Michelle Goldberg. Yes, the NYT is the great gatekeeper of the liberal Center. But, going on the theory (see Part Four) that even a broken clock is right twice a day, this seems to make sense to me:
Some elements of the QAnon conspiracy theory — secret elites, kidnapped children — are classic, even archetypical. “In all Western culture, you can argue that all conspiracy theories, no matter how diverse, come from the idea of the Jews abducting children,” (says) Chip Berlet, the co-author of Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. Stories about globalists stealing children for sex aren’t that far removed from stories about Jews stealing children to use their blood making matzo.
One twist, however, makes QAnon unusual. Conspiracy theories are usually about evil cabals manipulating world events. QAnon, by contrast, is a conspiracy theory in which the good guys — in this case, Trump and his allies — are in charge. It’s a dream of power rather than a bitter alibi for victimhood. It seems designed to cope with the cognitive dissonance caused by the gap between Trump as his faithful followers like to imagine him, and Trump as he is.
Yes, there is a Deep State, and a discriminating mind will observe two things here: It is composed of the intelligence community (described by someone as neither intelligent nor a community), not 12-foot tall Jewish reptile child molesters from another planet. And high-ranking members of the military and CIA would be the very last persons to challenge it.
Part Two of this essay is here.