As the comment section in the last post demonstrates, there are people out there who think that the CIA or some group of business and government elites control the planet, and orchestrate events like 9-11 and the global economic collapse in order to promote their nefarious schemes. While it’s easy to dismiss such theories, they aren’t completely wrong.
First, people vastly under-estimate the power of big money, especially banks and large industries, in both the world economy and political realm. One of my favorite movies of all time is Syriana where Christopher Plummer plays a powerful inside the beltway lawyer who manages to manipulate Mideast politics and exercise considerable control over what goes on in the US. While he may represent a fictional ‘composite character,’ I have no doubt that such relationships exist in the inside world of friendships and business deals at the highest levels, hidden from the public eye.
Second, a lot of people are making out big with inside information and manipulation of world markets. The derivatives schemes during the bubble economy have been widely publicized, as well as the presence of such insiders as Timothy Geithner across administrations. There is a profound presence of big money and big banks putting pressure on every administration. Governments know that if they don’t dance to the tune a certain way these powerful financial institutions can do considerable damage. If the defenders of big money knew how anti-capitalist such manipulations were, they wouldn’t connect such groups with ‘the free market.’
Third, governmental leaders have considerable intelligence (of the CIA/NSA kind) at their disposal, and can use that knowledge along with propaganda to manipulate both the political system and the bureaucracy. Think of the outing of Valerie Plame or Vice President Cheney’s creation of an alternate intelligence flow to undercut information he was getting that went against the Cheney storyline of an Iraq with an active WMD program.
It’s also true that high level international actors create connections with the purpose of trying to manipulate the world economy — not necessarily with evil intent, and perhaps believing that their self-interest corresponds with the world’s interest in stability. They can influence governments and I suppose even create events and circumstances that really do reflect what conspiracy theorists believe permeates the system.
In short, the idea that we are being manipulated by a group of powerful actors who control considerable wealth, hold governmental power, and can act without transparency outside the public eye is not only plausible, but likely. Fox News and talk radio keeps the right in line by selling an anti-government propaganda pitch that blames every problem on “liberals.” Left wing activists focus on human rights and fighting against oppression, not realizing that their leaders are just as much a part of the game. It’s bread and circuses, with the elites manipulating and feeding off the masses. That’s been the way of the world for quite some time.
Yet there is a difference between that and a view that a small group of elite have the capacity to micromanage world events to an unbelievable scale, plotting economic collapse, terror attacks, and nearly every major world event or crisis for their profit. Nothing I’ve seen in history and no evidence about the present suggests any group can have that much control — reality is too complex, the actors too varied, and events too unpredictable. The idea that this would be kept secret and under wraps is also not credible. So many people would have to be in on it that someone would either slip up or have an attack of conscience.
There is also considerable evidence that Osama Bin Laden, radicalized by the fight against Communism in Afghanistan, simply could not get used to a life without a holy cause. The evidence points to him and the Taliban truly believing that the West is a godless Satan, whose people are hedonistic, soulless and immoral as they prop up corrupt Arab governments. The idea that he’s a political revolutionary driven by psychological necrophilia and religious extremism is much easier to accept and reconcile with reality than seeing him as some CIA puppet. The idea that the Cheneys and Wolfowitzes of the government, ignored for so long by the Clinton Administration and even the early Bush administration, used 9-11 as a way to get their preferences makes more sense than thinking they orchestrated it. And, of course, it’s also clear that things went south for them in Iraq after 2004 — they didn’t expect the country to implode as it did.
In short, conspiracy theorists take a grain of truth — that elite in business and government have an extraordinary amount of power and can manipulate the public — and take it to an absurd extreme. Moreover, they often have no limits – everything is part of the conspiracy. No event or crisis can take place that is not somehow planned out by some group of elite bankers.
In some ways, they remind me of the “end of the worlders.” Those are the people convinced, say, that the Mayan calendar assures the world will end on December 21, 2012, or that Jesus is about to return. I’ve read of Christians supporting tearing down the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem to rebuild the Jewish Temple because they think it will start the clock to the second coming. I remember one flakey guy named Hal Lindsey predicting that the European Union was the anti-Christ, the ten headed beast in the book of revolutions. His knowledge of the EU (this was from the 70s or 80s) was completely ridiculous — he made it up, it seemed — but people bought it. People want to believe in grand schemes, conspiracies, or being part of some drama outside their control.
Y2K was a conspiracy and/or a looming disaster. People stocked up on dry food and kept cash on hand (I purposefully was down to my last $10 cash that day, as an act of rebellion against the silly panics — my ATM card worked great on 1-1-00). There is a sense of power in knowing what others don’t (that the end is coming), being prepared when others aren’t (ready for Y2K!), or having the vision and critical knowledge that the “sheeple” lack (seeing the conspiracies while the media hypnotize the masses to overlook). That gives a sense of power and purpose, one is unique, has inside information, and is a lonely fighter for truth and justice, while others just slide along oblivious to what the conspiracy theorists see as obvious. That renders a sense of superiority, and a kind of romantic self-image – the person sees the truth and is trying to open the minds of others who doggedly cling to their comfortable delusions.
Yet a realistic look at the evidence suggests there is no micromanaged world conspiracy. There are powerful actors trying to manipulate, often succeeding, sometimes failing. Often these manipulators themselves are deluded, which I think was the fate of Wall Street insiders during the bubble economy, and the neo-conservatives pushing for war in Iraq. And, of course, in the complex web of human relations, people are capable of confounding even the schemes of the most powerful, at least a little bit.