THOSE WHO ARE TRYING TO LOOK CREDIBLE TO MAINSTREAM SOCIETY, I SAY STOP. THEY WILL NEVER ACCEPT US OR OUR IDEOLOGY.
- Richard Heathen
DEFENDING CONSPIRACY THEORIES FROM A LIBERTARIAN PERSPECTIVE
PUBLISHED: 30th June, 2014 | By Richard Heathen
As the liberty movement grows and becomes more prominent, there is increasing pressure for libertarians to become more mainstream by stifling and slanting the debate on numerous issues, in an attempt to gain a wider audience. Whether it is perverting libertarian philosophy, or stifling debate on controversial issues, these people are trying to steer and hijack the conversation in the libertarian movement. To this end many of these voices have decried the proliferation of a flavour of political examination which the mainstream has decried and dismissed with the pejorative term "conspiracy theory". The purpose of this article is not to endorse or condemn any specific conspiracy theories, but instead show that they have been beneficial to the growth of libertarianism and that they should be entertained based on their merit and not dismissed without examination. To those who are trying to look credible to mainstream society, I say stop. They will never accept us or our ideology, we are the antithesis of them and their worldview. Let me say this again to emphasize it, THEY WILL NEVER ACCEPT YOU! Not unless you are willing to water down libertarian ideology and philosophy to the point where it is just another strain of either liberalism or conservatism. The people you are trying to appeal to are statists, who in general will never accept the rational morality of libertarianism nor are they open to Austrian economics because they have been subjected to 12 years of state indoctrination and are part of a culture that acts as a echo-chamber, echoing back to them what they think they already know.
When researching the mainstream for this article I immediately noticed the hostile and condescending tone of the authors. This is ironic as the term "conspiracy theory" was once a little known, but neutral term used to describe a theory about a possible conspiracy, it wasn't until the 1960's when the CIA launched a propaganda campaign to twist the term into a pejorative to discredit skeptics of the Warren Commission. How silly people are, according to these authors, to think that government might murder and lie to us. These article were an outright dismissal of the idea that any sort of government conspiracy is credible. As usual these pieces were accompanied by some form of psychological analysis of why people believe in conspiracies. It couldn't possibly be because the government is corrupt and illegitimate, no no no, it's due to the mental state of the people who distrust government, there is something wrong with them! I remember when the thought of drone strikes on civilians along the idea that the government listening in on our telephone calls and monitoring our emails was a conspiracy theory, and that people who thought they would do such a thing wore tin-foil hats. We know now that indeed the NSA does monitor and read people's online actions, and that indeed domestic police forces have began using drones for law enforcement purposes. Still no retraction or apology from the mainstream though.
Scholars like Viren Swami of the University of Westminster in the UK, paints people talk about conspiracy theories as cynical, disenfranchised people with low self worth and no agency in their own lives. Let's talk for a moment about the obvious bias from someone who works for a state funded University. Conspiracy theories erode a sense of trust in government, because they make one question the motives of those wielding state power, which can be like unlocking a pandora's box of truth. Even if specific conspiracy theories are untrue, examining them from a intellectually curious perspective opens one's mind to possibilities and political perspectives never before thought possible. When one examines the motivations and actions of those in power critically, it inevitably leads many to question the legitimacy of state power, which inevitably leads a lot of people to the conclusion the state's power isn't legitimate at all. Swami also says those who are conspiracy minded display what he calls“political cynicism" and are disengaged from mainstream political discourse. This does make some sense if you think about it logically. I mean if you've figured out the state is controlled by an elite oligarchy, where debate is restricted within in narrow parameters, and the major parties represent establishment interests exclusively, it makes sense that you wouldn't be (and if you're reading this probably aren't) engaged in mainstream politics. Is this lack of political engagement caused by the proliferation of a conspiracy perspective? Alienation from mainstream politics couldn't possibly have anything to do with the fact that nothing of substance is discussed in the mainstream political discourse could it? The fact that only surface issues, like silly PR faux paus and minor scandals are ever discussed in the mainstream, never crosses these people's minds as a reason for disconnection from mainstream political dialogue. There is never a real discussion about fundamental things like central banking, foreign policy, taxation or the proper role of the state. Rarely is there anything in mainstream political discourse that challenges the prevailing doctrine.
One of the most common critiques levelled against those who talk about conspiracy is the theme that government is so inefficient in providing basic services that the idea that they could organize a complex conspiracy isn't plausible. To determine whether or not this is true we need to examine why government is inefficient in providing these basic services and how things might be different when it comes to organizing violence. Government provided services fail for starters because they don't have any incentive to succeed. They are run by bureaucrats who not only don't have an incentive to succeed, but also don't have any disincentive to fail. If they fail they will likely get more money in the budget next year. If they succeed in actually being efficient and not spending their whole budget, many times that will result in a smaller budget next year, in this way the state incentivizes waste. Since most government services happen where the state has a monopoly there is no way to measure what the actual market needs are for a government service, which leads to waste and mismanagement. Government services lack market signals that help to allocate resources in an efficient manner. On top of that there is no way to know what innovations or demands the market would provide in the absence of a state monopoly, who knows how much demand there would be for state services or how that demand would be managed in a truly free market. At the same time, government does face some competition from rival states. This isn't a reflection of competition within the market but competition is one a major motivator for success. Can you imagine if the state had a monopoly on computer technology, we would not have the innovations we have today. How is efficiency of providing services through cooperation in the market different from the efficiency of organized violence? For starters the fact that a state exists means it is already the most efficient institution of organized violence within a geographic area, and as such it is likely to recruit the most efficient users of violence within a society. Well if someone is skilled in violence and wants to capitalize from that skill for the maximum amount of gain with the minimal amount of risk, it just makes sense that they would get in league with the state. The state because of it's monopoly on violence has abundant resources to entice many of the best and brightest into working for them. These state enforcers compete with each other for status and position, which incentivizes them to work harder, due to a warrior mentality, they want to be alpha dog of their pack of enforcers. This causes them to be even more ruthless and vicious when dealing with the public.
Another common critique is it would be impossible to keep a large conspiracy a secret or that someone would come forward. While it does happen that whistleblowers come forward, it doesn't always happen. In fact that prosecution of whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and Bradly Manning serves as an example and potential warning to other would be whistleblowers and is a great disincentive for people not to become whistleblowers in the future, or else. Despite the fact that the state already keeps numerous secrets, this claim can also be debunked through the concept of compartmentalization. Proponents and analysts of conspiracy point to the idea of compartmentalization which basically means not everyone in an organization is completely aware of everything that organization is doing at all times. Think about it, if you've ever worked at an even moderately sized company there are changes, agenda's, meetings, and numerous other initiatives that management and ownership conduct that you have no idea about. The most common example compartmentalization proposed by those convinced that governments stage terrorism, is that during a staged events elements perpetrating this event organize drills as a cover during the event as a cover for others who don't know what they are part of and in case someone is caught, they can say they were just part of the drill. Whether or not this example is correct or not, it is a strawman position to say that everyone in an organization would be aware and involved in some kind of secret plan. Honestly if some people on the internet can come up with ideas to get away with conspiracy, is it really that outlandish to think the powers that be aren't able to come up with these kind of ideas? It is equally ineffectual to say that people would necessarily step forward. I mean, what better way to incentivize people to keep their mouth shut then to involve them in the murder of 10 to 100 to 3000 people? Rational self interest would dictate that they have very little reason to step forward, and a lot of reasons to keep quiet.
From a libertarian/anarcho-capitalist perspective many are dismissive of conspiracy theories because they feel that those who engage in conspiracy theory are naive and believe that if only we can get the villains out of office and replace them with paragons of virtue then we will transported to nirvana and everything will be well. I would be lying if I was to say that there wasn't some truth to this. Yes, many so called conspiracy theorists, are still statists, and think that we just need stronger laws regulating corporations and the right people in office. On the other side of the coin many people such as myself came to libertarianism through conspiracy analysis. I came to libertarianism through listening to the Alex Jones Show which is where I came across then Congressman Ron Paul. I liked that Ron Paul as a politician didn't just dismiss these ideas and was willing to talk about them. I liked that he also spoke out on issues I found important. Issues such as state spying, the warfare state, and centralization of power to global institutions. I liked that he was principled on civil liberties, that he didn't play partisan politics and was often critical of his own party.
I just liked that he wasn't afraid to be different. The only catch for me was I didn't agree with his economic policies, but the fact that I saw he was good on these other issues lent him credibility to me so I listened to his (Austrian) economic ideas, and was surprised with what I found. I am not sure I would've became a libertarian if I had not already had my previous paradigm shaken up by entertaining the idea of government conspiracy. The fact is when people start becoming conscious of reality, and start questioning the world around them, they are open to different ideas and ideologies, as libertarians we need to be there to guide these newly conscious people towards the principles of liberty, before they become swallowed by some collectivist movement. I think if libertarians are interested in recruiting, people who discuss conspiracy are fertile ground for recruitment.
Libertarian icon Murray Rothbard discussed conspiracy theory within the confines of what he called 'power elite analysis'. In his estimation Rothbard observed there were what he called "good" and "bad" conspiracy theorists. According to Rothbard the "bad"
conspiracy analysts, stop at motive and don't sufficiently prove their case. Rothbard also noticed that what he called the bad conspiracy analysts had a tendency to group together all factions of the power elite into one homogenous blob. There is also a tendency for analysts to take one group and declare them all the all powerful capstone of the pyramid whether it is the "Zionists", the "Freemasons" or a secret resurrection of the famed "Illuminati". To imagine their is one group all powerful masterminds is cartoonish and intellectually lazy. Instead Rothbard thought we would examine the power elite as various factions competing with each other for wealth, power and supremacy. If one accepts Rothbards analysis , then a praxeologically sophisticated view would be to say that indeed their are factions of the power elite that compete with each other, but at the end of the day their interests align more with each other then with the average person, and they agree more then they disagree. It also isn't hard to see how in such a situation they use state power to consolidate their wealth and power and how that could also result in an ever closer alignment of their interests. Rothbard himself covered how the Morgan and Rockefeller interests in the early days of the 20th century became more and more consolidated. Whether it is it is central banking or globalization the westernized nations of the world are seem to be marching the same drum on these and many other major issues, are we really going to say that this is just coincidence?
Another reason to take a second look at conspiracy is that the agents of the state are finding the increased proliferation of conspiracy theory as a threat to the calm and orderly machinations of the state. Harvard law professor and former regulation czar of the Obama administration Cass Sunstein laments the growth of conspiracy analysis surrounding terrorism and is afraid that the the proliferation of these theories poses a risk to the US Federal Government's anti-terrorism policies. Now if that isn't a reason for libertarians to celebrate conspiracy theories I don't know what is. If conspiracy theories work like a virus as Sunstein suggests and can undermine support for that governments authoritarian domestic policies, and foreign interventions a broad they are actually helping to decrease state violence. Not bad for a bunch of tin foil hats, eh? In his paper on conspiracy theories he immediately retreats to the tired attack that people believe conspiracy because of disempowerment in their personal lives, and to curry favour within their social circle. He then laughably tries to assert there is a open and critical media paradigm that is critical of the establishment and their policies, anyone who payed attention during the build up of the Iraq war knows differently. He does this while lamenting the fact that conspiracy theories can,
Have pernicious effects from the government’s point of view, either by inducing unjustifiably widespread public skepticism about the government’s assertions, or by dampening public mobilization and participation in government-led efforts, or both.
Wouldn't that be great, to have more and more people who are inherently skeptical of any and all proclamation for the the state and it's agents? That sounds like a victory for liberty if I've heard it. What is chilling though is Sustein's suggestions for should be done to counteract the effect of conspiracy theories. His solution is what he calls "cognitive infiltration" that is having undercover government agents infiltrate what he calls as "extremist" groups in real life and cyber space to challenge these theories. Sunstein also advocates governments secretly recruiting private institutions to tow their line of information, because an attempt to do so from the state itself would be transparent, of course this association would have to remain secret or it wouldn't have the desired effect. Kinda sounds like Sunstein is for some kind of conspiracy of his own, ironically in order to undermined conspiracy theories. Sunstien also suggested outlawing talk of conspiracy or taxing those proliferate conspiracy theories. Clearly their are members of the establishment who are very much concerned about the continuing spread of the idea that governments conspire against their citizens for malicious purposes.
As I stated earlier the purpose of this article is not to endorse or condemn any specific theory, but let's not mince words either. Whether we are talking about chemtrails, population control, 9/11 or any other theory regardless if it is correct or not, the state and it's agents conspire to do them if it suited their interests. It's not crazy or paranoid to think the government might do any of these things, they have proved they are cold blooded psychopaths. The US Government conducted experiments on unsuspecting people by spraying radioactive chemicals on the population through planes in Texas and in St. Louise the Army attached sprayers to buildings and to disperse the same chemicals in the 1950's. From 1932 to 1972 The US conducted what is now known as the Tuskeegee experiment where the government offered what was sold to patients as free health care, when in reality it was though was an experiment to examine the effects of untreated syphilis on black men. These people were not volunteers, they had no idea they were being used as guinea pigs for experimentation by the state. In recent history the US governments has invaded Iraq based on lies, and started a war which was responsible for the death of at least 1 million Iraqi's this is nothing less then extreme psychopathy. Why is it paranoia to suspect them of other crimes? I mean the death toll from 9/11 was comparably much less at just over 3000 people, so why is it outlandish to think that if they are willing to go to Iraq and kill a million over there, that they would be willing to kill 3000 at home? If they thought spraying chemicals into the air would benefit them or suit their agenda's they would do it. They've done it before!. No, there is nothing irrational or paranoid about suspecting the state and it's agents of any crime under the sun, in fact it is quite rational to suspect the most violent and coercive agency in society when violence occurs. After all as we covered earlier by definition the state is the institutionalization of violence and coercion, they are the most efficient and organized agency for force in a geographical area they the gang that beat out all the other gangs. Once you have a theory the trick is proving it. This is where many conspiracy theorists come up short. I personally have debunked evidence that has been provided to as evidence for one thing or another. Just because one conspiracy theory on a subject is false doesn't mean they all are, unless you have take the time to actually look at the evidence from both sides, dismissing the idea of a conspiracy is just intellectually lazy.
While it is true that some people will cling to conspiracy theories that are incorrect or false. These folks aren't theorists or analysts but simply people who cling to an idea that is false, there are many of these types in society. To understand the power of conspiracy theory we have to understand what is. To me it's always just boiled down to a skeptical view of government, and a hypothesis based on available information. Really, when done correctly the conspiracy analysis isn't anything esoteric or outlandish, it is simply true investigative journalism done by those who aren't trying to attach themselves to the existing power structure for benefits, but are searching for truth which will more often then not, put them at odds with authority.
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