The other day I mentioned to my neighbor that I saw and had recorded photographic evidence that looked to me like weather modification experiments were carried out this summer over Ottawa. His reply was interesting – something to the effect of: “Oh, you mean Chemtrails”. That’s just a conspiracy theory!”
This led me to think about the whole question of “conspiracy”. We use the word in a most peculiar and dismissive way — quite removed from its real meaning. When we dismiss something as “just theory”, we are also talking about the roots of science process.
What is a Conspiracy Theory?
So what is a conspiracy? A dictionary definition would go something like this:
- An agreement between two or more people to carry out illegal, wrongful, or subversive acts;
- A plan constructed to carry out such acts;
- The process of making and keeping such a plan in secret.
Such an agreement — to carry out illegal, wrongful, or subversive acts — to be a “conspiracy”, requires:
- A motive;
- A plan or method;
- Two or more people “in the know” (but could include a much larger number with varying knowledge about what is really going on).
And what is a theory?
- A theory provides an explanatory framework for a set of observations;
- Common usage is to treat a “theory” as something that is speculation or unproven;
- A proper theory is stated in such a way that other knowledgeable people can understand the reasoning and carry out studies or investigators that either support or contradict the theory.
Combining these two terms into “conspiracy theory” creates an interesting conundrum. In order for a conspiracy to succeed, it is critical that it be kept secret. The scientific elements of theory-building requires openness, and the ability to formulate and test hypotheses or to otherwise discover the truth – the exact opposite of secrecy.
But if we can dismiss something as “just conspiracy theory”, we either deliberately or unthinkingly cut off the only avenue to proving or dis-proving the theory. So if I were a part of an actual conspiracy, and some elements of my actions were “observable” to non-fellow-conspirators, I would be quick to say “conspiracy theory” in order to deflect attention from my activities. Does this work? You betcha!
There is also the notion of a conspiracy of silence. This is part and parcel of keeping things secret. During the early days of growth of the “mob” in North America, the potential “stool pigeon” was the target of intimidation and violence. Today this same conspiracy of silence operates in politics and law enforcement. And there are no “witness protection” schemes for cops who “rat” on other cops, or for cabinet ministers or Senators who get “thrown under the bus” for challenging the party leader, or for whisle-blowers like Edward Snowden who rat on government wrongdoing.
We need to be clear that every criminal prosecution involving more than one defendant arises from some lawman (or layman) somewhere coming up with a “conspiracy theory”. So when Mexico City Scotiabank manager Muru Oropesa turned up dead in a ditch, bank investigators suspected a conspiracy — they had a “conspiracy theory”. And low and behold, $14 Million dollars was missing from the bank. Sixteen employees were found to have been involved in the fraud.
So this definitely fits the definition of a conspiracy. Up to 16 people (two or more) conspired (planned and carried out) the theft of money (an illegal act) and attempted to keep this secret — possibly to the extent of committing murder. Now it is interesting that only Oropesa’s former boss — Scotiabank executive Jaime Ross — actually went to jail, charged with fraud and money laundering.
But this raises the question with regard to the other 16 employees of: how much did they know? Were they in on the whole scheme? Were they just following orders, and not aware of illegalities? Did they think that their acts were “wrong” but not necessarily illegal? Were they threatened or paid off?
This particular conspiracy appears to have money as its primary motive. Gaining power or retaining power is the other powerful motivator. Of course, that also usually simply precedes getting money, so is probably a part of the same scenario, but it could on occasion be power for power’s sake. Or it could be driven by a psychopath. Hitler’s actions against the Jews began as a conspiracy. His destruction of the democratic government was a conspiracy. Some saw it coming. Others closed their eyes to it and concluded it was “just a conspiracy theory”.
“…illegal, wrongful, or subversive acts.”
Then there is the complexity introduced by the notion that conspiracy can involve other than strictly illegal acts. For those with low moral standards or ideological fixations, this can lead to all kinds of conspiratorial behavior which is “justified” in the minds of the conspirators, but from a higher moral ground is clearly reprehensible.
A classic case is the decades long conspiracy within the tobacco industry to cover up and/or deny the dangers of smoking. This was clearly wrongful, and clearly was a conspiracy, but no effective laws could be invoked that would make this seriously illegal, and people who should have gone to jail in my opinion, instead became multimillionaires, or were appointed to the Supreme Court.
We have a current-day analog in the actions of companies in the agricultural-food business, where through front groups, paid lobbyists, and an army of corporate lawyers (who when taken as a class seem to have somewhat lower moral standards than the general population) the very real dangers – to health, to the environment, and to the financial well being of hundreds of millions of farmers worldwide – are covered up and trivialized.
Meanwhile bought politicians (who when taken as a class seem to have considerably lower moral standards than an earthworm) try to sneak laws through congress to protect these agribiz leeches from being sued for the incredible damage they are doing and will do in the future if they are not held accountable.
Then there are subversive acts. These tend to be long lasting actions, often over decades, often carried out as acts in public sight but with the true motives and the extent of the conspiratorial plan carefully hidden. These are particularly insidious because at least some of the ideologues who push these agendas believe they are in the right.
At the same time, they will plot in secret and hide their activities because they don’t want open debate. The decades long fight against the liberal ideals of social justice waged by the U.S. right wing is a good example.
Just recently, the State of California settled a case of illegal campaign funding – described by the Fair Political Practices Commission as the “largest contribution ever disclosed as campaign money-laundering in California history.”1 Does this fit the description of Conspiracy?
Secrecy in this case involved laundering the money to the “Small Business Action Committee” through the Arizona-based nonprofit “Americans for Responsible Leadership”, who in turn got the money from another Arizona-based non-profit called “The Center to Protect Patients Rights”, which received the money from “American’s for Job Security” based in Virginia. Both of the latter are part of the extreme right wing money network financed by the billionaire Koch brothers, who were recently named by a U.S. Senator as primary drivers of the U.S. Government shutdown that cost the U.S. Economy $24 Billion.
Today, liberals point to the “Powell Memo2” as signifying the direction that the right wing would take to ensure the protection of privilege – and from the McCarthy witch hunt to Reagan’s destruction of the unions, to Greenspan’s dismantling of the Glass-Steagle Act that directly lead to the financial meltdown, to corporate control of university research – this all has played out pretty much to script.
Does this properly satisfy the definition of conspiracy? To my mind it does, because the true motives for any specific action are always hidden behind a smokescreen, and numerous destructive acts are carried out behind closed doors, or buried in an obscure place in otherwise necessary legislation.
It is interesting that Lewis F. Powell, appointed to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon, was a former lawyer for the Tobacco Institute, and his firm represented various tobacco companies in law cases. His memo to a friend in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is widely regarded as sparking the creation of several influential right-wing think tanks.
The use of lobbyists, front groups, think tanks, and the like has become ridiculous – and effective. Given the damage these right wing ideologues have done to individuals and to the economy, they really deserve the “terrorist” label that they so often throw at others.
What about the manipulation of the electorate in both the 2008 and 2011 election in Canada. Was that a conspiracy? What about the Senate scandals involving Duffy? Is there a conspiracy of silence here?
What is buried in the Free Trade agreements that Canada is signing with no oversight by either the public or the politicians of any party? Is there something they don’t want us to see, like the bits buried in U.S. Bills in 1999 and 2000 that led to the massive economic collapses?
Or do we just dismiss all of this as “Conspiracy Theory”….?
1 Huff Post Politics, Paul Blumenthal, “California Settles ‘Dark Money’ Case: Source”, Posted: 10/24/2013 12:18 am EDT | Updated: 10/24/2013 10:49 am EDT