I have a conspiracy theory. There are millions of lunkheads out there who seem to have nothing better to do than to come up with conspiracy theories. I don’t know where they get them from but I suspect they get them from a large group of loosely knit, politically unmotivated people. They probably don’t even need a smoke-filled room to discuss them in because they seem to communicate telepathically. (Yes, there’s the internet, which is another conspiracy by a large group of…).
Sitting outside a pub a couple of weeks ago, I overheard a man telling one of his colleagues that the US had caused the Libyan revolt in order to get rid of Ghaddafi. Interesting that people are suspicious of American power but would never question the orientalist idea that the Arabs don’t really want democracy. This man had previously stated that governments are able to stop climate change by causing volcanic eruptions that would send out a pall of smoke, thus blocking the sun’s rays.
Many people obscurely feel, like Neo in The Matrix, that ‘something is wrong’, but unlike Neo, they do not espouse ideas that allow them agency, the power to change things. It’s all down to ‘government’, or other small groups of powerful males. There’s a strong flavour of apocalypticism in some of these theories, of huge forces which are out of control and which can only be stopped by a sort of scientific or technological magic.
Or perhaps they can’t be stopped. I was at another social occasion over Easter, when an apparently perfectly sensible, politically switched-on bloke stopped discussing the exploitation of Amazonian tribes and starting talking about an undiscovered planet coming between us and the moon (or sun) in 2012. He said this would cause a reversal of the earth’s magnetic poles and other catastrophes. Why is this a conspiracy theory? Because governments know about it and won’t tell us.
Of course, there are huge forces that exist outside of our control – mainly in a political and economic sense – though it’s also true that we won’t be able to prevent some climate change happening, even if we start now. In any case, at the moment there are few countervailing forces (in Britain at least), that can begin to address these problems, except the anti-cuts organisations, which are mostly local and embryonic. Social movements and workers’ organisations are weak, left parties are small.
A conspiracy theory has been called a ‘poor man’s ideology’, meaning that the relatively coherent view of the world that used to be provided by classic left/liberal/conservative political ideologies is lacking. These theories can be tied to a sort of anti-imperialism, or anti-capitalism, of fools (as in the Libyan example above) which is often not too distant from far right theories.
There is a problem with the phrase I just quoted, however. It’s revealingly classist as well as sexist. It might imply that proper ideology – a rational, coherent, global analysis – is for rich males, or academics. That’s the trouble – it’s too easy for lefties to adopt an elitist attitude and sneer at the lumpen mass. It may be fun to do, but it’s just another kind of passivity, and unless we snap out of it, we are just as much prisoners of the historical moment as those other poor fuckers.