Tuesday, December 06, 2005

On the hunt for a conspiracy theory

It is surprising to me to find some of the better news and opinion out there in something called "The Christian Science Monitor", somehow I expect it to at least to have an obvious religious bent, but it really doesn't. To read their "about us" page is enlightening as to why not, but there's nothing like a clear example of excellent, clear-headed, logical reasoning to show what they might be about.

Take the article "On the hunt for a conspiracy theory", which talks much better than I have been able to about the dangers of conspiracy theories in general and clearly has applicability in areas that the author, Frank Furedi, does not specifically mention.

Quickly getting to the root of the problem, Mr. Furedi says:

"Conspiracy theory offers an explanation of the causes and motives for otherwise inexplicable developments. Such theories are appealing because they provide us with a semblance of control over powerful forces that influence our lives. Today, acts of misfortune are frequently associated with intentional malevolent behavior. Nothing happens by accident."

And:

"People always search for meaning. But in our confused and ever changing world we feel particularly perplexed when it comes to making sense of the problems that confront us. One of the most important ways in which an absence of meaning is experienced is the feeling that the individual is manipulated and influenced by hidden powerful forces..."

The author could almost be talking about crude superstition, ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties are blamed for anything that goes bump in the night. He isn't, he's exploring the seductive idea that dark and malevolent intelligence may be behind unjust and destructive behavior. But this really is an extension of superstition - instead of crouching in the corner with a baseball bat in our hands with all the lights turned on full waiting for the monster to crawl out from the dark that remains under the bed, we make ourselves equally ridiculous by generating and giving credence to fringe political ideas. Moreover, and paradoxically, just as fear of non-existent monsters makes us manipulable by those hucksters who might try to sell us snake oil remedies, fear of non-existent conspiracy disempowers us when it comes to dealing with the quite real injustices that are supposed to derive from them. That disempowerment makes us easy prey for those that stand to gain from the supposition of a conspiracy who then become powerful themselves as manifestations of that conspiracy. In any war, your enemy may be made so just as much by your own fear of him as by his actual behavior.

Furedi goes on:

"Today, conspiracy theory has become mainstream and many of its most vociferous supporters are to be found in radical protest movements and among the cultural left. When Hillary Clinton warned of a "vast right-wing conspiracy," it became evident that the politics of the hidden agenda have been internalized in everyday public life. Today, the anticapitalist and antiglobalization movement is no less wedded to the politics of conspiracy than its opponents on the far right. From their perspective a vast global neoconservative conspiracy has turned into an all-purpose explanation for the many ills that afflict our times."

In fact, one might almost suggest that this is a conspiracy!

"The simplistic worldview of conspiracy thinking helps fuel suspicion and mistrust toward the domain of politics. It displaces a critical engagement with public life with a destructive search for the hidden agenda. It distracts from the clarification of genuine differences and helps turn public life into a theater where what matters are the private lives and personal interests of mistrusted politicians. "

This is partly why I have a hard time accepting the idea that there is some loonie feminist cabal setting out to destroy our families, reduce men to sperm- and money-producing drones, and set up a matriarchal state. Likewise, it is equally ridiculous to suppose that men's and fathers' rights activists are a bunch of supremicist men looking to preserve the priviledge of a patriarchy that never existed in the first place. Arguments along these lines are the rhetoric of a failure to communicate and generate lots of heat and noise, but no progress.

I am not saying that injustices don't exist. Far from it. I know for a direct personal fact that people are prejudiced, constantly jockeying for position and power and will use whatever advantage they can find or generate. We do live in a time where men and fathers face societal obstacles that derive primarily from their gender and, while some of those obstacles are new, many are not, many have always been there. But they are not the result of a conspiracy; no amorphous gang of resentful wimmin has set out to generate those obstacles with the complicity of their 'whipped, metrosexual cronies. Simple human ignorance and self-interest will suffice and those are the true malevolent forces that must be fought against. They are not organized, they are not intelligent, they are not ideologies, and their malevolence derives from their effects not from their perpetrators. Nevertheless, they will happily hide behind whatever organization, intelligence and ideology in which we are too easily inclined to dress them. We give power to ignorance and self-interest by reacting to them as if they already had that power.


(Simulposted on Just Another Disenfranchised Father)

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