Saturday, September 09, 2006

What is a Conspiracy? by Louis Evan Palmer

Planning & acting
secretly - usually
in a unlawful or
harmful plot

This old-style vanilla definition is from a "Concise Edition" of a Webster's New World dictionary 1975 long before more recent neocon rewrites which add that key pejorative term - "theory" as in mere speculation or guess.

The term "conspiracy theory" being part of a continuing propaganda campaign to denigrate dissent and the arduous work of moving towards criminalizing it. Hate laws fit into this as well as they introduce judicial grounds for thought crimes - something that harkens back more to a medieval inquisition than to the Magna Carta.

Let's look at this bland definition - "planning and acting" - that occurs all the time and can apply to any number of organizations including an ordinary family.

"Planning and acting together" introduces the additional requirement that some outward coordination must happen, the actions of more than one person is needed. So all the actions that are the result of a single person are by definition not conspiratorial and therefore generally regarded as less serious and threatenting. Hence, the big push to attribute various significant criminal acts to the "lone nut" - no conspiracy here, no need to look further. This also explains why the focus always is exclusively on the acting component and the planning aspect is ignored. This is important as "lone nuts" are not known as master planners and if not them, then who?

Going back to the "together" component - even the most complex actions might require various members to perform some planning and acting on their own. Here the "together" aspect refers to the end goal - it's the same. This is a perspective that can tie seemingly disparate threads into a single endeavour - your little piece might stand on its own but if performed within a given time and location will contribute towards the larger scheme. Or, even simpler, some of your contribution is with others and some is yourself alone but towards that greater goal.

At this point, it's safe to say that we have an enormous amount of "planning & acting together" going on. In fact, it's a distinguishing mark of human society. No argument there.

The next requirement is secrecy as in "planning & acting together secretly". Now, is the requirement for complete secrecy or will partial secrecy if substantive qualify. That is, can a bona fide conspiracy have both public and private components? Would we regard the public components as not being part of the overall conspiracy even if they contribute to its goal.

If material parts of a given plan are secret then most people would generally consider it conspiratorial. That is, the public objective is stated as one thing but the secret objective is something else; or the public objective is an objective but not as significant as the secret objective.

The element of deceit is part of the equation even where it's not clearly unlawful or harmful although there would be a degree of that in almost every case. One would think that lying, or misrepresenting the truth, in and of itself, should be considered "harmful". Lying does in effect throw a mantle of secrecy over the truth and, for that reason, is a crucial tool in advancing a conspiracy. You won't look for something that we've convinced you doesn't exist just as you won't look here if we've tricked you into looking over there.

Organizations that involve high degrees of secrecy such as certain branches of government like Foreign Affairs and intelligence agencies, police and armed forces would be expected to be more prone to conspiracies. So too would corporations where secrecy is needed and/or practiced. And other organizations like the Mafia or the Freemasons where secrecy is an integral part of their affairs. The idea being that secrecy by itself creates a corrupting pressure towards self-serving action which is often deceitful, unlawful or harmful (to someone else!).

Naturally, secrecy is also achieved by limiting or censoring what information is available to the great unwashed herd. This is the way you take public information and make it secret - you make it unavailable. This is always done in the service of some objective. This type of action involving the mass media would constitute a high-impact conspiracy. War-time censorship would fit into this category but would be considered by the home population as required - but, the other side to whom this censorship is directed would consider as part of a general state of hositilies. Or looking at it in a different way, conspiracy is a type of warfare or an aspect of warfare.

Another discussion revolves around the meaning of "harm". In our often zero-sum world, one person's or organization's good is typically someone else's "harm" - which can mean a diminishment or a reduction of increase or some kind of "pain". So, if we can argue persuasively enough, that no "harm" has been done, then can we also claim that, by definition, no conspiracy can exist. As in, nothing to look at here, move along.

This moves us into the "government knows best" area. You will be told if harm is being done and what that harm is which then moves us nicely into the area of the law and what is or isn't lawful. Unfortunately, as we discover time and again, "the law" is a very mutable concept and because of that, "our" conspiracies aren't and "your" planning and acting together is. And, since conspiracies are acts of war, we may have to attack you to put an end to it. Despite the fact that while conspiracies occur within the context of a war, a conspiracy of itself may not lawfully trigger an attack if we're talking about sovereign countries.

This put us into the worse of worlds in that we have a proliferation of conspiracies in our own countries which are not recognized or reported or dealt with and, conversely, conspiracies in other countries which may or may not be conspiracies but which are used as pretexts for acts of aggression up to and including military invasions. Conspiracies using other conspiracies to advance their causes. No wonder everything's so difficult to unravel.

Again, the threat is secrecy. It is the driving force. It is the true enemy.

What is a Conspiracy?, Louis Evan Palmer, The Way It Can Be,
Copyright Louis Evan Palmer 

He lives in Ontario Canada. His short stories have been published in numerous publications. 


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