Back to 1984?

The Wikipedia article entitled “Conspiracy Theory” includes the following :-

“Originally a neutral term, since the mid-1960s, in the aftermath of the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy, it has acquired a derogatory meaning, implying a paranoid tendency to see the influence of some malign covert agency in events. The term is often used to dismiss claims that the critic deems ridiculous, misconceived, paranoid, unfounded, outlandish, or irrational. A conspiracy theory that is proven to be correct, such as the notion that United States President Richard Nixon and his aides conspired to cover up Watergate, is usually referred to as something else, such as investigative journalism or historical analysis. ”

It has been suggested that the emergence of this derogatory meaning was encouraged by the CIA, who were keen to quash the idea that Kennedy was not killed just by Lee Harvey Oswald, acting entirely on his own, but by a group of people with close links to the CIA. The discrediting of the very notion of conspiracies has been continued by the use of the term ‘conspiracy theory’ to include ideas which would more accurately be described as wild fantasies, such as David Icke’s assertion that the Queen and other prominent public figures are really shape-shifting alien reptiles.

The negative connotations of ‘conspiracy theory’ seem to have led to a reluctance to acknowledge the reality of historical conspiracies. Over the years, I had read various accounts of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, but it was not until I read a biography of Lincoln that I learned that his assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was the leader of a group whose aim was to kill President Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward on the same evening. None of the accounts I had read previously had mentioned the near-fatal attack on Seward, or that the intended assassin of the Vice President lost his nerve and did nothing – which did not save him from being hanged.

There are some people who are predisposed to believe almost any ‘conspiracy theory’, and others whose knee-jerk reaction to anything which can be labelled as a ‘conspiracy theory’ is to dismiss it out of hand. I believe both these extreme viewpoints are misguided. Any possible conspiracy should be assessed on the basis of its plausibility and, above all, the evidence for and against it. Conspiracies have happened throughout history – one particularly famous one being commemorated each Fifth of November – but we should still be very wary of the crazier ideas.

I believe there is an alternative explanation for some of the conspiracies that are claimed to exist. As I do not know a better term, I will call this a pseudo-conspiracy. If there is a group of people who are in positions of power, and these people have broadly similar agendas, then they will naturally tend to work towards a common goal, without necessarily having come to any agreement to do so. There need be no overall organisation, no clandestine meetings, no coded messages, no secret agreements. The results could be well-nigh indistinguishable from those of a genuine conspiracy . There is one major advantage of a pseudo-conspiracy for those who benefit from it – there is no risk of being exposed as conspirators, since there is not really any conspiracy. However, some of the participants in a large-scale pseudo-conspiracy may well be involved in real, but more limited, conspiracies.

The biggest conspiracy in the world today, if it existed, would be the New World Order, which supposedly aims to impose an authoritarian worldwide government, and to destroy the sovereignty of nation states. There are a number of conflicting versions of this. Right-wing believers argue that the aim is to impose a communist dictatorship, left-wing believers say that the result will be corporate fascism, where power will lie with multinational corporations and their billionaire owners, while others bring an occult element or extra-terrestrials into the mix. As someone with left of centre views, who does not believe in the supernatural or alien visitors, I have no qualms about rejecting some of these ideas. However, the idea of a conspiracy to impose corporate fascism is much more plausible than the others. There are clear signs that we are currently heading towards a corporate fascist future, with America leading the way and Britain following on behind.

Governments negotiate secretive deals, such as the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between America and the EU. This will significantly increase the power of corporations at the expense of elected governments if it goes ahead; for example, it would allow companies to sue governments for ‘loss of profits’ caused by new rules or laws imposed to protect the public or the environment, and it would make any form of re-nationalisation impracticable. One can imagine that in the future there will be many instances where public demand for some policy will be met by the government with the response “We cannot do this, as our hands are tied by such and such an international treaty” – which will be true, but they will have tied their own hands.

Politicians are virtually up for sale, with campaign donations, contributions to party funds, directorships, lucrative consultancies and after-dinner speaking engagements, but only the corporations and the wealthy can afford them. Regular meetings with David Cameron at dinners and other social events can be bought for £50,000 per year.

Democratic forms of government are rendered ineffective by the lack of any real choice – Tory or Labour, Republican or Democrat, there is little difference. When voters in the UK become disillusioned with the main parties, they may turn to UKIP, a seemingly populist party. However, UKIP is largely bankrolled by people who were previously major donors to the Tories, and leading figures within it are clearly members of the Establishment. As a party opposed to the EU, they could be expected to make a great deal of political capital out of the role of the EU in negotiating the TTIP; instead, they keep very quiet about it because they are happy to see the UK surrender some of its sovereignty, as long as it is to multinational corporations rather than the EU. UKIP are basically a fraud; they exist to attract disaffected voters who otherwise turn to some party which might not act in the interests of the Establishment. The Tea Party, funded by billionaires, has served much the same role in the USA.

Too many politicians are dishonest. They cheat on their expenses, employ their partners or children at the taxpayers’ expense, or take cash for questions. They promise one thing to get elected, and then do the opposite. They are allowed to take part in debates and to vote on matters in which they have a direct financial interest. Such dishonesty undermines what is left of democracy, as people become so disillusioned with politicians and politics that they do not bother to vote.

The media are mostly owned and controlled by the mega-rich; television, the new opiate of the masses, keeps many people’s attention away from serious matters with soap operas, misnamed ‘reality TV’, shows with ‘celebrities’, sport and so on. They happily assist with the Establishment’s strategy of ‘divide and conquer’, which uses the poor and immigrants as scapegoats for the country’s economic problems. During the referendum campaign, we saw how the supposedly trustworthy ‘public service’ BBC acts now as the state broadcaster, to such an extent that sometimes a Russian broadcaster provides more accurate reporting of events in this country.

The other side of corporate fascism will be its authoritarian nature. When people realise that voting no longer provides even an illusion of democracy, they may protest. To anticipate protests, and nip them in the bud, the population will be subjected to ever more comprehensive surveillance. Edward Snowden’s revelations show how far this has already gone. The East German Stasi filled a building with filing cabinets, but the amount of information they had on file was truly minuscule compared with what the NSA and GCHQ can collect, process and exchange with each other. People will be tracked everywhere they go by their mobile phones and by GPS systems in their cars; some phones may well have back-doors which allow the security services to turn on their microphone or camera even when the phone is switched off.

People who do take to the streets to protest in London risk being ‘kettled’ as a punishment for daring to challenge the Establishment; in future, they may be blasted with water cannons. Groups organising environmental protests have been infiltrated by undercover police, who allegedly tried to persuade them to commit criminal acts so that they could be arrested and jailed.

Police forces will all have military grade weapons and equipment, as many in America already do – I read recently of an American school police force which owns a mine-resistant armoured vehicle. Corporations will have their own police forces, or employ private security companies to spy on anyone who might threaten their interests. All of this will be justified by the supposed need to protect the public from terrorists, which has spawned a huge industry in the USA providing ‘security theatre’ at places such as airports, to remind the public that they have to let themselves to be scanned and groped to keep them safe from terrorists. Meanwhile, undercover FBI agents persuade foolish Muslims to join them in terrorist plots which can then be ‘foiled’ with great publicity, to keep the public frightened and submissive.

The real threat to the public is that of being classified as terrorists if they dare to protest, as is already happening in America to non-violent protesters. (In some states it is a criminal offense to expose mistreatment of animals on farms and livestock facilities, and anyone who breaks these ‘ag-gag’ laws is likely to be labelled as an animal rights terrorist.) If someone is accused of being a terrorist, they may be subjected to draconian restrictions, an even be denied the right to a fair trial, or even to know what the evidence against them is.

Now there is a proposal to take the UK out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, even though the vast majority of cases which are submitted to it are rejected without a hearing. Freedom of speech is also under attack; it is proposed that people with ‘extremist’ views could be prohibited from speaking in public or posting anything on the internet with prior approval, and it would be the Home Secretary, not a court, who would decide who is an ‘extremist’.

There is probably no New World Order conspiracy, but that does not mean that a dystopian future, similar to that of Orwell’s ‘1984’, is not on the way. Rich people and multinational corporations tend to have similar interests; they do not need some grand conspiracy to pull in much the same direction, which is strongly to the right. As power shifts from elected governments to corporations and their owners, and as wealth becomes even more concentrated in the hands of a very small number of very rich people, it does not really matter whether the drift towards corporate fascism is the result of an organised conspiracy or of a pseudo-conspiracy; the end result will be much the same, although a pseudo-conspiracy may take a little bit longer to reach it.

One of the tragedies of the No vote in the referendum is that it denies Scotland the opportunity to push back against the erosion of democracy by the advancing tide of greedy corporate power. Perhaps Scotland would have had little more success than King Canute is supposed to have had, but at least we could have tried. Within the UK, where a corrupt, backward looking Establishment is so firmly entrenched, I fear it is hopeless, which is why we must keep trying to break free.