My husband regularly puts himself through a particularly difficult and unpleasant intellectual ordeal: he reads the writings of people whose ideology he despises. One such author is Benito Mussolini. According to the famous WWII-era Italian dictator, the essence of fascism (for my loving spouse has put me to the torture of listening while he reads extended excerpts) is the belief that every citizen of the modern state exists because of the beneficence of the state and therefore ought to devote himself to the welfare of the state. All goods through the state, and all production to the state; that is the fascist ideal.
The state might be defined as the official governing organization of society, and the establishment of the resulting national entity.
The state, in this way of thinking, explicitly replaces all other objects of piety – the devoted fascist must work for the downfall, Mussolini explains, of crown, church, and family. They are the state’s rivals.
Interestingly enough, Marx (whom I forced myself to read on my own) says more or less the same thing, which calls into question the general assumption that Marxism and Fascism are opposite ends of a spectrum on which political conservatism and liberalism both lie.
However, in the fascist model, businesses and institutions need not be destroyed, nor need they be owned by the state outright – these would be the far less sophisticated methods of the Marxist. Instead, the state can convert them into useful entities for its own purposes, using opportunistic methods of power, influence, leverage, etc.
One must ask, as one looks around – are we hurtling toward a cultural destination in which all the ordinary people are repeatedly tossed back and forth like a beach ball between two bitterly opposed political powers which are almost identically totalitarian in all their policies and methods?
Or has that danger passed with the passing of the 20th century?
Howsoever that may be, the thought experiment which I am setting up focuses on fascism and not marxism. Liberals and conservatives are united in despising fascism, while liberals hate only fascism. Therefore, my base assumption that what the fascist loves is likely evil, will be appreciated by all my readers, whatever their politics.
And now, let us talk a moment about conspiracy theories. Must of us who wish to be regarded as intelligent, and to have our ideas listened to, are eager to avoid spinning conspiracy theories. Yet I personally know, and my friends know, folk who seem very intelligent who yet believe conspiracy theories. It is an odd phenomenon.
- I do not necessarily include belief in the fantastic – lizard men and ufos, etc – in the definition of conspiracy theory. People may, of course believe both. In fact, you almost have to have a conspiracy theory to explain the coverup of such wild eventualities. However, it is possible to believe in political conspiracies without believing in fantastical beings.
- And of course, conspiracies really do occur. The plan to kill Hitler was a conspiracy, and not a bad one. Of course it failed. Many communists during the middle part of the last century formed well-document conspiracies which, becoming unsustainable, gave way to mere collusion.
- My belief is that an actual conspiracy hardly ever flourishes. The need for secrecy makes it too vulnerable, the absolute control and organization required make it too difficult, and the inevitable intrusion of happenstance makes it too risky.
- What is quite common, however, on the evidence, is the existence of collusion. Collusion does not require secrecy or absolute organization. Happenstance can always be used by the opportunist. Those who originate the collusion are inevitably joined by mutual self-interest so keen it protects them against the fear of betrayal; no vows of secrecy are required.
In the generation of collusion, there are always two reasons for every action taken – the real reason, which has to do with a sort of pyramid-scheme of privilege-attainment – and the ostensible reason, which is ideological.
(It is most likely that Mussolini himself did not really believe in any absolute righteous devotion to the state. He probably just said all that stuff because it encouraged the ideologically-minded to be loyal to his policies.
Marx is in a different position. He never held political position, so it may be difficult to see what the point was for him. No doubt this explains his less feasible policy suggestions, and his voluminous spinning out of complaints about society’s history. He seems to have been genuinely somewhat ideological, in the direction of extreme disenchantment with society as he found it. One might say his writings reads like a giant diary of excuses and special pleading. Unsurprisingly, we find that he was not a successful person as his life went on, and he gladly lived on the generosity of others after a brief success as a journalist.)
Most collusion at consecutive levels of cooperation is driven by the same search for privilege as the original level. Personal loyalties, deals, and an informal system of patronage/service make it possible to pass on this silent reproduction of the original plan. In other words, people enter upon a plan of action because someone whose recognition of their talents, patronage of their career, and personal flattery has asked them to. Favors are exchanged, loyalties are formed, and a sense of “our side” and “our cause” comes into existence. All the while, nothing is explicitly said about the real purpose of that plan of action, even among those who assiduously work for it.
At lower levels, people may actually believe the ideology which forms the ostensible reason for the behavior they are asked to enact. At this level, people are still seeking privilege, but they do it less out of a clever and ruthless self-interest, and more out of a programmed Pavlov’s-dogs sort of automation. In other words, they are rewarded for doing so. They are made to feel special and accepted, to believe that they are doing something important, and they are included in the outer ranks of some inside circle which gives them a sense of personal dignity. Many times these hybrid participants in the collusion are the most vicious defenders of all.
So-called Social Justice Warriors fall into this category; they are generally college students who believe themselves to belong to a category of person who, all unsuspected by themselves until they took a gender-studies or minority-studies class, has been held down and persecuted by some system so pervasive that only the most violent and outrageous behavior can challenge it. The result is rather like joining a cult. The sundering of the inductee from her family and friends, and their beliefs and ways of life, ensures her deep investment in the collusion.
Those who are not ideological nevertheless give endless lip-service to the fashionable ideologies which form the ostensible reason for the plan of action on which they are all colluding.
This habit and requirement of lip-service filters down to all levels of society, creating a shibboleth which opens the door of social acceptance, career advancement, and privilege. In other words, one’s willingness to go along with current ideas about what it’s acceptable to believe and say is what lets your potential patron know that you are capable of loyalty, to the point of closing the shutters on your personal judgment.
At the lowest levels, people who never have a hope of mattering to public affairs in the slightest nevertheless find themselves feeling a compulsion to make little verbal offerings and obeisances in the direction of some extreme system of belief which they have no interest in supporting, as a form of social obligation. It is in this manner that extreme ideologies which are in no one’s genuine interest seep through culture and make a conquest of society.
Just so, perfectly ordinary people find themselves agreeing that Donald Trump is a truly dreadful person, even though all the actual evidence suggests that he is a perfectly ordinary American business leader, with the usual amount of spontaneity, strong-will, independent judgment, ego-inflation, and risk-seeking.
This agreement functions as a social and professional obligation.
In the midst of this kind of situation, it can be very trying for a person who wants to live honestly, but who also wants to experience talent-recognition, career-advancement, social interaction, and to accomplish things that matter. For such people, it becomes impossible not to notice that those who pay lip-service to tenets of extreme but fashionable ideologies (even in some diluted form) are viewed as suitable for such things, while those who advance original ideas or conscientiously object are overlooked and avoided.
It is the existence of this consistent, predictable pattern that first turns the minds of many intelligent people in the direction of conspiracy theories. A person attempts to deduce the conspiracy at hand by observing which interests are truly being served by all this intellectual conformism. When one looks at who benefits in terms of money, power, legal immunity, and privilege, it is simply too obvious to ignore.
My belief is that clever people who are not sufficiently subtle in the ways of power see the evidence of collusion and mistake it for evidence of conspiracy. Conspiracy theories are not really the hallmark low intelligence. They arise from two simple mistakes.
- The mistake of assuming that all concerted efforts toward a goal require immense, controlling, and absolute organization. They do not. Society, fashion, and self-interest organize people naturally, with very little effort.
- The mistake of assuming that the ostensible ideological reason for some pervasive behavior or belief is the real version. It never is. Power-seekers always dissemble about their power-seeking, pretending not just that they do it for noble reasons, but even that power is not what they are seeking at all. Euphemisms such as “changing the world,” and “seeking social justice,” are used.
Self-organization may be said to be the great political and social principle of our time. It explains many phenomena, not just evil ones.
And now, the setup for our though experiment having been accomplished, I proceed to a final consideration.
I have found that, all this being the case, it is possible to reverse-engineer a sufficiently sophisticated understanding of genuine collusion, by performing a thought-experiment using the suspended-disbelief assumption of a conspiracy which one knows does not exist.
In the next post, I will use consideration of all I have discussed in this post, from the nature of fascism to the relationship between real collusion and theoretical conspiracy, to perform a thought experiment regarding the societal shift toward two-income households.
In other words, we will ask why a fascist conspiracy, if it existed, might seek the conversion of all households from one-income homes to two-income homes. Having answered that question, we will abandon the idea of a conspiracy, and consider whether some like-natured collusion exists instead.