Politics, Society

Why is it so hard for some people to beleive that the people in charge don’t have their own agenda?

[Responding to the above question submitted to me using Formspring:]

We can debate endlessly the meaning of “in charge” but I can’t agree with your first statement. Nobody is actually “in charge” in the sense that nobody has the power to do whatever they want. A cursory look at Obama’s struggles implementing his agenda is proof of this. Even the US president, who has more executive power than most executives, can’t do what he wants. But regardless, I completely disagree with your idea that there are “others” in charge. This is the hidden hand theory of history and it has been discredited more times than we could count. The world doesn’t work this way. Nothing in (rigorous, high quality) history, anthropology, psychology or sociology shows that it is true. People are just not capable of orchestrating things from behind the scenes. They need applause and attention. And they also rarely if ever know what they actually want.

I am not denying that people influence each other. Where we disagree is the degree of influence and the intent of that influence. How much of the motivations of your actions are you actually conscious of? The same goes, more or less, for rich or powerful or connected people. They are people.

Evil is in the world and it always will be. An evil-less world is an impossibility unless it was a human-less world (since it is only humans – as far as we know – how can place value judgments on things), and that isn’t one we could apprehend anyway.

There will be more Hitlers and Stalins. There are people who are very dangerous at all times through history (such as a few I could name right now). Some of them get the chance to ruin thousands or millions of lives. But they do this publicly. Hitler never hid his plans. Neither did Mao. Stalin was behind the scenes until his moment and then he emerged into the light. These people are not invisible, they are very visible. You don’t need to be afraid of some secret men in some secret dark room somewhere, you need to be afraid of Sarah Palin.

Society is controlled by no one. It’s too complicated, especially nowadays, for even the huge corporation that is the government of Canada to control society. Look at all the communist countries that tried to control their societies. They all had raging black markets and underground cultural and social institutions. Claiming one person or a small group of people controls society is just not feasible. Are you being controlled right now? I sure as hell am not. (I am being influenced; but control, coercion and influence are different things entirely.)

Rich people (powerful people, famous people) are materially different and no doubt less likely to have a perspective, but they are still human beings. They still want to be known after their deaths. They still want material security. They still want acceptance from some people. They still want to believe themselves better than everyone else. They still want to have it their way. They are the same as us in more ways than they are different. And I completely deny that there is any comparison between membership in a cult (which makes little distinction as to wealth unless we’re talking Scientology) and being rich. I know lots of rich people and they are hardly crazy. Also, very few people are rich beyond comprehension (in terms of the 7 billion people in the world, the number of billionaires is actually very small) and nobody is powerful beyond comprehension. Name them. To parody David Crosby, “what are their names? On which streets do they live? I’d like to…”

You misunderstand my comment about history being a series of accidents. (And it really, really is…the more history you read, the more you see nobody achieves exactly what they want.) Life is what you make of it. We live in a contingent world, where we are in many ways accidental and in only a few ways intentional. (My parents meant to have a child, they did not mean to have the Riley that I am today.) We all act in this world trying to live in some kind of accordance with our inherited notions and notions we have tried to adopt for ourselves. Why do people find life so hard? If life had some kind of definitive meaning someone would have discovered it and people would be punished in some shape or form from digressing from it, wouldn’t you think?

Further, the agenda doesn’t matter all that much, as much as we’d like it to. In a criminal trial they try to prove motive, means and opportunity. But investigators can’t focus on motive alone (which is what most conspiracy theorists do) because motive alone doesn’t rule out enough people. If an unpopular guy is killed, half a town could have a motive to kill him, but only two or three people might have been in the area, and only one of them might have owned the right gun.

Similarly, with 9/11, asking who benefits from the attacks is the wrong question. At this remove, it isn’t the U.S. government that benefited most from these attacks (look at the economic state their in because of the Iraq War) rather it is the 24-hour cable news networks who make a killing off fear. Does that mean they conspired to demolish the towers? Of course not.

Why I don’t believe in conspiracy theories

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