I agree. I've found myself thinking about this subject a lot (more) since this thread started.
I'm wondering to what degree the prevalence of easy conspiracy theories is an inevitable result of how much of the West's experience of the world is mediated. Mediation creates for us the illusion of understanding 'how things work' on a macro-level, but the process of mediation (especially where mass media are concerned) typically - inherently?
- involves the subject matter being wrapped up into a tight story, with beginning, middle and end, good guys and bad guys etc. This makes the message that much more palatable (and impactful) - but it generally doesn't have that much to do with the real world.
A story is defined as much by what it excludes as what it includes, and real life tends to be rather more subtle than an episode of 24
. It's usually the absence of these shades of grey that makes most conspiracy theories ring fairly hollow for me; it's their very consistency and narrowly-defined coherence that makes me doubt their veracity.
I think Alasdair Spark summed up this idea best at the event I mentioned upthread. He concluded his part of the evening by saying: "I'm not sure I believe in 'truth' at all; which is not to say that I don't believe in reality." How often have I thought the same; but seldom expressed it so well
Yes, the "perplexity" of the conspiracy "phenomenon", its structure of belief, does have implications at the narrative (and postmodern) level. We can dismiss conspiracies as literal
impossibilities but nonetheless an unresolved tension remains which suggests that simply rejecting them outright as obscurantist delirial raving is also
And isn't what you define as "mediation" above another term for culture
generally, actual social quotidian reality, itself a mere cultural construction? And if you believe that all
of this is mere illusion [as you suggest above], a dream world, that serves to mask a real world behind it [quote: "but it generally doesn't have that much to do with the real world
"], then don't YOU TOO
believe that the everyday social world we inhabit is a manufactured conspiracy serving to hide the really
real (eg the world of power and capital) that lies behind it (analogous, for instance, to The Matrix
narrative, among numerous other pomo conspiracy film narratives: the list, in fact, is endless)?
The problem here is that one cannot actually or simply separate
fantasy from reality (and say, for example, that "this here is fake, that there is real
" etc): reality is dependent for its very consistency on fantasy, on phantasmatic support - if you "remove" the illusion, reality too collapses, and vice versa
. In other words, "real" reality is structurally
inaccessible in and of itself - the closer you get to it the more it distorts [this impossible-but-true phenomenon of the nature of reality, of course, has been well known in science since the discovery of Quantum Mechanics
and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle
, and in psychoanalysis since Freud's and Lacan's theories, and, incidentally, Marx's analysis of the unrepresentability, the abstract nature, of power and capital].
So the paradox of conspiracies [and debates about them] is that they establish an ontological conflict between, on the one hand, a reality in which the sources of power, capital, corruption, etc is revealed, and on the other hand, a reality in which a perceptual obsession with secretive cabals and subterranean forces behind the everyday experiences is evidence of paranoia, hysteria, insanity.
Conspiracy stories and narratives endeavour to map the "unrepresentable negative sublimity of Capital" (Jameson), so invoking a tension between an analysis of the impersonal forces of power and capital, and an "explanation" of power that concentrates on the actions of a mysterious, specific group or cabal.
[And isn't Sparks' sentiment, which you quote above, the ultimate in postmodern disavowal of belief, viz "I know
that there is no ultimate truth or reality, but nevertheless I privately believe
that there is ..."??], ie. he too believes in the notion of an underlying conspiracy in spite of his "disavowing" of it.]
The rational difficulty that arises with the outright rejection of all
conspiracies of whetever ilk - because they're too "simple" or too "ridiculous" or just downright paranoid and devoid of "common sense" (another ideological construction) - is that the very power relations that conspiracies hint at or point to are also rejected
, the world of social relations are depoliticised
, the real of social power is rejected outright: such a reactionary move is thus away from the collective-political and towards the personal-subjective - one seeks refuge in personal fantasies, which then become the "real" while the "outside" world itself becomes a "fantasy", a dream, a crazy hallucination of meaningless phantasms, appearances and floating signifiers. The result of such a retreat into "solipsistic narcissism", into a limitless fantasy Ego, is the pathology of dissolving all analyses of actual power relations in the external world into mere "subjective neurosis", a reversal of the true state of affairs.
The world of power and capital, however abstract, is real. It is contemporary, postmodern culture, and the ideology underlying it, that seeks to "normalise" itself, this culture (rendering it "natural" and "common sensical": we have to face facts, we have to recognise limits, we have to play the game, this is all there is
, etc). Conspiracies about the power relations underlying that culture serve to challenge and undermine it, and so are therefore attributed to delusion.
And at a time when a majority of, for instance, Americans, now believe that they were betrayed, manipulated, misled about the illegal invasion of Iraq, among other things, the Bush Admin using the pretext of 9/11 and the resulting paranoid, permanent "war on terror", isn't it only inevitable that a growing number of them will seek out a "conspiracy theory" when their Hollywoodized fantasy world starts to collapse??
Do you agree with Charlie Sheen that the U.S. government covered up the real events of the 9/11 attacks?
Yes 82% 11,337 votes
No 18% 2,501 votes
(Total: 13, 838 votes )
Charlie Sheen has at least one thing in common with George Bush: His father played the president on TV for a very long time.
But Charlie Sheen is not afraid to question the official story of September 11th as endorsed by George Bush. Sheen's words - and four years of hard work by 9/11 skeptics - are making a difference. It is suddenly allowable to voice your suspicions about September 11th. The official mythology is losing its sway with the American people. Suddenly, a 911Truth.org spokesperson is invited to appear on CNN…
Martin Sheen's son, Charlie Sheen: "We're not the conspiracy theorists on this particular issue. It seems to me like 19 amateurs with box cutters taking over four commercial airliners and hitting 75% of their targets, that feels like a conspiracy theory. It raises a lot of questions."
"It feels like from the people I talk to in and around my circles, it seems like the worm is turning… It is up to us to reveal the truth. It is up to us because we owe it to the families, we owe it to the victims. We owe it to everybody's life who was drastically altered, horrifically that day and forever. We owe it to them to uncover what happened."
"There was a feeling, it just didn't look any commercial jetliner I've flown on any time in my life and then when the buildings came down later on that day I said to my brother 'call me insane, but did it sorta look like those buildings came down in a controlled demolition?"