The Conspiratainment Complex
Conspiracy Theory lacks credibility because it has no history. Original research doesn't get cited so much as looted, refitted as filler content to feed new revelations to a hungry audience. They know what they like because they like what they know. It is a product that gets updated for new audiences through a self-selected succession of upstart entrepreneurs. Mae Brussel becomes Lyndon LaRouche becomes Alex Jones.
As a published field, though, Conspiracy Theory has a surprisingly strong foundation. Consider Carroll Quigley's "The Anglo-American Establishment," a masterpiece that completely unravels a powerful, and very real, conspiracy. It's written by an internationally respected Georgetown professor, and it's content has never been disputed. Indeed, it is so meticulously and absurdly detailed that nobody has ever read it. There are lists of names and dates over 10 pages long throughout the text and I find myself skipping whole chapters every time I try and dig in. The information here is seldom referenced today, but it has been co-opted and integrated into the marketplace, too. Professor Quigley becomes Cleon Skousen becomes Glenn Beck.
The signal always gets distorted, degraded...and more popular every time. Dumb is accessible, people like dumb. They like aliens, they like Satanist bad guys, and they like to buy products that signify their secret knowledge. It's hard to exaggerate how hollowed out the Conspiratainment Complex has become in 2010. Conspiracy Theory is literally being taught to Americans on a chalkboard now. Remote Viewing has gone from a classified project to a mini-industry of competing DVD training packages. Even Tila Tequila is tracking the Illuminati's every move these days. This is an emerging demographic and it's going to be extremely important in the next decade.
Consider the rise of Evangelical Christianity as a political force, from the fringes to the frontline. It took decades of negotiations to turn dozens of theological disputes into a single policy platform. Once that machine clicked into place, though, things changed very quickly. This is the social movement that brought us Jimmy Carter and Ralph Reed. It's also the story of a conspiracy, involving hundreds of people, to infiltrate powerful organizations and advance a political agenda. How it happened is the real Political Science.
Jeff Sharlet: Key to the growth of evangelicalism during the last twenty years has been a social structure of "cell groups" that allows churches to grow endlessly while maintaining orthodoxy in their ranks. New Life, for instance, has 1,300 cell groups, or "small groups," as Pastor Ted prefers to call them. Such a structure is not native to Colorado Springs; in fact, most evangelicals attribute it to Pastor Paul Cho, of South Korea, who has built a congregation of 750,000 using the cell-group structure.
Pastor Ted's insight was in adapting this system for the affluence of the United States. "Free-market globalization" has made us so free, he realized, that an American cell-group system could be mature enough to function just like a market.
In devising New Life's small-group system, Pastor Ted says that he asked himself and his staff a simple question: Do you like your neighbors? And, for that matter, do you even know your neighbors? The answers he gotâ€”the Golden Rule to the contraryâ€”were "Not really" and "No." Okay, said Pastor Ted, so why would you want to be in a small group with them? His point was that arbitrary small groups would make less sense than self-selected groups organized around common interests. Hence New Life members can choose among small groups dedicated to motorcycles, or rock climbing, or homeschooling, or protesting outside abortion clinics.
What, are you too good to learn from Ted Haggard? Anyone who can harness millions of supporters is worth studying and taking seriously. His beliefs are probably not your beliefs, but his goals absolutely are.
In any market, the focus is on "Conversion" -- Baptists want more Baptists, Catholics want more Catholics, and the whole point of 9/11 Truth is to "wake up" the sheeple who haven't seen the light yet. Conversion is a numbers game, and it's been studied scientifically for several centuries, here in the Land of the Free. From Charles Grandison Finney's clinically detailed market testing to the strange duo of Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, there's always been a quiet elite studying how minds get changed. Preaching has been a precise science for longer than modern medicine has even existed. Behind the scenes, from the Great Awakening to the Moral Majority, men have been watching closely and taking notes on everything. Measure, Model, Calculate, Control. Dwight L. Moody taught John Wilbur Chapman taught Billy Sunday.
Real power moves through crooked lines like these. The secret lineage of World Government is more important than the public history. It is more than coincidence that Al Gore and Newt Gingrich were both taught about Toynbee by Alvin Toffler, before they memorized their scripts and walked onstage in the 70s. Alvin Toffler had some zingers of his own, especially the concept of "Ad-hocracy," which describes the flexible and informal power structures that get created by default during times of change and crisis. Conspiracy theory tends towards monolithic explanations, attributing far too much power to far too few people. Political Science assumes the existence of hundreds of co-existing and conflicting conspiracies in any group of over thousand people.
Most real, successful conspiracies are mundane and barely covert: consider the Council for National Policy, an invitation-only Evangelical Conservative influence network with a membership list so powerful it defies belief. What happens when you get Pat Robertson and John Ashcroft into the same room? Throw in Oliver North, Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Jesse "33°" Helms, James Dobson, and big money sponsors like Richard DeVos, Holland Coors, Richard Mellon Scaife and Nelson Baker Hunt. Strangely enough, Lawrence McDonald was also a member -- one of the most vocal and powerful members of the John Birch Society was rubbing shoulders with members of the CFR and Trilateral Commission while publicly demanding those same organizations be investigated for treason. He was assassinated in 1983 and like everyone else in this movie, his lineage becomes sadly degraded, as Ron Paul becomes Rand Paul becomes...well, what do you see coming? Look closely.
In 2010, The Watchmen is a superhero movie. In 1918, Les Veilleurs was a superhuman movement. The roots of conspiracy theory and modern Political Science emerge from Synarchy and Fabian Socialism -- but names like Antoine Fabre d'Olivet are not easy on American audiences. Which is unfortunate, because the original Watchmen centered around RenÃ© Adolphe Schwaller de Lubicz, one of the most amazing non-fictional characters of his age. There will be more like him, though. Things move too fast for history these days, so the saga of super-scientist Camille Flammarion's secret mission for Rudolf Hess amounts to little more than a neat story now that we're almost a century downstream from aftermath of the first World War. Besides, Les Veilleurs fell to pieces, like most conspiracies do.
Maybe the secret lineage doesn't matter so much after all. Perhaps the dead hand of the past has less influence than we think. The details of how Synarchy was established as a concept, then implemented around the world by dozens of competing conspiracies, probably have no relevance to our situation today. The simple fact It Happened will suffice, as a briefing, because there are more important subjects for us to interact with. Synarchy is not a secret commodity, it's a best-selling business book called The Spider and the Starfish that's been embraced by CEO's and Tea Party organizers in the past year. The New World Order of H.G. Wells has grown into the generic and very exoteric New World Order of market globalization. Fabian Socialism was so successful it became ubiquitous, and even institutionalized as the Council on Foriegn Relations, who openly celebrate their infiltration of US government, business and media.
This is not about which conspiracies are "real," though -- this is about the bigger picture, where dozens of different subcultures have converged into a single market. It was a 20 year process of enterprising graphomaniacs, like Jim Marrs, Graham Hancock and David Icke, synthesizing hundred of books into "Unified Field" conspiracy theories that offered readers a secret history of the entire world.
Today, these competing meta-narratives are blending into a Conspiratainment mainstream, where the largest possible audience meets the lowest common denominator. Roswell is an article of faith, JFK is holy scripture, and 9/11 is the wedge issue and the litmus test. The Apollo 11 mission exists in a Schroedinger-style quantum state where it simultaneously did and did not land on the moon, although the priesthood agrees there was a cover-up, either way.
The concept of the Overton Window is essential, especially now that it's being whitewashed into a generic civics lesson. Joeseph Overton created an important blueprint for successful conspiracies, the Window of Political Possibility. The civics lesson whitewash positions Overton's concept as a theory about public participation in government. The reality is that the Window represents a sandbox which is owned and operated by a small, powerful conspiracy. The job of PR and government operatives is move the Overton Window by establishing the limits of "Acceptable Public Discourse." The conversation should be about how we go to war with Iran, not if we go to war with Iran.
This is an explicit statement about media control. Overton never saw this as a natural process, but as a managed project. It wasn't a social theory so much as it was ad copy for his Mackinac think tank. It's a visualization of what Think Tanks do: taking privately-funded business goals, positioning them as important public policy reforms, and then working with the media to push the message until it becomes normalized enough to pass into law without controversy.
The window is a scale that claims to run from "More Freedom" to "Less Freedom," but this is not a system of measurement. You simply position the policy you don't like as "Less Free," and then you designate your current sponsor's goals on the other end of the spectrum...and through the magic of Framing, Americans aren't less safe, they're "More Free."
That much is true. We're more free every year.
So what will the Conspiratainment Complex grow into? Who is doing the polling work to determine where this emerging demographic stands on The Issues? What is the common ground between Alex Jones and Glenn Beck and Rand Paul? Will Stanton Friedman ever pay for his sins?
More importantly, could all this have played out any other way? People are wise to mistrust "Marketing," but naive to think they'll be able to know it when they see it. Marketing has consumed everything in our culture, and there is no way to build a mainstream political movement without some serious merchandising involved.
"From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August." That's Andrew Card, talking about the Iraq War. It's too late to mistrust marketing: We won. It's too late to lament about how far we've fallen. Everything is marketing and we have to engage reality. Stickers and shirts, baby. Business cards and style guides and databases, too. The metrics of conversion.
I don't like Ed Dames and Richard Hoagland, but I don't hate them, either. I understand why Richard Dolan made the decisions he's made to get a larger audience for his work. Every single guest on Coast to Coast AM is a true American entrepreneur, trying to find a business model that clicks with the masses. Conspiracy Theory has no history because it's never been about history -- it's about product testing.
These guys are all just doing their jobs. Ultimately, that's the worst I can say about any of them. They're building their email lists and trying to get as much media coverage as possible. They're all doing the same radio shows and conferences. They're all showing up on each other's blogs and podcasts. Thus do you make money in the Conspiratainment Complex. It might be less profitable than mortgage modification, but it's more interesting.
I'm not pointing fingers, I'll sell out eventually, too. Skilluminati becomes MSNBC becomes TMZ. And I'll be selling your email address to the highest bidder, every step of the way. Tell Warren Tompkins I'm coming for him.