Anyone who’s spent enough time on YouTube or Wikipedia (especially after a bit of choof) will eventually end up on one of the thousands of occasionally well-edited conspiracy theory rants. What I’ve been encountering seemingly more and more frequently (on the streets, at work – even with the taxi driver) are a plethora of ideas that add only to further mystify the way society works and disempower us through grand-hegemonic narratives that can never be proven or disproven.
To give an example, there’s a fellow I bump into in West End pretty regularly and the conversations are always intense. The boarding house he lives in self-organises political film screenings a few nights a week and its worth mentioning because their attendance is a lot higher than most well publicized lefty film nights. The crew that live there see themselves as part of a new awakening, that the revolution is imminent. The latest film they streamed was about Saddam Hussein and his connections to the occult Annunaki aliens who are controlling the world. This fellow can literally rant for hours about this kind of thing, with entire interconnected systems and theories memorised to the tee, but ultimately the analysis that it perpetuates is that the world is run by an all-powerful force that can’t be understood or fought against in any effective way or concrete manner. We just have to wait for ‘love to conquer fear’ — the site of struggle is in peoples heads – through the right ideas, waking up ‘the sheeple’ and cracking the esoteric codes of various secret societies.
There’s a great pamphlet called ‘how to overthrow the Illuminati’ written by class-struggle folk in the US that gives an excellent account, analysis and debunking of conspiracy theory (specifically illuminati theory) as a tool for social change.
For those who somehow haven’t heard about the illuminati, here’s some choice quotes from the text:
Everyone talks about the Illuminati. You may have heard Jay Z and Beyonce are members of the Illuminati, and channel demons when they perform. You may have heard Obama is a member of the Illuminati, and plans to implant microchips in all U.S. citizens, to prepare for martial law. You may have heard the dollar bill contains secret symbols, which reveal the U.S. has been controlled by the Illuminati for hundreds of years.
Illuminati theory helps oppressed people to explain our experiences in the hood. Society throws horrible stuff in our faces: our family members get locked up for bullshit. Our friends kill each other over beefs, money or turf. Our future is full of dead-end jobs that don’t pay shit. We struggle to pay bills while others live in luxury. On TV, we see people all over the world dying in poverty, even though we live in the most materially abundant society in history. Most people act like none of these terrible things are happening. Why does this occur? We start looking for answers, and Illuminati theory provides one
We believe Illuminati theory is wrong, and we wrote this pamphlet to offer a different answer. We wrote this pamphlet because we know people who think about the Illuminati usually want to stop oppression and exploitation. They’re some of the smartest people in the hood today. Forty years ago, Illuminati theorists would’ve been in the Black Panther Party. Today most of them sit around and talk endlessly about conspiracies. This is a waste of talent. The world is in a deep crisis, and big protests, rebellions and revolutions are happening. In Egypt, South Africa, Turkey–and even in the U.S.–these movements are already taking place. People who say we can’t do anything because no one else is fighting are simply refusing to join the fight themselves. With the right tools, we can participate in these actions, and make history with millions of others.
In addressing Illuminati type conspiracy theories, they point out the following:
1) The rise in Illuminati type conspiracy theories can be traced back to material conditions – they became popular in the ‘hood after the disempowering defeat of the movements of the 1970s. The people that hold these ideas aren’t idiots – they genuinely want to change the world and spend hours upon hours researching these extremely complex theories.
2) Illuminati theory is unable to explain how society works, or provide solutions for how to end oppression and exploitation. Most illuminati-type theories are extremely complex, but explain very little. Added to this they are impossible to disprove to those who hold these ideas.
3) Almost every Illuminati type theory is made up of a few main pieces, like the different parts of an urban legend. The pieces can be put together in different combinations, or one piece can be emphasized more than another. But they always combine to tell more or less the same story. You may have heard these different pieces mentioned: the Illuminati, the Masons, Satanists, the Bilderbergs or the bankers (often anti-Semitic). Each of these pieces of Illuminati theory arose at different times in history.
4) Elites invented Illuminati theory to explain challenges to their power, and today poor and working class people use it to explain our own oppression. In most cases, they were developed by rich and powerful people, who were being kicked out of power by mass movements. Conspiracy theorists began to publish “super-conspiracy” theories in the 90s, which tied every existing conspiracy and urban legend to the Illuminati storyline. With the lack of large scale social movements and struggle, conspiracy theories give people a direct avenue to feel like they’re changing the world.
5) Illuminati theory offers no viable solutions to the problems it tries to explain. It tends to support populist movements that unite the poor with their respective ruling elites, instead of building movements for their destruction. Ultimately Illuminati theorists have no strategy, no game plan, no way out for billions of oppressed people on this planet. If the enemy is all-powerful and most people are duped, then there’s nothing that can be done. All they can do is constantly talk about conspiracies, and complain that people are brainwashed and will never wake up. For example, look at the revolutionary strategy offered by Illuminati: The Cult that Hijacked the World by Henry Makow. In the conclusion to this book, Makow offers tips for how to “survive the New World Order.” He tells us to “re-direct our sex drive”. What does this have to do with fighting oppression and exploitation? He tells us to “escape the money compulsion by living within our means.” Should we just accept the poverty that’s imposed on us? He tells us to “defend your own soul” by engaging in spiritual walks and meditation outside of institutional religion. These things are great to do, but they’re not going to end police brutality, poverty, or environmental collapse. And he tells us to “ignore the crowd, which is manipulated by the Illuminati.” Be frugal, pray alone, be suspicious of and ignore everyone. Our ideas are always going to have contradictions that we have to grapple with, but this strategy is the anti-thesis to solidarity and will never build effective movements.
Conspiracy theories (similar to other deliberate mystifications of society) give oppressed people simple answers to explain why things are so shit. The trouble is their solutions are always that capitalism isn’t so bad, its just that there are a few really bad apples at the top (usually aliens or secret societies, this or that politician) that we have to get rid of. It’s a lot more difficult to accept that the problems are in society, not out of it. Capitalism is a dehumanising social-relationship that we all reproduce daily and that dismantling it begins in our daily lives – in our workplaces and neighbourhoods — and understanding that it doesn’t matter who is at the top of the pyramid – when you have a separate class governing over the people that class will always act in its own interests and perpetuate its own privileges, whether its a union boss, the CEO of an NGO or a politician – regardless of their background. The ruling class will obviously form its own bonds of solidarity in addition to those they already have – the WTO, IMF & ultimately the State. In response, we need to form our own.
It’s not where you’re from it’s where you’re at. The MST, a poor peasants direct-action movement in Brazil put it well when they say:
“We could have Jesus Christ as president, and he’d still have to do all the deals that politicians do. He would still not be in control. Unless the people can start to do things for themselves, and unless we can change our way of seeing things, nothing will change”.