Walter Glass Posits Permissible Conspiracism

One of my favorite bloggers, Walter Glass, has quite a good new post, which, in a short space, ranges over a number of interesting ideas but is, at heart, about conspiracism. Glass takes as his jumping off point the most upvoted comment on this recent New York Times piece by Ross Douhat, which, rather than grappling with anything Douhat has actually said speculates that —

The Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute and the Club For Growth must have issued the new propaganda memo: Paint the opposition as Marxist 

This is pretty out there, considering that Douthat’s piece is really just a respectfully conservative take on the much-talked-about resurgence of Marxism on the academic left. Glass is more open-minded about commenter Socrates’ point than I am, but nonetheless wonders “how exactly an honest-to-goodness conspiracy theory finds purchase among a mainstream liberal crowd that we might expect to reject such things.” He suggests that there are three essential characteristics that render a conspiracy theory acceptable to the kind of people who read the New York Times: 

1. the theory ignores inconvenient and confusing context

2. the theory is partisan

3. the theory is harmless [to the ruling class]

In other words, a conspiracy theory is like any other kind of discourse: its legitimacy and traction in the public sphere is determined by how it serves power. By disclosing his own ‘paranoia’ about the CIA and comparing  theories that don’t meet the criteria for acceptability, Glass implies, without saying outright, what we all really know: everyone is a conspiracist, and rightfully so. The label ‘conspiracy theory’ is simply a smear applied to theories that challenge hallowed assumptions about power.

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86 Responses to Walter Glass Posits Permissible Conspiracism

  1. Happy Jack says:

    An interesting read. I find the idea of “acceptable” conspiracies plausible.

    Take the example of Benghazi. If the MSM pays any attention to the issue, they’re more prone to play up the right claiming Obama killed the brave Americans, Clinton lied, etc. When a reader is redirected down this path, it’s easy to point and laugh at the crazy wingers. But something important gets lost in all the noise.

    At the height of the Cold War, there was certainly a fair number of embassy employees in Moscow who were actually CIA, but they didn’t make up a majority. In Libya, they can’t even get their story straight on what to call the buildings in Benghazi. Not an embassy, don’t want to call it a consulate, a compound maybe? Reporting makes it sound like they were all CIA, so what were they up to? Using Libyan arms to send untraceable weapons to Syria?

    The media, including Fox, focus on the trivial conspiracy so the questions never get asked or aired about what the government was doing there. The same situation crops up with Hersh and the chemical attack in Syria. The only conspiracies they want you to see are the easily dismissed shiny balloons.

  2. Peter says:

    “The label ‘conspiracy theory’ is simply a smear applied to theories that challenge hallowed assumptions about power.” Amen.

    “Conspiracy Theory” defined as pejorative. If I recall, Orwell said something about the power of language.

    • babaganusz says:

      very much so. Popper used it in a folkloric sense… and nobody who declines to question the 9/11 commission’s thoroughness or accuracy seems able to grasp that their report was – by the dryest, strictest definition – a conspiracy theory.

      • Peter says:

        1967 CIA Memo #1035-960
        http://www.realhistoryarchives.com/collections/assassinations/jfk/cia-inst.htm

        What people miss is that there are people who spend more time thinking about aspects of our lives than we do… who spend more time thinking about your life than you do. Most of the time it’s relatively benign, like getting one to choose a Coke over a Pepsi. Michael Parenti made the point that those who say “the government doesn’t care what we think” are wrong and that that’s one of the few things they do care about: how they are perceived.

  3. tanglebum says:

    Surprised you didn’t mention CatsNotWar’s latest post “Part III: A Return to Conspiracy and Its Theories”.
    There’s a way in to whatever both of those pieces are exploring that’s atavistic as can be.
    Weird shit.
    Bruce Chatwin had a theory that the innate fear of the dark that’s hardwired into most kids is from a time when there was a night-hunting big cat, preying on humans, that nobody saw directly for long enough that the dark night itself had to be regarded as a serious threat, because that’s where that thing came from.
    We’ve had to make sensible decisions about things we couldn’t accurately see to describe all along.
    The rationalists’ m.o. is to ignore anything that’s too far outside the perimeter of common sense, but that’s not sensible now, and it never was.
    And it’s providing cover for any agency that can work in the shadows.
    Those shadow presences evolve strategies for protection, as you’d expect.
    So crop circles. Area 51. A long list of logically refutable, but initially attractive to the fringe-most, theories. Chaff. Which then reduces confidence and credibility. You were wrong! So next time…shut up.
    Weird shit is happening. Technology and the accumulation of behaviorist techniques make it increasingly possible to do non-consensus weird shit and cover it with consensus-confirming attitudes of disdain and rational superiority.
    Gary Webb’s tragedy is his documentation of weird shit was presented to a mostly naive public that was all too ready to be comforted by the dismissal of conspiracy theories.
    It was a mantra, an anthem, for a while there. I’ve always felt that the introduction of the phrase “conspiracy theory” into the lexicon was an artifact of conspiracy.
    Once you have players at center-stage who will provably stop at nothing to achieve a hidden agenda, the whole thing opens out, eventually all the way to the unknowable.
    Finding a way to get at what *can* be known about weird shit requires at least an initial acceptance of the fantastic. And instead of the pragmatically easier rejection of anything that carries the complexity of “conspiracism”, it demands careful consideration of things that superficially and immediately seem pretty unlikely.
    When JFK was shot lots of regular folk wanted that story told and over with, so Oswald the lone nut, Ruby the deranged patriot, done.
    RFK’s takedown put the kibosh on that, but the neurotic desire for a sane comfortable explanation over-rode the obvious absurdity. It’s not about the bullet holes, it’s about the presence among us of what we may as well call evil sonsabitches, who will stop at nothing to get what they want. Including fucking with people’s heads while at the same time encouraging them to think their heads aren’t being fucked with.
    The etymology of “con” as in “con game” comes from the manipulation of confidence on the part of the mark. Make the target confident he knows what’s up, he’s then invested in the scam, and the more invested he is the less willing he’ll be to even consider he’s being scammed.
    Of course there’s conspiracies, Henry the 8th was surrounded by conspiracies as well as directing them. And that was a very simple time compared to this.

    • Tarzie says:

      You are such a good writer, tanglebum. I love your contributions here, even when I don’t entirely agree with them. There’s a lot I don’t agree with here.

      The rationalists’ m.o. is to ignore anything that’s too far outside the perimeter of common sense, but that’s not sensible now, and it never was. And it’s providing cover for any agency that can work in the shadows.

      This credits anti-conspiracism to rationalism. Knee jerk anti-conspiracism is no more rational than knee-jerk conspiracism. So-called rationalists are happy to accept conspiracy theories that are fed to them by people with credible authority. I agree, however, that anti-conspiracism provides cover for agencies that work in the shadows. Much of what gets labeled conspiracy theory is simply assertions that the Deep State makes no moral distinction between the domestic population and the foreign populations it has demonstrably fucked with for years. The insistence on such a distinction has no rational basis.

      Gary Webb’s tragedy is his documentation of weird shit was presented to a mostly naive public that was all too ready to be comforted by the dismissal of conspiracy theories.

      I reject your emphasis on a naive public here. If every authoritative source is telling you this one journalist from some paper in California no one’s heard of is an unprofessional loony tune, it’s hard to stick to your guns, unless you’re among those with an actual taste for conspiracy theories. I suppose it is unfortunate that people still regard, say, The New York Times, as something other than tools of power, but very few people have any acquaintance with left media criticism at all, and most of it sucks anyway. Also, I believe a large segment of the African American community embraced Webb’s account and they get collectively smeared for it from time to time.

      To a large extent, I think you really are missing the point, which is that everyone accepts weird, hard-to-believe theories of conspiracy all the time, and that acceptance or rejection, as Glass suggests, is almost entirely contingent on how these theories can be put to use. Whatever their faults, The Truthers are not wrong when they insist that every explanation of 9/11 is a byzantine conspiracy theory. But just about everyone believes one of these theories.

      Surprised you didn’t mention CatsNotWar’s latest post “Part III: A Return to Conspiracy and Its Theories”.

      It’s not a new piece. Glass’s is. Also Glass linked to that piece in his.

      • anolen says:

        Tanglebum/Tarzie: very refreshing to read your comments on this ‘conspiracy theory’ issue– which is, I believe, a ‘technique’ more than an ‘issue’. Throwing around ‘conspiracy theory’ as a pejorative term doesn’t make sense, instead it uses people’s desire to approved of by others as a way to silence debate. It’s not belittling for biologists to call cats “mammals”; it shouldn’t be humiliating for a student of politics to have their ideas categorized as “conspiracy theories”– but it is.

        When I read “conspiracy theory” instead of seeing an insult, I see a propagandist employing a technique: out-group shaming. Their goal is make the ‘shame’ more powerful than the reasonableness of the theory. Muddy the waters.

      • babaganusz says:

        i was particularly unimpressed with what was touted as Taibbi doing a point-by-point takedown of whats-his-three-names for 9/11 truth… but was too lazy to go point for point; was basically a mishmash of “wait, you mean you sent emails instead of calling people?” and “ain’t got time for that”.

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah, I felt the same way. A series of ‘Are you telling me…???s.’

    • john says:

      “Finding a way to get at what *can* be known about weird shit requires at least an initial acceptance of the fantastic.”

      yes, and then a lot of hard work…that’s not practicable for everyman. isn’t this why terms like ‘conspiracy theory’ serve so readily the object of irrational hostility? delving into weird shit IS subversive and to be credible requires meticulous intellectual footwork.

      a case in point, if you have an hour and a quarter…

    • babaganusz says:

      A long list of logically refutable, but initially attractive to the fringe-most, theories. Chaff. Which then reduces confidence and credibility. You were wrong! So next time…shut up.

      i knew that bastard Aesop, with his ‘boy who cried wolf’ spiel, was in cahoots with Them from the start!

  4. tanglebum says:

    Well thanks, and thanks for rigorous disagreement.
    It’s how we get chops innit?
    What I meant about Webb’s “naive public” was at the time. He was a regular ol journo, doing his job, he had a mainstream outlet and audience. That audience was then naive, by the standards of today. Now it’s fragmented, morphed, something else,
    In a way his reportage is still being presented, as if he was still writing it, but not to the readership of the SJ Mercury News, which no longer exists.

    Your other points require more contemplation.So probably more later.
    I have to go irrigate some trees. I live in the desert, We’ve had like 4 inches of rain in the last two years.

    Though initially I think “it’s hard to stick to your guns, unless you’re among those with an actual taste for conspiracy theories” gets to what I see happening now.
    That that segmented – into conspiracists/non-conspiracists – view is blurring and shifting, needs to, has to, will.
    I’m a science-fiction kid,raised and formed by it. But I’ve long since lost my taste for pseudo-neo-Byzantine world-views and complex intrigues.Too much California new-age clap-trap and credulous indulgence all round, for way too long.
    Unless it’s true I don’t want anything to do with it.
    But how to tell?
    Accurate identification of the particulars of real conspiracy is mightily subversive.

    • Tarzie says:

      Accurate identification of the particulars of real conspiracy is mightily subversive.

      Except they’re rarely available, and even when they are, there’s an army available to discredit them. It’s in the nature of conspiracy. I am with Diggins on induction.

      Also, think like an oligarch, I say.

  5. mardy says:

    “I reject your emphasis on a naive public here. If every authoritative source is telling you this one journalist from some paper in California no one’s heard of is an unprofessional loony tune, it’s hard to stick to your guns”

    Man. I’ve been saying this for years. It’s usually in response to one of my foreign friends when they say something stupid, like, “Americans are stupid.” Large media outlets have immense power of what Americans believe because they tend to agree on major issues, like economics and war. People get really mind-fucked on those two issues.

  6. anolen says:

    Reblogged this on a.nolen and commented:
    Rancid Tarzie on ‘safe’ conspiracy theories!

  7. tanglebum says:

    thinking like an oligarch:

    I got all this stuff because I am special
    You don’t have all this stuff and because aren’t special.
    But you want it.
    I can see it in the way your adrenalin jacks up at the prospect.
    And your nonsense ideas about what you’d do with it.
    There’s no difference between us except I’m special and I have all this stuff and you aren’t and you don’t, but you want it.
    You want to be me.
    No.

  8. erictn says:

    I don’t think there is much opportunity to do something in secret anymore, and such opportunity as there is diminishes with each passing year. Most theories that get debunked are theories based on a notion that a lot of people, or even organizations of people, are working in concert on something yet no one outside that network of people knows what they’re doing, or even, historically, can convincingly reveal what they *were* doing. In 2014, you can probably work with a very small group of people on something and keep that secret for a short time. That’s about it. In my opinion, anything else qualifies to receive the label “conspiracy theory” with all the intended pejorative that that phrase currently popularly carries.

    • Tarzie says:

      Oh joyous day! A visit from the sensible tribe. A series of counter-intuitive, even rather stupid, assertions, almost entirely unrelated to Glass’s post or mine, stated with God-like certainty.

      The matter is settled.

    • MickStep says:

      That is such complete bullshit, and it’s demonstratably so by the reaction people have to whenever verifiable leaks emerge in comparison to their assumptions beforehand.

      When an individual leaks something that hundreds or thousands of people have kept quiet about, and comes as a complete surprise to the majority of a population, I really don’t see how you can come out with such nonsense with a straight face.

      • Tarzie says:

        The fine line between stupidity and conformity.

      • MickStep says:

        There is a nonsense point of view that secrets have to be kept absolutely for a conspiracy to remain quiet and effective , there is so much disbelief and faith in the benevolence of “our guys” that the notion of a watertight seal on a conspiracy is moot.

        To the point that if the “right type” of conspiracy guys are espousing a theory it discedits the idea by default.

        Makes me wonder if the seeds are sowed on purpose at times.

      • anolen says:

        “Makes me wonder if the seeds are sowed on purpose at times.”

        I guess Tarzie should be flattered that what he says is powerful enough to have made it on the radar. 🙂

      • dmantis says:

        “There is a nonsense point of view that secrets have to be kept absolutely for a conspiracy to remain quiet and effective…”

        This is spot on.

        My problem with erictn’s line of thinking is that it seems relegated to his perspective of the small social sphere he inhabits. Most people fall into the same traps because they experience how difficult it is to keep a secret in their horrible, middle-class sustaining office environment and think “Wow, Brenda’s fucking THAT GUY! There are no secrets!”. I mean, these people think “Gosh, my friends are gossipy shitheads and spend their spare time reading TMZ. This must mean that conspiracies are absurd!”.

        I think its interesting to consider that we are dealing with institutions designed with checks and balances, diffusion of responsibilty, distinct levels of information and seperated pieces of strategy with the express purpose of doing things no one should know about. In addition, even if something is found out about the things going on, these institutions have systems in place such that there is just the right amount of competing theories and alternatives to the story that the truth can be hidden in plane sight.

      • Tarzie says:

        “Wow, Brenda’s fucking THAT GUY! There are no secrets!”. I mean, these people think “Gosh, my friends are gossipy shitheads and spend their spare time reading TMZ. This must mean that conspiracies are absurd!”.

        This is really funny. But coincidentally, I had originally embarked on a more thoughtful reply than I later concluded eric deserved, to the effect that anyone who has spent any time in the world of work has probably been 1) the object of a conspiracy or 2) a co-conspirator or 3) both. What is that paper shredder for, after all? Why are we frequently coached to be careful what we say in writing? People are very good at keeping secrets when incentives are high.

      • MickStep says:

        anolen: That comment wasn’t directed at Tarzie, but at the more “out there” conspiracists that occasionally make great observations interspersed with complete sci fi nonsense.

      • MickStep says:

        dmaintis: The only slight disagreement with that comment is that I think you give to much credit to the competing theories. There are things that are obviously true, but the competing theories espoused by establishment journalists are such obvious bullshit the term “competing theories” gives them far too much credit.

        Subservience to established power and naivety are an asset in journalism.

        I presume most readers here will have watched Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” and his treatment of conspiracists in the Genoa storyline. In his fictional story a journalist falls from grace due to pursuing a story about the US using chemical weapons, which of course turned out to be false because the US governments is all about human rights and shit.

        What it did perhaps unintentionally display though is how subservience is rewarded and dissent is punished harshly. The storyline was of course bullshit because there are so many incidents of brutal atrocities the US is responsible for that the conspiracist journalist would have to be very unlucky to have got it wrong.

        Classic propaganda, the question being whether Aaron Sorkin did that because of his naive world view or more clandestine motives.

      • MickStep says:

        When I said “perhaps unintentionally’ I want to make it clear, I personally believe it was an intentional warning to up and coming journalists with that world view.

      • babaganusz says:

        “There is a nonsense point of view that secrets have to be kept absolutely for a conspiracy to remain…”

        there’s a particular extension of this assumption that connects with a critique i want to develop (or tag along with a critique of, more likely), basically centered on an “all ‘necessary’ jobs naturally get filled” fallacy.

  9. Bitman says:

    Exactly. There is close to zero substance to the term “conspiracy theory.” It’s preferred use is as a term of disqualification, a thought-stopper deployed by power that gives permission to whoever is considering the hypothesis in question to immediately stop having to do so.

    Jack Bratich’s interesting argument is that “conspiracy theories,” as objects of political concern, have engendered what he calls conspiracy panics: namely, the irrational concern that a particular style of narrative explanation will infiltrate the realm of political rationality and somehow subvert it. He has an excellent analysis of the Gary Webb metastory, and shows with great clarity how the establishment media went about tarring Webb as a conspiracy theorist, and in the process coded the internet (where Dark Alliance was viewed hundreds of thousands of times in 1996) as a place where untrustworthy information circulated beyond the watchful, responsible embrace of professional journalism. They destroyed Webb as a means of rehabilitating a declining profession.

    By far the greatest achievement of the conspiracy panickers is to lump the most disparate ideas and types of thinker under the same rubric. Believe that Dick Cheney is a lizard person or that the felling of the Twin Towers was a holographic illusion, despite absolutely no evidence to support the claims? You’re a conspiracy theorist. Believe the police plant evidence on suspects and that DAs routinely suppress exculpatory evidence? You’re a conspiracy theorist. Believe the deep state played a role in the Kennedy assassinations and/or offered an implicit welcome to those who carried out the 9/11 attacks? You’re a conspiracy theorist.

    • Tarzie says:

      They destroyed Webb as a means of rehabilitating a declining profession.

      This is a fascinating idea; I hadn’t considered how Webb’s story coincided with the then-recent popularization of the internet. The Snowden Spectacle seems a variation on this, with the repudiating of the Manning/Wikileaks straw man, the touting of journalistic vetting, and the insistence from the Greenwald gang that investigative journalism (and everything else, really) is impossible without wads of mogul cash.

      Still, surely it was the story Webb was telling that sealed his fate, no? While the desire to rehabilitate journalism might have poured more gasoline on the witch-burning fire, it seems probable he’d have been destroyed regardless. The two things go together well, really. No doubt the desire of journalists to rehabilitate their profession coincided with the CIA’s interest in both discrediting Webb, and cordoning off an authoritative, “legitimate” sector of the internet that could be fairly easily disciplined for ongoing use.

  10. One of the additional things I like about the Walter Glass piece is how it links the term “conspiracy theory” with even just the act of remembering . Look at this piece from the “radical” press Verso in regards to the Strategy of Tension in Italy. http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/1560-verso-five-book-plan-political-policing . Basically, the cost of even being able to acknowledge that such a thing as the Strategy of Tension exists in the historical record requires distancing oneself:

    “Conspiracy theorists speak of “false flag” operations, spectacular acts of terrorism covertly perpetrated by the state to legitimize repression. Almost without exception, their claims lack any substance. But in Italy in the 1970s, the secret state, with NATO backing, did indeed foster its own right-wing terror cells and enable them to carry out terrorist outrages that were presented to the public as stemming from left-wing radicalism.”

    • walterglass4 says:

      That’s pretty astonishing and revealing – like a mild distancing isn’t enough, it needs to be a full-throated repudiation. You could probably slap a grid of random countries and decades on a wall, throw five darts at it and have at least three hit a place and time where Western capital was up to something. “Almost without exception” – fuck outta here.

      A long time ago I adopted an approach to film-watching based on trying to take a historical view – how might this be perceived in 50 or 100 years? In my case it’s not scientific or based in any real testable theory or deep knowledge base, more just intuited. The Marx Brothers and WC Fields still make me laugh 80 years later, so there’s probably something there. We can guess that action-movie tropes like shaky-cam and artificial film grain won’t survive successive generations to become permanent parts of cinematic language, and we already see evidence of that. And so on.

      And obviously the same principles apply to assessing current events. Again and again we see that the worst fears of past generations were not only justified but often paled in comparative horror to reality. While there are many present-day conspiracies that I don’t agree with on the merits, we can’t count anything as out-of-bounds. I’m sure 100 years from now it will be common knowledge that things in 2014 are much worse than we might imagine.

    • Lorenzo says:

      That’s a hell of a quote. Even this author’s extremely narrow claims of what constitutes an “appropriate” conspiracy theory reveals how widely “strategies of tension” are exploited. Italy’s Operation Gladio operated in multiple countries throughout Western Europe. Additionally, outside NATO’s purview, there were other secretive nationalist terror plots like the Ergenekon in Turkey. Not only is this author severely proscribing the limits of acceptable criticism, but he’s whitewashing the kind of havoc that NATO “stay-behind” operations have wrought.
      I wonder what other kinds of government “false flag” operations this author thinks are entirely without substance. Government infiltration of activist groups, maybe? How about agents provocateurs hidden in crowds at protests? I’m all ears.

      • Tarzie says:

        I wonder what other kinds of government “false flag” operations this author thinks are entirely without substance. Government infiltration of activist groups, maybe? How about agents provocateurs hidden in crowds at protests?

        To be fair, the author’s dismissal seems restricted (at least in the passage) to “spectacular acts of terrorism covertly perpetrated by the state to legitimize repression.”

      • Tarzie says:

        If you look at Operation Gladio and, say, Operation Condor, it’s clear that anything is possible. How anyone can read about these things and reject any possibilities is beyond me. It’s certainly not rational.

    • parink says:

      Are you talking about ‘Operation Gladio’?

  11. Cryptome says:

    “I’m sure 100 years from now it will be common knowledge that things in 2014 are much worse than we might imagine.”

    That settles it. God’s missionary eye sees ahead so cease this nonsense blathering, all you atheist punks. What is the ego-liquor which commands end-of-storyism? Whatever it is kill the soused messenger for inebriated agent-de-quietism grandiloquizes the falsity that there’s nothing that can be done, status quo ante wins, oligarchy is inevitable, so just take the Engels bribe to rouselessly massage the masses, dreaming of piles-lessness in British Library-eBay redux.

    • walterglass4 says:

      I could be misreading your comment, but it’s certainly not my intent to “settle” anything – if anything I’d like to expand the possibilities we have access to rather than preclude anything. I’m even still open to principled and informed anti-conspiracism, but that’s not the kind Reptation was highlighting in the Verso example.

      I’m also picking up the sense that you find this sort of thinking disempowering – I don’t agree, but maybe you’re referencing some sort of history of conspiratorial disempowerment that I’m not aware of.

      • Tarzie says:

        I’m even still open to principled and informed anti-conspiracism

        I think principled and informed anti-conspiracism is a contradiction in terms unless you mean principled and informed rejection of particular theories. Rejecting conspiracy as a thing is just silly. It’s literally like saying, there is no such thing as a secret, or there is no such thing as a plan. It rules out all forms of organized crime. It rules out the standard relationship between owners and workers. It ignores clandestine operations. It entirely ignores history. It would be completely ridiculous even if it didn’t restrict itself to theories that go against the grain. That we actually have to argue this is a measure of the indoctrination.

        The kind of overwrought, showy anti-conspiracism of that Verso quote is quite typical of left anti-conspiracism generally: it’s a completely ahistoric show of robust good sense to outsiders while signaling to insiders that the writer is properly concerned with ‘systemic analysis’, on the idiotic assumption that systemic fuckery and conspiracies don’t go hand in hand. This is the legacy of Saint Chomsky (who else???), which is weird really, because he is certainly no slouch in conspiracism himself, though in keeping with his whitewashing of domestic repression, he mostly restricts himself to plots against foreigners. It’s all very, very stupid and motivated by everything but a genuinely analytical perspective. That this nonsense is so ingrained suggests a left establishment that has, in fact, been disciplined and played very hard by people who are up to no good.

      • Tarzie says:

        I’m completely flummoxed by Cryptome’s comment because most people would regard him as something of a conspiracist.

      • walterglass4 says:

        I definitely meant in terms of particular theories. If someone possesses a specific body of knowledge that provides a better explanation for a given chain of events than high-level conspiracy, I’m open to it.

        I’m hoping Cryptome (or somebody else) can clarify the “Engel’s bribe” part of the comment, it sounds interesting and potentially useful.

      • Tarzie says:

        I’m hoping Cryptome (or somebody else) can clarify the “Engel’s bribe”

        Beats me. Seems like a reference to Engels patronage of Marx. Maybe a reference to all such relationships between rich and radical. Hence British Library/eBay reference.

    • diane says:

      Priceless – and love the way overdone, way over intellectualized literary devices – would love to have seen the look on your face when you wrote that utter bullshit, “Cryptome.”

      …. Again and again we see that the worst fears of past generations were not only justified but often paled in comparative horror to reality. ….

      Without even having to ponder, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment and the Manhattan Project Plutonium Injections of innocent, poor, defenseless and totally unwitting patients, for just two examples, immediately verify what Walter noted in that above quote.

      Most importantly, nowhere in his commentary do I define his words to mean that such fate should just be accepted and nothing should be done about it, such as you clearly imply.

  12. Bitman says:

    I’m completely flummoxed by Cryptome’s comment because most people would regard him as something of a conspiracist.

    This is another bizarre feature of anti-conspiracism: some of the strongest detractors are regarded as conspiracy theorists themselves. Noam Chomsky, Mark Crispin Miller, and Matt Taibbi just to name a few: each is regarded by the right as a crackpot conspiracy theorist in an area they’ve demonstrated expertise (foreign policy, election fraud, and financial fraud respectively). While each understands the function the label plays and each has been to some degree outspoken against it, each of them have also flung the slur as effectively as any of their discursive enemies when they believe it suits them to (often if not usually at those their left). Miller has come around some, to be sure, but not the others.

    • Tarzie says:

      This is another bizarre feature of anti-conspiracism: some of the strongest detractors are regarded as conspiracy theorists themselves.

      Yeah, I mentioned in one of my other comments that Chomsky — truly the leading light of left-wing anti-conspiracism — is an accomplished conspiracist himself. Of course he’s a hypocrite, but if you analyze it, it’s consistent with his whitewashing of domestic repression. For example, Chomsky believes the first Gulf War was pushed mostly to distract Americans from the S&L scandal and other domestic problems. In fact, he talks quite a lot about manufactured crises — particularly wars — as primarily being aimed at propagandizing and distracting the population, Somehow, however, there is a moral chasm between this and the idea that 9/11 was an inside job. So what’s the difference, exactly? Well, my guess is that Chomsky finds the mass murder of foreigners by state agents to control the rabble an easier pill to swallow than control of the rabble via the mass murder of American workers in lower Manhattan.

      The anti-conspiracism of people like Chomsky and Taibbi isn’t rejection of conspiracy as a thing — as their work makes clear — it is rejection of the conspiracist premise that the Deep State or whatever you want to call it treats the domestic population as malevolently as it treats everyone else. It’s a form of exceptionalism that owes probably more than anything to their own privileged place in the system and which also helps them retain it.

      • dmantis says:

        I don’t recall Taibbi’s argument against the 9/11 Truth movement the way you do. In fact, I remember his critique was more focused on the absurdity that the government could pull it off without major leaks or outright bungling.

        I find this critique even more loathsome than an argument based on whether or not the Deep State could treat its citizens so malevolently because it muddies the water and creates a dialogue surrounding systems and intelligence organizations that we (as the public) don’t have access to much less understand. We know what these systems of repression, false-flag operations and terrorism are capable of only as an aftermath and many years later. We don’t know how they specifically function given a context or how plans are implemented to acheive goals until after it is all said and done (I am reminded of the book Killing Hope by William Blum).

        My problem with Taibbi is that he has pointed out the particulars in a system (big finance) that seemed designed specifically to extract the most money from lower/middle class people to the upper 1%. A system that everyone bought into and no one called into question even though fraud was rampant. Yet, he can’t possibly fathom a scenario wherein a system can simply be a little too generous in a half-dozen visas that ultimately leads the country to war and thus creating billions for the same 1%.

      • Tarzie says:

        I remember his critique was more focused on the absurdity that the government could pull it off

        Yeah, I believe you’re right. I was painting him with my Chomsky brush. It was Chomsky who ridiculed the idea of a country run by ‘homicidal maniacs.’ Excellent correction.

        UPDATE: Taibbi’s POV seems to have bits of both. From a 9/11 debate he had with a Truther on Alternet:

        Now, if I follow you correctly, your implication here is that officials in the Pentagon launched a jet into the airspace over Washington prior to the crash, and therefore knew that flight 77 was going to hit the Pentagon, and yet intentionally refused to evacuate their own personnel from the Pentagon building, ultimately incurring the deaths of over 100 of their own people. Do you have a theory about why they would engage in this seemingly pointless murderous/suicidal behavior? Or do you just implicitly believe that our government is capable of any and all nefarious behavior, not matter how insensible?

        Also, after reading a little more of this stuff I don’t find loathesome that part of Taibbi’s POV that attacks certain Truther allegations from the standpoint of credibility. I feel Truthers have undermined themselves by attempting to explain too much with byzantine theories and also by outright lying. On consideration, I can’t agree that crediting the Deep State with too little competence for these theories is worse than crediting them with too much morality (a la Chomsky).

      • d.mantis says:

        To your update, yeah…I went and did a little more digging and saw that Taibbi’s criticisms had indeed expanded.

        I didn’t mean to imply that I had a problem with Taibbi attacking credibilty. I think it speaks to your earlier writing on the Loomis affair.

        I was trying to focus on the incompetance angle being more nefarious than the malevolence one. I think the argument of incompetance clouds the issue for ALL dissenting opinions on activities/outcomes (read: conspiracies) rather than just ones directed at harming the domestic population.

        For example, saying that a conspiracy has to be so complex and large that it is inevitable that someone will talk reminds me too much of the No True Scotsman fallacy. If someone posits a conspiracy that no one has revealed, then its not a true conspiracy because it would obviously have to be so complex as to be found out. However, if we find something out about it, then the information can be absorbed (sometimes with extreme difficulty) into an alternative explanation eliminating the need for a conspiracy. This provides just enough white noise and reasonable doubt that the truth does not every have to be revealed completely. On the other hand, the malevolence angle is pretty clearly refuted by history.

        The funny thing is, I don’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist at all…LOL! In Taibbi’s defense, my problem with the Truthers position (only concerning Taibbi’s discussions with them) is that they point to inconsistancies as evidence. Over and over again Taibbi asks to see evidence of intentional action on anyone’s part concerning 911. The response seems to always boil down to “Well, YOU haven’t responded to this! [insert link to a laundry list of oddities]”.

        Anyway, I am willing to admit that my dismissal of Chomsky’s argument could be my own bias toward completely disregarding his arguments to begin with.

      • Tarzie says:

        didn’t mean to imply that I had a problem with Taibbi attacking credibilty

        I didn’t think that you did. But I felt you framed his attack as a catch-all discounting of Deep State competence rather than contingent on how byzantine some of the Truther theories are. I don’t think Taibbi’s case rests so much on the presumed impossibility of so many people keeping secrets as on the unlikelihood of getting cooperation from, and successfully coordinating, so many different confederates operating in so many different locations. The more 9/11 theories you believe, the more credible this line of attack seems. But it’s really an attack on straw men helpfully provided by Truther dipshits.

        my problem with the Truthers position (only concerning Taibbi’s discussions with them) is that they point to inconsistancies as evidence.

        I can’t agree with this entirely, and even if I did, I still think there is a point where inconsistencies could be numerous enough to arouse reasonable suspicion. I don’t agree with Taibbi at all that a credible alternative theory has to be offered before one can take the official story with a grain of salt, or see the cover-up as more than just ass-covering.

        I think the argument of incompetance clouds the issue for ALL dissenting opinions on activities/outcomes (read: conspiracies) rather than just ones directed at harming the domestic population.

        I don’t really agree with this either, since I don’t think the issue of competence/secret-keeping is raised as much on the left when the victims of conspiracies are foreigners. Chomsky’s theory about the first Gulf War being fundamentally about distracting the domestic population should raise all kinds of questions about levels of complicity and coordination. But it doesn’t, because what Chomsky is suggesting does not arouse nearly the same level of horror or incredulity as domestic false flag terrorism does. Anti-imperialists, assume, correctly, that wars are all about other agendas — including domestic pacification — but feel no need to prove in laborious detail how all the various elements that make these enormous crimes possible are coordinated. They just assume, again, correctly, that the means are there to get it done.

        On the other hand, the malevolence angle is pretty clearly refuted by history.

        Really? Where is the historical precedent for a false flag mass murder? All the big assassinations of the 60s are still being debated, forty odd years after the fact, with the help of people like Chomsky, who, with his customary rigor, belittles JFK’s worthiness as a CIA target. If anything, history proves the Deep State’s competence in managing complexity. Look at Operation Condor, for instance, an assassination/torture program spanning six countries and involving top to bottom complicity in every country where it operated. There is no need to prove it existed, because we have the records, but if we didn’t, it might sound like a wild theory. It’s unlikely American leftists would require much proof for it, though, because it does not rise beyond routine imperialist horror visited on non-Americans.

  13. parink says:

    I’m sure the code of ‘omerta’ is stronger among government assassins and covert operatives than it is among the mob. If you are going to set thermite charges in downtown NY you are not going to leave blatant footprints, talk about it, or let any but fellow conspirators even know about it. Need to know only.

    • Tarzie says:

      Yeah, I don’t find the idea that large numbers of people can’t keep secrets supportable at all. People in corrupt businesses do it all the time with far fewer incentives than people who would run afoul of covert operatives.

  14. Hieroglyph says:

    “The Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute and the Club For Growth must have issued the new propaganda memo: Paint the opposition as Marxist …”

    Seems a fair enough observation to me. I see and read this technique routinely. I’d doubt the word ‘new’ of course, because it’s being going on for decades.

    If anyone thinks this is a conspiracy theory, they’ve lost me. Maybe it’s been turned into a conspiracy theory by Walter Glass? Or maybe he has responded to one he he noted previously? Either way, I’m lost. It’s fairly obvious tactic, if you ask me.

    • walterglass4 says:

      In my post I explicitly say that I’m open to the right-wing think tank theory. And I didn’t turn anything into anything, inducing hidden collusion in absence of hard evidence is pretty much the definition of a conspiracy theory. The point here is to neutralize the pejorative association of conspiracism by demonstrating that everyone engages in it.

    • Tarzie says:

      NYT commenter Socrates alleges that Douthat has duplicitously produced propaganda on orders from Rightwing Central Command. You object to calling this a conspiracy theory, not on grounds that collusion isn’t taking place, but because you think it’s a credible theory. In other words, you’ve completely proven Walter’s point.

      I will apologize to Walter for not clearly distinguishing his more generous point of view from mine on this memo business. I think Socrates is full of shit. I don’t doubt that such memos go out. But people across the spectrum are talking about Piketty’s book and the trend it signifies. Douthat’s launching point was a lengthy piece in The Nation on the same subject. Is The Nation getting right-wing memos too?

      Commenter Socrates just seems like one more partisan dipshit to me, and considering how much party boilerplate was in his/her comment, I would not be at all surprised if it was s/he who had received a memo. I mention all this to emphasize that acceptance of a theory of conspiracy as something other than a ‘conspiracy theory’ has very little to do with its credibility.

  15. thanos says:

    Besides the example Walter gives, I remember a study just a couple years ago that concluded that both “the left” and “the right” are equally prone to conspiracy theorizing; one of the examples of a conspiracy theory they polled people about was whether Bush lied about WMDs. So yeah, this smear serves to marginalize certain views by constraining the space of acceptable ideas through intimidation and name-calling. In reality, a conspiracy happens any time two people decide something and don’t tell the third guy about it.

    I was and am disgusted by the disavowal of 9/11 conspiracism by the left (and I don’t just mean Democrats). People who believe the tower collapse was a controlled demolition or whatever may have a poor epistemology, but that’s corrigible, and I would take one person with the right instincts about power, whatever their errors of fact, as an ally over a thousand of these smug bootlickers scrambling to prove their sophistication by believing what they read in the new york times.

    It’s important for that reason to be skeptical of the MSM presentation of 9/11 skeptics as a bunch of crazies scratching invisible ants, because in fact they are a huge part of the population even by standard polling, which also means that the scope of people who would admit to similar skepticism if it weren’t verboten is even larger. The MSM’s condescending representation of outside-the-mainstream explanations of events is strategic, and we shouldn’t buy it. (Similarly the rise of anti-“PC” views on the left is I think partly attributable to people imbibing cartoon-images of New Left anti-racism and anti-sexism.) It’s disheartening to see that on the anti-capitalist left there’s an atrophy of the ability to critically process how images are manipulated and propagated. For instance, Alex Jones may be popular but that’s only part of the reason he gets invited onto MSNBC, the other reason is that he’s a clown personality like Rush Limbaugh or Jon Stewart, not an analyst, so he’s easy to make fun of–whereas the sneering volunteer discourse-cops could easily be demolished, and in a way amenable to public digestion, by common-sense skepticism if it came from the mouth of some calm-spoken guy in a suit.

    There’s also a class dimension to conspiracism and its ridicule. It’s often in black communities that you find non-standard interpretations of major events. But that’s because black Americans have, throughout American history, been targets of real conspiracies–medical experiments, sterilization, or, geez, mass imprisonment for petty drug crimes.

    And Tarzie, I agree with your point about not attributing mass acceptance of standard narratives to the laziness and fickleness of the public. It’s a posture I used to take and am still trying to unlearn, because I think it’s both strategically unhelpful and wrong. It takes massive effort to escape what you’re not only being told over and over again, but also, more importantly, being threatened into accepting on pain of ostracism.

    • Tarzie says:

      Yes to every eloquent word here. Yes, yes, yes.

      In reality, a conspiracy happens any time two people decide something and don’t tell the third guy about it.

      I have been wracking my brain for a concise description of conspiracy and this is just perfect.

      And Tarzie, I agree with your point about not attributing mass acceptance of standard narratives to the laziness and fickleness of the public. It’s a posture I used to take and am still trying to unlearn, because I think it’s both strategically unhelpful and wrong

      Yeah, I am no great lover of humanity, but there is a lot of victim-blaming on the left where propaganda is concerned. I am actually quite struck sometimes, in a good way, by the extent to which large numbers of people reject standard narratives and political orthodoxies.

      But that’s because black Americans have, throughout American history, been targets of real conspiracies–medical experiments, sterilization, or, geez, mass imprisonment for petty drug crimes.

      Yep, which is why there is no single major demographic more generally clued in to how power actually works, and why they are periodically maligned en masse as paranoid.

      I would take one person with the right instincts about power, whatever their errors of fact, as an ally over a thousand of these smug bootlickers scrambling to prove their sophistication by believing what they read in the new york times.

      Pulling this out just cause I love it so much.

      • thanos says:

        Daniel Davies wrote something once on why he had not only opposed the Iraq War but also predicted that no WMDs would be found, not even hedging his bets with “well maybe some old chemical weapons.” He said his principle had been to completely discount any information coming from people you knew had lied to you, that this was a main tenet of analyzing the viability of business investments too.

        This puts us all in a difficult position when we consider that the CIA has deputized reporters for info gathering and disinfo spreading for decades, that Bill Keller and the New York Times were working with DoD intelligence over Iraq, that even “apolitical anticapitalist” rags, like literary reviews and such, have gotten CIA backing because they divert the attention of left intellectuals. With the Zunzuneo revelations, the astroturfing of Venezuelan and Syrian uprisings, bloggers like Brown Moses probably getting fed disinfo by the CIA and Human Rights Watch, it creates a real vertiginousness, a hyper-suspicion that would be rightly called paranoid if it weren’t based on concrete historical experience. It feels like the space of trustworthiness is narrowing, and I’m not sure how we should deal with this.

      • Tarzie says:

        It feels like the space of trustworthiness is narrowing, and I’m not sure how we should deal with this.

        Trust no one. I’m not joking. The up side is, we get diminishing returns from additional information. Like I don’t need to weigh facts about whether or not a no-fly-zone over Syria is a good idea, and even if I did, no one gives a shit what I think about it anyway.

      • thanos says:

        Aw thanks Tarz!

        I remembered that that two people/third guy line is inspired by or based on something written by John Emerson/Zizka, who back before he quit bloggoland put a lot of good energy into this topic. He was very wise to how a lot of left Theory that had its language set at the level of generalized Zeitgeist processes could end up obscuring the concrete moments of decision and influence to which those theories had to ultimately refer back. His mantra was, “Management manages.” (His old blog is trollblog.wordpress.com, he had another one before that I don’t remember the name of. Great stuff too on ideological uses of economics.)

        “I am actually quite struck sometimes, in a good way, by the extent to which large numbers of people reject standard narratives and political orthodoxies.”

        I am also starting to think that rhetorically, i.e. strategically, we benefit more from focusing on this side of things than we do from lamenting how easily deceived we all are.

        “Yep, which is why there is no single major demographic more generally clued in to how power actually works, and why they are periodically maligned en masse as paranoid.”

        Yeah. I’m disinclined to romanticize The Working Class, but in my experience the sort of skepticism we’re talking about is more likely to be found among people who see neutrally-written laws selectively applied to their neighbors, who see cops planting evidence and newspapers refusing to write about it, etc etc. From that vantage it is the opposite of conspiratorial to say that we have not made progress in freedom but only in the repression of its absence.

        “Trust no one.”

        Yeah. And I greatly admire your clarity of sight in this regard and refusal to romanticize illusory exceptions to the dynamics of power. On the other hand, trust is important for building networks of solidarity, and while trusting the people you work alongside is different from trusting your news sources, I am concerned that our ability to form solidarity groups will be hurt by a poverty of knowledge and narrative.

        It’s funny you mentioned Syria because I was going to bring that up, as it is one area right now where the questions of “what happened? which facts are true?” are big. But in reality I don’t know a single person who simply believes that Turkey did the gas attack (e.g.); I know people who think for a complex of very sound reasons that it’s plausible and/or likely, and who recognize that suspicion of power as an interpretive heuristic will get you the truth 99% of the time. Likewise while it would be nice I suppose to have reliable polling info on how Syrians feel about Assad and the various opposition groups, in the end it probably wouldn’t change my basic position (namely “US out”).

      • The Dude says:

        “Yep, which is why there is no single major demographic more generally clued in to how power actually works, and why they are periodically maligned en masse as paranoid.”

        Which is why it truly breaks my heart that it’s almost impossible to have a coherent conversation about Obama’s transgressions with many (most) of the black people I personally come across. One of (if not the most) radical group of people this country has ever seen was silenced in 2008. And the the “Black Misleadership Class” – coined by Glenn Ford – put the final touches on it.

        I’m black, and I avoid conversations about Barack with my family and friends – it’s very uncomfortable… and disturbing.

      • Tarzie says:

        It’s surprising to me, really, that there aren’t more people who feel betrayed. I guess it’s just really hard to look upon the milestone as having been a complete disaster. I reckon it would have been an easier pill to swallow if African-American skepticism didn’t historically co-exist with a great deal of loyalty to the Democratic Party. After all, Obama was not the first neoliberal to buy African-American support cheaply. Clinton was, as I understand it, hugely popular with African-Americans, and he was terrible for that community. But disillusionment with Clinton didn’t have the same power to create racial disharmony.

    • Peter says:

      “People who believe the tower collapse was a controlled demolition or whatever may have a poor epistemology…”

      You left the door open employing ‘may’ in this sentence. May I come in?

      On 9/11 number 7 World Trade which was not hit by any aircraft was, according to the National Institute of Science and Technology, brought down “primarily from office fires.” The NIST stated that this was the first instance of a tall, steel-framed skyscraper experiencing total collapse due to fires. The NIST, after revising their initial report of 08/08, admitted that the building experienced 2.25 seconds of absolute free fall acceleration in their final report of 11/08. That is the same acceleration that dropping a bowling ball in free air would experience. An object in free fall can do NO work — all of its potential energy is being used to accelerate. By definition, the collapse of the measurable portion of the upper building was not causing the failures below. A letter was generated by Dr. William Pepper on behalf of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth — a group of licensed and degreed A&E professionals currently numbering 2,187 — which was given to the office of the Inspector General of the US Commerce Dept. and has since been forwarded to the NIST for a response. The NIST chose not to directly address the implications of absolute free fall in their 11/08 Final Report and came up with a complex fire-based model that caused a single column failure (which we are asked to believe propagated to the other 80 support columns bringing the whole tower down), yet had a number of omissions and distortions which the A&Es are addressing: http://journalof911studies.com/resources/2014JanLetterPepper.pdf

      The roof line of number 1 World Trade was measured by physics teacher David Chandler (a graduate in math and physics from prestigious Harvey Mudd College) as falling at a CONSTANT downward acceleration of 64% of the acceleration of gravity. During the time before the roof line disappears in the smoke and dust, we are led to believe that the upper portion of the tower above the airliner impact zone is crushing the lower portion for some half a dozen floors WITHOUT DECELERATING. A dynamic load can not be transferred and do any crushing, bending nor breaking without giving up momentum (acceleration) and decelerating, yet none was measured.

      This is Newtonian, high school level physics. The 2,187 architects and engineers who have to date signed the petition (http://www.ae911truth.org/) and put their reputations on the line are not doing so as some cynical attempt to further their careers. On the contrary, they find these and other questions so compelling and disturbing that they are willing to risk ridicule and career damage in pursuit of the truth.

      In brief and in closing, these two measured and acknowledged phenomenon are enough of themselves to throw the whole official narrative into question. Many fine books, films and essays and witness testimonies have been produced which address the myriad of other problems of that inconoclastic and fateful day we know as 9/11.

      Be forewarned, disinformation and misinformation is pervasive.

      • Tarzie says:

        Thanks for your input. We’re mostly discussing ‘conspiracy theory’ as a propaganda device here. People who want to haggle over various pieces of Truther theory already have ample resources for doing so. After all, this argument has been going on for over ten years now.

      • Peter says:

        You gave me my peace and I thank you.
        No disrespect to your excellent blog intended.

      • Tarzie says:

        No problem. If someone makes a claim, it’s fair to dispute it as you have. Just don’t want this to get into a lengthy back and forth.

  16. tanglebum says:

    —The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”—

    Pretty much all you need to base assumptions of conspiracy on right there.
    It may not have been intended as particularly covert, empires are hard to conceal, but the position – ahead of consensus understanding, in charge of the creation of reality, and the near-metaphysical arrogance of that posture…well what wouldn’t a bunch of assholes who think like that do? They’lldo anything they will work. So getting to “work” there, goal, vision, is primary.
    What will help is getting a take on the vision behind specific conspiracies. MLK is assassainated right as he begins shifting the weight of his leadership to an inclusive all-people’s up from the bottom campaign for justice.
    Intent comes from vision, as does the likelihood of conspiracy itself. Zealots who believe themselves endowed with paramount moral over-ride will do anything, stop at nothing, as will desperate clots of idiots who are terrified by the backwash of their own incompetence.
    Different constructs with different visions, they overlap in some areas, diverge in others. So analysis has to be current and incisive. as well as unafraid of the grotesque and fantastic, because those are possible now.
    So in my opinion what is the vision behind the current malevolent conspiracies?
    Plutopia – a Darwinian wet-dream calling from the future, recruiting the selfish and confused into an army whose marching anthem is the stirring “Gimme That!”

  17. Bitman says:

    Unsurprisingly, one of critical devices used against Webb was that he was irresponsibly fanning the flames of ‘black conspiracism’ by daring to provide evidence the CIA didn’t give a single shit about helping to spread the crack plague.

    This puts us all in a difficult position when we consider that the CIA has deputized reporters for info gathering and disinfo spreading for decades, that Bill Keller and the New York Times were working with DoD intelligence over Iraq

    It’s an instructive case, this one. Oliver Boyd-Barrett has done an excellent analysis of press behavior during and after the Judith Miller saga, showing in the process that a supplement to the Herman-and-Chomsky-type of structuralist critique of media is needed. He proposes a “sixth” filter, one that acknowledges and respects human agency and the capacity for human perfidy (conspiracy, in other words) within the structures of media power. Even Herman and Chomsky accept that from time to time there is “elite coordination” of the presentation of an issue to the public (that’s a conspiracy, folks). They’re just wrong about how large a feature of the system it is.

    Googling for it, I see it’s now behind a scholarly paywall. Here’s the link to the abstract and first page. If anyone wants the full version I have it and will gladly email it.

    http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14616700412331296383?journalCode=rjos20#preview

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  19. tanglebum says:

    Meditating today on anonymity. That it’s currently acting like fluid, leaking from the commons, through to the other side of the locked gate of surveillance. We have no idea who’s watching/listening, and at the same time no sense now that we’re invisible, safe behind a shield of markerless generic identity.
    In a decade the ‘net has gone from a vast public space where no one had a fixed or fixable presence, (on the internet no one knew you were a dog) to a tiny stage no bigger than each of us individually, where we’re virtually naked and lit glaringly from all sides..
    Instead of your anonymous username/avatar we have “you” specifically, known to the machine, even as “you” attempt to fabricate your shielding mask of username/avatar.
    The prospect of some thing watching you select that mask and makeup and try it on in the mirror.
    Because there’s a camera behind the mirror.
    Scary how it replicates so faithfully the medieval concept of the all-seeing divine,without the attributes of benevolent mercy, without the miracles and grace.
    The conspiring toward this present state of our being helplessly known v. that/them as unknown with unknowable power may be insignificant, I can’t tell from here. But that various actors and agencies are trying to ride it forward seems unquestionable.
    So I’m suggesting the iterations and immediacies of conspiracy aren’t going to be as strategically important now as getting to the vision and desire of what may or may not be conspiring at any given moment.
    What do they want?
    Because we can fuck that up, at the very least we can make it impossible for them to make this awful shit pay.

    • diane says:

      Indeed, Do No Evil, The Cloud [The Heavens!] , …Comcast xfinity, etcetera, ……stunning care was given to the unconscious symbolism of the switch.

  20. Bitman says:

    Scary how it replicates so faithfully the medieval concept of the all-seeing divine,without the attributes of benevolent mercy, without the miracles and grace.

    So true. Just another way that we have never really been Modern.

    The goal of the modern surveillance project seem to be the creation of a total enclosure (really, the creation of sets of enclosures like Facebook and Instagram within larger enclosures, like the internet), within which every move is trackable, sortable, and above all given a rating of one sort or another. Nothing escapes, and within which nothing not licensed can happen. Further, in the corporate surveillance realm all activity is mined for economic value, and we’re endlessly induced into more and more licensed activity. Rats in a digital cage.

  21. tanglebum says:

    Conspiracy theorizing:
    That the Snowden revelations are implanting the consciousness of being observed.
    This is supposed to alter behavior. It is, but like every other myopic gambit, it will have unpredictable outcomes.
    The revelation by the LAPD that they had Compton under 24/7 total snoop-down for 2 years was that. Because now all the homies have no anonymity and they know it.
    There’s a shift from the secret watching, where the swine cameras get the info-goods w/o the observed knowing, and the release of the fact of that presence into the public mind-set.
    The Panopticon’s metamorphic shift, from aha! you didn’t know we saw you! to you better watch your ass because we are!
    First the gathering of spontaneous free-range profiles of the oblivious, then the transformation of the observed into anxious and relatively obedient subjects.
    Springing the intimate facts of your existence on you.
    Sophisticated social-psych fascism.
    I first experienced this personally when I was 17, in the 60’s.
    It did not have the desired effect.

    • Tarzie says:

      Yeah, whatever the intent of this little spectacle, in effect, it’s just a big Psy Op, with Snowden and his comrades pasting up ‘Big Brother is Watching You’ signs everywhere. And that’s fine with Greenwald’s cult, because knowing shit plus the vicarious thrills they get from their would-be proxy in dissent is all they require. Fucking morons.

      Not sure what your reference to the 60s implies, since that revolutionary moment was most effectively squashed. Looks to me like the state did itself right proud back in those days.

      • babaganusz says:

        … Until 1968, most world revolutions really just introduced practical refinements: widening the franchise, introducing universal primary education, the welfare state. The world revolution of 1968, in contrast, [was] a rebellion against bureaucracy, conformity, of anything that fettered the human imagination, a project for the revolutionizing not just of political or economic life, but every aspect of human existence. As a result, in most cases, teh rebels didn’t even try to take over the apparatus of state; they saw that apparatus as itself the problem.
        It’s fashionable nowadays to view the social movements of the late 1960s as an embarrassing failure. A case can surely be made for that view. It’s certainly true that in the political sphere, the immediate beneficiary of any widespread change in political common sense–a prioritizing of ideals of individual liberty, imagination, and desire, a hatred of bureaucracy, and suspicions over the role of government–was the political right. Above all, the movements of the 1960s allowed for the mass revival of free market doctrines that had largely been abandoned since the 19th century …
        In retrospect, though, I think that later historians will conclude that the legacy of the 1960s revolution was deeper than we now imagine, and the triumph of capitalist markets and their various planetary administrators and enforcers, which seemed so epochal and permanent in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, was, in fact, far shallower.
        I’ll take an obvious example. One often hears that a decade of antiwar protests in the late 1960s and early 1970s were ultimately failures, since they did not appreciably speed up the U.S. withdrawal from Indochina. But afterward, those controlling U.S. foreign policy were so anxious about being met with similar popular unrest–and even more, with unrest within the military itself, which was genuinely falling apart by the early 1970s–that they refused to commit U.S. forces to any major ground conflict for almost thirty years. It took 9/11 … and even then, those planning the wars placed an almost obsessive effort in making the wars effectively protest-proof. Propaganda was incessant, the media carefully brought on board, experts provided exact calculations on body bag count … and the rules of engagement were carefully written to keep the count below that.
        The problem was that since those rules of engagement ensured that thousands of women, children, and old people would end up “collateral damage” in order to minimize deaths and injuries to U.S. soldiers, this meant that in Iraq and Afghanistan intense hatred for the occupying forces would pretty much guarantee that the United States couldn’t obtain its military objectives. And remarkably, the war planners seemed to be aware of this. It didn’t matter. They considered it far more important to prevent effective opposition at home than to actually win the war. It’s as if American forces in Iraq were ultimately defeated by the ghost of Abbie Hoffman.
        Clearly, an antiwar movement in the 1960s that is still tying the hands of U.S. military planners in 2012 can hardly b econsidered a fialure. But it raises an intriguing question: what happens when the creation of that sense of failure, of the complete ineffectiveneess of political action against the system, becomes the chief objective of those in power?

        –D.Graeber, The Democracy Project

        i suspect “tying the hands” is overstating it a skosh, and I didn’t think people still publish references to “Indochina” (perhaps he was just giving it some ’60s feel?)… otherwise, what do you think?

  22. tanglebum says:

    It was personal, like I said. Proof of knowledge of details of my teenage doings, delivered w/o signature. With the idea that knowing you’re watched by some “thing” that could be anywhere will push you off the it’s-secret tip, and into conformity.
    They’re banking on the coercive nature of induced self-consciousness, the majority will modify their behavior once they see they’re being seen.
    And to hell with the rebels.
    Medieval social technology, w/o the necessity of theology to back it up.
    We don’t need a dogma of spiritual panoptica, we have camera saturation, satellites and drones in abundance.
    A mechanical deity that will serve us, grant us immortality straight from the laboratory.

    • Tarzie says:

      The parallel to religion is fascinating.

      • babaganusz says:

        still such a widespread obsession with “image” (or worse, obsession with others’ [presumed or otherwise] obsession with image); no surprise the more fearful/”content” grasp at rationalizations of a “nothing-to-hide” stance and rarely if ever getting around to an honest and nuanced approach to the “would I do this if _____ could see me?” concept…

  23. tanglebum says:

    There’s also the unknowable. What would be there if no one was watching.
    It’s the formulaic, we’ll sacrifice this to get that.
    Only what’s being sacrificed isn’t knowable.
    The watchers will never see what would be there if they weren’t watching.
    They write that off because the gain matters more to them.
    Freedom’s filled with the unknown, safety with the known, protected.
    Pigs don’t mind the loss of human things.

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