Where does a policy end and a conspiracy begin? Mike Whitney raises this question in a perceptive analysis of the run up to the 2008 financial meltdown. His thesis is that there was no conspiracy, per se, but a consistent policy of maximizing profits in the financial sector of the economy through the deliberate creation of asset bubbles, be they dot.com or housing.
Whitney sees this as a sign of decay in a mature capitalist system. He argues that “it’s far more damaging than any conspiracy, because it insures that the economy will continue to stagnate, that inequality will continue to grow, and that the gigantic upward transfer of wealth will continue without a pause.”
Now, if a policy produces negative consequences for the many while benefiting a few, is it still a policy or does it fall into the sphere of the illegal? A conspiracy is defined as “a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful.” By that criterion, both the Iraq and Afghanistan enterprises could be considered conspiracies because both are eminently harmful and both, under international law, are illegal.
Of course, when dealing with the American empire we must remember that the benchmark for action is not legality but “reality creation.” As Karl Rove is reputed to have said, “We’re an empire, now, and when we act we create our own reality.” The problem is that an empire doesn’t create reality, it creates a fantasy world that it mistakes for reality because, being powerful, an empire believes its fantasies to be real when they rarely are.
The bigger question is when you move beyond the execution of a bank robbery or any other specific crime, is a conspiracy possible? When it comes to grand conspiracies, I confess to being a skeptic. I simply don’t believe Homo sapiens has the intellectual capacity to carry one out on a large scale. Human nature doesn’t lend itself to mega plots. Somewhere, someone would have one drink too many or would want to impress his mistress and the cat would be out of the bag.
Rather than conspiracies I see passing convergences of interest grounded in life’s contingencies, contingencies that are constantly in motion. These convergences are reactions to events and not their creators. This is why terrorist activity tends to be made up of isolated incidents rather than parts of some sort of overall strategy. Experts tell us that al-Qaeda isn’t so much a formal organization as an ideology.
A good analogy for these convergences can be found in chaos theory. If you sit by a fountain for a period of time, a pattern emerges. Most of the time the droplets of water fall in a random and chaotic pattern, but occasionally the drops fall in unison, a unity that is quickly dispersed as the droplets resume their random pattern. It’s the same with convergences. A disparate group of individuals come together to take advantage of a specific situation and then disperse.
Was 9/11 an inside job plotted and executed by the Bush administration? Absolutely not! Was the administration aware that such a plot was in the works and choose to let it happen? Possibly. Did every neocon and wingnut rejoice when the planes slammed into the twin towers because this breathed new life into our militarized security state? Absolutely! It was a passing convergence of interests.
Grand conspiracies have their appeal because of our need to impose some sort of order event that are, by nature, chaotic and unpredictable. We want to believe a single mastermind is behind them and that once this mastermind is neutralized the threat will vanish. Such a belief is the mindset of a technician who believes that there isn’t a problem that can’t be solved by changing a battery or tightening a bolt. The trouble is that life isn’t a machine and it rarely behaves like one.
The real problem arises when a criminal activity morphs into a hardened policy because of an ongoing convergence of interests between government and the private sector that takes on a life of its own. Then the problem is not one of conspiracy but one of a nocent policy supported by a de jure government, and the only solution to that is revolution.