Darren Allen writes at the Expressive Egg substack
Theories come from the mind. This is obvious enough, but we forget that the mind conceals as much as it reveals, and that all theories are therefore, in a sense, inherently misleading. Mind is a ‘dividing machine’. It divides experience into subjects and objects, into the things of the world. This doesn’t mean it literally creates things (the position of the insane solipsist), rather that it creates our experience of them. This is a phenomenally useful activity — the human mind is literally the most useful thing in the universe — but it cannot experience the undivided meaning of the things it creates. Unable to step outside itself, it cannot create anything original, or advance knowledge in any meaningful way, nor can it experience phenomena directly, qualitatively, from within; all it can do is read experience, as symbolic subjects and objects, and then thread these readings together into a rational narrative, or theory.
The mind applies its theory-making just as readily to the creation of the universe (which was ‘really’ caused by God) as it does to the evolution of life on earth (which is ‘really’ caused by genetic mutation) as it does to Back to the Future (which ‘really’ predicted 9/11), as it does to 9/11 itself (which was ‘really’ caused by the US government). It pores over whatever text appears to have most authority and meaning, it isolates facts, draws together correspondences and causal chains and then presents its meaning, which then justifies the very self which went looking for it. All theories are, in other words, fan theories. Some theorists are fans of scientific literature, some are fans of the news, and some are fans of The Shining, or Revelations or The Koran.
This is not a criticism of theory-formation, which is a useful, human activity, nor is it a denunciation of the content of such theories. The act of ‘reading’ the universe in an attempt to work out what causes eclipses, or what Shakespeare was trying to say, or what people in power are up to, does not preclude factual accuracy (and therefore utility) any more than thinking about one’s past does, in an attempt to work out why I am the kind of person I am. What it does rule out is the truth.
All theorising, like all thought, provides us with useful information about reality, while at the same time obscuring experience of the reality that theorists are hoping to understand. Thought can do nothing else. It can reason from its premises and hypotheses, but it cannot discover them, because it cannot step outside of itself.1 Just as more thought, more research, more analysis gets the scientific theorist no closer to the origin of thought, and just as approaching the problems of one’s personal life through thought gets the psychological theorist no closer to meaningfully addressing a client’s ills, so apprehending our social reality through the obsessively focused, thing-generating rational mind, gets the conspiracy theorist no closer to what is really going on in the world, or what can be done about it; for the mind can only produce theories.
This is why the world of conspiracy theories is, like all theory-worlds, beset with contention; because information is inherently unstable, uncertain and open to interpretation. The degree to which corporations, banks and investment companies influence national governments, or precisely what Epstein and friends got up to on his fairy-tale island, or what Putin is really thinking, or quite what was going on in Egypt ten thousand years ago, or whether or not global warming is really happening, or exactly what happened in the Blackrock boardrooms before the ‘pandemic’ began; all of this conspiracy theorising, from right to left, is, ultimately, open-ended and, in most cases, unresolvable. We rightly approach such matters with confidence that we can unlock the facts of them, and sometimes we do, but ultimately this cannot touch the root of our worldly sickness; for facts are not ultimately real. They are abstractions, and so they are forever open to debate, reinterpretation and reappraisal.
If facts are unreliable, what can be known for certain? What is inside the phenomenon we call the world? And what does this reveal about the nature of our misery and confinement? Such questions (which I have addressed elsewhere) would take us far away from our theme. Here let us acknowledge the use of conspiracy theories, those which apply Occam’s sensible razor to the mysteries of our social and political existence, while gesturing beyond them, to the truth; let us acknowledge that warranted conspiracy theories help us to identify monsters and criminals, and deal with them appropriately. This is what we mean by ‘conspiracy theory’ in a positive sense; speculation on what those in power are up to, speculation which subjects itself to critical scrutiny, and which doesn’t lose sight of that which precedes and encompasses such narrow focus.
When, by contrast, we use ‘conspiracy theory’ in a pejorative sense, we are referring to the narrow focus alone, an inability or refusal to move beyond it, the kind of reading which obscures the situation it seeks to illuminate. Ignorance of this context, of that which exists beyond conspiracy theory, forces the reading mind into a manic state of solving problems by dealing with the effects of its own lack of consciousness, like using a ventilator to deal with a gas leak. It feels like the problem has been solved, but there’s this funny smell…
If we could seriously act on conspiracy theories and eradicate the evils they posit, nothing would fundamentally change. If we were able to do away with all the nefarious elites who have a hand in controlling our affairs, if we had a free internet, if the CIA were disbanded, if woke ‘cultural Marxists’ were put back into the silly box they used to play in, if it turned out that we’re all aliens descended from Atlantans living on a flat planet… so what? Would human beings become happy, moral, egalitarian comrades? Would technology cease to demand a life of bodiless, hyper-rational alienation? Would the professional class find itself without the means to subjugate us? Would anything really, meaningfully change?
During the lockdown era a great deal of fuss was made about Matias Desmet’s ‘mass formation theory’, which, building on Hannah Arendt’s theories of totalitarian conditioning, describes the four conditions which lead to the kind of mass delusion we saw in 2020. These conditions are; social isolation, absence of meaning, free-floating anxiety and free-floating frustration. With these in place pretty much any enemy can be presented as a ‘cause’ for our woes, which we then need to ‘unite’ to combat. For the Nazis it was the Jews. For lockdown enthusiasts it was anti-vaxxers, but it could be any scapegoat.3 No conspiracy theory is necessary to explain the new state of terror and confusion, nor the various repressive measures we ‘must’ employ to deal with the threat; all this arises by itself when the conditions for mass-formation are present. All that is required for leaders to do is to create or promote the form of the scapegoat, and everything will develop more or less by itself.
Desmet’s argument is flawed, first of all, by its emphasis on ‘hypnosis’. Human beings are no more ‘hypnotised’ by ideology than they are controlled by propaganda or formed by education. Privileging such ideas reveals the bias of the mind, or the mind-worker, rather than the reality of the situation, which is far more profound and debilitating than the absorption of goodthink. What actually happens is that the whole self — the body, the mind, the emotions and the will — is shaped by its environment. In the machine system the self isn’t merely instructed to obey, an instruction which can simply be countered with a different, better kind of input, it is shaped into a mechanism.
Indoctrination is certainly necessary in a pseudo-reality, but it is the most superficial element in the subjugation of men and women to that reality. There is really no need to feed a machine ideology into someone who eats machine food, manufactures machine products, entertains and educates himself through a machine, lives and moves to the rhythms of a machine, and so on. Such a person, or shell of a person, can be trusted without being told what to think, without being mystically impregnated with a hypnotic suggestion. Being a thinking machine, the fearful civilian does need ideas which justify his way of life, and so these are provided, but they don’t have to be much more sophisticated than the carrots and sticks we use to train domesticated animals; because the animals are already domesticated.
Another flaw in Desmet’s book is that he completely sweeps away conspiracy theories. This is, as his leftist critics pointed out, a dreadful error, for just as there are thing-like objects out there which, in a meaningful sense, can be said to causally affect each other, and just as we need scientific theorising to reveal these things and causes, so those we need conspiracy theorising to reveal the conspiracies of who command and manage the machine. Working to reveal the actions and motives of those in power is, as it has always been, the means of living free of that power. Dismissing all conspiracy theories as inherently irrelevant leaves a good part of the machine intact and, what’s more, is welcomed by those who sit at the output end of it, filling their pockets as the mechanism grows in size and power. They like nothing better than the idea that their role in its operation is, at best, secondary and that they are not really responsible for the monstrous iniquity and degradation that they contribute to.
Nevertheless, Desmet is right to point out that the primary cause of our malaise is not a small group of baddies lording it over innocent victims. Those who dismiss Desmet’s and Arendt’s theory don’t like to seriously consider this, for three reasons. Firstly, because it would mean that they would have to think more deeply than finger-pointing. It’s difficult to untangle the knots of modernity and identify the true, rather than obvious causes of our ills. Conspiracy theories hold particular appeal for the functionally and culturally illiterate, for those without any real interest in profound social analysis, intellectual tradition or history as anything but a façade, a tissue of lies pulled over easily grasped good-guy-bad-guy stories. Arendt noted the appeal, in her time, of the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ conspiracy theory and ‘backstairs literature about the Jesuits and the Freemasons’4, which, like our favoured theories, are symptoms of the egotistical, pomo belief that one can change the past at will, read anything one wants to read into it and paint the facts with whatever ‘narrative’ one fancies.5
Actually, as Arendt also points out, very often there are no lies and tricks in conspiracy theories, totalitarian propaganda or in any other self-justifying image of the world. The ‘propaganda of totalitarian movements which precede and accompany totalitarian regimes is invariably as frank as it is mendacious.’6Lies are crude and only used by amateurs. As Goebbels, who hated lying,7 used to say, ‘Everybody must know what the situation is.’ And even when crimes are officially concealed they are often widely suspected, with the servile masses and leftist intelligencia unwilling to investigate any further than is prudent. An alliance is formed between the cowardliness of the mass-man and the ‘fear porn’ of the system. The average man is able to question propaganda, to resist orders which he knows to be ridiculous and arbitrary, to express his individuality and stand up for his integrity; he can, but he doesn’t, because he has neither individuality to express nor integrity to defend. They have been colonised by his world and subsumed under his fear. He can see the lies, he knows they are lies, but he doesn’t care, or doesn’t care enough. What he cannot see, is why he doesn’t care, because to see this he would have to rise above his lack of interest and energy, rise above himself, and this he cannot and will not do.
This is the second reason that deep systemic analysis is rejected by conspiracy theorists, because a great many of them don’t really want an alternative to the system we have. Just as the narrow scientific theorist seeks a tidier version of The Mighty Paradigm, so the narrow conspiracy theorist simply seeks a better-organised system, one that gives them a position of comfort or prestige within it. Conspiracy theorists are quite happy to target the players — the CEOs, the corporations, the farmers, the government, the identity politicians, the Jews, the fascists, the New World Order or Satan — but they’re not quite so keen to attack the play, the system that furnishes them with their technology, their addictions or their prestige, or, God forbid, the self that is fused to it.
The management class are, in other words, resistant to revolution, committed instead to mere reform. Take the trade-union movement, which has no interest in giving workers actual power, only in providing them with sops and comforts. True, these ‘sops and comforts’ have, in the history of trade-unionism, included the life of its members, which early capitalist institutions crushed willy-nilly, but keeping people alive is not revolutionary. Trade-unionists, like all ‘radical’ professionals, scorn the intelligence of ordinary people, their ability to organise their own lives, without professional intervention, or to judge the situation for themselves.
Reformists are, essentially, elitists. For the management class, the masses are ‘victims’, cruelly deceived by those smarter and more powerful than they are. The lower man certainly cannot be held responsible for being duped. That’s ‘victim blaming’ don’t you know? Just as women are utterly helpless (‘vulnerable’ is the usual word) before the might of man, and must be heroically protected from sexist ideas, or from even a hint of a come-on from an all-powerful boss or celebrity; and just as the selfish, the lazy and the inept are helpless before their addictions, neuroses and other ‘mental illnesses’ and must be ‘cared for’ by those ‘competent’ to do so; and just as young people are so fragile they need ‘safe spaces’ and ‘trigger warnings’ to protect them from offensive language, lest they shatter on contact with it; so the hapless working man has no real intelligence, no real defences against the lies and dastardly tricks of those who rule over him, even when those lies and tricks are bizarrely simplistic. He needs a professional interpreter to come to the rescue, because the poor ordinary man in the street is a helpless, innocent moron, and our rulers are brilliant manipulators.
‘Brilliant’. Anyone who has spent any time with powerful people, or has seriously investigated the decisions they make, knows that they are, on the whole, morons. They are not all idiots of course; those with rational intelligence — above average IQ — tend to rise, and very often into positions of power and influence. A kind of wily, cynical cleverness is reasonably common in positions of prestige, a cleverness which has been extremely influential in turning human beings into machines, or simply disposing of them when they are surplus to requirements8; but, first of all, the horrors of social programming are not independent of the wider system — like all successful initiatives, from eugenics to BLM, they are only successful because they operate in the same direction as the machine — and secondly, cleverness is not intelligence. Intelligence is the capacity to perceive the context and respond appropriately to it, without being led by self interest or dulled by insensitivity, which is as common in the boardrooms, courts and palaces of the world as spontaneity is in a factory or ecstasy in a classroom. If history teaches us nothing else it is quite clear that obedience is rewarded over ability, that iniquity succeeds over sensitivity and that powerful people are, as a class (i.e. notwithstanding exceptional individuals), unable to respond to new situations, unable to seriously think through difficulties and, as they become more and more entrenched in lifestyles which do not demand even basic mental capacity, unable make elementary deductions about the problems they confront and endeavour to solve.9 They just take the next, most obvious, step to patch up the plastic. This is not a question of education, because education only provides ideas abstracted from real life, and the nature of the system far runs deeper than the knowledge it disseminates or relies on.
Here we come to the third, and the most profound, reason why conspiracy theories — why all theories — are more attractive than perceiving the substance of the system and the self. It is because that substance is not just made up of thought — the basis of theory — but of emotion, will and perception, and these the conspiracy theorist cannot intelligently address, because to do so he would have to take up a ‘position’ outside of the only reality his system-fused self can know. This is why any kind of meaningful reference to selflessness, in a good story, for example, or in enquiries into love, or truth, or beauty, are all conspicuously absent from the work of theorists.10 Such ‘vague’ and ‘subjective’ words sound like words only fascists and cult-leaders would use. They couldn’t possible refer to a reality beyond the windows of the theorist’s comfortable study, or behind the walls of his comfortable mind, because he knows, or feels, that there be monsters.
2) One of the godfathers of socialism, Friedrich Engels, acknowledged the futility of narrowly focusing on such matters;
All conspiracies are not only useless but harmful …revolutions are not made intentionally and arbitrarily, but [are] always and everywhere the necessary result of circumstances entirely independent of the will and guidance of particular parties and whole classes.
3) Only about 30% will accept the scapegoat and violently attack dissent, a small minority will rebel and [a crucial] 50% will suspect something is fishy but go along with the consensus for an easy life.
4) Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism.
5) For Arendt conspiracy theories were a convenient means by which totalitarian elites could appeal to the mob in order to sweep away the hated bourgeoisie and its nominal ‘morality’, deflecting attention away from the true nature of totalitarianism, an alliance between the philistine middle-class (‘job holders and family men’) and the atomised mass who unite around utilitarian half-truths which, in the absence of tradition and respect for the truth, can reach the heights of absurdity and the depths of degrading, terrorising fear.
6) Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism.
7) Unlike Hitler, whose lies were as ridiculous as they were prodigal.
8) Who could deny, for example, that Henry Kissinger, one of the greatest mass-murderers in history, isn’t a smart guy?
9) Consider the recent US involvement in the Ukraine, upon which the best and brightest of the most successful country of the past century have spent well over a hundred billion dollars, the result of which being that Russia has gained in power and influence, China has gained in power and influence and both have stopped trading in dollars, with other countries to follow; an unmitigated calamity for the US.
10) One of the most obvious features of political writing which focuses on conspiracies is its stupefying monotony. There is much talk of ‘waking up’, but it’s just that. Talk. Intellectuals, journalists and radical commentators have no interest in reaching beneath the mind, of inspiring the individual, speaking to her uniqueness or breathing life into her living, conscious experience, because they have none themselves. This dreamlike attachment to the known is reflected in a prose style that is shallow, brittle and easy to lampoon, a tone that is dry and cheerless, and a sense of humour that is, at best, grimly sardonic, at worst just feeble. The analysis is crude, the vocabulary is repetitive, the range of subject-matter narrow and, in place of wit and individuality, a kind of meta-narrative constantly refers back to the self of the author, his importance, or the minutia of his sad and beautiful (but unremarkable) life; a kind of easily digestible self-regarding chattiness. Worst of all, the whole thing gives off a reassuring sense of familiarity. The reader nods away, never really challenged, never really outraged, never really horrified, never really shaken with delight, or taken out of herself.