Saturday, October 22, 2011

Conspiracy Theories: Philosophy Without A License Edition

In the Madville Times comments to this post, I took a little jab at Steve Sibson and said "I promise not to mention Masons or the New World Order"  Steve graciously responded, "Once you open up your analysis (which I believe is already very good), you will understand that there is little worldview differences between the Bushes, Clinton, or Obama."

I appreciate the compliment.  I won't even argue that differences separating the worldviews of the past three Presidents are far less dramatic than Fox News and MSNBC make them out to be.  I believe that fraternity brothers from elite schools hire each other, and Wall Street, K Street, the Oval Office, and Capitol Hill share relationships that are unseemly at best and more incestuous than we South Dakotans know.

Still, I can't buy that there are secret orders trying to run the world from the basement of the Skull and Bones frat house.

Ben Franklin enunciated the clearest principle that informs my thinking: "Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead."  I find it difficult to believe that every Mason throughout the centuries or every Tri-Lateral Commission member of the last century went to their graves without letting slip the secret that they made some historic event occur. .

Further, even if I accept that Franklin underestimated humans' ability to keep secrets, then Steve and other conspiracy theorists are underestimating the power these secret cabals have; these societies apparently have altered human nature.  There are Jews who don't keep the Sabbath, and Christians who don't love their neighbors.  I bet some masochistic Buddhists exist somewhere.  These people all risk eternal punishment or the loss of eternal reward; if there's a greater threat, I don't know what it is.

Surely some Mason would have slipped up somewhere and explained everything.  If I can use a literary example, Jabez Wilson in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Red Headed League" wears his Mason pin in public.  If Doyle is going to use a Mason indiscretion as a plot detail, these indiscretions must be common.

Finally, I have to agree with the world view Raymond Chandler outlined in "The Simple Art of Murder."  We live in a

. . . world in which gangsters can rule nations and almost rule cities, in which hotels and apartment houses and celebrated restaurants are owned by men who made their money out of brothels, in which a screen star can be the fingerman for a mob, and the nice man down the hall is a boss of the numbers racket; a world where a judge with a cellar full of bootleg liquor can send a man to jail for having a pint in his pocket, where the mayor of your town may have condoned murder as an instrument of moneymaking, where no man can walk down a dark street in safety because law and order are things we talk about but refrain from practising; a world where you may witness a hold-up in broad daylight and see who did it, but you will fade quickly back into the crowd rather than tell anyone, because the hold-up men may have friends with long guns, or the police may not like your testimony, and in any case the shyster for the defense will be allowed to abuse and vilify you in open court, before a jury of selected morons, without any but the most perfunctory interference from a political judge.
It is not a very fragrant world, but it is the world you live in, and certain writers with tough minds and a cool spirit of detachment can make very interesting and even amusing patterns out of it. It is not funny that a man should be killed, but it is sometimes funny that he should be killed for so little, and that his death should be the coin of what we call civilization

In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. . . .  He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.
I know people who are the best in their world and good enough for any world.  If there were a grand conspiracy, these people would not be allowed to walk the mean streets.  The Davids would never beat the Goliaths because that story provides hope, and hope is something that frightened the Greek gods and would frighten anyone trying to control the world.  I refuse to believe that Masons or the New World Order exist because I believe there are enough people "with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. . . . [and] a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to [them] by right."  There are enough of them to provide temporal redemption from any secret society.
At first glance, these paragraphs may support the conspiracy theorists' views, but a careful reading shows a lot of individual corruption that defies logic and organization.  Also, Chandler's conclusion seems to preclude the success of a powerful conspiracy:

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