Facile “explanations” distort what’s hugely diverse and complex, even unpredictable (part I)
Though multitudes guffaw over endlessly absurd, rightwing conspiracy fictions, who doesn’t intuit that some greater entity has undue control on us, fashioning big choices. Otherwise, wouldn’t our lives be much easier and better? Like fallen angels, we live with the quirky belief we control our personal destiny, while conceding no input on birth, parents, names, indeed our genetic DNA package. How can we so revere “freedom” without admitting other beings created our lives and conditions – and worse still we may remain beholden to overwhelming, all-powerful overlords? When jolted by random and unexpected events (death, disease, war, accident, crime), our healthy sense of control is dashed – unless we up the risks and tempt the odds.
The student of history focuses not so much on transient, psychopathic predators – control freaks like Lord Trumpster or Elon Musk, wanting to “liberate” free speech with libertarian dogma – but on implicit systemic controls that allegedly dictate dominant ruling class interests. If it’s a zero sum game and we’re not in charge, then someone or something calls the shots. Consider all the rules we must obey simply “to earn a living,” let alone live with dignity, limits we scorn at our peril. If there weren’t so much elitist fear (or reality) of rule-breaking, why such massive police forces (and thus the brouhaha when the Capitol was breached)?
As a result of this problematic existence, the most conspicuous mission of rigid (online) zealots, convinced they own all the truth, is to reinforce biases. One anticipates which over-simplified projections will win kudos – and which will explode into cries of “sell-out infidels at large,” pushing what they find indigestible. That sounds like a religious melee, not political discussion. Right and left together, the web is indeed a net that channels those desperate for validation, not adult exchanges where feints and shifts may occur.
When protected by anonymity (for me without socially-redeeming value), such partisans need not argue, nor even disagree; instead, they simply reject out of hand, dumping with bad faith, whatever the quality of argument or evidence. Fixated readers demanding validation (or else) satisfy this need, but at the high cost of not learning from others. Turning a secular discussion into a religious food fight ends any prospect for rational enlightenment or communication.
The magical, single solution
Directly related, how superficially liberating to uncover the single, hidden elite that nefariously drives our gridlocked nation, if not the world? If the potent didn’t feast on the status quo, what keeps the house of cards standing? Hardly in charge are manipulated voters or party activists, professors, experts or pundits. Presumably, not even elected figureheads, nor loudmouth cable flappers, nor busy opinion page minions. Anything beats befuddlement, thus the concession to off-stage, power-mad masterminds, swelled by Wall Street bankers and self-centered billionaires, fed by deep state elites, generals and think-tankers. Inevitably, this gang communicates via unrecordable modes, then whispers to slavish politicians and obedient media. What a neat, efficient concoction, the ultimate, top-down corporate management model. Would that our less than rational human nature and less than controllable world fit such facile frames.
I understand the desire for the simplest, manageable explanations that lock down a maddeningly complex world. But what if there’s no over-weening magic key to unlock the mysteries that befall us? What if the more or less known universe exceeds in complexity the limits of the shrink-wrapped human mind? Under the religion/philosophy tab, I write “hopeful, empirical skeptic,” thus I welcome good faith, outside input.
While the over-the-top, conspiratorial Trump defenders, echoing their pudding headed Mussolini, lean hard on bizarro explanations of who corrupts everything, the left does not lack for over-simplified mindsets. Since the right is now the extreme right – and the more absurd the conspiracy the better, their well-known delusions need no further details. But if you read (leftwing) online pontificators, brace for such riveting, nuanced comments as: the war in Ukraine comes down only to western imperialism, so why stand in Putin’s way; or Biden is no better than Trump, indeed Democrats are just as bad (even worse, for raising expectations) than Republicans. Both parties are soiled doormats played by predatory masters who always know what they are doing.
Finally, why bother favoring the few, humane, well-informed leaders who ACTUALLY get elected, nor spend five minutes joining the fraudulent ritual of elections. Thus do dismal Trumpers and the (much smarter) extreme left share biases. Not only does discrediting nearly all elected officials (plus entrenched parties and popular representation), feed cynicism and alienation, this dismissal gives permission to remain above it all, not to be taken in. Certainly never to allow one’s heart and soul to be tainted by politics of pollution.
Permission to withdraw
That way lies what Yascha Mounk aptly calls “fatalistic defeatism.” For ideological refusniks, no party with more than 1% voter support deserves their unwavering support. After all, why accept the fiction of “democracy” when we’ve never truly qualified as a democratic republic? Campaigning is another sham, for all viable candidates are pre-determined by party hacks. If angry contrarians are right, and only illegitimate elections exist, why traffic in anything less than revolution? Pathetic “reformism” by sold-out gradualists is just another word for nothing left to lose.
It’s not that well-informed leftists articulate no truths, but ideological rigidity denies complexity and diversity of motives and interests, let alone our history as messy wrestling matches rife with inconsistencies and unintended consequences. However plausible, over-simplifications end up denying reality (the belligerent Putin as innocent victim, brutality against civilians his only option). On my dark days, the line from Martin Luther King intrudes, rejecting all those who proffer “pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.”
The suspect assumption (on left and right) is that an empowered, co-ordinated elite – double-chinned oligarchs, jet-set bankers and power brokers, top generals, finance wizards, bought scientists and futurists, even a few world leaders – decide what matters, then executive their commands. That mandates the highly implausible – top drawer agreement on what must be said and done and, even more so, on unified “solutions” (fat chance with ornery billionaires). It’s never that easy. How reminiscent of the conspiratorial vision from the movie Network:
There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immanent, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today . . . There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today . . . The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business.
Beyond swarming dollars funding a “college” even less democratic than our Electoral contrivance, factor in messianic, nationalistic passions (on display in Ukraine), alongside fundamentalist, religious/cultural manias that muck up life across the earth. America’s plague comes from low-information, militant, theological extremism; but tribal irrationality is as common as children-slaying strife. How exactly does any such co-ordinated oligarchy control so many fluid, irrepressible global variables? How many such commanders accept or deny disruptive climate change, welcome marginal democracy (or totalitarianism), even argue that today war and economic stability oppose each other. No doubt my critics counter that the ruling class doesn’t have to meet or agree: everything is deeply entrenched in systemic inequality. As if systems never change. Look at global energy production – and its erratic profits.
If Big Oil doesn’t rule . . . then what?
Though oil drives western foreign policy (and life), exactly who’s in charge – and over what duration? Saudi Arabia (and pals) hardly do U.S. bidding, rogue states disrupt the flow, and Russia goes its own way – all with mixed results. Worst of all (for them), how did these oil masterminds allow sneaky alternative energy players to pull out their rug, devastating prices and profits for years (until recently). On the defensive, Chevron and Exxon, Shell and others are “going green,” but hardly leading the tech/profit parade. No oil executive would have approved the suddenness of the electric car revolution, nor countless wind turbines or solar panels. Energy stocks have been notoriously volatile and terrible investments, no badge of honor for would-be masters of the universe.
Here the most dominant, well-oiled powerhouse, and the entire industry is now badly tainted as the worst poisoners in earth history — virtual killers on the loose. If oil doesn’t control its destiny (or image), I wonder about other industrial powers. Next up I will survey those in the ruling class, questioning exactly how much world power over time any single member, even group holds. They have enormous power, but is it organized, centralized or orchestrated? Do billionaires thrive because they instantly inform a domineering ruling class – or do they simply make enough treasure to join the club and show off their gains? The world in this model is far too complex and confusing to blame any simple, one-dimensional paradigm.