26 March 2009

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Conspiracy

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing : conspiracy.

Something that is very topical these days, but what is a conspiracy and what should be done about it. In the very short essay, better still, my few paragraphs of ramblings on the topic, I concentrate on the scope of conspiracies in democracies. This is not a conspiracy to shy away from a detailed essay but rather a victim of lack of time.

See you Sunday and take care



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The backbone of a conspiracy is deception and sometimes subversion is also included. The function of deception is either to hide past actions from others or to hide present enterprise of a dubious nature.

Moreover, conspiracies are usually associated with those in power or authority but of course, conspiracies can also be against those in power or authority. Consider, for example, the various coups and take-over’s of governments. And when conspiracies are organised by those in power usually they are done to deceive the general population or more specifically voters.

But what distinguishes conspiracies from other illegal, criminal or immoral activities? Especially, since many of these activities also include deception and manipulation of facts. For example, was the Madoff affair a conspiracy or simply a criminal deception?

It does not help to look at the number of people involved. For example, by claiming that a few people would make something a criminal act but say more than twenty people would make something a conspiracy. Numbers do not help because what matters, in my opinion, is that those who are conspiring must have the means to bring about their enterprise.

However, the aspect that might be of more concern from a philosophical point of view is that there are two types of conspiracies. True conspiracies and made up conspiracies, either as a consequence of lack of information, or to attack those in authority or power. Of course, we have no problem with real conspiracies. The facts will out one day, and the truth shall be know.

Made up conspiracies, either started as a rumour or as political machination are the ones that interest us. Let’s take a long time conspiracy: UFOs. In the absence of any hard facts about beings from other planets or believable denial from those in power, conspiracies are bound to start sprouting. In any case, whether there are or aren’t aliens in spaceships does not matter since either they are friendly, and they let us live our own lives without interfering with our destiny. Although, if there are any aliens out there and reading this, please don’t be shy stop us from hurting ourselves before we do some serious damage. And if they are not friendly, what are they waiting for?

And then there are the conspiracies that really concern us. 9-11 comes immediately to mind, and until recently there was the conspiracy that the motor car industry was holding back alternative technology, such as electric powered cars, because they want to exploit the combustion engine.

Today we know that the car industry, if they had a conspiracy going, at least in Detroit, was to commit suicide. Besides, we cannot even use a simple mobile phone without having to recharge it after a few hours use, can you imagine a car with a battery and not needing to recharge it half way to Galicia?

But what about conspiracies like those of 9-11? You know the one, that the administration at the time organised the high jacking or the milder version, they knew about the high jacking and did not stop it. Whether there was or wasn’t a 9-11 conspiracy is irrelevant for us since the truth will come out sooner or later.

However, what is interesting for us is that these types of conspiracies have a direct bearing on the structure of government and authority. And more importantly for us, what are the consequences of conspiracies of this type on the fundamentals of democracy’

In a democracy, and I am not particularly concerned about the pros and cons of democracies nor the peculiar versions that are found of in various places, there are two important forces: the government and the opposition. But the real danger, in my opinion, of subverting democracy or deceiving a nation, are not the actions of the government, but rather the way the opposition performs its duty.

By opposition I do not only mean the party in a parliament that does not form a government, but also those various groups and associations that are stake holders in the powers of the state: unions, professional associations, interest groups, the media and so on.

In particular, what is the function of the opposition? It cannot be to spend the time in-fighting amongst themselves, nor can it be to simply criticise those in power or to say - no. It is an accepted principle in political philosophy that the opposition is there to provide political checks and balances for the majority in parliament in the same way that the judiciary and parliament provide the checks and balances for the power and authority of the administration, i.e. government.

In my opinion, an opposition that does not provide constructive checks and balances is itself subverting the authority of the state and deceiving the population. And the opposition is doing this because disagreeing with someone is not the same as demonstrating someone’s failure.

However, made up conspiracies subvert democracies because they challenge authority and in many cases weaken authority without going through the recognised channels of democracy. We mustn’t forget that made up conspiracies can indeed influence a population or influence the actions of a government.

A disorganised opposition, or an opposition that is not doing its duty, means that a weak government can become a strong government and a strong government can become a powerful government. And we know from history that the closer one is to power the closer one can make innocent or not so innocent mistakes.

But disagreeing with those in authority for the sake of disagreeing is not the same as having evidence and reasonable concern about the exercise of power by the government. To conclude therefore it is the duty of an opposition to investigate any alleged conspiracies any alleged wrong doing by those in power, since, as I have said, in a democracy there are institutions whose duty it is to provide checks and balances for the power governments have.

Made up conspiracies have no function in a democracy, and conspiracies, in a democracy ought to and should be exposed. Better still, the environment in which a democracy has to function can only be transparency. But it is the function of the opposition to keep this transparency clear.

Take care


from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Conspiracy

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