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I have just been reading Karl Popper’s famous work, The Open Society and Its Enemies. I highly recommend both volumes, particularly Volume One, ‘The Spell of Plato’. But I am going to discuss an issue raised in Volume Two, titled ‘Hegel and Marx’. This volume is basically an attack on fascism, nationalism, Marxism and Communism.

How does this relate to conspiracy theorism?

I will quote a relatively lengthy passage:

… I shall briefly describe a theory which is widely held but which assumes what I consider the very opposite of the true aim of the social sciences; I call it the ‘conspiracy theory of society’ . It is the view that an explanation of a social phenomen consists in the discovery of the men or groups who are interested in the occurrence of this phenomenon (sometimes it is a hidden interest which has first to be revealed), and who have planned and conspired to bring it about.

This view of the aims of the social sciences arises, of course, from the mistaken theory that, whatever happens in society–especially happensings such as war, unemployment, poverty, shortages, which people as a rule dislike–is the result of direct design by some powerful individuals and groups. This theory is widely held; it is older even then historicism (which, as shown by its primitive theistic form, is a derivative of the conspriracy theory). In its modern forms it is, like modern historicism, and a certain modern attitude towards ‘natural laws’, a typicl result of the secularization of a religious superstition.

The gods are abandoned. But their place is filled by powerful men or groups–sinister pressure groups whose wickedness is responsible for all the evils we suffer from–such as the Learned Elders of Zion, or the monopolists, or the capitalists, or the imperialists.

I do not wish to imply that conspiracies never happen. On the contrary, they are typical social phenomena.

Conspiracies occur, it must be admitted. But the striking fact which, in spite of their occurrence, disproves the conspiracy theory is that few of these conspiracies are ultimately successful. Conspirators rarely consumate their conspiracy .

Why is this so? … many unforeseen reactions in this framework [the framework being society], some of them perhaps unforeseeable.

Basically, what Popper is saying here is that the chances of particular social changes being the result of a conspiracy are small because our ability to predict the result of our actions is small. The notion that a small group of super intelligent individuals mould the world to its own end is a throwback to religious notions. As he says, this does not mean that there are not conspiracies and conspirators. But they are always going to be limited in what they can achieve.

I should note that Popper is mainly talking about longer term conspiracies here that affect the social structure of society in significant ways. But the principle can be applied to more short term ones also. And generally people who view events in conspiracy theorist ways will tend to link long-term events to short-term ones in any case – the movie Zeitgeist is a typical example.

How, though, is conspiracy ‘an attack on freedom’? Simple: if we view events in the world through the prism of conspiracy theorem, we must automatically move towards irrationality. We must being to presuppose that X event had a specific aim behind it and that the aim can be discerned from the event. However, the world does not work like that. We cannot take an event and determine motive from that event. We cannot conclude, for example, from the fact that one person shot another that one person wishing another person dead was behind the event. It might be. But that cannot be concluded from the event alone.

If we could derive motives from events then we start having to make all kinds of nonsensical connections: for example, if the all powerful group that we are talking about is Bush and his cronies, then the very fact that they lost power must have had a motive, and the motive must be theirs. So this event must be part of the conspiracy. And so we search for the motive behind the event, not pausing to consider that they might not be in control.

I know that the vast majority of conspiracy theorists do not go as far as the above. But they do take the first steps on this path – this path of irrationality; worse: this path of anti-rationality.

And anti-rationality – the assault on reason – is and always has been a direct attack on freedom. Plato called being kept in one’s place within the state ‘justice'; Hegel turned a lack of a constitution into the highest form of constitutional government. They destroyed reason and with it freedom. Post-modernist turned scientific fact into mere opinion and allowed any text to have any meaning whatsoever; linguistic philosophy aided this assault on reason and on meaning by demanding definition of terms when that led to an infinite regress. 

Without rational thought, we cannot create and sustain the open society.

Conspiracy theorem – and its result, counter-knowledge – is an assault on rational thought. Thus, it is a direct attack on freedom.

None of this is intended to disprove any particular conspiracy theory. What it is intended to do is to try to get people to set aside the habit, if such they have, of viewing events in the world through conspiracy theorist eyes.

412 Responses to “Conspiracy Theorem: An Attack on Freedom”

  1. 401
    Chris B says:

    Here’s how they are going to get the health bill through.
    ==============================================

    Democrats Ponder One-Bill Reconciliation Strategy For Health Care
    Senate Democrats contemplating a controversial parliamentary maneuver that would allow them to pass key provisions of a health care bill with just 51 votes are exploring an option that would not require the bill to be split into two.

    Should Democrats use the procedure known as reconciliation, the assumption has been that certain elements would have to be stripped out of the bill and passed separately, because a Senate rule known as the Byrd Rule only allows reconciliation for legislation that costs or raises substantial amounts of money. That would include the expansion of Medicare or Medicaid, revenue-raising tax provisions, and even the creation of a public health insurance option, depending on how it’s written. But non-budget-related items — most of the new insurance industry regulations, for instance — would presumably be put in a separate bill that would go through regular order — and would therefore need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

    Passing two separate bills, however, is seen by some Democrats as too much of a lift for the slow-moving Senate.

    But there’s another alternative, according to Martin Paone. Paone, who served as a Democratic Senate floor staffer for 29 years, has been advising Democrats as they craft their legislative strategy. He proposes that Democrats try to get 60 votes to waive the Byrd Rule — which would then allow the inclusion of those non-budget-related provision in one bill that would require only 51 votes for final passage.

    Fiendishly clever!!!
    continued on The Huffington Post

  2. 402
    Chris B says:

    David is almost right on the conservative Democrat side. But apparently this lot are much more progressive than 1994. One very conservative Democrat is very, very ill and has hardly been around this year. His power has diminished considerably. He is Bob Byrd of West Virginia. Not up for re election till 2012.

    How conservative is he? According to Wikipedia.
    =============================================
    Participation in the Ku Klux Klan
    Byrd joined the Ku Klux Klan when he was 24 in 1942. His local chapter unanimously elected him Exalted Cyclops. Irony – President Obama. He is 91 years old.
    Bob Byrd

    David. The other senator for West Virginia is a liberal. He has been pushing the health bill including the public option. Black sheep of the Rockefeller family. The only one not a Republican.
    Jay Rockefeller
    I am trying to find out what happens to senators in West Virginia if the retire or pass away. Can’t find anything yet.

  3. 403
    Chris B says:

    Both replacements are Democrats.
    ==========================
    The Charleston Gazette set off a round of Byrd retirement speculation last week by reporting that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has discussed succession plans on a conference call with Gov. Joe Manchin and state party leader Nick Casey.

    Both men are rumored to be possible replacements.

    Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0609/23782.html#ixzz0PBgE2tUI

  4. 404
    Chris B says:

    Nick Casey is the favourite for Byrds position. Cannot find out anything about him.

  5. 405
    paddy says:

    Now then ticsters, it’s a tad windy down south in this wide brown land of ours tonight…….
    It’s bloody blowing a gale and the roof is demanding a pay rise, or else!!
    (It’s currently threatening to stage a walkout and bugger off to Tasmania!!)
    So, in the spirit of “Damn the torpedoes”, I’ll post today’s ripper Firstdog before the power goes out. :-)
    http://media.crikey.com.au/Media/images/090825-LunchAtHome-7677573e-29db-4975-bf99-eececf004527.jpg

    Night all and think of that nice Mr Oates. :mrgreen:

  6. 406
    Jen says:

    Hiya paddy –
    if not fire then wind, huh?
    ….Bloody fierce here too. Just drove home from a friend’s with snow pelting down, branches flying and a howling gale. Found warmth and safety in the arms of a bottle of red lovingly calling me from the sideboard. Candles at the ready, raincoat at the door….. bring it on.
    And fuck Turnbull – he’s history.

  7. 407
    gaffhook says:

    I could just imagine the wankers at the AMA doing something like this to support the Ruddster with the private healthcare bill that the libtards are going to reject in the Senate.
    This should be music to Bazzas ears.

    “Mad as Hell” Doctors hit the road for Single Payer Health Plan

    Every move we make along the way will be recorded on camera and then edited and uploaded to the internet that same day. This will allow our Mad As Hell Doctors Tour to leverage the edited video segments on social networking web sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, et al. In this way, our effort becomes an unprecedented hybrid of reality television and political activism that offers people the opportunity to follow us, in real time, as our story unfolds. The message will be unmistakable: caravan with us to Washington and help make a public demonstration of support for Single Payer Health Care that will be heard around the world.

    http://www.opednews.com/articles/-Mad-as-Hell-Doctors-hit-by-Pam-Miles-090824-377.html

  8. 408
    Enemy Combatant says:

    Cat at 367:

    Yes, “operational infrastructure within the U.S. system of govt.” is very different from our own where NOT toeing the Party line (except on conscience votes) is detrimental to a member’s security of tenure on Capital Hill, points well addressed by Katielou and our redoubtable Man In Canberra, David Gould, in comments following.

    Ok then, let’s wait till the tabling of the fourth Health proposal (as you suggest) before re-engaging on debate on this vital Bill. Ain’t goin’ nowhere in this orange jumpsuit, that’s fer sure. :)

    Katielou, your course at S.U. sounds just the ticket to glean some insights into the U.S. political process. Congrats on your commitment to a passion we all share. Had no idea about the fate of Senator Ted Kennedy’s seat should the Chappaquiddick Kid cark it.

    And yes, Bazza has displayed enough inertia so far on the Health Bill to keep not a barrel, but an arsenal of powder dry, so let’s hope he goes off with a smoothly controlled bang when the time is right. An explosion we can believe in. And so say the citizens of Seppo City Central, of the heartland, the redwood forests and the Rocky Mountains.

    Baz Baz Ka-Boom……step up to that plate!
    Word on Ticster Street says you’re a Player.

    —–
    David Gould at 382.

    Thanks for the lucid response, Jen agrees with you and I must agree with her, that is one of the best paragraphs you have posted in Ticsterdom. Thread authorship does heaps for your blog game. :)

    A feature we’re yet to discuss on the Health Bill is the role of registered Independent voters in the U.S. electoral process. Maybe it’s those voters that Congressional RINOs and DINOs are trying to impress. Otoh, Corporate largesse seems to rain upon the Indy’s (Joey “The Rat” Lieberman), and Elephants and Donkeys alike.

    “Our only political party has two right wings, one called Republican, the other Democratic……(so)……It makes no difference who you vote for – the two parties are really one party representing four percent of the people” .”

    –Gore Vidal

    And both prefer to play ball with the owners of America, while providing an occasional tokenistic nod to the punters in the bleachers.

  9. 409
    Chris B says:

    Democrats Beginning to Seriously Consider Using Reconciliation on Health Bill
    ===============================================

    After months of trying to get a bipartisan deal with the Republicans on health care reform, there is increasing momentum now on using the budget reconciliation process to ram a bill through the Senate using a parliamentary maneuver that cannot be filibustered. Once the House and Senate have passed (different) bills, a conference committee will come up with a single bill or possibly two bills. It is likely that aspects all Democrats agree on will be in a single bill that will follow the normal rules and on which cloture will be invoked. The controversial parts will likely go in a second bill that will be subject to a straight up-or-down vote, with 50 votes (plus Joe Biden) being enough to pass it. In this way, even if some conservative Democrats, such as Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) vote against it, it will still pass.

    While Republicans will be enraged by this tactic, the Democrats are now circulating an unsigned memo explaining how reconciliation works and pointing that it has been used 19 times since the process was established in 1980, most recently six times during the Bush administration. In particular it was used in 2001 and 2003 to pass large tax cuts for the wealthy over Democratic objections. Some of the things Republican senators said then may come back to haunt them now. For example, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) said: “Is something wrong with ‘majority rules’? I don’t think so.”

    Continued on http://www.electoral-vote.com

    Now we are starting to get into it.
    Also in the same article Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) starting her run for Texas governor. Just thought I’d point out again that a Texas senate seat will become vacant, with lots of angry Latinos voters this time around. :)
    Once the health bill is passed they will also be very grateful to the Democrats.

  10. 410
    Chris B says:

    408 Enemy Combatant Re Gore Vidal. Then maybe we should bring back George Bush.

  11. 411
    Catrina says:

    For anyone who has doubts about the magnitude of the obstacles that Obama faces as President … just spend 11 mins. of your life on this sample spot on MSMBC Morning Joe and think about what the underlying values are that he is dealing with.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22425001/vp/32550316#32550316

  12. 412