By Max J. Castro
Social scientists are inherently averse to conspiracy theories. We are trained to think in terms of structures, processes, social movements and classes more than about the actions of small or great men – some times to a fault.
Still, for instance, most assassinations that have produced worldwide consequences, such as the one that triggered World War I, the various attempts on the life of Ronald Reagan, the murder of John Lennon, the attack on George Wallace that left him paralyzed, and the killings of several abortion doctors, have been the acts of lone wolves, usually acting on bizarre delusions, sometimes motivated by ideological or ethnic hatreds or a climate of opinion in certain sectors of the population. The latter is why, if I were religious, I would say a daily prayer for Barack Obama. And ethnic hatred appears to be the motive for the recent barbaric murders in Norway.
Conspiracy theories abound about the murders of John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Olof Palme, and Martin Luther King. But, after all this time, and multiple official and independent investigations, no one has come up with any credible evidence of conspiracy.
Of course, there are exceptions. Lincoln’s murder was indeed the product of a conspiracy – albeit one concocted by a ragtag band of fanatics with no involvement even by the secessionist Confederate government. Timothy McVeigh, who killed many dozens in Oklahoma City with a homemade bomb, had one principal accomplice. But neither McVeigh nor his sidekick were members of any organized group or involved in a wider conspiracy. They were clearly influenced by the hateful ideas of the extreme right-wing lunatic fringe very much alive still in the United States, however.
Put me down as a skeptic when it comes to conspiracy theories. I think people believe in conspiracies because it restores a sense of order in their mental world, banishing chaos. How, they ask themselves, can the most powerful man in the world be killed and the course of a great country’s history transformed by a lone nobody firing a rifle from a library book depository? It doesn’t make sense.
For me, creationism, and religion in general, is the mother of all conspiracy theories. The world and our existence must make sense – we desperately want it to. How can the grandeur of the universe and the miracle of life be explained otherwise?
There are countless religions and belief systems that provide transcendent answers to these questions. The problem is they are all different. Can all of them be right?
I just read a book by a theologian who shows that just within one religion – Christianity – the foundational text, the Bible, contains countless contradictions, between the various books and even within each one.
And then there is the biggest catch of all. Why, Dear Lord, does an omnipotent, all-seeing God allow the awful suffering of innocent babies and so many other tragedies? Religious minded philosophers and theologians have wrestled with that one for more than a thousand years. I haven’t found a sage yet who can provide a convincing answer to what is called “the problem of theodicy.”
Yet the scientific explanation for it all, the Big Bang and the development of life on earth through random, lucky chemical reactions, evolution, and natural selection is unsatisfying to virtually all humanity. Thus Hinduism, Shinto, Santería…you get the picture.
Still, although most conspiracy theories are bogus, real conspiracies do exist. Remember 9/11? It was a carefully planned and devastatingly effective conspiracy, although one not carried out by a nation state.
And now there is fresh evidence of a different kind of conspiracy, a political one that is as real as a heart attack and has been developing in the United States for years. Call it ALEC. That’s short for a bland-sounding organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council. The existence of the group, founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrech, an extreme right-winger, was no secret. But the scope, funding, and designs of the organization were not well understood – until now.
The breakthrough came as a result of a leak, which made it possible for The Nation magazine (August 1-8 edition) to obtain “more than 800 documents representing decades of model legislation.”
Ever wonder why Florida, where a few years ago 69 percent of voters approved a rise in the minimum wage, has such anti-labor laws and the legislature and governor are so hostile to unions? A good chunk of the answers to these questions, and more generally why federal and state laws are almost invariably much to the right of the policies that citizens favor according to hundreds of surveys, are contained in this treasure trove of new information.
Time and space require that I be concise, although I reserve the right to return to this topic in a later article. Fortunately, the titles and subtitles of the articles in the issue of The Nation referred to above are illustrative of the gist of the agenda of ALEC: “ALEC Exposed: A trove of documents reveal the vast procorporate strategy of this powerful right wing group;” “Business Domination Inc;” “Sabotaging Health Care;” “The Koch Connection;” “Starving Public Schools; and “Rigging Elections.”
Anyone who is alive and conscious realizes that ALEC and its rightists co-conspirators had by 2008 already succeeded in implementing much of this agenda. But, since the 2010 election, there has been a quantum leap in the ambition and aggressiveness of ALEC and its well-funded minions, especially some strands of the Tea Party that the big players manipulate in an attempt to acquire some sort of popular legitimacy.
Florida is a good example, although only one of many. Governor Scott and the Republican legislature have rammed through a series of reactionary measures affecting everything from the environment to the retirement of government workers. What do the people think of this? Not much; Scott’s approval ratings are in the toilet. What does Scott think of that? Even less; he has relentlessly pushed his right-wing agenda regardless of the will of the citizens.
In coming weeks there no doubt will be new revelations as journalists sift through the huge pile of leaked documents. In the meantime, if you are interested, pick up a copy of The Nation. All the leaked ALEC documents are available at alecexposed.org.
I wish I could sign off by saying happy reading. Instead, I will say, arm yourself with information.