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Saturday 11 April 2015

Conspiratoria Nullia?

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 31st January 2015

Where have all the antigay conspiracy theories gone? And why were they more common thirty years or so ago?

Caution: Utter balderdash ahead. Avoid at all costs.
The term "conspiracy theory" tends to be marginalised in mainstream politics. Although a recent book, The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories (2014), argues that not all conspiracy theories are invalidated, I would argue that for conspiracy to be treated as a viable explanation of political affairs, certain preconditions need to be met. One is that a given society is highly stratified, and with minimal effective political participation by most of its inhabitants. Thus, the assassination of Julius Caesar (44 BC) can be said to be the work of a conspiracy. However, effective and successful conspiracies require such small comparative scales to be viable explanations of given political events. This would seem to preclude larger scale political events from being explained through resort to conspiracy theories, except if the individual or organisations who entertain them are political extremists.

Conspiracy theories usually centre on the following attributes. The conspiracist worldview argues that a given social group, institution or professional group are tangibly causing "harm" to either the general public or a self-perceived "vulnerable" social group, but that the "truth" about "harm" and "destructive" effects are "suppressed" through the exercise of power and influence within governments or dominant professional organisations. For example, the contemporary "anti-vaccination" and "anti-fluoridation" movements could be argued to be based on conspiracy theories from this perspective. Why are they regarded as illegitimate and extremist? For one very simple historical reason- one particular Tsarist Russian nineteenth century conspiracy theory, The Protocol of the Elders of Zion, received wide circulation within Russia and Western and Eastern Europe. It purported to be a description of an "international Jewish conspiracy" to subvert civilisation through simultaneous control of capitalism and communism alike. Nazi Germany used this particular conspiracy theory to mobilise support for its persecution of European Jews and ultimately, the obscenity of the Nazi Holocaust and six million Jewish deaths.

One would have thought that mainstream democratic political institutions would have learnt from that hideous example. And it did. However, while anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are thankfully now beyond the pale in much of Western Europe, North America and Australasia, the far right appears to have moved on to other targeted constituencies with other allegedly "malevolent" "objectives.' In the case of LGBT communities, the Christian Right and neofascist institutions like the defunct New Zealand League of Rights, the New Zealand National Front and British National Party all posit the following. According to yellowed, torn and long since forgotten fifty year old radical ephemera from some minor gay liberation groups, LGBT communities "want" to create "sexual anarchy" through upsetting rigid gender roles, and using the mass media, professional groups and the state to destroy the influence of religious institutions and "erode" the 'core' role of the nuclear family. This is supposedly due to "neomarxist" influences. While these were more in vogue during the seventies and eighties within Christian Right and far right propaganda of the period, history overtook these peculiar theories of social change due to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the rise of market capitalism within the Peoples Republic of China. This meant that Cuba, North Korea and several dysfunctional African nations became the exemplars of marxism, which reduced these conspiracy theories to absurdity. After the political failure of such conspiracy theories to affect the successful passage of New Zealand's Human Rights Act 1993, even the Christian Right abandoned such propaganda and tried to produce their own pseudo-scientific 'rebuttals' of dominant medical and social scientific evidence that supported LGBT and other progressive social objectives. During the civil union and marriage equality debates, that became the dominant form of homophobic discourse. As for the extreme right, the League of Rights found itself subject to diminishing membership and circulation of its propaganda and consequently shut down shortly after the turn of the century. The New Zealand National Front probably shares the League of Rights conspiracist beliefs, but it emphasises activism against the circulation of propaganda and entryism directed against conservative Christian pressure groups, whose membership has substantially declined, in any case.

Over time, in any case, successful and effective social movements have insured that they have a secure scientific and social scientific basis for our public policy proposals and consequent legislative reforms. The Christian Right has been forced to fight on our own terrain and have usually lost as a consequence, leading to the spread of antidiscrimination laws, relationship and same-sex parenting reforms and transgender rights across much of the western world. North America, Western Europe, Australasia and South America have participated in this process. Unfortunately, the same hasn't been possible in societies that have endured economic turmoil, civil war, ethnic cleansing, endemic terrorism or corrupt and authoritarian government, hence the effectiveness of conspiracist arguments in Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Gambia and other transphobic and homophobic mires. For that matter, New Zealand's economic stagnation probably fueled our nation's susceptibility to conspiracy theories during the Muldoon era of the mid-seventies and early eighties.

All of which brings us back to the Conservative Party. Apart from Christine Rankin and Colin Craig congratulating their party membership on a good effort, there has been nothing whatsoever from that fundamentalist microparty since the events of election night- not even on areas of particular expertise such as the building industry and property development, where Colin Craig might be said to have confidence. That is, apart from the resignations of Rachel McGregor (the former Conservative public relations manager) and Garth McVicar (following an apparent Sensible Sentencing Trust schism over his partisan bias). So, what's going on? At the moment, one can only draw possible inferences. Is Colin Craig trying to woo McGregor back to her earlier role? Or is he trying to find a new public relations 'minder' for his party? Can he find one, and what happens if he doesn't? If he doesn't, can he therefore restrain the more eccentric and conspiracist elements of his party without her iron discipline over party communications? And what happens if she talks- or did her previous employment contract with the Conservatives preclude that? Colin Craig might well respond that his party polled almost four percent at last year's election- but so did the Christian Coalition at the 1996 New Zealand General Election. Only a year later, it fell apart. Colin Craig might be an excellent businessperson, but does that skill set necessarily transfer to political leadership?

As for conspiracism, New Zealand political commentators were quite justified in rattling off a list of some of the most popular folk nostrums in 2014. Back in the eighties, fundamentalist Christians were fearful as they lost their political influence after the defeat of the Muldoon administration and the decline of conservative Christian religious moral and political authority. This lingered into the early nineties and as noted with the aforementioned comments about Investigate, still lingers on in some areas. But it's not a particularly significant element of New Zealand politics anymore and is only interesting as an historical footnote.

Conservative Party: http://
Matthew Dentith: The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories: Houndmills: Palgrave: 2014
James McConnachie and Robin Tudge: The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories: London: Rough Guides: 2005.
Michael Barkun: A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions of Contemporary America: Berkeley: University of California Press: 2003.
Mark Fenster: Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture: Berkeley: University of California Press: 1998.
Daniel Pipes: Conspiracy: New York: Free Press: 1997.

Craig Young - 31st January 2015

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