Bernard Lown, MD
I never cottoned to conspiracy theories of history. Yet throughout my long life I was nearly overwhelmed by their seduction, by their connecting of puzzling dots in the flow of political events, by their seeming logic in accounting for the inexplicable and by their simplicity in forging through the quagmire of life’s complexity. In short, conspiracy made sense. Following Einstein’s dictum that “Explanations should be as simple as possible, but no simpler,” conspiracies glowed with a sheen of simplicity.
Not infrequently, I was momentarily swayed. The problem is that these theories bludgeon one into submission to accept the existing political order. They reduce history to farce with the major players plotting in dark retreats to manipulate us, the marionettes. Conspiracy is umbilically tied to the millennia long reigning sway of religion, with its forces of good and evil. Such ethereal forces can not be appealed to by reason or changed by reasonable action, they can only be appeased by prayer. Identity of the conspirators and their machinations hidden from public view affords no ready target for mobilizing people. These beliefs breed pessimism, cynicism, inaction and ultimately divert from political action for democratic change.
After 9/11 there was much talk circulating that the twin towers collapse was an inside job. Presumably burning airplane fuel was insufficient to melt massive steel girders and have skyscrapers crumble like matchsticks. Witnesses were presented who heard explosions coming from within the buildings seconds before their collapse.
These theories defy reason. They imply that the suicide high-jackers acted in concert with some US governmental agencies. To ferry dynamite clandestinely into the twin towers would have required hundreds of American co-conspirators. Babbling and bragging is a national past-time. It evades common sense, that not a single one of the many involved would have remained silent with friends, family or confidants.
Yet some form of conspiracy can not be so readily dismissed when considering how the US is governed. In fact, we have outcomes resembling a conspiracy without conspirators. The corporate elites dominating our political life do not need to conspire. They share a common class background with similar upbringings. They are educated in the same top universities, harbor the same values, interests and beliefs. They are members of the same clubs, and vacation in the same fancy resorts. They employ the same lobbyists and sponsor the same political candidates. The media, by and large, reflect their interests when selecting what is fit to print or to broadcast. They have no need to conspire.
This is most visible in foreign policy. Whether the administration is democrat or republican, foreign policy is predictable. I have lived through the tenure of thirteen presidents, though markedly differing in locution and at times in domestic policy, they marched in cadence to the same corporate drum beat when promoting America’s empire.(1) The political philosopher, Sheldon S. Wolin, has described the system of power in our corporate democracy as “inverted totalitarianism.” Unlike classical totalitarianism, it is not dominated by a dictator, but is organized around the anonymity of the corporate state which proclaims undying devotion to democracy and the constitution. A recent interview of Professor Wolin by the former New York Times journalist Chris Hedges is worth reading– http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20090202_its_not_going_to_be_ok/
Regrettably, there is scant evidence that Obama will depart from this tradition. I enormously admire his moral vision, his deep intelligence, his consummate skill as a communicator and conciliator, and the vital sea- change in our society he is promising. Ultimately deeds, not words matter.
Already we have a trail of deeds: selecting a cabinet with the very culprits of the economic melt-down; choosing Robert Gates, as Secretary of Defense, the only Bush holdover; approving incursions into Pakistan with drones which already resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties; increasing troop deployment for Afghanistan; retaining a garrison of 50,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely including some combat units relabeled as “Advisory Training Brigades” (2); nodding approval of the selective use of extraordinary rendition – euphemism for torture implemented by others on our behalf; supporting the astronomic military spending, now nearly a trillion dollars annually. The message is that the USA will continue as global policeman. Presumably the new president will not waver in stewarding the vast, overextended empire. These are leaves in Autumnal political winds out of Washington, foretelling a cold winter of growing disillusionment.
1. Lown B. Prescription for Survival: A Doctor’s Journey to End Nuclear Madness” Berrett Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, 2008.
2. Baker, P. Shanker, T. Obama’s Iraq plan has December election as turning point for pullout. New York Times.February 26, 2009 page A10.