November 6th 2005 - December 11th 2005

You may, dear reader, be one of those who believes that the world is run by conspiracy. The theories range from old to new, from east to west, from money to religion, from material genetics to mystical spirituality, from singular to plural, from national to global. It might be as well to point out a few facts relevant to these beliefs.

First, history and analysis of current affairs prove that running a single state, let alone the world, is not within the control of any group of people except temporarily. The most powerful tyranny will fall in time. Tyrannies, though they may impose secrecy, are not of themselves a secret. To exercise control at national level the tyranny has to be overt. Tyrannies may be considered benign by a substantial minority or even a majority of the public who are subject to it. A national tyranny may become so established that its overthrow may require external intervention - the tyrannies of Hitler, Stalin and Saddam are examples. But these were not conspiracies, even if groups within them conspired. Legally, a conspiracy can be a crime without being secret. However, if a conspiracy is not secret it is an offence for those with evidence of its existence not to bring knowledge of such an illegal conspiracy to the attention of the law. Therefore if we characterise or define conspiracy as having its entirety or its main, supporting part, like an iceberg, hidden, this limits the field of discussion when it comes to claiming conspiracies that control nations, empires or the world without accountability.

The prime function of parliamentary democracy is to expose the workings of government to scrutiny. This function is even more important than any mathematical degree of representation of transitory or sustained opinion in the electorate. Members of parliament are elected to take decisions on behalf of those who elect them, not necessarily to reflect their exact wishes. The reason for this is the variety of wishes in any electorate is very great and to a considerable extent mutually contradictory. So the only requirement with regard to representation is that the members of parliament are familiar with and keep up to date on, through personal experience and through meeting and understanding, the people in their constituency, their lives, their circumstances, their hopes and fears. That is why parliamentary democracy is chosen as the system of government and why it protects us from conspiracies

But, conspiracy theorists say, parliament just makes the laws. Day to day actions are carried out by, individuals, organisations, institutions, committees, government departments, businesses, all of which can be subject to conspiracies. Secret organisations can have their members planted everywhere, ensuring their all areas where they have gained access. There is a list of alleged conspiracy theories, naturally, on the Web, I assumed, so went to look just now. Here's a good one

Now, if we dig a little deeper, say by clicking on the Conspiracy Theory discussion link near the beginning of that page, we can see some entries like this::

Like moral panics, conspiracy theories thus occur more frequently within communities which are experiencing social isolation or political disempowerment. For example, the modern form of anti-Semitism is identified in Britannica 1911 as a conspiracy theory serving the self-understanding of the European aristocracy, whose social power waned with the rise of bourgeois society.[The apparent growth in the popularity of conspiracy theories since the 1960s might be understood in this light. Any such growth might equally be understood as an expression of a tendency in news media and wider culture to understand events through the prism of individual agents, as opposed to more complex structural or institutional accounts.

That's a well written comment (as opposed to my hastily typed diaries on this web site). It leads nicely into what I was going to say: that conspiracy is legally a crime when its aims are contrary to the laws of the land, and morally a crime if aimed at the manipulation of these laws to the detriment of those who do not merit it, but we must face the reality that ethnic groups tend automatically and properly  to be self supporting. Any ethnic group that is actively self-supporting will cause a feeling of exclusion in other ethnic groups, regardless of how they are held in mutual regard.

So we can see that in one sense, the outcome of history has always been the sum of conspiracies. Ethnic groups, religious groups, cultural groups have of necessity been responsible for there own maintenance and promotion in a dynamic environment. The owners of any business must clearly 'conspire' in some sense to promote their business. Any family must look after its members. So let us go to the definition of the word Conspiracy:

  1. An agreement to perform together an illegal, wrongful, or subversive act.
  2. A group of conspirators.
  3. Law. An agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime or accomplish a legal purpose through illegal action.
  4. A joining or acting together, as if by sinister design: a conspiracy of wind and tide that devastated coastal areas
However, there has to be some action, not just thought or talk, to further the agreement, before it is a criminal conspiracy.

What is coming out of the woodwork here is that 'Conspiracy Theorists' feel that, as over time human laws advance to promote the common wealth, equity and the means to survive with peace between families, tribes, nations and cultures, there are those who conspire together to frustrate these laws to their own advantage. In my opinion it is undeniable that this is probably true. Such conspiracies are mostly defensive, born out of fear, but occasionally aggressive (also born out of fear). Some others are effectively harmless or even beneficial, and the end of any conspiracy is often unintended.

But if we are to look for conspiracies that affect world history in the 21st century in any significant way, they are going to have to be international and interracial, as no single grouping in any category we know of could conceivably, in public or private, significantly take control or manipulate world affairs, other than by committing acts of public terrorism and sabotage which would cause a reaction.

Indeed to get anything done officially outside of a crisis, such an amount of organisation, communication and debate is required that no matter how much anyone may conspire, secrecy is effectively impossible as soon as action is on the horizon. If political or business leaders of the world get together in private to plan possible futures, this should hardly be considered as sinister. If they could not discuss possibilities without the press (mis)reporting every word, there would be no discussions, and that would be worse.

Yesterday, November 5th, we commemorated a historic conspiracy. The experience of having Catholic monarchs and Papal domination had been a bad one, and as a result the laws against catholics in Britain were certainly very restrictive. There is no doubt that the absolute determination never again to have a catholic monarch had translated into policies designed force, in a short time, all catholics to join the protestant Church of England. Understandable though this rather paranoid position was, it was not surprising it caused catholics to rebel. But here we have classical 'Newtonian' politics: any undisguised action provokes an equal and opposite reaction. The aim of the conspirators was undeniably not just to relieve their oppression but to do this by putting a catholic monarch on the throne. The outcome was fortunate as, had they blown up parliament, every catholic in the country would have been massacred. Of that there is no possible doubt.

Our newspapers have had quite a bit to say about it this year, and the Radio and Television has been extraordinarily exercised to give catholic commentators their airtime over the past few days. The showing of Robert Bolt's terrific "A Man for All Seasons" was no doubt carefully timed for the season too. If anyone was paranoid about conspiracy theories they need look no further than our media for what looks like evidence of a control across all broadcasted and printed media at certain key moments, a control not linked to government or to any specific national institution. But I would recommend an end to such paranoia. It is intelligent planning in the media to use the right moments in the calendar and in world events to stir some interest in the public mind. Democracy depends on awareness, and that means awareness of all points of view before the making up of minds on those occasions when choices need to be made. The most common conspiracies these days are those to rig elections; however, this is usually detected even in Azerbaijan.

Summary so far:
Although there are conspirators aplenty, the 'bunch-of-guys' theory recently coined by Al-Qaida analysts applies more or less to most of them. There are those who take their secret societies very seriously, but at the end of the day they are just a bunch of guys on a bigger scale. The Internet has enabled any 'bunch of guys' to exist in cyberspace, but not to hide. Rather than promote child abuse, for instance, the Internet has helped to expose it and identify and locate the perpetrators. The cock-up theory of history is what rules. We do our best, but there are plenty of cockups. These are caused by the freedom, including the freedom to make mistakes, that human beings enjoy. The Universe is perfectly self-designing.

DECEMBER 11th 2005
It's time to have look at some examples. BBC Radio 4's 'Club Class' had a look at Opus Dei today. Tomorrow evening Channel 4 TV has "Opus Dei and the Da Vinci Code". The Radio 4 programme was well researched and managed to give adequate information on the history and apparent purpose of Opus Dei, as well as some of the concerns of those who find it sinister. The latter included Cardinal Basil Hume, whose worries centred around the secrecy and the recruitment process. It is somewhat ironic that the head of the Catholic church in England should be concerned about the recruitment process when the stratgey of the core elements of the Roman Catholic Church has been to make sure they recruit members as young as possible. We must suppose it is the combination of secrecy (i.e. less than full disclosure of all the functions and customs of Opus Dei) and the inexperience of the inductees that together gave the cardinal cause for concern.

Indeed the one complaint one might have against Opus Dei is its methods of induction. It's unspoken joint primary aim is to be self-supporting. Indeed every organisation that aims to survive has to be self perpetuating. Every club or society or movement is made up of a typical combination of members: those who seek to lead and those who seek to follow. Sometimes those who seek to follow wish to learn to lead, sometimes not. The other qualification for membership is that people like to be surrounded with people who make them feel secure. Wealthy people like to join clubs which have members who are either wealthy like themselves (and therefore not likely to beg, borrow or steal from them) or who are not wealthy but hungry to make an impression/friends and be of service to the organisation. There is nothing necssarily sinister about this providing the latter are not selected from a pool of young people who have been nurtured from birth for the process and and manipulated by playing on their spiritual insecurity. Opus Dei has very wealthy and no doubt generous member supporters and no doubt they aim to remain wealthy. Other members are no doubt inducted with the obvious aim of gaining their loyalty and their income in return for giving them spiritual security and no doubt a helping hand when this is appropriate.

So there are three criteria on which an outsider might judge Opus Dei: (1) Does it through its existence add significantly to human wellbeing by succeeding in its declared aims. (2) Are the aims and objectives known to all the members and achieved with their knowledge (3) Is there accountancy transparency (4) Apart from jealousy or sour grapes are there any more serious complaints from non-members and ex-members along the lines listed above. Perhaps the programme on Channel 4 TV tomorrow will further enlighten us.

DEC 12th
Channel 4 is to be congratulated. A mature report on Opus Dei that will have helped the public to understand what it is about and why some people have had reservations about the recruitment.  It should be said right away that Dan Brown's book "The Da Vinci Code", which most educated people will have known was rubbish from start to finish (though the start was quite entertaining reading) will have unintentionally done a great deal of good in that respect. pus Dei will of course use the book to get new recruits, but the publicity and the discussion will actually remove the one objection that might have been valid: that some recruits would be too easily drawn into committing themselves to the movement through their own inner spiritual insecurity and certain external environmental factors. We know how some people are susceptible to suggestion and how gifted speakers can virtually hypnotise and audience. Mutually supporting individuals who have been influenced in this way can carry along in their company people who have no real personal commitment born of their own personality.

So now we have burst that bubble, what did the programme have to say of Opus Dei itself? I have set the main points out below, with my comments.
1. It is unashamedly a conservative organisation that runs counter to the modern mindset of hedonism and limited responsibiity. But this is hardly a crime and an inevitable product of the latter. Since Opus Dei is not interested in imposing its values on others, only on itself, criticism on these grounds would smack of paranoia.
2. It is unashamedly elitist, though not in an objectionable way. It sets high standards, but the standards are set by the members. There are different categories of membership.
3. It has 'friends in high places', but why not? There are naturally suspicions of the abuse of this friendship, but no evidence.
4. It has been called the equivalent of a catholic branch of the moonies. This comes back to the first main reservation on recruitment. The current publicity should help to remove this.
5. There is a cult of personality growing round the founder, who was prematurely beatified. Yes, that is one of those things that always happens. But what seems to be fact is Opus Dei is no just a talking shop and a subscription collecting mechanism. It acts. It does good. It does good where it is needed - that is to say not rewarding those who are already gifted and making their way but in places where life is difficult. This is the acid test. Summer camps fro those whose lives will be changed by them.
6. There is an overt and a covert agenda. But this is not really the case, as the so-called covert agenda is not a secret now and if not discussed publicly before, this was not for sinister or objectionable reasons.
7. It promotes Mortification and Celibacy which are obsessions that do not relate to the modern world. Yes, it does include these options, but they are not imposed, they are options. Celibacy is a choice that many people have chosen historically and many do today, in connection with a ministering role or quite unconnected with any religious leaning. The wearing of a painful garter is indeed curious to my thinking - it would be better to go for a run twice a week till it hurt if you wish to benefit from a bit of pain - but if the idea is not to benefit I suppose a barbed wire garter is good. You never know though, it might gently stimulate the immune system with beneficial results. I think some of this process involves feelings of guilt, and if you don't have these it makes little sense.

I think Opus Dei is beneficial, though it could be open to abuse like anything else. Mainstream religions have been open to terrible abuse. Its secrecy has to my mind probably been because it was not interested in drawing the attention of cynics and sceptics. It is an oganisation that believes in positive action in the classic mould - not courting celebrity. Its members seem to be transparently sincere. Collecting like-minded people together in a cause is one of the ways society achieves ends that are otherwise hard to attain. Why knock it?