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Politics, Parapolitics, and Conspircism [Trenchant Edges]
CW: brief discussion of nazi conspiracies
Welcome back, my friends, to The Trenchant Edges.
I’m still behind on some stuff in my personal life and I need to keep this week a little lighter and a little less researchy than usual.
Knowing me I’ll still end up writing a thousand words today, but you know, that’s just how it is. Starting this weekend I’ll be dog/cat/chicken sitting for a friend so I want to deep clean my apartment so I won’t absolutely hate it when I get back.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes, 3 seconds. Contains 1413 words
Today I want to talk a bit about the differences between Surface Politics, Parapolitics, and Conspiracism.
The Conspiracy Snob’s Point of View
We know, from long experience, that there are secret plots afoot in politics, economics, and industry.
Naive Conspiracists often throw this fact out as proof that their idiosyncratic ideas are correct, but this is foolishness.
The realm of the possible always vastly exceeds what’s real.
And so the experienced Conspiracy Enthusiast learns to temper their expectations and beliefs and to withhold assent from our unanchored paranoid ideation.
That sentence probably needs clarified: Assent is a technical term from Greek Stoicism. The stoic method of avoiding being confused, mislead, or overwhelmed by emotions isn’t suppression or repression of feelings. It’s done by feelings whatever your feel, including its cognitive content, and but pausing a little bit before reacting.
So you have an impression and the usual habit is to emotionally agree with it, intensifying its influence. But if you withhold that agreement, that assent, you break the chain. The impression doesn’t grow or at least slows down.
Now, all of this is easier said than done. It takes considerable practice to do in real-time. I recommend Vipassana Meditation to anyone looking to cultivate it. It’s been the most effective form of mediation I’ve run across if you’re looking to change your emotional relationship to yourself. Even moderate improvements here can vastly improve your life and relationships.
Perhaps I’ve gone ahead without making a point. See, there’s a reason why a conspiracy snob puts in this work: They’ve been around long enough to believe in conspiratorial predictions that were wrong.
All of this leads to a dangerous truth: The fringe is no more trustworthy than the mainstream. It’s easy enough to demonize network news or those newspapers of record but for many, it’s a lot harder to recognize that fringe news and conspiracy outlets have exactly the same incentives to exaggerate, skew their coverage to what their audience wants to hear, and service those providing financial backing to their broadcasts.
This is true of me as much as anyone. If I started writing about how drugs were evil, esotericism was the devil’s work, and the importance of patriarchal family values, no doubt many of you would go elsewhere.
We’re all bound by the constraints of the medium and economic systems we work within.
And, indeed, understanding those constraints is the core of what makes a difference between the worst kind of conspiracy theory, the metaphysical epic, and the secret plots which actually happen.
Let us take two examples.
Before the 2008 housing crash, financial institutions were collaborating with rating agencies to create and sell pools of bad assets mixed together with good assets and rated as though they were safe and trustworthy.
This doesn’t even need conscious intent or planning: Financial institutions like higher ratings because the stocks then sell better. And rating agencies are paid by financial institutions to rate their financial instruments.
Now, there are three rating agencies are S&P Global Ratings (S&P), Moody's, and Fitch Group. So they’re incentivized to keep their customers (the banks & investment houses) happy. Higher ratings make happier customers.
Game this out, say, between deregulation of the 80s and 90s and 2008 and you’re left with a situation where the pie grows as long as nobody’s music stops.
As long as no one looks too carefully at what assets are on the books, everyone looks like financial geniuses and we all get rich.
This is a real thing that happened. We could name names and allege more specific collusion, but we don’t need to and we certainly don’t have time to.
Contrast that with the ultimate metaphysical conspiracy: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, in which some vague, mysterious, Jewish THEM plots secretly to destroy EVERYTHING WE LOVE for vague reasons (they’re just super evil and can’t stop themselves).
When did they start? Well, they’ve always been doing this and always will. They’re not people responding to their environment, but a kind of intangible spiritual force haunting the world.
We can condense this further: An amorphous, timeless THEY are trying to STEAL YOUR FREEDOMS by LYING and KILLING.
This is why antisemitism tends to be the end state of people who actively engage with conspiracy theories for long enough. Once you accept the basic framework, there are enough literal nazis around those spaces to promote more antisemitic versions of conspiracies you already know and believe.
And if you’re antisemitic, and most people reading this were raised in societies with long histories of antisemitism which are hard to escape from, it’s a small leap from distrust of large financial institutions to blaming The Jews for whatever your issues are.
This is why I frame myself more as a conspiracy snob than a conspiracy theorist. It provides an emotional polarity that reinforces my values, rather than opening them to be distorted by the implicit assumptions of what I consume. That comes with some obvious bias issues, but I see those as much less risky than slippery sloping myself into nazidom.
I’ve seen it happen to people in real-time. No thanks.
So, what does all this have to do with Surface Politics, Parapolitics, and Conspiracism?
Surface Politics is the kind of baseline discussion you hear in broadcast corporate media and those trying to be alternatives. Your usual party politics stuff.
Parapolitics is the shadow of surface politics, much of it is speculative but still grounded in material and social relationships.
Ex. Saying Michael Bloomberg ran in 2020 and spent half a billion dollars to support the DNC’s effort to prevent Bernie Sanders to be their candidate in that election is an arguable fringe position. Bloomberg just kinda showed up to the part out of nowhere, burned a ton of money, and disappeared as soon as Biden locked down the nomination after sweeping Super Tuesday.
We can contrast that with the differences between what far-right pundits were saying about Trump winning the election and the evidence being brought forward in court.
If you listened to right-wing media, it sounds like Trump really did win. But if you just followed their court filings, you’d see they had literally no evidence for it. Everything was so tenuous even Trump-appointed judges were throwing cases out left and right.
And that kind of right-wing media noise shades directly into a variety of far-right Conspiracies, most notably Qanon.
But, of course, Trump isn’t magically going to return to the office. It’s not even clear he’ll be able to run again 2024, though he’s certainly trying to play power broker.
It’s funny if you have a little memory because, in 2017, the same kinds of people on the far right were accusing Barack Obama of running a shadow government and trying to oust Trump.
This whole thing is kind of a spectrum with the most visible parts of politics on one end and urban legends/myths on the other.
Parapolitics occupies the grey zone between them.
Some may think including political myths on the same spectrum as the day-to-day work of actual political and bureaucratic processes, but myths do have a way of seeing the wheel if you don’t keep an eye on them.
And it’s certainly interesting times when it happens.
The trick overall to avoid being fooled is to know depths can be as deceptive as appearances, to hold off believing what you think, and to regularly make predictions about what will happen next.
You’ll regularly be wrong, but that’s a good reminder there are processes in play you do not understand. And that humility will go a long way to saving you from driving away your friends and family in a fit of unconstrained paranoia.
In that tradition, here’s a prediction of mine: Now that federal eviction protections have expired, the Democrats in Congress will continue to waffle a bit on extending those protections rather than moving swiftly. In a week or two they’ll slap together a half measure that will put off the issue for 90 days (or some similarly short period) and we’ll all get to do this again.
IE: The kind of solution that makes nobody happy.
Anyway, be seeing you tomorrow.