Be Afraid

Be afraid: nobody is pulling the strings behind the scenes


There are many conspiracy theories and, if you are not part of the culture, they can seem very odd.  People have many different motivations, some of which we described in the article about Conspiracy Theories.  Here is another angle on the subject.

The world is in a mess.  People are getting it wrong, causing problems, wrecking the planet and hurting the people and other lifeforms.  Conspiracy theories will tell you that at least some of this difficulty is caused by a group of bad people, who are plotting to have their own way and keep us in ignorance.

This means that things are going wrong because someone is making them go wrong.  And this is fundamentally a hopeful idea, because if someone is making things go wrong, other people can work to counter them; if the problems are caused by bad people, they can be solved by good people.  Conspiracy theories make us feel good: they give us someone to blame, and they enable us to hope that things will start to work properly if we stop people messing things up so much.

Who Is In Charge?

Politicians typically want to take the credit when things go well, but when things go badly we discover that it is not their fault after all: they had great plans, but events got in the way.

The fact is that politicians and governments have very little power.  If you go back 250 years, rulers were 'sovereigns' - their word was law, and they could do pretty much whatever they wanted.  That is, apart from the UK, where Parliament was sovereign, and the rulers were constitutional.  If the sovereign was wise, the country generally flourished; if the sovereign was foolish, the country suffered, the people went hungry or moved away.  But, while borders were open, most people lived and died in the village where they were born.

The point is: back then, the person in charge could control pretty much all the important aspects of life.  The people could rise up in opposition if they didn't like what was happening, but they mostly didn't.  And then international trade started to become more significant, and your people started to depend upon goods produced in other countries.  Of course, foreign trade had always been important, but the more it grew the less the government could control.

All government is by consent - consent of 'the people'.  If one person gets out of line (fails to obey the law, refuses to pay a tax...), they can be arrested, fined, thrown into prison.  If half the population gets out of line, the government is powerless.  As Margaret Thatcher discovered with the Poll Tax: you cannot lead if the people choose not to follow.

Liz Truss failed, fundamentally because she did not understand this point.  Her ideas were not bad or wrong, but they were inadequately communicated; instead of explaining and persuading she insisted that we had to do as she said, because she was in charge, and she heard a near-universal response: no, we don't.  She thought the Prime Minister was the person with real power, and discovered that the Prime Minister is very limited in what they can actually do - that the job consists more of persuading people than commanding them.

We have a complex economy, and nobody is in charge - not in the sense that most people mean.  Power and influence are exercised by the government, the banks and other financial institutions, the judiciary, the pension funds, the supermarkets, rich people, and multinational corporations.  Amongst others.  And they are all influenced by global realities (the price of commodities) and global fears (what will Putin do?)  And each of these people and institutions decide whether to use the power and influence they have for the common good, or for their own selfish interest.  Selfish interest often seems to win out, even thought it is obvious that none of us can succeed unless we are all adequately successful.

In the end, a conspiracy theory is deeply comforting: it tells us that someone is pulling the strings.  The terrifying truth is that nobody is pulling the strings, nobody at all.


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