Determinism and Liberty
With conspiracy theories having gotten more exposure I think it necessary to explain why they have become more prevelant in recent years. To do so I will use the example of a somewhat forgotten scandal that (along with 9/11 conspiracies) helped perpetuate the rebirth of the American left: the Enron scandal. Liberal groups latched on to the Enron scandal like bees on honey using the company as a scapegoat to point out the evils of capitalism.
However, the events surrounding the scandal itself were not only misrepresented by the media but conspiracists on the left were able to conjure up a mythological tale worthy of a B-grade film for a grindhouse movie theater. In addition to the typical right-wing conspiracy theories (such as the New World Order), you’ve probably heard conspiracy theories associated with the left before: The Military Industrial Complex, the John F. Kennedy assassination, the American Empire, multinational corporations and conglomerates, and the vast right wing conspiracy as articulated by Hilary Clinton.
At the time liberal spin-doctors labored night and day to make Enron out to be a typical cabal of free marketers. On the one hand leftists claimed the company was in bed with President George W. Bush to profit from its political connections with the White House. When it was revealed that the President turned down requests for help from Enron executives liberals then scolded Bush for not having done enough to protect the company’s shareholders and employees.
There were also other Enron-related conspiracies based on outright lies too. For example, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman stated politicians with ties to the company helped exempt Enron from regulations despite not pointing out a singe rule to which Enron was immune. One Newsweek columnist reeled against Enron brass alleging they pocketed stock options to benefit from an artificially inflated stock price while running the company into the ground. He also pointed out Wall Street brokers were the victims of being seduced by Enron’s inflated stock price due to false bookkeeping kept silent by the company’s accounting firm Arthur Andersen. Some even claimed Enron profited from California’s electricity market deregulation despite the fact that the state’s deregulation (so-called) was done with hundreds of pages of new rules.
If you think about it, none of this makes any sense. If any of the aforementioned groups stood to profit from Enron’s demise why would Wall Street investment and prestigious accounting firms risk or want to destroy their long-established reputations? At best the facts reveal that the only conspiracy was an unsuccessful attempt by Enron managers attempting to hide their incompetence while the company went bankrupt.
What explains conspiracy theories are not facts but a flawed philosophical outlook if not some semblance of paranoia. In the case of the Enron and other financial scandals, conspiracies explaining them are based on the Marxist theory of exploitation. According to Marx (using the Enron scandal to illustrate this point), the bourgeoisie (i.e. Enron executives) plotted to exploit the proletariat (i.e. Enron shareholders and employees). Marx also went on to point out that ideas other than his (such as those that further capitalism) are part of the conspiracy to exploit the masses.
The overall underpinnings of conspiracy theories are a strand of faith influenced by Kantian skepticism with Plato’s Theory of the Forms mixed in. Plato theorized that a realm of hidden, unknown entities or groups existed beyond man’s ability to comprehend or understand. While determinism was not concretized until centuries later, Plato’s Theory of the Forms gave the basis for it. Neoplatonists took Plato’s ideas further to culminate the concept of the divine including the existence of God. German philosopher Immanuel Kant, on the other hand, stated in his writings that man’s knowledge is always in doubt therefore reality or the truth can never be known.
Fortunately, Plato’s student Aristotle put his teacher’s theory to bed. As opposed to Plato, Aristotle approaches the idea of an person’s place in society from a much more individualistic point of view. Expressing reason in one’s action, he surmised, does not have anything to do with a relationship with other people or a community, but relates only to the individual. Unfortunately, Kant and Plato’s influence are still seen to this day in various forms of cultural and political movements. The most stark examples are religion, political correctness, multiculturalism, philosophical skepticism, environmentalism, subjectivism, pragmatism, and intelligent design.
If central planning occurs as a result of plans from unseen powers behind the thrones then, consequently, people do not have free will since a person’s freedom or identity is negated by deterministic plans made without their knowledge by powers they cannot see, know or comprehend. This being the case one cannot claim to be a freedom lover yet purport determinism as the explanation for events like the Enron scandal, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and other subsequent conspiracy theories.
High profile events surrounding alleged conspiracies are better explained by reality and not determinism or even mysticism. In the case of Enron and other economic disasters they are the result of bad policies and outright incompetence either on the part of politicians or corporate executives and not out of some vast scheme of cloistered rule.