On the 18th of February I board a flight to Kuching, Sarawak, to join my masters in the military-industrial complex in a workshop designed to help me not only continue my vapid yet humourous debunking of conspiracy theories but also to aid in the development of processes which will aid the US Airforce and other arms of the Establishment work out ways to control, subjugate and eliminate people and groups who refuse to believe in our status quo.
I wrote the previous paragraph as a joke based upon a truth, and yet I can’t help but think that the joke is the truth here. Yes, on the 18th of this month I travel to Kuching to attend a three-day workshop entitled “Interdisciplinary Workshop on Influence and Persuasion in the Formation and Sustainment of Social?Fringe Groups.” It is a workshop organised by Damai Sciences and the US Airforce and my airfare, accommodation and living costs whilst in Malaysia are being covered by my hosts.
I am being paid, by an arm of the American Empire, to attend a conference on how we deal with fringe groups.
I might as well give up any chance of ever being able to persuade a mere conspiracy theorist that I’m sympathetic to the kind of issues their beliefs entail ever again.
Mere conspiracy theorists (who, for the purpose of this post and probably only this post) I will claim are simply people who believe in some conspired world hypothesis, will often point to lists of people who have been invited to attend meetings or functions with Bilderbergers, the Trilateral Commission and so forth and say “These people cannot be trust: they are compromised.” It is guilt by association, but it is understandable guilt by association. A lot of mere conspiracy theories are about just how deeply conspired our world is, and once you start to associate with “them” (the rulers of the shadow government which is the real system of control), then, like it or not, you are doing their work.
My attendance at the Interdisciplinary Workshop on Influence and Persuasion in the Formation and Sustainment of Social?Fringe Groups basically seals my fate: if certain people find out about it, then my words of warning about belief in any conspiracy theory will be considered suspect.
To be honest, I almost considered refusing the invitation (because I was asked to attend) for that reason alone: I would like to turn my thesis into a book and I would like someone to read it and go “Hold on, that makes sense now I think about.”1 If my reputation is tarred by my attendance at the workshop, that would be terrible.
Yes, yet …
I am already treated with some suspicion. As one commenter on this blog wrote:
The most bothering aspect of your programming, whether, you realise it or not, is that in effect it is an indoctrination campaign to reinforce an existing *informal public norm* by an *authority figure*. In your case, the informal public norm is that it is idiotic to believe in conspiracy theories, while your authority is academia. This is a classic textbook propaganda device whether it’s used by the governments or the individuals.
I also saw an example of this in the middle of last year, when Russell Brown introduced me to one of the documentarians behind “Deep in the Forest,” which details the defendant’s case in the infamous “October Raids” of 2007. When Russell told her that I was writing a thesis on conspiracy theories and was planning to write about the documentary in my thesis I could tell, from her body language, that she was suspicious of me (and presumably my views) due to the nature of the introduction and who it was I knew (for the record, Russell and I disagree very substantially about the merit of the October Raids), which was a pity, because I wanted to congratulate her on a job well done (there are issues in the documentary, but I think it provides a much-needed salve to the theory endorsed by the Crown and the police).
And (and I’m told you should never start a sentence with “and”), the fact that I wrote an academic treatise on conspiracy theories probably rules me out anyway: if some of the conspiracy theories I know about are true, the Ivory Tower is just another arm of the Establishment and its system of control. Any thesis from a “reputable” university will be bogus.
So, yes, I am going to Kuching, to be wined and dined by the US Airforce and to talk about how to persuade social fringe groups. Nothing I say will likely change the minds of anyone who thinks this means I am now (or always have been) part of the system of control.
Which brings me to the issue of how I feel about going. I’m not on record of being America’s biggest fan (I could here make a joke about the band “America,” I will not) and as I radicalise with age, I am less and less a fan of powerful institutions like the police, the military and scuba divers (I jest, somewhat). I will admit to being somewhat wary of going. Yes, it’s an academic conference, but it’s one with obvious ties to this thing often labelled the “military-industrial complex.” I’m wary of attending left-wing events because I don’t like being inadvertently associated with some of the elements of the Left I find troubling: this is somewhat bigger.
Yet … It’s not as if my views on matters political and social are not known. My hosts will have failed at due diligence if they have invited me, thinking I am a cheerleader for their cause. I also know several other people who are going, who, if not exactly in line with me politically, are people whose views I respect and are the kind of people who will subject their opinions to argued analysis rather than repetition of dogma.
Also, I wrote a thesis (conditionally) defending belief in (some) conspiracy theories.
And (there it is again), I want to see what such a conference is like. Will there be military personnel standing awkwardly in doorways. Will a plainly dressed man in an off-the-rack suit ask me weird questions and then give me a business card with a number that, when rung, turns out to be a pizza joint in Soho?
More importantly/seriously, I want to know what fringe-social groups are? How are we defining them? What groups do we rule out? What principles, suitably expressed, make sense of such a definition? Are the CIA and MI5 fringe groups with respect to their beliefs about WMDs in Iraq, for example? When do such groups stop being fringe and become mainstream? Is the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt fringe or main? If they slipped from one to the other, when did that happen? Was it before or after the uprising? These are all good questions, and an interdisciplinary workshop seems the right place to ask them.
A final point: no one I’ve spoken to, in an academic sense, in Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu (New Zealand) seems to think this workshop is cause for concern or celebration. People I’ve spoken to in the business community think its great (“What wonderful networking opportunities!”), but academics just seem to think “Oh, that Matthew and his weird research interests…” You’d almost think that finding a way to make philosophy somehow useful to wider debates is the kind of thing we’d prefer other people do.
Anyway… Off to Kuching I go. If I come back and am all “Conspiracy theories are bunk: America is great!” then either I’ve been turned or the arguments presented at the workshop were really, really, really good. If I come back singing the same tune, well, that probably doesn’t mean much at all, really.
- I’d quite like it if both conspiracy theorists and conspiracy theory skeptics had that reaction: my thesis is called “In defence of conspiracy theories,” after all.↩