The Conspiratorial Symptom

By José Ernesto Nováez Guerrero on February 28, 2023

Ignacio Ramonet’s new book

We are societies of suspicion. The deep fracture between the elite and the rest of the people, between the state and the mechanisms of democratic management of the state apparatus, the growing impoverishment of broad sectors of society, including layers of the so-called working middle class even in the countries of the hard core of contemporary capitalism, lead to the flourishing of numerous expressions of crisis of the current order in all latitudes. And one of the most evident is the growing articulation of conspiracy theories that allow millions of citizens to feel that they own the elements that allow them to understand the absurd and convulsive contemporary world.

One of the keys to the success of these conspiracy theories lies in two interconnected elements: on the one hand, the violent and absurd character of the prevailing mode of production, which makes individuals experience the sudden impoverishment and precariousness of their lives as an insoluble cataclysm, and the consciously simplifying and idiotizing culture with which the traditional cultural industries first and the social networks later have shaped the consciousness of contemporary societies.

Unable to understand the essences of the system of domination to which they are subjected (its determinant economic essences), they see only the political form and this from an adulterated perspective. Thus, far from understanding politics as an expression of economic interests and, therefore, at the service of complex webs of social relations, they see politics as a great subway conspiracy of the elites who use the State to satisfy their ends of domination in the abstract. And, in a true return of primitive religious thought, contemporary conspiracy theorists understand that part of the underlying objectives of this pact among the elites is to feed their cannibalistic, pedophilic, satanic instincts and their desire for eternal life, which they would obtain by synthesizing a specific drug existing in human blood.

Reducing the understanding of politics to moral issues is the easiest way to build a collective understanding of such a complex social fact. The cognitive impoverishment to which contemporary societies have been consciously subjected also determines that the simpler and more all-encompassing an explanation is, the greater its diffusion will be. Despite the numerous details that amalgamate and enrich these multiple theories, the essence is a battle between good and evil, in which, of course, good is represented by the conspirators, who are able to see beyond where their contemporaries see and understand their mission in an almost eschatological sense: they must save the world, their world.

The basis for these reflections has been Ignacio Ramonet’s excellent book The Age of Conspiracies, Trump, the Cult of Lies and the Assault on Capitol Hill. (Monte Avila Editores, 2022), of which a Cuban edition is being prepared for this 2023 book fair by Editorial Nuevo Milenio. This book in barely 170 pages manages to capture the fundamental characteristics of an extremely complex problem. It is mainly focused on the American society, but its analysis has universal validity, since the U.S. still holds today the cultural, economic and political hegemony, although such hegemony is already beginning to be strongly disputed.

The rise of Donald Trump catalyzed underlying trends in American society to levels never seen before. A country accustomed to conspiracy theories (from the Kennedy assassination to extraterrestrials), saw an unprecedented flourishing of these, grouped into numerous strands and even the emergence of what appears to be an umbrella conspiracy theory: QAnon. Parallel to these theories, numerous militant groups have emerged, many of them of a paramilitary nature, who defend these theories, sometimes adding particular nuances. All this configures a highly explosive scenario for the American nation, one of the most alarming examples of which was the assault on the Capitol in January 2021.

The social root of these extreme right-wing theories in the US is the poor lower middle class whites, who have been hit hard by the neoliberal policies of the last decades. They are victims of a system that puts its own profits before human life and, at the same time, they are victims of the ideology of this system, which feeds them with nationalism, exceptionalism, individualism, supremacism, etc., which prevents them from channeling their righteous indignation against the real causes of their current situation.

Instead, they are filled with hatred against foreigners, against certain visible faces of the establishment and they worship an egomaniacal millionaire in whose speeches they believe they can identify the certainties and promises they need. Thus, a small-time populist, far removed by his origins from the working class, can mobilize the most conservative sectors of this class, of the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) core, and use them for electoral and selfish purposes.

In an era where postmodernist opportunism has consciously put truth in crisis, numerous post-truths emerge, all possible as long as an individual or group of individuals believe in them. We are living a rebirth of the sophist paradigm of truth, where everyone is free to believe whatever he wants, even if this contradicts all logic and even ends up hurting him or someone else.

Ramonet’s book alerts us to the risks of a system whose logic of appropriation is increasingly extreme, sickens and twists human societies, leading to absurdity and violence gaining ground as social norms.

A characteristic of the prevailing conspiracy theories is that they all subject the state to a greater or lesser degree of suspicion, as the extreme expression of bourgeois capitalist individualism that they are, but none of them subject the economic order to criticism. They express a more or less generalized cultural malaise, but this malaise is not directed against the real cause of the evil. They are useful insofar as they segment and divert the contradiction between capital and labor in an infinite number of forms and variants. White workers end up confronting black, Latino, Asian workers, for the backbone of all these theories both in the U.S. and in the rest of the world is the working class. And while they channel their discontent in confrontations, rallies, webs, chats, conferences, seminars, pamphlets, documentaries, etc, they must continue to get up very early from Monday to Saturday, and some from Monday to Monday, to earn an increasingly precarious livelihood, in the face of an increasingly strengthened capital.

The growing conspiracy is both the result of the social crisis of the system, and a useful tool to dilute this crisis in confrontations that do not damage the true essences of domination. Its strengthening coincides with the exhaustion of the prevailing capitalist development model and the consequent breakdown of the culture and certainties that sustained it.

Marx’s old image of the Hegelian dialectic, which understood man and reality upside down, returns. The rise of conspiracy theories and other symptoms of the sharpening of contradictions within the system are similar. The malaise is correct, the ways of understanding and channeling it are not. The demonization of the revolutionary alternative by decades of propaganda, leads to the fact that the only perceived option is the reactionary one. It is up to revolutionaries to turn the problem around, put it on its two feet, and confront contemporary societies with the only one responsible for their misfortunes: the absurd capitalist model.

Source: Cuba En Resumen