Saturday, October 17, 2015


     [Given recent events, it struck me that the time is ripe for reposting this chestnut, which first appeared at the old Palace of Reason in February, 2002. – FWP]

     "Wise men see outlines, and therefore draw them.
     "Mad men see outlines, and therefore draw them."
     -- William Blake --

     To a certain kind of mind, any sort of pattern is enough to infer a conspiracy. In its most extreme expression, this is the disease of paranoid schizophrenia, most recently depicted in all its poignant horror by the magnificent movie A Beautiful Mind.

     This is not to say that conspiracies never exist behind the patterns in events. But to conclude that conscious intention lies beneath every pattern of human behavior that conduces to bad results is a logical error, a failure to distinguish correlation from causation, pattern from design.

     Many patterns exist in human life. The great majority of them arise because of the commonalities in our natures: our shared needs and drives. We don't work at our jobs because some grand plot concocted among powerful men has shackled us to them. We don't seek love and commitment because chips in our brains direct us to do so. We don't have children and (attempt to) raise them to be decent and responsible adults because some shadowy agency wants it that way.

     On these things, there is general agreement that any designs involved were drawn by God. But let the patterns be slightly less grandiose, and out of the margins of society will spring men with megaphones to tell us that only evil designs can explain them. Among the great ironies of our public discourse is the way such claims have been used to impede the search for the real causes of events. Sometimes those impediments have been the whole point of the conspiracy charges.

     Ralph Nader, Michael Moore, and others on the anti-capitalist Left have constantly screeched that the many patterns that run through the automobile industry clearly indicate an anti-competitive, anti-consumer cartel. While the potentates of Detroit have demonstrably maneuvered for market protection from foreign automakers -- and now and then from one another -- the patterns that run through their auto designs reflect consumer preferences, including a preference for the blessings of standardization, rather than a cartel's decision that it will all be one way. Product differentiation is one of the three generic tools a business has for gaining ground on its competitors; no conceivable logic would lead to the forswearing of that tool.

     The Dishonorable Hillary Clinton, currently the junior Senator from my home state of New York, once posited "a vast right-wing conspiracy" to smear her husband, then-President Bill Clinton, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal was cresting toward its peak. Mrs. Clinton had not previously spoken in conspiratorial terms, but she was either too eager to deflect the scandal or too unwilling to believe that her capric spouse had dropped his pants in public yet again, and so resorted to the conspiracy explanation.

     And now we have Enron.

     Be not mistaken: Enron was a shell game for quite a while. Its "creative accounting" methods ranged from dubious to outrightly fraudulent. Its public relations were largely mendacious. When the shell began to crumble, it deceived its own lower-level employees and petitioned powerful government agencies for protection and advantages. Now that the game is over, its top men will do their best to exculpate themselves at others' expense.

     That having been said, there is at present no convincing evidence that anyone in either the Bush or the Clinton Administrations offered Enron political assistance with its difficulties.

     The Left's pundits point to the fact that Enron is a Texas-based company in the energy-futures field, and that the Bush Administration is populated from the top down with Texans who have backgrounds in the energy business. Aha! A pattern! Surely there is something to be investigated here. Surely, with enough subpoenas and Congressional committee hearings, we'll find evil deeds and the malefactors who did them.

     Not surely. Possibly, though as time passes, the likelihood of finding a political conspiracy behind the Enron mess dwindles toward zero.

     Given the current popularity of President Bush and his Administration, it's unsurprising that his political foes would search the rubble from Enron's collapse for dirt to fling at him. Aha! A pattern! Men with political ambition and contrasting agendas look for weapons with which to sway public opinion against one another! Surely, with enough subpoenas and Congressional committee hearings... but wait a moment. We're expecting the targets of our suspicions to investigate themselves, and report candidly on their discoveries.

     Another great irony, here: the second suspicion of conspiracy is far better founded than the first. It's even got a name. We call it a political party.

     I have little trouble believing anything vile about anyone who seeks or wields the powers of the State. The worst do get on top, as Friedrich Hayek told us in The Road To Serfdom, and the right direction to look first when things begin to go badly wrong is toward the corridors of power. That doesn't mean we'll find anything. Because the suspicion of office-holders is so natural, and so frequently correct, we must be especially careful about it. As little as I like the State and its works, some decent people are involved with it. They might disagree with me on policy or principles, but they deserve the presumption of innocence, as do we all.

     But the modern version of partisanry remembers this only half the time. Democrats conveniently forget it when Republicans can be made targets, and the reverse as well. The pitch of the accusations becomes ever more shrill, ever more strident, and the Man In The Street becomes ever more likely to stop his ears and disinvolve himself from the political process. This trend, along with the blending of the two major parties into a single, principle-free mass committed solely to getting power and thwarting competition, has been in progress for more than a century, during which time citizen participation in elections has fallen from 90% to a bare 50% of eligible voters.

     Aha! A pattern!


furball said...

For some reason, a youtube link in some PJ Media post yeterday was followed by a youtube post about the Sandy Hook shooting being a hoax. I clicked on that and then spent the next few hours following other clicks.

Fran, as much a I respect your views, your command of the English language and your logic, I sort of conclude that the post of yours that I'm commenting about is pap.

I thought the people trying to argue that the government set up the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11 were whackos. I still believe Apollo 11 went to the moon despite copious arguments to the contrary.

Scooter Libby was the ultimate guilty guy? The guy who carried out secrets in his socks wasn't? Waco and Ruby Ridge were/weren't government overreach or subversive nutjobs?

The IRS targeted conservative groups? Hillary broke the law? Dodd-Frank made things worse? Fast and Furious? Gibson guitars? Bush lied, people died? There were no weapons of mass destruction and the whole yellow-cake thing that Colin Powell went to the U.N. about was a lie?

There's almost certainly some lawyerly definition of "conspiracy." To my mind, it's when someone fucks you over and then lies about it, gets government to condone it or hides it, rather than saying, "Hey, this is what's happening, live with it"

With THAT definition, of course, well nigh everything is a conspiracy, anymore, from GE making the new light bulbs in China to any part of health insurance you'd care to look at.

So what are you saying? Don't "conclude that conscious intention lies beneath every pattern of human behavior,"? Duh?

From EVERY THING I hear from government, I get the idea of a closing of ranks. "I can't discuss an on-going investigation." Why the hell not?

"This information has been redacted."

"You can only read this treaty in a secure room and you can't take notes."

Homeland Security and Fema need weapons and a billion bullets, but you can't have a 30 round magazine.

Fran, from the right or left, from anyone, it seems like there's a conspiracy. It's not that I WANT to believe that. It's just that that seems to be the case, given what is SHOWN to (or hidden from) me.

I admit that I'm swayed by popular concepts. If 20 guys yell fire, I'll look for smoke or run.

Tim Turner

Francis W. Porretto said...

Read some of these essays about "The Hive" for a better sense of what I have in mind, Tim.

Reg T said...

I enjoyed the "capric" spouse depiction. I am guessing it was based on his caprine behavior? Or was the emphasis on the second syllable, since those who were his victims have spoken about his deviation from the norm in that category?

While I realize it is far too easy to attribute many of our problems to conspiracies, so much of what happens in DC is a direct result of plans in the making sixty and more years ago. How can we look at what "education" has devolved into in this country and not look back upon the Fabians and what appears to be the near fruition of their plans? Common Core, anyone?

One of the things I truly hate about the progressives, is their preemption of our language, often turning the meanings of words 180 degrees out from what they were. Another is their successful attempt to take a phrase with meaning - such as conspiracy theory - and abuse it so wildly that it loses any validity. Thus they can call actual, proven conspiracies "conspiracy theory", shouting and hooting and doing everything they can to discredit a person or an hypothesis about the cause or genesis of something serious. Something like the Cloward-Piven plan. Something like the complete make-over of the education of our children into a means of control, of misdirection, of indoctrination. Something like the PC destruction of any debate about islam or the virtues of Christianity.

While you are absolutely correct in stating that not everything is a conspiracy, these days something being simply coincidental is the outlier, the exception. The destruction being done by those who drive the progressives and recent administrations is too real and too close to ruining the structure of this country as it had been for over 230 years.

Look to Germany, where a town with 100 residents are informed they will have to accept over 1000 "refugees". A town with 4000 residents is told they will be forced to accept 3000 refugees, and their own government bureaucrats tell them, "If you don't like it, leave the country." These "refugees", being told they will stay in a gymnasium for a while insisted that they wanted apartments now, saying they refused to sleep in a gym.

Cheyenne, Wyoming is being forced to accept Somalians. What will you do when Obama dumps several thousand "refugees" in your town? Read "Neither Predator Nor Prey", a novel which takes place in Wyoming, and you can get a notion of what it would be like to have such people dumped upon you.

If it looks like a conspiracy, walks like a conspiracy, whispers like a conspiracy, and slips it in you like a conspiracy . . .

furball said...

Thanks for the link, Fran. I read a few of the articles there and then reread your post. I understand where you were coming from much better now. It helps that this time through I haven't been up for 38 hours, nor am I under the influence of the evil burgundy-in-a-box.

Having said that, however, it looks as if I am walking (well, sitting) proof of your contention that some of us may be all too quick to see outright collusion when simpler, more innocent explanations are possible.

Tim Turner