When we Anarchists look at the current system of things, we look at everything with a very negative outlook. And for good reasons: the whole political and economic system is rotten far beyond repair. Furthermore, we believe that political and economic agents are acting in concert against the interests of the people.
This is where we run into problems. Some people accuse Anarchists of believing in conspiracy theories. When Chomsky says mainstream media pushes ruling class interests above all else and suppresses all facts inconvenient to the State, people accuse him of being a conspiracy theorist. When we say that the State’s actions aim not to help the downtrodden but to exploit and hurt them, we get accused of being conspiracy theorists. Surely, if all these things are true, then the people in question have evil intent. But everyone knows that if we could just get the right people in office, everything would turn out all right!
In fact, we do not believe that “if we could just get the right people in office, everything would turn out all right.” And we do not believe that the people in place have evil intent. In fact, their intent is completely irrelevant. Even if every single politician, corporate executive, bureaucrat, policeman, soldier and technocrat was a fair-minded, benevolent angel, we’d still get the exact same end results.
The error that statists commit is that they believe that politics and economics are driven by individuals. But that only applies when people take responsibility for their actions. When people don’t question their own actions, and follow the system blithely (and why should they not, when they’ve been thoroughly indoctrinated to believe in it?), then they become nothing more than puppets for that system. In that case, we can say that politics and economics are driven by the properties of their systems.
Although it pains me to say so, I agree with a conservative on this issue, Johan Goldberg, who in the National Review made this remark:
I distrust the government but as a realistic conservative I think government is staffed with mostly well-intentioned but incompetent people — not because they’re dumb, but because bureaucracies are dumb. These conspiracy theorists reverse this entirely. They think government is evil-intentioned but supremely, even divinely, competent.
I would go much farther than that in saying that the nature of the incentives in bureaucracies of the democratic and capitalistic persuasion are not just “dumb” but immoral and corrupt, and thus create immoral and corrupt consequences.
To take the first example again, we do not believe that journalists or newspaper editors are particularly immoral, corrupt or stupid. We simply believe that they unquestioningly do their job. Their job, like any other wage work, is to obey the orders of their capitalist superiors and help them make money for the (imaginary) corporation-person. The job of a New York Times journalist is to make money for the New York Times Company, a 3 billion dollars company that owns twenty-five newspapers, as well as part of the Boston Red Sox and Fenway Park.
How does a newspaper make money? By advertisements and by selling copies. You don’t make money by alienating your advertisers. You don’t make money by depriving yourself of your number one source of news- government agents. You attract eyeballs with eye-popping news, and fact-checking basic principles of alarmism goes against the newspaper’s interests. And a journalist can’t get away with criticizing the interests of his newspaper’s parent corporation.
You could say, as a metaphor, that all of these incentives “conspire” to mold any mainstream newspaper like the New York Times to be part of the statist indoctrination process. But there is really no conspiracy, because a conspiracy requires individuals acting in concert to bring about the specific end. Rather, we believe that journalists and newspaper editors bring these evil ends into existence because it is a consequence of their job in the capitalist system. Whether they consult each other or not is of no relevance.
Does this mean that all media is inherently evil? Not at all. It highly depends on the degree of concentration of the media and the pressure exerted by government and other corporate interests. The bigger a corporation is, the more it is in the interests of its actors to cooperate with the rest of the State. Magazines are reputed to be less immoral than television or newspapers because they are less concentrated, more ideologically motivated, and are subject to less laws and regulations. Starting a magazine takes less capital and permits a lot more freedom. This is why you can find magazines on pretty much any topic, including Anarchy, but you won’t find the same for newspapers or television stations (getting said magazines on shelves is another story).
As another example, I say that what we teach to our children is not history but narratives of power, and that this has profound effects on individual thought, warping our vision of the past. Does this mean I believe in a sinister conspiracy of nebbish textbook editors? Not at all. Textbook companies do what they must do to make money, and what that means in a capitalist schooling system is that you must not have your textbooks rejected, which means that basically you can’t offend anyone. That means that large swaths of history have to be bowdlerized or simply omitted, in favour of “neutral” facts like dates, rulers and wars.
What we are talking about, then, is the difference between an incentive system and collusion. Democracy and capitalism are immoral and attack society because of their inherent incentive systems, not because State agents collude (although of course they do sometimes collude). It is not that the voters are inherently evil, but merely that they believe that the State is necessary and eternal, and that their job is to vote for what they want against the other fellows. It is not that the politicians are inherently evil, but merely that they do what they need to do to gain and retain the power given to them by the electorate and corporate interests. It is not that the bureaucrats are inherently evil, but merely that they perform the actions they need to perform to keep or expand their jobs. It is not that the judges, jailers or policemen are inherently evil, but merely that they use the power given to them to do the job they were given.
The only reason why statists claim these processes are “conspiracies” is because they are stuck in the mentality of “good people make a good system,” and that therefore a bad system must be the cause of collusion by evil people. But this is, once again, nonsense. It does not matter whether the people have good or bad intentions unless they take an active responsibility towards their own actions, instead of passively accepting “their job.” If you have a group of totally unthinking individuals, then what does it matter if they are all Jeffrey Dahmers or Pierre-Joseph Proudhons? They will merely do whatever their job asks them to do, and not ask questions. In a culture of non-responsibility, individual values are not only marginalized but wholly irrelevant.
Does the State contain conspiracies in its midst? It all depends how you define the term. The dictionary defines conspiring as “to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or an act which becomes unlawful as a result of the secret agreement.” If this is a valid definition, then State agents engage in conspiracies every single day to indoctrinate, extort, defraud, attack and kill people, depending on how much of a “secret” you have to make it (especially in those instances where they hide their crimes). The issue of whether it’s a “conspiracy” or not is relatively irrelevant and is used mainly to discredit critics of the State: the real issue is whether their actions are right or wrong.