Watching The Watchers -
'Science Fiction Is Obsolete'
By Mark Pilkington
As the information deluge takes on biblical proportions, piling up the digital sandbags becomes an increasingly futile gesture. Links and connections lie all around, but following them leads you only in circles. Adrift amongst seas of information and disinformation, claim and counterclaim, a detached, more fortean approach to conspiracy research appears increasingly relevant. But beware, you may feel that you're sitting comfortably on the fence, but can you see the ground beneath it?
Mark Pilkington made contact with some of the people who, for the past few years, have been doing their best to collate, process and filter the traffic on the disinformation superhighway.
* Greg Bishop (GB), Fortean Times contributor and editor of The Excluded Middle magazine.
* Jodi Dean (JD), Associate Professor of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and author of Aliens in America: Conspiracy Cultures from Outerspace to Cyberspace.
* Robert Sterling (RS), writer and overseer of The Konformist ezine.
* Kenn Thomas (KT), Fortean Times contributor, editor of Steamshovel Press magazine and author of numerous books, including The Octopus and Maury Island UFO.
* Jonathan Vankin (JV), author of The 70 Greatest Conspiracies of all Time.
FT: What do you make of the recent ECHELON revelations in the mainstream media?
JV: A couple of years ago, I put together a proposal for a "reality" TV special on conspiracies. A fairly successful TV producer shopped it around to most of the major networks. The top story on the show was going to be Echelon. No one was interested.
RS: I will say this: what is being reported about Echelon is but the tip of the iceberg. I have heard some of the most astounding allegations of where the technology to monitor and control people is: the most bizarre sounding have been proven true to my satisfaction. I believe we are reaching a point where science fiction may become obsolete, since there will soon be nothing fiction about it, at least technologically speaking. What was once a dream of a hi-tech future is a hi-tech now...what was once called science fiction will be termed a business plan.
GB: One example that springs to mind is the use of psychics to remotely control or influence unwitting subjects, as well as to control computers or other devices. As long ago as 1980 this was written about as a reality in the Military Review, a sort of digest for strategic planners in the armed forces.
FT: Are revelations such as Echelon, the ongoing Waco inquiries and the Gulf War Syndrome probes evidence that it's becoming harder for governments to keep secrets in an increasingly information-led age?
KT: Obviously the concentration of resources to spy and conceal is far more advanced than the ability of independent scholars to know about it, analyse it and tell others. That's the whole point behind Echelon.
RS: Perhaps I am being overly cynical, but the lesson that governmental power is eroding is a false one. Look again at the Waco "news" reports. Much of what is even known of the "truth" still has not been revealed. Further, what has been revealed has mainly been due to leaks of the Texas National Guard. Who runs the Texas National Guard? The state's governor, George W. Bush is, coincidentally, running for President. His chief rival is Al Gore, the current Vice-President, who coincidentally certainly would be politically damaged by any scandal uncovered in the Waco siege. I guess what I'm saying is that even when "conspiracies" are revealed to the masses, odds are there is a conspiracy behind the revelation. There is little virtue behind any acknowledgement of truth by those with power, merely convenience.
GB: Bureaucracy being what it is, I hesitate to speculate whether the directors of these organisations and their friends in the private sector have the full picture either. They all lie to each other too. The general public and most news reporters are like bottom feeders, waiting for the castoffs from the vessels above. Sometimes something is thrown overboard by accident, and we get a little piece of the puzzle. By its nature though, the way that important information is disseminated is so disjointed, it takes a very long time to start putting things together, and most people are greatly distracted by what is right in front of them at the time. This is the beauty of a "free press" - using people's natural laziness to work to your advantage.
RS: A very important point. One question I get a lot is, "Wouldn't you love to be in that room with the documents that really tell who killed JFK, or what crashed in Roswell?" I've come to the conclusion there is no such room. In fact, my guess is that those in the higher echelon of power are even less sure of reality than we are. They have seen first hand how so much that is reported is all lies, and know how easy it is to pass lies and deceit as truth. They know that anything that they've been told (no matter how high up they are) may be a lie that was passed off to cover up something they are unaware of. I imagine David Rockefeller, Henry Kissinger and George Bush are three of the most paranoid guys going.
FT: Given the emergence of at least "the tip of the iceberg", why are conspiracy researchers and theorists so often regarded as nutters?
KT: Because the idea of ordinary people asking obvious questions is anathema to the mainstream media. It needs "nutters" to establish its own erstatz credibility.
JD: Three cheers! I agree with this completely.
RS: To answer this, one must understand what is meant by a "conspiracy theorist". What is the official story of what happened at the Oklahoma City Bombing? In a nutshell, Timothy McVeigh and some other right-wing, antigovernment terrorists, plotted together in secret to destroy a federal building in revenge for Waco. This is, in essence, a conspiracy theory. Yet, if someone was to utter this explanation, they wouldn't be described as a conspiracy theorist or marginalised. The key is that with the official OK bombing conspiracy theory, the finger is pointed at the outsiders, whereas with most things labelled "conspiracy theory", the finger is pointed to authority. The ridicule of conspiracy theory is the demonisation of dissent, an attempt to scare people from asking questions and thinking independently. I guess it beats being burned on a stake. Having said that, let me add that conspiracy theorists aren't completely blameless in this matter?it sure is amusing to see people live up to a stereotype.
JD: I agree with Robert's comments about marginalisation and can document how this comes about in American social science in the 1950s. Conspiracy thinking was mainstream in the late 40s and early 50s: McCarthyism and Cold War politics was about finding and eliminating the communists conspiring against the US. Pluralist or consensus theorists demonise extremism in order to show how the American system is superior to the fascist and the communist systems.
FT: Jonathan, Robert and other researchers have described something like an epiphany or illumination when they began to explore the conspiracy field. Meanwhile the media jokingly portray them as paranoid. Has your research ever resulted in you seeing the light or getting the fear?
KT: Paranoia has a clinical definition and I am not competent to diagnose it. I wish the mainstream media would confess that and follow suit.
JV: I most certainly experienced this phenomenon when I was first getting into all this stuff. I want to point out, however, that this "conspiracy rush" isn't really an "epiphany" in the strictest sense, because that word usually implies some sort of religious revelation or conversion. In my opinion, religious experiences close your mind, while the conspiracy rush blasts your mind wide open and alters your perception of reality. You realise that everything you know is wrong; you're not simply converted to some new belief system. I'm interested in rejecting dogmas, not embracing them or replacing old ones with new ones.
RS: Study of "conspiracy" is considered by most as analysis of politics and economics, but that is merely because the world we live in emphasizes commerce and government. I think a deeper way of looking at conspiracy research is to view it as the study of black magic. Conspiracy theory (at least the kind I enjoy) demands people to look at reality and ask some very important questions about their beliefs and where they come from. Further, part of conspiracy theory is the belief that the reality most embrace is due to deception and manipulation manufactured by those in authority. In other words, a magical spell (television and radio aren't called a "broadcast" for no reason). Considering the purpose of these spells are to control others for their own advantage, conspiracies are most certainly the blackest of magic going. Conspiracy theory is a Pandora's Box, one that most are too frightened to open.
RS: The thing that really gets me is the label on conspiracy theory as being "paranoid." The reason it bugs me is it's a bald-face lie. I mean, If you believe that TWA 800 was shot down be evil dark-skinned terrorists and favour restricting our rights to protect us from that terrible menace, you're not paranoid, right? But if you state that the facts indicate it was shot down by the US government, well, then, by golly, that's just crazy and dangerous. Or if you're so scared about bad meat you favor treating it with nuclear waste (which is what food irradiation is about) you're being totally rational? Come on. Take a look at the "War On Drugs" and the prison build up - this is paranoia gone amuck, and the korporate media cheers it on. Paranoia is - and always has been - the tool of the ruling class. I don't
like them projecting their vices on me.
Someone asked me: "How can you read all this conspiracy stuff without going insane?" (It was meant as a compliment.) I replied, "How can you watch the evening news without going insane yourself?" That's what freaks me out. If my mind had to wallow in deceit and fraud all day, I would quickly go insane. When I view the world as it is presented to most, I become ill, I want to vomit, because I know it is a lie. I find peace in destruction, in obliterating illusions, in annihilating the hoax that is acceptable. What is acceptable is unacceptable, and I refuse to ever accept it.
GB: I've had both, and they compliment each other. At one point a few years ago, I had a sort of illumination that came from rumination on total paranoia. I just let my imagination run wild, and went though sort of like what Robert Anton Wilson calls "Chapel Perilous - price of admission: your mind." The act of giving in to the feelings of helplessness helped me to accept it & realise that the most I can do is write and talk to people about these things. So what if we're being watched or my e-mail is read,
etc. Ultimately, there's nothing you can do about it.
RS: As Epicurus put it, it's pointless to worry about things beyond your control. If the price paid for asking dangerous questions is surveillance, well, then accept it and move on.
FT: We all agree that a number of conspiracy theories - particularly those of the all-encompassing variety - act as a kind of politicised folklore. What about the way in which conspiracy theories have become a form of entertainment? Is this an appropriate way to get the ideas and information across or do you think it detracts from serious research?
RS: Not only is it appropriate, it is preferable. Pop culture is the domain of the masses, who have less a stake in the status quo.
JV: It's not only an appropriate way, it's the only way. "Serious" conspiracy research will never, I'm afraid, be taken seriously by more than a small hard core who follow this stuff and it will always be trivialised and scorned by the mainstream "news" media, on the rare occasions that it is mentioned at all. You change minds by exposing them to new and different ideas -- but because most human beings
in Western industrialised society are conditioned to resist all new and different ideas, you have to package those ideas in the most attractive way possible. And that means Hollywood, Baby! The agenda with my first book was to move "conspiracy theory" as close to the mainstream as possible. Looking back over the decade since the book came out I think I did my part in accomplishing that goal.
KT: Well, in order for people to have an interest in this material it has to be - interesting. It seems to me that the entertainment industry is part of the capital "C" Conspiracy. It turns a lot of important information into these small video commodities for use in the most obvious mind control device of all, television. In some cases, like JFK, it does some good (in that case leading to the Assassination Materials Review Board), but in others, like Enemy of the State, depicting Echelon but failing to mention it by name or discuss any effort to get congressional hearings, the purpose is simply mindless entertainment.
RS: With all due respect to Kenn, I think he has it backwards. The good from movies like JFK and Enemy of the State is the infection of dangerous ideas in people's minds thanks to the films itself: any Congressional hearings that follow afterward are the real mindless entertainment.
JD: With the Internet conspiracy information has been turned into entertainment. I think that this is because of the way that the networked society turns all of its citizens into conspiracy theorists: we are all told to search for information and make links. Conspiracy thinking responds to the new subjectivities that are forming in the information age. I don't make a distinction between 'mindless' and 'mindful' entertainment or between serious research and what is presented in media. Media can present good stuff and bad stuff; research can be quality or schlock; the same movie can be mindful or mindless depending on who is watching (movies don't have minds, people do). What is interesting about the expansion of conspiracy into mass media is the way that conspiracy thinking comes to define the zeitgeist, to be synonomous with critical thinking in the networked society. And here Echelon and surveillance is especially interesting: we can be watched even if there are no watchers.
FT: How do you feel about conspiracy researchers being identified with militia and patriot movement types? What do you make of the Bill Cooper, Bo Gritz etc school of thought?
KT: That's just mainstream media trying to paint with a broad brush. I've had arguments with Bill Cooper but I still respect him and I still have respect for Bo Gritz. I have long held that the left-right dichotomy is a barrier to communication and does not accurately reflect the full spectrum of ideas found among conspiracy researchers.
JV: I don't really have any feelings about it. Other than to say that in the "militia" movement, it seems that there's not much conspiracy "research" but there is plenty of dogma. It's just another religion.
RS: I like Bill Cooper a lot, and beyond admiration for his work, consider him a friend. I consider him a performance artist on the order of Andy Kaufman, and I do mean that to be complimentary. That doesn't mean I agree with everything he's ever said (and I wonder if he always agrees with what he says.) I mean his purpose is to challenge people, dare them to look at him and hate him, dare them to look at what he does and think he's nuts. I think he privately snickers when anyone hates him or calls him nuts, and I bet he's quite proud of the fact an entire chapter of Donna Kossey's book "Kooks" is devoted to him. But hate him or think he's crazy as many do, they do look, and along the way, they start seeing the cracks in the picture of official reality. George Clinton of Parliament stated in the Millennium issue of Rolling Stone that reading Cooper's book Behold A Pale Horse was his most important personal event of the 20th century. I am envious of this, and of anyone with the talent Cooper has. I think in the end, he is sincere about making the world a better place. He means well, and, more important, he does fantastic. I salute him.
As for Gritz, I feel much the same: there are many suspicions of the man (and many I am sure are deserved), and I'm sure we would have some disagreements if we spoke in person, but I believe he really does care about something noble and honorable. I suspect that he is an agent with a secret agenda (partially wittingly and partially unwittingly), but I think the agenda he serves in the end he follows with his heart.
As for the Patriot-Militia community, well, I hold it with the same regard that I hold most populist movements. I think very highly of Clay Douglas (editor of The Free American) and know that many stereotypes of the movements are unfair smears by association. It certainly is a diverse movement, and I support many of the sentiments that Patriots have. Still, I hold no illusions about it: as with any group of people, there is a sad and ugly streak of intolerance and a desire to persecute enemies that rests within it like a cancer. I have little doubt that if they ran the show, the world would hardly be a better place.
FT: Do the general public actually care about what's really going on in the world? Are they aware of what may be happening "behind the scenes"?
RS: In general, it is on a need to know basis. The reason the sixties generation became so antiwar wasn't out of nobility, but because they were the ones who were going to get their nuts blown off in Vietnam. That will open your eyes real quick. The groups of people who tend to believe in conspiracies are those who have to see their effects: the minorities, the disenfranchised, the outcasts. The good news is that, thanks to socioeconomic realities, more and more people have less invested in the status quo.
JV: No one cares. People care about what affects them directly, and even that they're rarely motivated to do anything about. For example, most people, myself included, grouse and moan and complain about how much tax they pay but no one does a damn thing to change the system. There's no worse nut case than a "tax protester," right? Tax protesters are usually considered on par with people who want to start their own countries.
FT: Which conspiracy thread / story most intrigues you/would you most like to get to the bottom of? Do you have a favourite 'crazy' theory?
KT: That God so loved the world He sent His only begotten son to redeem its sins and bring eternal life to those who believeth in Him (i.e., His co-conspirators). How'd that one get started?
JV: I've always been incredibly fascinated by the JFK assassination, frankly. I mean, here we have the president of the United States publicly executed. There was never a trial of any suspect (Jim Garrison aside) or even a proper law enforcement investigation. And no one gives a shit. I mean, this is the single most important American crime of the 20th century, yet every single legal and forensic procedure was either ignored or violated. And the whole event is generally looked on as some kind of historical curiosity at best. Incredible.
RS: This leads to another question: why was JFK really killed? And I don't mean what group was behind it or what was their personal agenda, I mean why kill him, rather than, say, ruin him with scandal? He certainly had enough dirt on him to be destroyed. I believe JFK was not killed for the sake of killing JFK, but as a lesson for all future presidents. The underlying message seems to be, "Don't even think you can do what you want while in office, because if you do, this is what will happen to you." This message has been heard loud and clear.
For most interesting, I guess the mysteries of aliens, religion and the development of man. To me, these are the grandest of ideas. People think UFO sightings started in 1947. Bullshit. They are as old as man itself, so the idea that it's all just secret military projects doesn't do justice to the history behind it. And seeing little green men is not a new phenomenon either. Then there's all these ancient stories of Gods and Goddesses, including the Bible. Much of this has been used to manipulate and control
people. But what is the truth within the fairy tales, and what is the fantasy?
As for 'crazy' theories, I would list the tales of "CIA Sex Slaves" Cathy O'Brien and Brice Taylor, not so much my favourite as my choice for combination of ridiculousness and social importance. I wrote an article on their stories for the upcoming Apocalypse Culture II by Adam Parfrey, and had to read their books word for word. As crazy as they sound on the surface, on closer examination, they are even more insane and illogical, and have trouble understanding how anyone could uncritically endorse their books. The worst thing about these books is that I have no doubt that such operations do exist, or that children are being exploited ritualistically, or that even some of the people they name may be involved. By making a mockery of abuse claims with absurd tales, a lot of provable cases of abuse will be dismissed as "hysteria." I don't think O'Brien or Taylor are witting disinformation agents, but it is clear that whether or not they were abused by the CIA, they are being mentally abused now.
GB: Like Rob, I'd like to know how we got here, to this place in history. I have a strong feeling that it's not what we've been taught, and the evidence is around us like a tenuous thread. I have only read one book by Sitchin, and I think he has part of it (well, any serious researcher does.) My favourite crazies are like Rob again: Cathy O'Brien and Bryce Taylor. In the UFO arena, the 1950s contactees hold a special place in my cosmology, because they rejected the values of the time and looked to the space brothers (or what they thought were people from other planets) rather than the mainstream culture and in doing so, created their own community. They also respected one another, and didn't fight in public about petty things like the colour of the alien's skin, etc.
FT: Have any of you experienced anything that you considered to be surveillance or harassment by the government or another organisation?
GB: I've had what appeared to be mail surveillance, weird phone calls, and someone in my family was followed by a man in a car with Air Force insignia. This of course may be misconception on my part and nothing has happened at all.
JV: Maybe I'm just naive, but, no. Surveillance? If the authorities ever placed me under surveillance I was never aware of it, and I'm sure they were quickly discouraged when they discovered how boring my life really is.
Of course, I do feel harassed every time I get a letter from the IRS or see a police car in my rear view mirror. One of the most important methods by which the incumbent power structure maintains control is by harassment, coercion and the constant threat of punishment for failing to comply with every edict dreamed up by faceless bureaucrats and morally bankrupt politicians.
RS: Nope, I'm afraid not. Maybe I'm just not paying attention. For anyone reading this, I respond better to carrots than with sticks, and money and women can corrupt me terribly.
FT: So what worries you?
JV: I think that we've become a total media society. The near-totality of our psychic space is occupied by distraction: images of inane celebrities, mesmerising news of get-rich-quick IPOs, endless, emotionally heated debates over trivial non-issues (see: Monica Lewinsky) and, generally, a 24-hour barrage of mediocrity and banality. The things we're concerned with these days are so unbelievably stupid and such a total waste of time that I have actually begun to worry that people have become distracted to the point where something very, very bad could happen in my own lifetime. Something on the level of the Holocaust or worse. Here, in the United States. It could happen because absolutely no one will care or even notice until it's too late.
Calamities of nearly that level occur all the time in non-Western countries, and we neither care nor notice. Those places are simply off the air, as far as we're concerned. But here in America the Society of the Spectacle has become so all-consuming that our own homeland has become, in effect, a foreign country. We're that disconnected from reality. So, something on the level of an East Timor or a Tibet or worse could happen right here at home, and it would be just another ripple in the media ether, quickly fading into darkness. That sort of worries me.
RS: Huxley talks about this in Brave New World. While those with power certainly aren't above lying and suppressing information, the most effective way to suppress dissent is to drown it with a chorus of mindless diversions. Huxley came up with a rather lovely phrase to describe it: the appetite for distraction. The last great comedian of the 20th century, the late Bill Hicks, had a hilarious routine where he rants against the evils of Michael Bolton, Billy Ray Cyrus and Vanilla Ice. In response to arguments that their music is harmless, he shouted: "No! They're demons set loose on the Earth to lower the standards!" Hicks was right. A society that can't resist The Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync will be unable to resist fascism.
To some degree, what worries Vankin has already happened here. Nearly 100 people were incinerated live on television at Waco, Texas. It became a punchline that night for Jay Leno's monologue, and the viewers chuckled at his lame jokes. 39 people died in Rancho Santa Fe, and the explanation of "mass suicide" does not wash with any honest examination. This became another focus of some rather great humor.
I don't worry about a New World Order police state, where black-helicopter-flying, jack-booted stormtroopers clamp down on the public and put dissidents in concentration camps. An overt police state entails an honest fight. It's in your face, something people can resist. More nefarious is a Gestapo cheered by the masses, who wait in line for seconds. This scenario implies consent, albeit of a manufactured, Chomsky-esque brand. Oppression wins by carrot rather than stick, with the people as willing collaborators, à la Orwell. Despots usually work this way, training majorities to follow the leader while attacking a growing list of "undesirables" reduced to subhuman status.
Are we headed in that direction? I think we are already there. You can see it in the bloodlust behind support for capital punishment, or the cheering of another military bombing Klinton has ordered whenever his pecker problems become an issue. It sure is amusing that Slick Willie was almost booted for screwing around and then lying about it, but his support of Pentagon mass murder is totally acceptable.
GB: The main thing that worries me is that people are being raised to be selfish and this is reinforced by the mainstream culture. If we can't see ourselves in every other person, it's very easy to believe the ego-pumping bullshit that is beamed at us from every direction. Divide and conquer is the oldest trick in the book.
Secret surfing: Greg Bishop: <http://www.excludedmiddle.comThe Excluded Middle Jodi Dean: <http://www.aliensinamerica.comAliens in America Robert Sterling: <http://www.konformist.comThe Konformist Kenn Thomas: <http://www.steamshovelpress.comSteamshovel Press Jonathan Vankin: < Fortean Times: <
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