Over the past few years I have become interested in the politics of the end of the world or rather those who are anticipating it – because if has come to saturate the news. Often we don’t recognise it but it is there, and it is important to acknowledge it.
I started with presentation on the role of conspiracy theories around the codex alimentarius or the global rules that govern the trade in, and to a degree, the production of food. Conspiracy theorists began to view this as a way of corporations taking over the supply of our food – some activists when they wrote ‘corporations’ meant just businesses as we normally understand them. Others view these bodies as a front for a world governing cabal which has a plan to radically de-populate the earth. This sort of thinking didn’t just confine itself to the wilder fringes of the internet but caused civil servants to have to rebut these ideas.
This reading has led me to realise the dangers inherent in conspiratorial thinking, which whilst often we treat it as entertainment (think the X-Files) but they can nurture exclusionary and violent politics. In part this is because they are very simplistic; one group are right and another are wrong. This other group, the wrong group, becomes symbolically loaded with all that is wrong, with all that is evil, corrupt, sinister and malign. At times this becomes comic, as some conspiracy theorists see the ‘hidden hand’ in events being those of extra-terrestrials but often the ‘other’ are minority religious and ethnic groups.
In their simplicity conspiracy theories often draw people in with the seduction that they can reveal ‘The Truth’ through their own research and investigations. It empowers the individual and makes them the centre of a story where lone individuals can confront and possibly defeat the other. Most of the time this means that people are writing books or blogs, shouting into the night or ranting on internet discussion boards. But many of those who take violent action are also subscribers to the ideas of conspiracy thinking. In the US the link between the Oklahoma City Bombing and the attacks of 9/11 is that those violent terrorists believed they were acting to counter-act a global conspiracy. It is a horrible irony that both of these events in turn generated their own conspiracy theories.
Stopping conspiracy theories is an important part of renewing, and indeed, extending our democracy. As part of that we should treat conspiratorial thinking as part of any wider discussion of exclusionary and prejudiced talk. At the bottom of all of these theories are simplistic ideas about blaming the other for a contemporary problem, at their least they foster suspicion and blame – at worst they take people on the path to violence.
The answer to the global governance of food is not that a shadowy world government is planning a planetary programme of starvation but that how the rules and regulations are arrived at is not sufficiently public or democratic. We need to foster trust and transparency to foil those who see hidden hands in every shadow.