by Jesse M. Zimmerman
“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.” – Stephen Hawking
Back in 2010 I was in a cinema room at York University with a few others. We had just watched a film about Canada’s role in the Haitian crisis presented by a friend of mine who is one of the most hardcore activists I had ever met. An older man who knew her started ranting during the question period, first starting on topic and then going on about the coming Winter Olympics in Vancouver, warning us about a planned false flag terrorist attack. The presenter asked him to stop talking as there was no way to prove what he was asserting. The 2010 Olympics, despite protests from first nations and activists, went forward that winter and no terror attack took place. The man seemed so sure about what he was saying at the time, but it turns out he simply did not know what he was talking about.
I have seen a lot of his types in activist circles. This past year and a half has witnessed immense mobilizations against the status quo from one part of the globe to another. The world is unjust and it seems people are finally talking about it, having needed conversations about where to go from here. In so many circles, however, we tend to find some people spouting grand conspiracy theories. These people, like the man mentioned above, seem to believe they possess a superior foresight in the way the world is run, and often claim to alone know the plans of a shadowy elite that secretly runs the world. Clearly there do exists elites, no one denies this, hence the whole 1% vs. 99% terminology that the Occupy Movement is known for. These conspiracy theorists take the ideas to a new level, citing that the elites are members of a secret (apparently) organization known as the Illuminati. Usually when I meet activists as soon as they say that word I tune them out and cut them off as I find them unserious.
Who are the Illuminati that we hear so much about on the street, in some hip-hop music, and unfortunately from some people in activist circles? Many conspiracy theorists will tell you they are a shadowy organization that controls everything; the banks, the governments, the corporations, the Communist states, the churches sometimes, all the monarchies, and even Hollywood! Wherever there is power it is called Illuminati. Who were the Illuminati historically? They were a secret society, that much is true, and it was formed in 1776 started by an intellectual in Bavaria named Adam Weishaupt. There were numerous secret societies back then, largely coming from centers of Academia in the Enlightenment era of Europe. The Illuminati, comprised of like-minded philosophers and intellectuals, staunchly rejected the monarchy and the Catholic Church, which were the two strongest institutions in Europe at the time. So much for the monarchy and the Church being part of the grand global power conspiracy! The Bavarian government infiltrated and broke up this order in 1785 as they saw it as a threat to their power. Later on when revolutions overthrew the crowned heads of Europe, starting in France in 1789, many people who opposed the revolutions started spreading conspiracies that the Illuminati had survived and were secretly behind the revolutions. These revolutions paved the way for the democratic and largely secular Europe that exists today. I wonder how much of this history, with its entire complex nuances and power struggles, these modern-day conspiracy theory peddlers actually know? I imagine many would refer you to some random youtube video they saw as their source. There are some great things online but there is also a lot of misinformation, the price of the rapid information age it seems. Having a rational, questioning mind is the one hope people have for discerning between truth and hype.
Next to the far-fetched musings of Illuminati believers are those that talk of an impending New World Order, also known as the One World Government. This conspiracy theory is often associated with the Illuminati as well, as they are the ones apparently propelling us into an already designed New World Order that has been planned for thousands of years. The idea is that the global elites have a plan where they are going to unveil a singular global totalitarian government along the lines of George Orwell’s 1984. Nation-states will no longer exist as every place on Earth will answer to the one government. These conspiracy theorists focus on the international trade summits such as the G20 as evidence of this looming reality. The G20 consists of elites, sure, no one can dispute that, nor can they dispute that do the interests of governments coincide with the interests of elites over the good of the many. These international summits often consist of discussion on trade pacts and since the 1980’s Western governments in particular have been slowly eroding the social safety nets of their societies and decreasing the obstacles to free and open trade between borders. This is no secret but this is not a conspiracy. This is called globalization and this particular brand of globalization is indeed detrimental to the planet and it’s populace on many levels. One doesn’t need far-fetched conspiracy theories to see this.
The term New World Order has been in use by statesmen since the end of the Second World War. Winston Churchill and Woodrow Wilson used the term to describe the time of peaceful global co-existence, the first President Bush used the term to describe the situation after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Al Gore used it a few years ago to describe a global order where governments worked together to solve global warming. I came across a youtube video once that featured footage from each of these people and the user who posted it claimed it was “proof” that all these world leaders were in on implementing a One World Government, despite the fact that each of these people used the term New World Order in a completely different context from one another. This seems to be a case of someone seeing an apparent pattern where none exists.
There are various conspiracy theories like the ones mentioned above but I felt these two, those of the Illuminati and the New World Order are two of the most prevalent. These theories are detrimental to movements rooted in social justice and equality. They tend to demobilize people rather than mobilize them in their struggle. Stories of all-powerful multi-generational foes tend to make the struggle look impossible as if it wasn’t difficult enough without that mentality. There are numerous instances in history where people fought against oppression and made change. Power comes not only from above, but from below as well. I am not here saying that elites and oppressors do not exist, nor am I even saying that conspiracies themselves do not exist, but that as activists and revolutionaries we have to keep our struggle fixed in reality, what can be proven as fact. We must think for ourselves when we work in our communities and take our messages to the streets to discern the facts rather than rely on the words of self-appointed far-seers and videos seen on the internet that sloppily put together snippets of reality to fit into some grandiose yet simplistic narrative that can’t be proven.