Power likes to play its games in the dark (2004)

By Geoff Olson

A few weeks back, the CBS news show 60 Minutes devoted a segment to Skull and Bones, the Yale University secret society. Over many decades, S & B has seen its members go on to become captains of industry and leaders in government. George Bush senior was a member, as was his father, Prescott Bush. George W. Bush, class of '68, carried on the family tradition. Senator John Kerry is also a Bonesman, class of '66. So now we have the interesting scenario of two wealthy Bonesmen "battling" for the presidency (which may partly explain why the battle so far has resembled two little old ladies trying to put out a fire on each other).

The 60 Minutes investigation was a rare moment when a "fringe" topic was addressed by a major news outlet. S & B itself doesn't interest me that much. For all I care, the young Dubya may have ritually sacrificed a goat while singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic with Eleanor Roosevelt's panties over his head. I'm more interested in how a culture decides when something is no longer just a topic for fringe culture, but worthy of "serious" enquiry-and why this happens so rarely.

In his book, Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower, William Blum warns of how the media will make anything that smacks of "conspiracy theory" an immediate object of ridicule. Use of this term rationalizes editorial lack of interest in connecting high-level dots. In the U.S., the cozy connections between the energy, telecommunications, banking, defense industries and media giants go unremarked.

Noting these links is usually treated with what Blum calls "the media's most effective tool-silence." All you have to do is say, "conspiracy theory," and "any allegation instantly becomes too frivolous to merit serious attention."

Having some experience with media-makers, it never fails to surprise how often I hear a discussion about power prefaced with "I don't believe in conspiracy theories," or "I'm not a conspiracy theorist," as if it's a spell to ward off devils. This hocus-pocus accompanies the professed belief that plots hatched behind closed doors never get off the ground, usually because the laser-like attention of the free press sees through them first. I like to call this belief "transparency theory."

Transparency theorists take great pride in their handling of facts, and shun anyone who strings them together in a disturbing or novel manner. Of course, every fact is relevant only in so far as it relates to other facts. And any clutch of facts is embedded in a web of interpretation and value judgements. That's true whether it's neighbourhood gossip, headline news, or historical analysis.

For example, consider an entry in the diary of FDR's Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, on how to "maneuver them (the Japanese) into the position of firing the first shot without too much danger to ourselves... so that there should remain no doubt in anyone's mind as to who were the aggressors." When this quote is interpreted in light of that other pertinent fact, the later attack on Pearl Harbour, Stimson's diary entry takes on greater relevance.

The term "conspiracy theory" is a flashing yellow sign, a warning to venture no further for fear of social stigma. Ironically, the Ivy League axis, along with the "respectable" U.S. media that hires from this pool of elite consensus, comprises one of the most thoroughly propagandized sectors of American society. B.S. is also an acronym for belief system, and the irony is that those nursed on the authorized histories by the approved sources imagine belief systems are for others, not themselves.

Isn't it odd how the officially sanctioned conspiracies-Saddam's vapourous WMD's, for example-are so often the ones pitched by leaders and accepted uncritically by "serious" news outlets? In any case, I suspect Skull and Bones is just one of the more peculiar mechanisms for the elite to sustain itself into the next generation. In this case it uses frat-boy antics and juvenile occultism for those who are "tapped." Comraderie through ritual, history's same-old, same-old.

It's not what you know, it's who you know. The same names crop up on the boards of major multinationals, and in the Council on Foreign Relations and other policy-making groups.

The rubes on the receiving end of the information spigot-Mencken's "boobosie"-get homilies about being "competitive," while the elite meet and greet and do deals among themselves. Whether you call that a conspiracy or networking, it's all the same in the end. Power likes to play in the dark, and for the most part the rest of us tacitly agree not to poke around with flashlights.

Geoff Olson