Conspiracy has become a pretty common way for understanding and explaining the world. It’s an entirely human tendency to try and create some sort of motivation behind events, especially negative ones, to explain why they happened. Believing there’s a big plan going on can be a comfort to some, because then there’s at least a reason for why the things they don’t like keep happening, and someone to blame for it all rather than fate, chance, or the chaotic interactions of billions of individual decisions.
So, in a world where bad things keep happening and everything appears to be heading towards hell in a handcart, it’s easy to imagine that the reason things are happening is because there’s a grand evil plan co-ordinating them all. Brexit, Trump, Boris Johnson, Le Pen, Salvini, Orban and everything else are not just symptoms of a general problem with the system that certain forces are taking advantage of they’re all part of a wider conspiracy, avatars for a secretive International of the far right, all acting in accordance with the grand plan, and that plan was most likely forged by Vladimir Putin. In this world view, everything becomes part of the grand master plan be it Trump saying something racist to distract us from other news, or Johnson talking about painting buses on buses to game search algorithms and memory hole the £350m claim on the Vote Leave bus.
All this complexity ignores the simple explanations (Trump is a racist with little in the way of filters between brain and mouth, Johnson is a man with odd hobbies and a similar lack of filtering) in favour of tying them into the wider narrative that there’s a co-ordinated grand plan out there, ruthlessly organised and ready to react to any circumstances with a full-spectrum response that will instantly seize the initiative.
I understand the appeal of that sort of thinking. It’s much easier to tell yourself you lost because the other side was better organised, and had vast secret battalions in support that you couldn’t match. Even if you did find a response to them, they’d already planned out this scenario a hundred times and worked out how to adapt and respond in advance. You did your best, but they were cheating and not playing by the rules. It’s a comforting story to tell yourself, and easy to imagine them all eagerly starting each day getting their fresh instructions from central command, all ready to go play out the next stage of the grand plan while we stand helplessly by.
It’s comforting, but it’s also bollocks.
What we’re seeing isn’t some meticulously co-ordinated, multi-modal attack on democracy from a well-prepared enemy who’s been planning this for years and is pulling all the strings. It’s an assortment of chancers with different aims and ambitions who’ve discovered, mostly independently of each other, that maybe our democratic institutions aren’t as strong as they appeared, that maybe they could push against those weaknesses and see what it would get them, and now they’re just pushing and pushing more, not in service of some grand plan, but just to see how far they can go before someone stops them. They’re not aiming for a definite end point, there’s no road map to get from here to there because there is no “there”. It’s just continual attempts to see how far they can go, how much they can get away with, where they’re meeting resistance and where they’re not. This isn’t happening because they’ve all secretly sworn their loyalty to an ideology and are doing what they need to bring it about, it’s happening because they’re entitled arseholes who believe they should be in charge because they know better than everyone else and they’ll do what it takes to get there and stay there.
That’s not comforting to admit, because then we have to admit that we’ve not just been losing, we’ve been losing to arseholes.
But that’s what we have to remind ourselves — we’re not facing people with an unstoppable plan, ready to thwart us at every opportunity. We’re facing arseholes who are pushing their luck as far as they can and have discovered that when you’re very very lucky you can make much more than you can ever imagine was possible. We don’t beat them by giving in to their lucky streak and capitulating, we win by standing up and resisting when they try to push their luck. Most importantly, though, we don’t give up and think that everything we might do is already in their plan. There is no plan, there are only arseholes.