Alexander Cockburn has a great piece of commentary on the apparently increasing trend in U.S. politics of ascribing our social woes to conspiracies. Readers at the Helmet will recall that our understanding of how institutions drive human behavior is central to solving the real social problems of our country and our world. However, it seems hard going to get people to understand that no particular person or group of people is causing all the problems, but the way that people interact through the social institutions that they inhabit.
Instead, Americans cling to the stories of angels and demons in the White House and Congress who will lead them to the promised land. The same tendency towards conspiracy leads to the cult of personality that takes over every four years when it comes time to elect the president. Last time it was Obama, angel to most though demon to some. And he will probably be turned into some sort of angel-demon for the next election, through the political parties’ media engines of ideology.
This tendency to understand outcomes in terms of human agency seems to be fundamental to the human brain. But just as nature’s workings are devoid of any intention, so human institutions have their own operations at least partially independent of any person’s will. Just as we improve our lives through dispensing with the belief that nature has its own will, so we must be jettison the idea that our social problems are the results of sinister men behind the scenes, if we are to solve them.