Saturday, June 2, 2012

Lies, Spies, and Damned Conspiracies

I majored in history as an undergraduate and learned very little. No professor delved into the massive changes that took place in the 19th century and how they contributed to our own. Or the sources of the American colonies’ struggle for independence and the roots of today’s racial problems in the U.S. I hope and suspect that such teaching is more focused today, even in public universities.

Today, a bit more from Umberto Eco. In The Prague Cemetery he revives the ancient political rules of political intrigue described so well by Machiavelli, employed so well by the European powers of the 19th century, and brought to a finer point in our own time. The quotes are from Eco:

“Tyranny, you understand, has been achieved thanks to universal suffrage. The scoundrels carry out authoritarian coups by appealing to the ignorant mob! This is a warning to us about the democracy of tomorrow.” I am glad that my freshman rhetoric graduate assistant, who made us read a wonderful essay on the tyranny of majorities.

“The secret service in each country believes only what it has already heard elsewhere and would discount as unreliable any information that is entirely new.” Intelligence agencies are both the subject and object of conspiracy theories.

“Socialists who seek to reform the human race, but without a revolution, are therefore scorned by communists and conservatives alike.” I studied Lenin and the 1917 Russian revolution in college, and now understand more clearly why he became so violent. He knew that if the Bosheviks didn’t eliminate their enemies, their enemies would eliminate them. I will blog later about the 1871 Paris Commune and its destruction, described by Eco so graphically that I nearly became ill. The issue here is about how to achieve needed change without violence.

“You don’t deal with spies by killing them but by passing them false information.” So many spy novels deal with this and the following: “No one working for the secret service must ever appear in a court of law. If this becomes likely, the agent will be the victim of an accident. His widow will have a proper pension.”

“What makes a police informer truly believable? Discovering a conspiracy. Therefore he (Simonini, the protaganist) had to organize a conspiracy so he could then uncover it.” This was the origin of the idea of the Jewish conspiracy. It is one thing for people to entertain falsehoods about each other and hate the other, but when nations adopt such hatred as policy by purchasing manufactured proof which they want to believe, we have “final solutions.”

An anarchist bomber says: “Why write a book and run the risk of prison when those who read books were already republicans by nature, and those who supported the dictator were illiterate peasants who’d been granted universal suffrage by the grace of God?”

To be believed, a conspiracy theory must not include all your suspicions: “You can never create danger that has a thousand different faces – danger has to have one face alone, otherwise people become distracted. If you want to expose the Jews, then talk about the Jews, not the Irish, the Neapolitan monarchy, Polish patriots and Russian nihilists. Too many irons in the fire. How can anyone be so chaotic?”

After a murder: “I realized that the most irritating aspect of a murder is hiding the body, and it must be for this reason that priests tell us not to kill, except of course in battle, where the bodies are left for the vultures.”

Eco wants us to know how language works and how words make our worlds.

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