The Origins of Conspiracy
by Sol Aris (Shaul Volkov) Posted November 1, 2006
|Photo courtesy of http://www.r-a-guthrie.com
A "conspiracy" can be broadly defined as something happening behind our backs of which we are not aware, but which nonetheless affects us greatly. It has to involve several parties, acting in some sort of a secret agreement or collusion with each other, to further the goals of their association. And if it's a good conspiracy, it ultimately has to have a dominating effect on our lives and our ways of thinking.
Taking a theoretical look at the early evolution of conspiracy, it is amazing to see just how entrenched its very notion became in our human makeup. Because it would seem that the origins of all our modern-day conspiracies go way back to the earliest tribal societies.
We learn from the anthropological history of Mankind, that the first "spiritual strivings" of our distant ancestors were structured around fears of various "Natural Forces" beyond their control. The success of tomorrow's hunt or of the season's harvest for a primitive society depended to a large extent on Nature's often unpredictable manifestations.
Animal herds could migrate to other areas and vanish, creeks could dry up, or flood with unexpected rain and destroy the saplings of fruit-bearing trees. A failed hunt or a bad crop meant hunger for the tribe, yet were usually the result of events over which these early tribesmen had no power or influence. To try and somehow prevent that from happening, says our simplest explanation of these things, a belief arose in the need to placate the Forces of Nature. Behind that belief stood the fear of hunger.
Some animals are born stronger than others of their kind, or just "naturally" better at finding food. In a similar way, a lucky set of genes and circumstances caused certain people in the Tribal Era to be born with a desire and ability to carefully observe the world around them. And where others noticed nothing, such people could discern patterns of Nature's behavior.
They saw Patterns in such phenomena as the recurring seasons, during which certain plants and weeds grow in the forest. And they were also possessed with an inbred curiosity, which led them to examine and discover what beneficial properties these plants may have. People blessed with this natural ability could use such plants to heal others within their community. Such people thus became the tribal "medicine men", the early doctors.
These Medicine Men knew their plants because they understood how to follow the changes in the seasons and observe the inclemencies of weather. With this information, they could also make much better predictions than others, about when would be a good time to sow a crop or go on a hunt.
Their ability to predict such vital matters, which had a direct bearing on the tribe's ability to eat, soon gave these people a very special status within their society. They became not only Healers, but also the ones who could determine for everyone else when to do certain things, such as go on a hunt or move to a certain area to collect a particular vegetable.
To Early Man it seemed that such people knew so much about the Forces of Nature, that it was felt they are giving Mankind some control over them. And so they became the early Priests of Nature's Untamable Powers.
By virtue of their knowledge and understanding, the Priests attained and held an esteemed leadership position in the tribe since the earliest times. The no longer had to go hunting or gathering themselves, their "job" became telling others when and how to do it.
Yet the ability of those early Priests to predict weather and crops usually depended on nothing more complicated than knowing the regularity of celestial events, and observing animal and plant behavior, like the height of a swallow's flight, or which side of a tree the moss grows on.
It did not take such people too long to realize, that if they shared what they know of such things with the rest of the tribe, then everybody could do what they do. And then they'd be thrown out of their exalted position in the community, which always enabled them to get much better food and lodgings than others, without doing any actual physical work for it.
So, says the theory, at a certain point "they" decided to keep their knowledge secret from everybody else, and share it only with others like themselves, other Priests. In order for them and their children and descendants to keep their relatively easy job, it was necessary to perpetuate the people's belief in the Priest's "omnipotent" powers. And this belief, as we noted, was originally based strictly on Fear, the fear of hunger.
Such was the nature of the very first simple conspiracy, a "professional clique" which, by virtue of their better understanding, knew something that the rest did not know, and kept the secret to themselves. Their knowledge gave them Power, and with it they easily subjugated everyone else in the tribe to their will. But this was just the beginning.
The Priest was sometimes also the physically strongest person in the tribe, and got to lead the rest on hunts or military expeditions. But more often he was not a warrior himself, and preferred to keep his position by his wits alone, not by force of arms.
The Strongest Warrior was usually somebody else, and he is the one who was called the Chief of the tribe. The Chief was not like the Priest or Medicine Man, but an altogether different class of person, a direct descendant from our animal origins, where the Physically Strongest always rules.
But the leadership position of the early Chief was always very shaky. Just like in animal societies, a stronger and younger contender would eventually appear, defeat the Chief in physical combat, and become the New Chief, with the old one dead or disgraced and forgotten.
The position of the early Priests was likewise far from secure. Despite their vastly larger knowledge, they could still often be wrong about next season's crops, because Nature is often truly unpredictable. The hungry tribe would grumble against the Priests authority, would decide that his "powers" had waned, and would try to replace him with somebody else. This was definitely something they had to solve, if they still wanted to keep their job.
And so it stands to reason that a theoretical conversation must have taken place at a certain point in our dim past.
The Priest came to the Chief and proposed the following Partnership to him. They could help each other keep their exalted positions. He told the Chief - the next time some young contender comes to fight and supplant you, I will tell the people not to allow it. I'll say that the Forces of Nature themselves deem it good that you are our Chief, and if we had somebody else they wouldn't like it and give us bad crops and failed hunts. The Chief will henceforth rule with Divine Favor, and this was the origin of what became known as the "Divine Right of Kings".
In return, the Priest demanded that the Chief protect him and his descendants from the angry mob, in times when his predictions and rulings don't turn out to everyone's satisfactions. In addition, the Chief was to let him have the best and choicest products of the tribe, so that the Priest and his children can live in comfort and continue supporting the Chief's.
The Chief may've suspected that the Priest was bluffing with many of his "predictions", but he also knew that his people were usually very much afraid of the latter and his powers. With the Priest's "blessings" behind him, the Chief could continue ruling unopposed, and pass his Chair to his son when he dies. It was obvious that the deal would greatly benefit both, entrenching their leadership status permanently in people's eyes. Having considered the matter, the Chief heartily agreed.
And thus was the First Real Conspiracy born!
The Original Conspiracy was an agreement between the two ruling classes of society, to strengthen and perpetuate their rulership by supporting each other. It had a decisive effect on the lives of everybody else, because these rulers made the laws that determined how everybody else lived. Furthermore, they often owned all property in the tribe beyond people's personal effects. And the actual dealings and arrangements between these people were strictly private, and kept hidden from the scrutiny of the rest for a very long time. Thus the third condition of Secrecy was also fulfilled.
This "secret partnership" between Kingship and Religion became an integral part of human development throughout all history. It would not be an exaggeration to say that nearly every aspect of our civilization, since the early days of Sumer, was greatly influenced, if not entirely determined, by the internal relations between these two power positions. And there is in fact a good likelihood that this Partnership between the two still very much continues to dominate world affairs to this very day.
The human race has of course grown much more "sophisticated" since those distant days. Notably in the past several hundred years, growing literacy among wider segments of the population and the availability of printed material, had led to the rise of "free speech". Many of the formerly secret ploys in the highest echelons of power could no longer be completely hidden from the public eye.
The political power structure in the West had changed from Autocracy, rule by the selected rich, to Democracy, defined as "rule by the people". And the increasing secularization of our world population after the Age of Enlightenment had put a stop to the old popular belief in the unassailable power of the Clergy, supplanting them from their dominating position.
Yet those who held the original power and control since the old days, the Kings and the Priests, weren't about to give all that up so easily. They merely had to devise more ingenious ways to continue exercising their sway over everyone else, such as disguising their operations as something else entirely, while pointing the finger in another direction. The same old games of the early "power conspiracy" are still very much alive. That's a whole different story already, but now we know where it all started.