Agenda 21

It’s the most pervasive and encompassing conspiracy you’ve never heard of. No, Mandrake, it isn’t the international communist conspiracy to impurify our precious bodily fluids. It’s got nothing to do with President Kennedy, government sponsored AIDS, or the twin towers. It’s isn’t the fractional reserve system of banking, either. Oh no, it’s much worse: the United Nations’ protocol on sustainable development proposed at the 1992 Rio Summit, the so-called Agenda 21, is nothing less than a twenty-year old scheme to profoundly reorganise human society, break down sovereignty, herd people into UN-approved cities, control their lives, and do away entirely with private property rights.

And the most fascinating thing about this whole conspiracy is the tools which are being used to build the New Sustainable World Order: local, municipal authorities, with their urban planning, zoning and land use policies. This is all if you, like a small but well-organised corps of activists in the United States, with radio presenter Glenn Beck at their head, subscribe to the conspiracy. Across their country, variations on right-wing groups are taking on the mundane policies of sustainability and local urban regeneration—and winning. Planners are encouraging other planners to take the concerns of the Agenda 21 activists more seriously. What’s going on?

If you’re familiar with Richard Hofstadter’s canonical essay The Paranoid Style in American Politics, you’ll recognise the peculiarly North American tendency to couch the most ordinary political debate in terms of secret cabals, apocalyptic danger, millenarianism and, frankly, hate. Somebody’s always responsible, someone powerful, someone malevolent; in psychological terms, someone projecting the basic psychic concerns of the paranoid. And if you enjoyed, as I recently did, Eco’s The Prague Cemetery, with its reprehensible anti-hero Simonini who forges conspiracies (or does he?) you’ll also recognise the broader appeal of a conspiracy that’s just a rollicking good story. And as Eco’s book unnervingly nails, the actual history of the conspiracies people have believed are far, far weirder than we would ever give credit for.

In relaxed, comfortable Australia we don’t suffer from these kinds of fixations, right? I’m not so sure. When Scott went to the meeting of the Q society recently I think he encountered exactly this mentality of thinking about power and secrets. Commenter Macquarie on that post put it in very specific terms:

the Islamic nation is in full swing with its inexorable plan to Islamize the world. That is their well espoused objective. The Q Society is merely asking the world to take the blinkers off and see what is happening, particularly with the proliferation of mosques throughout our country…

And it’s true that local government is the field, in Australia, of some of the fiercest fights and most deeply held concerns. Whether it’s a mosque in Sydney’s south-west, or a wind farm in the NSW Southern Highlands or Victorian coast, a high-rise development in an inner urban “village”, or a gas fracking operation in a paddock, we too tend to couch our objections in grander terms. Developers, miners, or energy companies can’t be after something as simple as a profit, they must be out to intentionally destroy a community or lifestyle. Likewise, a growing community of immigrants can’t simply want a place to pray, they must be out to deliberately change a society for their own purposes.

It’s occult thinking—and by ‘occult’ I don’t mean the vulgar magic kitsch Crowley and the Victorians made popular, but the much more basic urge we have to imagine ordinary events as having implicit patterns that we can read, if we are only shown how. Many, many people have superstitions and fetishes they use to explain or give themselves more power over daily life than they actually have, from the taxi driver who puts plastic Jesus on her dashboard, to the captain of the Australian cricket team who takes the same shabby green cap out match after match until it frays at the edges. The most offensive and wrongheaded conspiracy theories also come out of this urge—the people, for instance, who want some kind of ‘truth’ about the events of 11 September 2001, and will not be satisfied with any answer, are reacting to a disgust with the idea that a few very terrible men could do a terrible thing, killing very many people, for no justifiable reason at all.

Life does not always make sense, but grand conspiracies always do. And the more universal the conspiracy, the more things it attempts to explain, the better! The idea that our world and our universe is a place we can affect and change, or fight a resistance in against an enemy, is very attractive, whether your enemy is the United Nations, or if it’s profit-hungry developers, or if it’s multi-national corporations, or if it’s the bourgeoisie and the wage system, or if it’s the Freemasons, Illuminati, or the Jews (or indeed, sadly, if it’s all of these at the same time).

I don’t subscribe to the idea that there is an Agenda 21 which aims to control me, and I’m not about to take up Beck’s strange fight against Ban Ki-moon. But local communities are strange and contradictory things. The idea of being involved in my community, and as the slogan goes, ‘think globally while acting locally’? That’s very appealing, and when you come down to it, in the tendency to universalise problems and suggest concrete ways of understanding the universe, not really so very different.


Pic: cc licensed Flickr user emperley3

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