|Why are all those media outlets being so nasty to poor Colin. Well... Why is Colin Craig so apparently open to considering conspiracy theories? And what does this signify about his party and its constituents?
What are "conspiracy theories?" It might be more instructive to define them against what they are not, which is mainstream political endeavour. Mainstream, politically engaged individuals and organisations play by the rules of the game. They involve disciplined political parties, lobby groups, coherent agreed policy development and policy positions, (ideally) evidence-based research based on mainstream science, social science and medicine, parliamentary submissions, party membership, electoral contests between candidates of competing/allied political parties, parliamentary votes, legislative outcomes and judicial review if the legislative outcome is perceived as faulty in some quarters. More recently, it also consists of regulatory and appeal agencies to remedy shortfalls in ministerial or public sector service delivery or competence.
If that is mainstream democracy, what are conspiracy theories, then? Conspiracy theories are what happens when an individual or organisation decides that a sinister, omnipotent and unaccountable "elite" runs things, and is out to "get" individuals who dissent from particular public policy positions. These result in populist rhetoric pitting "average citizens," "average parents", "Christians" ad nauseam against an allegedly well-heeled "elite," "academics", "radical neo-marxists", the United Nations, the European Union, the World Council of Churches and other international fora, or, as they are known in conspiracy theory quarters, "the one world government 'conspiracy.'" As to the content of conspiracy theories, they are many and varied. For example, Colin Craig has ruminated about being open to climate change denial, "chemtrails" (which are allegedly biological or chemical warfare residues secreted in aircraft exhaust fumes), genetic engineering, and the possibility that the September 11, 2001 Twin Towers al Qaeda terrorist tragedy was the result of deliberate US government malice, instead of Bush administration incompetence and negligence.
One might roll one's eyes and smirk at Colin Craig for these alleged beliefs, but they have an insidious effect. They distract attention from mainstream public policy debates and direct engagement in mainstream political avenues like forming lobby groups, researching evidence-based public policy, presenting ones evidence before parliamentary select committees and the media, and awaiting the outcome of one's disciplined efforts through legislative reform, regulation or deregulation, judicial review or amenable election outcomes at the level of party politics. Broadly speaking, that's what we have done ever since the days of the formation of the AIDS Foundation (when it comes to HIV/AIDS) and a steady sequence of incremental LGBT legislative reforms, from homosexual law reform to anti-discrimination legislation to incremental relationship equality reforms to civil unions to marriage equality and a degree of inclusive adoption reform. It's what we will also need to do with remaining inclusive adoption reform concerns, anti-bullying reforms, transgender rights and any other public policy reforms that we see fit to advance.
It might also explain certain facets of Colin Craig's public persona and individual Conservative Party policies. For example, why is it that he hasn't been grilled on what alternatives to either asset sales or capital gains tax that his party advocates as a fiscal management policy? Why hasn't he been rigorously interviewed on the origins of the Conservative Party's beliefs about climate change denial- and do they share the views of the "Climate Realists", a group of Manawatu based rural citizens whose website includes inane references to climate change as a "one world government" "conspiracy"? If not, why did they link to it in a Conservative Party newsletter that publicised Sir Chris Monckton's recent visit? What are his exact beliefs on the origins of 9/11? And were conspiracist beliefs about marriage equality the real reason behind the absence of Colin Craig for much of the marriage equality debate, apart from its inception and conclusion?
Conspiracy theories have other, darker aspects, however. In denying the importance and discipline of mainstream political engagement and participation, they encourage contempt for reputable, evidence-based public policy positions and representative democratic processes like lobbying, political party membership, electoral engagement, select committee submissions, judicial review and regulatory appeals. Instead, they substitute populist appeals to binding 'citizens' referenda, hoping that lowest common denominator appeals to fear, paranoia and persecution fantasies amongst a particular constituency will mobilise sufficient adherents and attract a referendum "majority" of support against representative democratic decisions. They're also expensive follies, costing nine million New Zealand dollars apiece. And reluctantly, to be consistent, I must also question the advisability of the recent referendum against asset sales as much as other previous populist citizen initiated referenda follies. Referenda should be reserved for constitutional reform matters and nothing else.
I should note that the following does not refer to Colin Craig or any members of the Conservative Party. There is no evidence that they hold the following beliefs and it would be foolish and defamatory to pretend that they do without adequate evidence to the contrary. However, we know full well where this political trajectory can ultimately lead. By encouraging populist agitation and targeting particular vulnerable constituencies as somehow subhuman or outside the realm of social inclusion, moral community or other circumscribed groups, conspiracy theories can encourage hate speech, discriminatory public policies, interpersonal harassment and hate crime violence, religious persecution, ethnic or 'social' cleansing, paramilitary atrocities and ultimately, genocide. Nazi Germany's Holocaust is the paradigmatic case of such evil, but one can also cite Turkey's genocidal treatment of Armenians, the Hutu slaughter of the Tutsi tribal community in Rwanda in the mid-nineties, and Serbia's murderous activities in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo in the nineties, as well as interneccine al Qaeda and Shia Islamist activities in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And, sad to say, fundamentalist Christians are particularly vulnerable and gullible to such conspiracy theories. One need only look at the involvement of the New Zealand League of Rights, an imported Australian neofascist, anti-Semitic, anti-indigenous and anti-immigrant racist organisation in opposition to homosexual law reform and its infilitration of the campaign against homosexual law reform in the mid-eighties. Fundamentalist pressure groups like the Coalition of Concerned Citizens were infiltrated by League activists and became open to anti-Semitic, anti-indigenous and anti-immigrant conspiracy theories. Before the fall of the Soviet Union and the turn of the century, some conspiracist elements of the fundamentalist constituency were obsessed with their own "one world government" conspiracy in which "elite" feminists, multiculturalists, liberal Christians, LGBT activists, environmentalists, peace activists, opponents of corporal punishment and other social liberals seek to introduce "repressive and undemocratic" liberal social policies that will culminate in "social anarchy" and "totalitarianism." This imaginary "one world government" future is allegedly "predicted" in the biblical Book of Revelation. (This position is called "premillenarianism" and was rife before the turn of the twentieth century. Since then, it's calmed down somewhat, but is still present in bizarre attacks on US President Barack Obama's birthplace and religious affiliation, Obamacare's public health provision programmes, as well as some UK Eurosceptic rhetoric directed against the European Union).
Moreover, one Conservative backer (albeit not member), Steve Baron, a "binding referendum" addict, apparently corresponded with the New Zealand League of Rights before its recent closure in 2005, according to that organisation's website.
Conspiracy theories have no place in mainstream New Zealand democratic politics. Nor does authoritarian populism of the Sensible Sentencing Trust and Family First variety, nor do anti-democratic and anti-minority "binding citizens referenda" motivated by contempt for orthodox, mainstream representative democratic institutions and nor does any political party that espouses conspiracy theories. Craig Young - 5th December 2013