When a person tries to connect the dots of how power is wielded, they are sometimes called a "conspiracy theorist." too often it's an accurate label. The person is paranoid and misattributing coordinated efforts unrealistically or, worst of all, overpersonalizing the world as if everything is centered around them:
Yes, you're right, there ARE voices coming from the television telling you what to do... But they're also trying to tell a couple hundred million other people what to do, too.
Yes, there are rooms with a group of white guys in suits deciding things that will affect the world deeply... But your name is probably not on their agenda.
There are some important considerations to keep in mind when evaluating the validity of labeling something a "conspiracy theory":
First, let's think about how people coordinate and how power is distributed. One of the biggest errors of conspiracy thinking is to assume that behind the scenes there's an efficient, coordinated effort to maintain power. This is true in some ways, and in some industries, but a vital fact to remember is this: if a hundred individuals, for example, have overlapping and similar interests, then -- even if they act independently -- it will often appear that they are working in concert.
Let's consider the entertainment industry for a moment.
If you want to make money in entertainment, there are a few strategies to consider, and most firms invest in all of them now, to different degrees:
1) Make entertainment that will offend almost no one, yet has enough dramatic appeal to be interesting. Emotionally potent, perhaps even produces an adrenaline rush, yet accessible to the widest audience. To say something unpopular is to reduce potential sales.
2) Create entertainment that will offend some people, but only in a manner which is cathartic and not destabilizing to stratification. This permits an emotional valve via entertainment that helps people blow off steam, but not question society's structure or priorities.
3) Produce entertainment that is radically disarming, commodifying rebellion and in turn profiting and controlling from the most visible messages of dissent in culture.
4) And no matter what, you also can't offend the sensibilities of your advertisers.
These policies are primarily in place to make profits, not first and foremost to control people's thinking. I would guess that most decision-makers don't consciously intend to control dissent. Of course, one would be unlikely to release a film, for example, that spelled out that very rich people don't deserve to have so much more than the rest of us, or that freedom of speech is deeply curtailed by the funding mechanisms of distribution -- that would be digging one's own grave. So aside from not releasing messages that might be detrimental to oneself, the primary motivation is to make more money.
If you have almost all media moguls being guided by the same principles, what is the result? A culture with empty, silly, dramatic, violent, cathartic, sexy, conformist entertainment that almost entirely avoids talking about the same things. You don't need a conspiracy to result in a predominantly unified, apparently coordinated message.
This puts freedom of speech in America on a respirator, since not only are we talking about entertainment here, we are talking about news. News programs have to remain profitable as well, and I would argue are guided by some of the same principles. We have to ask ourselves constantly, how is the need to sell this affecting its character?
So are we being mind-controlled by a vast conspiracy? Yes, in some important ways this is true. But it's often more the result of the common interests of privileged people being expressed than any carefully orchestrated effort... Well at least, much of the time.
It's our challenge not to fall for it, and to demand more truthful representations of what's happening in our lives and world. But let's face it, life is hard, and sometimes it's a relief to see a world where it always works out in the end. But if the real world is going to have a Hollywood ending, too, then we can't just pay for a ticket and hope that it will.
It takes a concerted effort to maintain a despotic regime. Not only do you have to surveil people constantly for rumblings of revolt; you must limit the freedom of expression to insure that no revolution is permitted momentum in the information sphere. You have to enable your security forces great latitude in enforcing your rules. You must constantly monitor your political rivals or sympathetic compatriots for signs of a coup. Internal police, military police -- the loops of security become a paranoid hall of mirrors. The amount of energy necessary to maintain such a state is incredible, a skyscraper at the foot of an active volcano.
Power evolves, its methods pruned through centuries. How to achieve the desired control and stability with the least cost? There is a balance to strike here, and it cannot be without cost altogether:
1) Those actually in power should not be visible and open to scrutiny or revolt; the use of figureheads is advised. Also decentralized power among an aristocracy or other kind of oligarchy is less prone to upheaval, as there is no "head" of the beast of power that could be decapitated and rendered helpless.
2) Permit as much freedom of expression and action among the populace that does not threaten the power structure as possible; this insures that people will be relatively content, productive, and not prone to rebel. Publicly emphasize such freedoms so that people are thankful you have provided them.
3) Provide emotionally cathartic entertainment with high impact and sensationalism as a salve against popular frustrations; however, they should contain virtually no signs of awareness of the power structure. Include access to legal substances that enhance productivity or numb awareness, and make illegal any substance that might enhance awareness.
4) The warrior spirit of security forces should be motivated by rationales that emphasize abstract notions of liberation and protection that supersede any specific information about the actual agenda of the current regime; this will minimize rebellious tendencies among the military and police. Be sure to put in place checks and balances among the security forces so that no one division is able to garner enough support for a coup.
5) Provide rudimentary comforts to the population as a means to quell unrest, such as basic health care, paved roads, police protection, emergency services.
Overall, this schema will provide rulers greater stability than any despotic system. It will insure the productivity and consent of the populace, providing enough freedom and participation in the system for them to feel empowered.
Is this American democracy?
And if so...
What is the next step in social evolution?
America is one of the freest societies in the world, but can't we do even better?
How long will we watch the extremes of capitalism ravage us? CEOs making $20,000 a day, while the majority of the world starves?
Are we a culture eating its own collective vomit in celebrity-based propaganda, reality TV, sports, video games, the distraction network keeping our eyes off the wizards pulling the levers behind the curtain?