PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE – OUR SUBTLE PRACTICE
Since I introduced two resources in my post on “cause of war” that touch on “conspiracy thinking”, I want to state my position on “conspiracy thinking”. I want also to suggest why I know elements of these theories are valid.
My position on several of the larger, popular, conspiracy themes is this: It does not matter whether or not these theories are in fact true. What matters is the nature of human beings, and the reality of complex dynamics in matters of social/political power.
Begin with the premise that human nature includes motivations that can include “sneaky manipulation of situations to achieve power”. The potential exists, and is in operation all over the place in human relationships. From co-dependent personal relationships, to advertising that tugs consumer heart-strings to increase sales, manipulation for the sake of gain is in place. The macrocosm reflects the microcosm – the microcosm reflects the macrocosm.
Manipulation is practiced in different ways. Common ploys appeal to the target’s “wishes” rather than to tell the truth. Ploys include uttering half-truths, making promises not intended to be kept, telling outright lies, and staying silent about important details.
Very high level power plays can be very real, and can have serious negative impact on those being manipulated. Cigna’s public relations department practices, detailed by Wendell Potter, cannot be dismissed by a thinking person. Manipulation of public opinion is the practice, the goal is maximizing corporate institutional “economic strength”. Thousands of lives were/are at stake, millions of lives by extension of these practices to other companies. Whether or not Cigna’s administrative decisions meet a formal definition of ‘conspiracy’ or not becomes a quibbling argument. The behavior is conspiratorial in that decisions to manipulate public for sake of maximizing profit and power are made intentionally – and it is also intentional to keep public from recognizing Cigna’s ‘game playing strategy’.
Large corporations, and other organized power structures, do not “willingly go off stage” when their function no longer serves common need. (Neither do small ones – try closing a popular school for economic reasons, even if it seems to make better educational sense. Not a best example. I am not meaning to speak of community passionate support for schools here! My point is protection of a favorite organized system, due to emotional loyalty and perceived pay-off, is normal human response when an organization is threatened.)
Part of our resistance to ‘conspiracy theories’ is that by we like to distinguish something we consider a “criminal mind”. We willing accept that some individuals and groups can conspire to wreak havoc. We like to restrict this acceptance to certain sets of “bad guys” – the “real” criminals. We tend to agree that real criminals are motivated to power and wealth – but are disinclined to believe these same behaviors might be found at very high levels of “successful and powerful” organizations such as corporations or governments. We like to believe key players who achieve wealth and power have done so legitimately and honestly. (Of Governments – especially if ‘our favorite’ party is in power – we especially like to believe in their ‘pure integrity’.)
We “wish” good guy – bad guy to be a safe distinction. We’re willing to mistrust government and large corporate practice at a “non-criminal” level; we’re prepared to disapprove but to take little action. Emotionally, it’s not comfortable to look at the functioning of our (otherwise) comfortable world and wonder if the people in power are up to truly criminal practices, or to wonder if they are actually as mean and tough as conspiracy theory usually suggests. Like children, we cling to a need to ‘trust’, even when plain straight gathering of facts, might and probably should at least arouse suspicion.
Using psychology to examine human motivation becomes very complicated very quickly. Our own emotional (very normal, very human) inclination is to avoid having a “suspicious mentality”. This a potential ‘self-fooling’ trap. But the good news is we have some practice in protecting ourselves against dishonest manipulation and scheming in ordinary day to day affairs. Most of us continue to operate on “wishfulness”, (also very normal, and very human), in some matters, but we are “OK” with “buyer beware” when purchasing consumer items. Because we have learned to be comfortable with day to day “buyer beware” mentality, we do not experience this as “suspicious mentality”. But whereas we willingly apply ‘buyer beware’ in small matters, we somehow convince ourselves there’s no need to do the same in large (political, societal, corporate, institutional) matters! Conspiracy theorists often point out real inconsistencies that suggest we’re being duped or ‘played’. We may think they take their arguments into the realm of fancy – but at least they are keeping watch while the rest of us are blindly faithful and/or following questionable leadership.
We do not apply our common sense “buyer beware” mentality toward human affairs beyond a certain point. We stop short when approaching proposals of “conspiracy theorists”. We prefer to pick apart the excesses of the theories, to brand the believers as wacky, and stay in our psychological place of comfort.
I suggest the same “common sense caution” mentality that is used when we practice “buyer beware” needs to be used when “buying” trust in corporate and government practice. Especially when “the emperor’s nakedness is called”. John Perkins (“Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”) is not a conspiratist. He was on location, carrying out sneaky manipulative actions toward foreign governments for the sake of US corporate and governmental power/wealth interest and says so. Wendell Potter is not a conspiratist. He was on the site, carrying out sneaky manipulative action on behalf of Cigna’s corporate wealth/power interests and says so. The Stewart brothers film, Kymatica, explores operations of an international elite. Why, in the name of intelligent, common sense, understanding of human motivation to power and wealth, would we not consider there may be truth to their claim or to bits and pieces of it?
Especially in America we like Horatio Alger stories. We like to tell and re-tell of the person born to misery and poverty who is now powerful. For us, such stories dis-prove possibility that there could be small but powerful groups manipulating much of what effects the rest of us: social policy, international relations, economic affairs. That individuals here and there “slip above the cracks” is not believed as it weakens the “truth” of Horatio Alger. Those powerful people, we like to tell ourselves, have ‘made it’. Their dramatic success is unquestionably due to their intelligent, hard-working, ethical, effort and nothing more. Further, we like to think, it’s probably not quite true that ‘power corrupts’.
But consider “human psychology”! Apply human psychology to everyone, anywhere! There is no need to restrict use of psychological understanding ‘buyer beware’) to local, familiar, patterns in human behavior that we experience directly in daily life. There is no need to feel uncomfortable, as if we are ‘breaking some rule,’ in applying psychological understanding (and ‘buyer beware’) to all humans, no matter their level of power or success. In fact – there’s far more helpful wisdom to society if we especially practice ‘buyer beware’ toward those of greatest power!
If we feel we break some ‘rule’ using common sense to tell us those in “high” places can be harshly manipulative, we need to examine ourselves for source of such a rule. (Two likely sources: one, we were taught to ‘show respect’ for those who have ‘achieved’; and two, we want to be “well thought of” by those around us and don’t want to risk being labeled a kook.)
We prefer to “presume innocence”, especially toward anyone with more wealth, power, or prestige than ourselves, (the 3 are often found as a package). We hold suspicion as a practice toward those farthest from wealth, power, or prestige.
Innocence: from answers.com: The state, quality, or virtue of being innocent, as: 1.Freedom from sin, moral wrong, or guilt through lack of knowledge of evil; 2. Guiltlessness of a specific legal crime or offense; 3. Freedom from guile, cunning, or deceit; simplicity or artlessness; 4. Lack of worldliness or sophistication; naiveté; 5. Lack of knowledge or understanding; ignorance; 6. Freedom from harmfulness; inoffensiveness.
We presume innocence ‘subtly’, without “calling out ourselves” for this presumption. WE are the ‘innocent’ in our own subtle practice: unaware, simple, lacking in worldliness, knowledge or understanding.
To better grasp the ‘real, worldly world’, imagine a huge monopoly game about to begin. Imagine some of the players were born already owning key properties. Imagine these wealthy players also know one another. Imagine they know nothing of starting “from scratch’. Imagine that all the players, the ones starting from scratch, and the ones born of wealth and property, have a mix of personalities. Some are so oriented toward “kindness” they will barely be able to stay in the game and may not thrive. Some are so oriented toward “achievement” that they, even if starting from scratch, will grasp how the game is played and do pretty well. (They may even end up being photographed as a ‘winner’ among the born wealthy group.) A very rare few of those born into wealth and property may wonder about those starting from scratch and feel some need to “get to know the struggle”. Very rare. Buddha perhaps! At a more ordinary level: there are more than we know of these – Wendell Potter and John Perkins are only two. Each ‘won the game’ for a time, then announced publicly that the game is pure manipulation, pure deceit, (that it is conscious or unconscious ‘conspiracy’).
The players enter the game from their starting positions and either muddle along, or become aggressively manipulative in some of their practices. All players may experience deep human connection within their familiar “social set” but may not transfer what they learn of devotion, tenderness, and love to players outside their set. We may notice that “Rich, powerful, Mr/Ms/Mrs X donates millions to charity” and decide this means ‘X’ cannot possibly practice deceit or manipulation. When we do this, we forget the “powerful seduction of power”. There may be a number of reasons that ‘X”s philanthropy is based on money that – had ‘X’ played ‘the game’ with honesty and integrity – would never have accumulated in ‘X’s bank account.
Using psychology, one can even witness ‘social strata’ at work within families. Rivalry, manipulation, an power play does not only happen around the Monopoly board. Is aggressive ambitious behavior ‘conspiratorial’? Not by ‘conscious intent’, but if we genuinely want the best of small groups (example families) and large (including nations, including humanity) we need to be willing to on the one hand ‘presume innocence’ and at the exact same time, ‘presume motivation to be unfair, conspiratorial, deceitful, may be present. (The cause of motivation to dishonesty is another discussion; since I believe no one is born with intent to wreak havoc or misery on others, cause is important to understand – but not here. Here I hope to encourage at least more ‘buyer beware’ analysis!)
My point is this: psychology is “normal”. We all “have” it, and we all “use” it. Psychology is not a “big deal”. Psychology does let us understand human motivation. It lets us “normalize” behaviors for the sake of understanding any human behavior anywhere on earth.
Psychology does not give us “easy” answers, “easy” categories with which to separate ourselves from others as “good/bad”, “them/us”. At the very same time, by the very same insights, it gives us knowledge of rascally behavior that any of our brothers or sisters, at any level of economic, political, social, wealth, or power may be inclined to practice. (A major contribution of Kymatica is that it promotes clarity of mind to recognize rascally potential without condition of “us/them”.)
The day many more of us look at ourselves, and others among us, and understand potential to rascally action, and not feel embarrassed at ourselves for calling out naked emperor moments, is the day we begin to enjoy practices of compassion and honesty among ourselves. I predict we will smile more, within ourselves, and at one another.
It will also be a genuinely New Day. Thousands of years of ‘same old, same old’ is not getting us where we think we can go to demonstrate our best. “Dishonesty” (presumed) in the statement: “It is ever thus, we are inevitably corrupt, there can be no change in humanity.”, is cynical.
A favorite song tidbit from an early Taj Mahal album: “Rise up children, shake the devil out of your soul”! (Shake the sleep from your eyes?, Wake up?, even “Wake up and be cheery about it? … the TM song is pretty energetic and cheery.)
My Best to You – MaggieAnn