Michael Moore and the Gadianton Robbers

November 3, 2004 | 78 comments
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George W. Bush, in my mind, is very much like Bill Clinton. Both men seem to have the ability to make otherwise sane people on the other side of the political fence become nutcases. Remember all of the silly, Vince Foster conspiracy nonsense from the first Clinton term? Remember the internet chain letters about all of the people associated with Clinton who died under “suspicious� circumstances? Michael Moore style conspiracy theories seem to me to be an inverted image of the same phenomena. There are many plausible reasons for criticizing the Bush Administration’s decision to go to war. The idea that they were bought off by Haliburton is not among them.

I have very little faith in conspiracy theories. In my mind the world is both more complex and far more simple than is posited in the feverish theories of Moore et al. I think that there is a certain amount of cynicism among elites, but I don’t think that it is universal or all consuming. I think that certain groups are more or less powerful than they seem. However, on the whole, I think that the world is pretty much as it appears to be. There is no sinister cabal pulling strings off stage.

Or so I believe. My problem is that I also believe – more or less – in the Book of Mormon, which offers a very conspiratorial view of politics. Remember the Gadianton robbers and all of the arcane and covert political machinations in Nephite society in the years prior to Christ’s advent? Mormon is fairly explicit in a number of places that he is including all of this stuff for the benefit of modern readers. He is warning us about modern Gadiantons. The Doctrine and Covenants also has its share of conspiratorial asides. The Word of Wisdom, for example, has been given on account of “designing men in the last days.�

Obviously, there have been Mormons who have latched onto this aspect of our scripture and run with it. The most spectacular example, of course, was Ezra Taft Benson, but he is hardly alone on this front. I am willing to admit that there is a kind of spiritual integrity and unity to this world view that in some ways I find admirable. However, at the end of the day I don’t really buy it. To be sure the NKVD and later the KGB was fairly adept at penetrating American government in the 1930s and 1940s. There were Reds to be hunted and they did in fact pass secrets to the Soviets. Alger Hiss was guilty. On the other hand, the enemies within did not sell-out China to the communists, the New Deal and the Fair Deal were not fronts for the Soviet Union, and Hollywood was the home of woolly-headed leftism not Commitern controlled cells of revolutionaries. I think that modern incarnations of demonically clever conspirators are similarlly silly. Karl Rove is just a political consultant, and there is no secret network of plutocrats and Likudnick Straussians bent on world domination.

In other words, I just don’t believe in the conspiratorial view of history or politics. Yet there is more than a little material in the scriptures of the Restoration pointing in this direction. My basic response is to ignore this stuff, however, I wonder if there is something else there. Do we have some sort of theological commitment to conspiracy theories that ought to inform our views?

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78 Responses to Michael Moore and the Gadianton Robbers

  1. Rob on November 3, 2004 at 3:30 pm

    Just because right-wing nut job conspiracy theories were false doesn’t mean that all left leaning conspiracy theories are nutty. If anything, it just proves that right wingers are (or at least were) completely nutty–so why should we trust them now?

    Surely Moore’s film was an oversimplification…but does anyone really imagine that the Bush administration is not pro energy companies or defense contractors? That they won’t make decisions that will benefit those special interests?

    There are two parts to secret combination. Secrecy is one. When the vice president holds meetings to craft an energy policy, and nobody is allowed to know who was there or how the plan was drafted, that looks like secrecy. As for combination?

    You don’t have to be a nut job to see that people are more or less openly jockying for power and serving special interests. That’s not new, just dangerous.

    As for the neocon strategy for a new American empire is not a conspiracy…because it isn’t a secret, it’s an open agenda. This administration has tried to divert attention from that goal at times, but they are pretty openly committed to it.

    However, for believers in the BoM, the real interesting thing that has just happened is that Apostate Christian America has just elected its first president. Of course, Utah joined in on the fun. They’ve sold their birthright for someone’s platitudes about abortion and SSM. Its a fantastic con…how far are we from fulfilling BoM prophesy that when the majority of the people choose poor leaders, that they are ripe for destruction. Or that we American Anglos will reject the gospel and it will be taken away from us and given to the Children of Lehi? Americans have decided to support candidates who want to renounce peace and proclaim war, who want to take from the poor to give to the rich, who draw near unto the Lord with their lips, but their hearts are far from him and his teachings.

    Of course, for all those celebrating the Bush victory, don’t take time away from your partying to really look at the state of our nation. Wouldn’t want to ruin your fun.

    While you’re at it, don’t bother reading the BoM either. That’d be a real joy-killer. Of course, since we know that America will be destroyed with all other nations, it shouldn’t be news to anyone here. Its just a matter of time.

  2. Mark N. on November 3, 2004 at 3:37 pm

    There was an interview I once saw with a filmmaker who pointed out something to me that I hadn’t yet considered before seeing the interview: that the bad guys in movies (which attempt to be a realistic portrait of life, that is) never think of themselves as bad guys. They’re just people with different goals than the good guys and who have a different world view. The guys running the Gadianton robbers truly considered themselves to be the ones who had been wronged, as did the Lamanites for most of the time.

    The same would seem to apply to any “designing men” in the world today. They may well be “conspiring” to bring to pass what they see as a reasonable goal for themselves, even if others may disagree with them. I don’t like at all how Bush and company have conspired to involve us in the war in Iraq, but I’m sure, from their point of view, they’re convinced they’re doing the right thing.

    Last Sunday in Priesthood meeting, we were given the age-old counsel to avoid debt like the plague. The problems of “easy credit” were brought up, and I almost asked the question as to whether or not we should consider those who run credit card companies to be evil, designing, conspiring men, but I managed to keep my mouth shut.

    Only in Disney movies and the like do the bad guys ever refer to themselves as (for example) “the mistress of all Evil” (Malificent, in “Sleeping Beauty”). I think the conspiracies do exist, but it all depends on the viewpoint of those who are (in their own minds) being conspired against. Those doing the conspiring don’t consider themselves to be in on a conspiracy at all. They’re just operating according to good business practices, or so they have come to believe. They’ve always got a justification for their actions. The only question in the matter is how God views it, and I think we’re not going to have the answer to that until Judgment Day arrives.

  3. Rob on November 3, 2004 at 3:47 pm

    The only question in the matter is how God views it, and I think we’re not going to have the answer to that until Judgment Day arrives.

    I think with our Latter-day revelations, we shouldn’t have to wait so long. I just wish people in the Church felt as strongly about the gospel as they do about the institutional Church and their party politics. We can’t serve two masters, and if we vote the same way as Apostate American Christianity (or do we think that the Lord’s words to JS during the first vision are no longer valid, that Christianity has somehow drawn closer to the Lord in the last 184 years?) does, what does that say about who we are serving.

    Or maybe we just think that we’ve finally gotten Apostate Christian America to vote with us. Tell me who your friends are…

  4. Nate Oman on November 3, 2004 at 3:47 pm

    Rob: Thanks so much for rising to my bait. I confess that some of what you are saying seems a bit incoherent. For example:

    “However, for believers in the BoM, the real interesting thing that has just happened is that Apostate Christian America has just elected its first president.”

    Hasn’t “Apostate Christian America” been electing presidents since 1788? Obviously, you reconcile the Gaddianton world view by accepting it. As I said, there is a certain spiritual integrity to this view that is in some ways admirable. My problem is that I think that you are wrong, or at any rate, I think that there are less sinister explanations for things. I find it entirely implausible that the Bush Administration took the country to war on behalf of energy companies and defense contractors. The decision was based on flawed estimations of the Iraqi threat and a massive strategic gamble on democracy building in the Middle East. These are real issues. They involve difficult policy judgments, and I have intellectual respect for those with differing views. Frankly I don’t know what I personally believe about these things, although this doesn’t worry me much since as near as I can tell my opinion on this matters is of very little consequence. I am, however, convinced that attempts to ascribe more sinister explanations to events represents fantasy and paranoia. Of course, I probably would have said the same thing about McCarthy as well…

  5. Karen on November 3, 2004 at 3:52 pm

    Nate,

    Very enjoyable post. I’ve often wondered, when we get mired in those pre-3rd Nephi chapters during gospel doctrine discussion, how much we’re really supposed to get out of it. So often, the discussion turns to how the Book of Mormon models good government, which seems crazy to me. It was a weak government, that kept changing structure, relied on nepotism, was overrun by organized crime, and eventually wiped out by civil war. So I really do wonder what the message is supposed to be, and to what extent we’re expected to view the Book of Mormon as some sort of civics manual.

    As to the question of conspiracy, I’m inclined to agree with you. I don’t give it much credence…I really don’t think there are enough people who are intelligent and immoral enough to sustain an organization dedicated to “wrong.” Not that people aren’t self-interested, or out and out selfish, and not that people aren’t dishonest. I just don’t think they are smart and dishonest enough to sustain an entire conspiracy.

    Nate, maybe you and I share this opinion for a reason. Three years in the ivy league convinced me that, while admirable and very sharp, the best and the brightest aren’t as fantastically brilliant as hollywood and popular culture likes us to believe. By and large the ivory tower is filled with intelligent well meaning people who are as likely to screw something up as get it right. Pretty much like the rest of America.

  6. Bryce I on November 3, 2004 at 3:52 pm

    Mark N. makes an excellent point about the motives and intentions of our political leaders. One thing that really disturbed me about the political discussion among people I know on both sides is how quick they were to label the enemy as “evil,” be it Bush or Kerry.

    That said, even though well-intentioned people can act in ways that seem conspiratorial or evil to outside observers, one lesson to be drawn from the Book of Mormon’s emphasis on the dangers of secret combinations is that as a general rule secrecy is not good for a government or a society. Certainly the current Bush administration has been among the most secretive in recent memory (I haven’t read John Dean’s recent book on the subject, but it sounds interesting). Intentions aside, the closed nature of the administration hampers public accountability and oversight, and increases the opportunity for conspiracy theories to thrive and flourish.

  7. Rob on November 3, 2004 at 4:03 pm

    Nate, glad to oblige you today of all days. You’re right that the War on Iraq wasn’t waged “on behalf of energy companies or defense contractors”. It was waged as part of a real conspiracy to expand American Empire (oops, I mean spread democracy). The fact that defense contractors and energy companies profit from this is just seen as further justification for what is seen as a good in and of itself–world power and dominion.

    However, don’t underestimate the power of real power, i.e. fossil energy. It is the foundation of our civilization. Anyone who is governing America and is not concerned about energy issues is crazy. However, there are many ways of approaching this issue…and the one that we’ve got is the one that is making energy companies rich, is making us take dangerous stands in the Middle East, and is destroying our environment. We should at least question that.

    So it isn’t just about oil, but anyone who thinks oil isn’t a major factor in this is crazy. Think no cars, no food, no airplains…no American way of life. Bush understands this, and the high-energy-use lifestyle is what Bush is trying to protect…and promote…and for now oil is at the heart of it.

    And as I said before, it isn’t a secret combination if it is done openly. Just because others are too busy looking the other way (hey…look over here, I’ve got some SSM legislation for you) doesn’t mean it isn’t completely out in the open.

    As for Apostate Christian America electing presidents since 1788, on one hand you are right–and that’s why America will be destroyed eventually. But on the other hand, this election was far more about “religious” values and the Rove/Bush campaign more than any in recent history has created a voting block based on these “values”. And to the extent that Church members share the same “values”, they should be concerned. Who are we really following if our votes match theirs?

    The only comfort I find is that if the rapture does happen in the next four years, at least the complete Bush administration will still be here to run the country. ;)

  8. Andrew W. Griffin on November 3, 2004 at 4:10 pm

    This is from my pocket Merrian-Webster’s dictionary –

    “Conspire: secretly plan an unlawful act.”

    Hmm. Read the Project for a New American Century and their desire for a “Pearl Harbor-type attack” (written way back in ’97) and then note how many of the neo-conmen are the ones behind the Iraq war and our overt intervention in the Middle East. Yeah, I guess you’re right, Nate. It is an open agenda now and that’s unfortunate.
    Personally, I prefer America-first leaders over ideologues with hidden agendas. I wish Bush would dump these nogoodniks and bring some true blue American patriots on board. There I go again. Me and my crazy notions.

    It was anti-communist and one-time SLC police chief W. Cleon Skousen who wrote “The Naked Communist,” a 1960s-era book that he once used in a course he taught at BYU. Ironically, many of the things Skousen warned about in 1962, have been achieved, more or less. Don’t believe me? Dust off that book now and then think about where we are when it comes to the loss of liberties and our moving towards a police state. Supposedly there is now a course at BYU now that debunks much of Skousen’s “theories.” Oh well, these are enlightened times .. or are they?
    Sure, you can embrace or debunk “conspiracy theories” all day long but it doesn’t take away from the fact that our Constitutional form of government is in dire jeopardy. But hey, what do I care, I’ve got my Blockbuster card, a case of Ramen noodles in the pantry and a second-hand Toyota in the garage. I’m doin’ okay, considering we seem to be entering a new Dark Ages.

  9. Rob on November 3, 2004 at 4:14 pm

    While we’re at it, isn’t Moore and his film a bit of a straw man in this argument? Just because his film was overly simplistic–that his conspiracy theory was overblown–doesn’t mean there isn’t a real conspiracy. The Neocon conspiracy is the more dangerous thing to be looking at. Can anyone deny that there were small groups of people getting together for the last decade plotting a way to expand American empire in the post Cold War era? It wasn’t secret, but it is definitely a conspiracy–a combination.

    The fact that the Iraq war is going so poorly may be evidence for Karen’s assertion that these guys aren’t “smart and dishonest enough to sustain an entire conspiracy”.

  10. Nate Oman on November 3, 2004 at 4:15 pm

    Rob: I have no problem with questioning and discussion. It is the hypervenillating and the hysteria that I don’t buy into.

    As for things like energy consumption and sustainable growth I don’t worry too much about them because I don’t subscribe to a model in which the world is going along its merry way and then one day wakes up to discover that we don’t have enough energy. I don’t buy it. Demand for energy goes up, prices increase, people find substitutes, society changes, life goes on. Enviromental degredation imposes costs of the public, support for incrimental regulations increases, industry changes and adapts. My vision is less apoclyptic and lyrical than the Wendell Barry spouting amongst us might like, but I think it is closer to reality.

  11. Rob on November 3, 2004 at 5:03 pm

    Nate, what’s the difference between you and an ostrich? Answer: ostriches don’t really bury their heads in the sand.

    Just because you “don’t subscribe” to a model of the world that sees the problem of unsustainable energy doesn’t mean we aren’t facing a crisis here. Sure, rich people may be able to afford to sustain their lifestyle as energy prices soar, and you are right that society will change…but you are wrong about the “life goes on” part. The changes that will come will be huge, and life will not go on as we know it now. Chances are it will be much worse for many people. Nate, you’ve clearly spent too many Sundays working at the law office and not enough time reading up on energy policy (maybe you could start here or online here) ;) Don’t belittle those of us who actually study this stuff for a living.

    And as for your cavelier attitude about environmental degredation…again, you are seriously underinformed about the true costs we are suffering now. Please take some time to read up on environmental health issues if nothing else. I may not get you to care about all the species that are going extinct, but surely I can get you to care about childhood asthma and cancers (read Living Downstream for a start).

    If I sound hysterical its just that I find your very poor grasp of our global energy situation and the costs of environmental degradation simply outrageous. I don’t mean to be shrill, and I don’t mean to attack anyone personally here. But lets really discuss these issues instead of wallowing in ignorance or misinformation.

  12. danithew on November 3, 2004 at 5:19 pm

    I have to confess that one of my first reactions to Bush winning the election was to think: “I’d like to send Michael Moore a fruit basket.” Unfortunately my wife isn’t as thrilled with the results so I have to try and contain this grin that keeps creeping up on my face. (Sigh) … I thought I was becoming a moderate.

    Conspiracy theories are often very nutty. Yet, as has been pointed out very well, the Book of Mormon teaches that conspiracy theories exist. I believe Ezra Taft Benson at some point warned the Saints that there was a secret combination arising that was opposed to freedom around the world. Maybe I better dig up that quote so that we’re not relying on an awful paraphrase here.

    As one political science professor I had said more than once: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t out to get you.”

    Kudos to Karen for her following comment:

    So often, the discussion turns to how the Book of Mormon models good government, which seems crazy to me. It was a weak government, that kept changing structure, relied on nepotism, was overrun by organized crime, and eventually wiped out by civil war. So I really do wonder what the message is supposed to be, and to what extent we’re expected to view the Book of Mormon as some sort of civics manual.

    The Nephite government was only a quarter of a step away from a monarchy. And the text admits that Nephite society was torn as to which direction it should go. As far as I can tell, the main difference between Nephite government and a monarchy was that the Nehpite people got to choose which son of the previous chief judge would be the successor. I think one of the weaknesses of Nephite society is that they were trying to set up a system of judges based on the Hebrew Bible system described in the book of Samuel. What’s obvious is that they didn’t have any great philosophers or leaders or founding fathers who really knew how to fully abandon the monarchical system. But then again, maybe the United States is just fabulously lucky and blessed in that area.

  13. Jonathan Green on November 3, 2004 at 5:30 pm

    Rob, I appreciate your posts a lot. It’s close to what I felt like writing–not in response to Nate’s post in particular, but to the world in general–but I knew I would regret it tomorrow, or next week. Since late last night I’ve been cataloging the worst days of my life so far, and today comes in around #10.

    Nate, today is not necessarily a good day for coherent argument.

  14. Rob on November 3, 2004 at 5:56 pm

    Nate, my wife tells me my posts are coming off a bit shrill ;)

    So I’ll try to moderate my tempo as I respond to your uninformed views on our looming energy crisis and current environmental degradation. Please read up on peak oil (maybe start here)–that way you won’t risk being laughed out of the room next time you so glibly dismiss our energy situation. As for environmental degradation, you severely miscalculate the health costs (among other things) of our current environmental destruction. Read Living Downstream for a start…I might not get you to immediately respond to the loss of other species, but surely I can get you concerned about childhood asthma and cancer deaths…

    One of the problems of living in a complex society is that, well, it is complex. There are lots of problems that might not be immediately apparent to someone going to work and just trying to live their life. Most of us aren’t as informed as we should be on many things that directly impact us. We don’t know where are food comes from or how it is produced and if it is safe. We don’t understand the rules that shape our lives and the landscapes we live in. Fortunately, there is a lot of information available…if you chose to read and evaluate it. Unfortunately, most people don’t take the time to do that.

    Where it gets really bad, in my opinion, is when leaders or others cynically manipulate people based on their understanding that most people won’t take the time to do research for themselves. I think Bush and Co have done this quite skillfully–to sell the Iraq war as part of a war on terror when there were clearly other motives (ask any political scientist if they ever really bought the WMD thing). The agencies tasked with keeping our environment safe are currently under direction to avoid real science and push policies that benefit corporations while risking the health and safety of our citizens.

    I’m sorry if I sound hysterical…it’s just that there is so much going on right now that most people aren’t taking the time to look into. Just because Michael Moore’s film was overly simplistic and at times misguided, doesn’t mean there isn’t even graver dangers out there.

    If we, as Saints, are to ever be the kind of global leaders that we are invited to be in a Zion society, we’re going to have to do better. Jesus isn’t just going to warn us of obvious problems we should be able to see for ourselves. If we want to know the truth so we can become free, we’re going to have to spend the time to search it out. Fortunately the gospel gives us great guidelines, and we have science as another tool to help us understand what is happening around us. However, if we won’t heed the warnings in the scriptures (there aren’t really any conspiring men, all is well in Zion) or consider the best information available to us, we get what we deserve.

    I, for one, hope we can eventually deserve better.

  15. Nate Oman on November 3, 2004 at 6:14 pm

    Jonathan: If it makes you feel better for today you can think of my rather plodding thinking and posting as a unseemly partisan gloating. ;->

  16. Mark B on November 3, 2004 at 6:14 pm

    Jonathon Green must be too young to have been alive on November 22, 1963, or April 4, 1968, or that day in Summer 1968 when Nixon chose Agnew as his VP or the day Bucky Dent hit that damned home run. Otherwise, he’d be way past 10.

  17. danithew on November 3, 2004 at 6:14 pm

    LOL … I was at the library using a Macintosh browser and could hardly read what others had written … and thus totally missed Nate’s post comment about Ezra Taft Benson taking the Gadianton robbers / secret combinations concept and “running with it.” If I had been able to make that out I wouldn’t have brought it up anew. My apologies.

    Do to Macintosh’s pristine reputation, I find it odd that it was creating technical issues for me with reading T&S. Do any other Mac users have that problem? Just curious.

  18. jeremobi on November 3, 2004 at 6:27 pm

    Nice post, Nate. I too, rarely give the “big” conspiracy theories the time of day, so I don’t know what to make of the Gaddiantons. But everytime I dabble into the 1000 yr. history of the battle for the British crown all I find is one conspiracy after another.

    As for the Julien Simonesque worldview, it’s great theory, but somehow it seems mean: e.g. what me worry that “enviromental degredation imposes costs of the public,” …er, like avoidable premature death and disease? That can be some cost!

  19. Nate Oman on November 3, 2004 at 6:33 pm

    Jeremobi: All societies tolerate some level of avoidable premature death and disease, and there is no point in being shocked or outraged about it. For example, have you noticed that in America we tolerate the fact that people zip around in steel machines that we are absolutely certain result in thousands of deaths each year merely to save time and money for transportation. They are called automobiles. Before the invention of automobiles people spent a huge amount of time mucking around with huge animals — called horses — that likewise resulted in huge amounts of death and injury (read 19th century journals and you will be amazed at how many people are constantly breaking arms, legs, and necks in falls from horses).

    The real issue is what level of avoidable death and disease the society is willing to tolerate.

  20. Ivan Wolfe on November 3, 2004 at 6:48 pm

    danithew – I’m on a Mac right now (I have a PC at home – I’m at school) and I have never had problems with it and T&S.

    FWIW.

    As for conspiracy theories: I believe they exist. I just believe that there are lots and lots of little ones that more often than not cancel each other out. I don’t really believe in gignormous ones on the level of the Illuminati or the Discordians.

  21. danithew on November 3, 2004 at 6:50 pm

    I wonder what was going on with the Mac I was using. I tried switching over to another Mac and had exactly the same problems. The fonts were appearing grayish and were merging into the background… not to mention that the fonts were appearing very small. Oh well. I just thought this might be a bug or design flaw that needed to be examined. I’m glad to hear otherwise.

  22. jeremobi on November 3, 2004 at 6:58 pm

    Nate:

    I have noticed some of those contraptions you mention, but I didn’t know they are called “automobiles”. Thanks for the clarification.

    So what level of avoidable death and disease is tolerable? I wonder if it easier to accept higher costs for others when our own burden is so comparatively light.

  23. Nate Oman on November 3, 2004 at 7:07 pm

    Jeremobi: BTW, in defense of Julian Simon it is worth remembering that he was right, at least in his debates with Ehrlich. Ehrlich was a prophet of the early unsustainable growth theory who predicted, among other things, that the price of raw commodities would skyrocket as modern society exhausted finite resources. Simon responded by arguing that as supplies became scarce three things would happen. First, prices would increase. Second, in response to increased prices people would find substitutes for the commodities. Third, in order to capitalize on the increased prices firms would find new sources of commodities, e.g. recycling, better extraction methods, etc. He bet Ehrlich that if they took a bundle of any set of commodities in 1980 that the same bundle in 1990 would be cheaper (when adjusted to 1980 dollars). He and Ehrlich signed a futures contract in 1980 in which Simon promised to pay Ehrlich the price increase on $1,000 basket and Ehrlich promised to pay the price decrease. In 1990, Ehrlich sent Simon a check for $574.07. In other words, the price of the bundle of commodities in real terms had decreased by over 50 percent.

  24. Nate Oman on November 3, 2004 at 7:11 pm

    Jeremobi: Perhaps you are right. I think that what you find is that there are diminishing marginal returns to death, maiming, etc. Hence, a very poor society that industrializes is willing to tolerate a high level of death and maiming because that toleration results in large increases in wealth compared to the pre-death and maiming level. However, with economic development the return on maiming decreases and with it the society’s toleration. That is why — I think — there was a higher tolerance for industrial accidents in Victorian Britain than in Edwardian Britain than in Blair’s Britian. Likewise, I think that this is why by and large poor countries are less interested in environmental protection than rich countries. Obviously, things get really complicated once you start thinking about social choice problems — e.g. the maiming and death occurs disproportionately among the poor, etc. However, at the macro level I think that I am right.

  25. danithew on November 3, 2004 at 7:12 pm

    For those who are interested in Julian Simon (aka, the Doomslayer), here’s a link to a Wired.com article about him:

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/5.02/ffsimon_pr.html

    I first stumbled upon this link at aldaily.com in its “classics” links. I’ve never gotten around to reading the book(s) Julian Simon wrote but this essay gets the idea across pretty well.

  26. jeremobi on November 3, 2004 at 7:22 pm

    Nate:

    I am familiar with the bet. And I, too, think Ehrlich’s Population Bomb and unsustainable growth theories are largely bunk. But re: the ealier comments, do you have any idea what is an acceptable level of avoidable death due to avoidable environmental degredation? I don’t, and Simon didn’t (or if he did, he didn’t tell). My question is merely rhetorical.

  27. Nate Oman on November 3, 2004 at 7:31 pm

    Jeremobi: I honestly don’t know either. I am, however, certain that the answer is not zero. I suspect that the best way of thinking about things is via causistry (can you tell that I went to law school and worship at the shrine of the common law?). We pick some useful item that we we find unobjectionable — say automobiles (or horses for Rob and the rest of the Luddites) — and we try to figure out what level of risk they create for society. Then when confronted with another risk we ask two questions: 1. How risky is it compared to automobiles; and, 2. Are the would the costs of foregoing this risk lead me to reject the use of automobiles. We then crawl our way forward from their. Another way of getting around the problem is to create a system of property rights in the risk and then let it be traded. Force people to purchase the risk from those who bear it, and see what price we get. (We do something like this with lots of risks, for example the risks borne by fire fighters or others who command higher pay levels for risky jobs.) This is hardly a perfect solution, of course, since we are never going to have perfect information about these things, there is evidence that we have systematic cognitive biases in our risk assesments, etc.

    You really ought to talk with Kaimi about this since he is into torts and presumeably therefore gets into risk regulation and the like. My schtick is contract law theory.

  28. Beau Sorensen on November 3, 2004 at 8:01 pm

    Just a point on the main post: while most conspiracy theories are usually the crazed imaginations of lunatic partisans, Communists did ultimately lead to the Korean War being a draw. MacArthur and his men were sold out by Kim Philby and his group, and that’s why there are still 2 Koreas today.

  29. JH on November 3, 2004 at 8:15 pm

    Just read Healman 6:39 if you have any doubt that the Book of Mormon is speaking to our times! Too bad so few members actually read it.

  30. danithew on November 3, 2004 at 8:21 pm

    For your convenience:

    Helaman 6:39
    And thus they did obtain the sole management of the government, insomuch that they did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor and the meek, and the humble followers of God.

    Interesting point to make, by the way.

  31. Bryce I on November 3, 2004 at 8:37 pm

    I always think of modern-day Gadianton Robbers in terms of extragovernmental groups: street gangs, organized crime, terrorist cells. In politics, it’s much too difficult to keep a secret. I mean, there’s an organized system for leaking information. There are plenty of backroom deals and secret meetings, but nothing long-term and large-scale.

    Businesses, on the other hand, can operate secretly and on grand scales for a long time. Think Enron.

  32. ryan on November 3, 2004 at 8:48 pm

    JH, you hit on one of my biggest pet peeves about using scripture, in particular the Book of Mormon, to discuss politics. People love to throw out snippets of incendiary scripture, clearly intended to attack a certain political figure(party) and backed by the prevailing criticisms of the day. But Nate’s post takes it a step further to ask, not does Helaman 6:39 get your blood boiling, but does it actually apply? The Book of Mormon when used to shock or cut-down, in my mind, becomes unproductive. It is when we ask, how does that scripture, along with others, relate to us; when we take steps to correctly answer the question; and then apply the conclusions, that the Book of Mormon has real power. Think more before you post–back up your position, and then we’ll talk. But to say “just read the Book of Mormon” because “its too bad so few members actually read it” misses the mark. By a mile.

  33. danithew on November 3, 2004 at 9:01 pm

    Perhaps the use of Helaman 6:39 was meant to be incendiary, an accusation. But I was just thinking that a party that has whole power over the government might need to be careful not to trample on the rights of the poor (or anyone for that matter). The Republicans have secured the presidency and majorities in both houses … so they had better live up to the responsibility and stewardship they have.

  34. ryan on November 3, 2004 at 9:06 pm

    If, danithew, JH had such pure intentions, then I retract my indictment. But I don’t retract my indictment on a general use of scripture to attack politicians/governments without a good faith investigation of the accused.

  35. danithew on November 3, 2004 at 9:08 pm

    Ryan, I probably should pay more attention to what JH was saying, but I was just interested in the scripture and what it was saying. I hadn’t paid much attention to the “sole management of the government” line much before and that was a pretty powerful little message packed into that verse. I’m not really arguing much with you … just thinking out loud (as is too often the case). :mrgreen:

  36. Rob Briggs on November 3, 2004 at 9:21 pm

    One common “backdrop” to the ongoing BoM narrative is the moral & political corruption of individuals, groups, guilds, factions and parties. We might say that the BoM has a “film noir” view of things. There’s the persistent and possibly even systemic corruption beneath the tidy surface. For points of comparison, think of “A Touch of Evil” (1958) or some of the “post-noirs,” “Chinatown” (1974) or “LA Confidential” (1997).

    I think it’s a mistake to conflate this BoM subtext or theme with “conspiracy theories,” at least with your narrow definition of conspiracy theories. I tend to agree with you that some of the alleged right wing conspiracies have been exaggerated, thus being discredit on their proponents. For instance, while Senator McCarthy & J. Edgar Hoover were making America safe from communists in the 1950s, Hoover & his FBI were simultaneously turning a blind eye to organized crime in the US. But what if the pervasive & (possibly) systemic corruption beneath the tidy surface is: the underworld, the demimonde, organized crime, the Mafia, Murder, Incorporated., crime “families” of ethnicities such as Italian, Sicilian, Irish, Jewish, Chinese and others (even Mormon Danites — if you believe 19th-century pulp fiction)? What about Bloods, Crips, Aryan Nation, Mexican Mafia & others? What about the same sorts of things in Japan, China, Russia, to name just a few prominent examples?

    True, “there is no [single] sinister cabal pulling strings off stage.” But who said it had to be a single organization as you imply?

    Out there in our world is a marketplace of virtue AND OF VICE.

    Call my viewpoint dark & film noirish but there is considerable evidence, historic and contemporary, for an underclass of crime in all times and cultures and for some degree of criminal or corrupt practice insinuating itself into these cultures’ apparently upright institutions & some of the individuals who control them.

    Now that I’ve written this dark piece I wish I could say that we live in a better world. But I think the BoM & film noir have it about right.

    (Has there been a better film of its genre than “L.A. Confidential” in the past ten years??)

  37. ryan on November 3, 2004 at 9:22 pm

    The scripture is certainly applicable, given what happened yesterday. My eye, though was drawn to that part where the unified government “did trample under their feet” all those that the Dems allegedly champion. I guess I’m just looking for a fight.

  38. Nate Oman on November 3, 2004 at 9:32 pm

    Beau: What is the connection of Philby to Korea? In the late 1940s and 1950s wasn’t he running the counter-intelligence section of MI-5 (or is it MI-6, I always get them confused.) I am not trying to understate the effect that Philby had on the West. He was clearly a traitor of the first order and if nothing else he set off Angleton’s destructive mole hunts in the CIA, but I don’t see that he had much of a connection to Korea.

    I am a bit of a Cold War espionage buff (blessedly we live in a world where this is a historical hobby rather than an occupation) and I am curious as to Philby’s Korean connection.

  39. Jack on November 3, 2004 at 9:42 pm

    We should be careful not to hurl the BoM at each other with too much force because, sure as shine, you’ll get broad-sided by something that will call into question your own particular views. I wonder how many T&Sers would be caught with guile by the fact that – almost without exception – every anti-Christ that appears among the Nephites seeks to debunk the institutional church and in the end is confounded by it’s spiritual leaders?

    As for conspiracy theory – I’m with Nate. Conspiracies there must be, but by and large most are goofy ideas that connect the dots well enough to get suspicious types excited about them. I once listened to a “confidential” recording of an interview with a conspiracy wacko who actually believed that the alien abductions people were shouting about back in the 60′s and 70′s were orchestrated by the U.S. government. Apparently we had blown a hole in the ozone because of nuclear testing in Antarctica and therefore, the atmosphere had only a few decades of breathable air left. The military/space industry had begun a terraforming project on Mars in hopes of converting the atmosphere. The abductees received lobotomies are were consigned to forced labor an a space station. Fun stuff! I thought, “this might be a good premise for a sci-fi movie”.

  40. Joe Spencer on November 3, 2004 at 9:47 pm

    It seems to me that the message of the passages in the BoM about the Gadiantons and other secret combinations is to point out their desire for power. That is really the most important issue, it seems to me. And because of the desire for power, the combinations see the need to thrust the faith under, because of the power manifest in it. The growing development of the combination ironically breaks the people into tribes, rather than uniting them into a great powerhouse. I think Mormon is trying to point out that at the very time we expect Christ to be coming among the people to work out a great gathering (the very subject of his words in 3 Nephi 9), the desire for power actually fragments the people. A scattering when we hope for a gathering.

    Maybe, then, it is not that Mormon sees conspiracy in the Gadiantons, but an incredible worldliness that undoes the very project of Christ. Though the developing frustration of the Nephite government does hang itself up behind the ongoing story of the faithful, it seems Mormon might be letting us know those details not because of his love of governmental freedom so much as because of his love of Christ and the work.

  41. Jack on November 3, 2004 at 9:57 pm

    Joe, that’s an excellent point!

  42. Jack on November 3, 2004 at 10:40 pm

    The element of secrecy didn’t have a whole to do with concealing what they were doing per se. Indeed, after a certain degree of confidence had been reached, the robbers cared not that the Nephites could distinguish them from others. In it’s inception, the organization has to be secret in order to protect itself from those who would oppose it, but once it becomes strong enough it will openly defy it’s enemies. Perhaps the most important reason why the Gadianton Robbers were considered a secret organization was because of the signs and tokens used by the organization. The robbers were bound by their very lives not to reveal them to an outsider.

  43. danithew on November 3, 2004 at 10:50 pm

    The robbers were bound by their very lives not to reveal them to an outsider.

    And no doubt this oath meant absolutely nothing if things got difficult, just as omerta meant very little to Sammy “The Bull” Gravano when he had to decide whether to testify against the Gambino crime family (in order to get a good plea deal). One of the main rules of organized crime is that everyone breaks their oaths … and the oath-breaking starts just as soon as the oath-making is overwith.

  44. trojan1 on November 3, 2004 at 11:00 pm

    Rob, have you been consuming some “substances” in violation of Sec 89orf the D&C? becasue, I think your statement that the war inIraq was waged to benefit halliburton and the military-industrial complex, is just plain not supported by facts. Unless you look at things like Michael Moore a nd his allies do, in which case, everything bad on theface of the world is the fault of the Bush Admin!!!! :)

  45. Rosalynde on November 3, 2004 at 11:17 pm

    Nice post, Nate; nice comments, Karen, Rob Briggs, and Joe.

    First a tangent: I agree about a certain likeness between Clinton and GWBush, and I think another president, GB Hinckley, shares certain things with them, as well. I have a theory that at any historical moment there is a broad correspondence between the president of the US and the president of the church: GB Hinckley, like Clinton and Bush, is media-savvy and knows how to spin when necessary, for instance (helpful in this age of the proliferation of simulacra).

    As for the Gadianton robbers, I agree that we should be wary of reading the BoM as a civics textbook. It seems to me that Mormon frames the Gadianton episodes as primarily a religious corruption, not a civil disruption like the king-men represent. In Helaman 6, for example Mormon makes much of the Gadiantons’ covenants, signs, and brotherhood, and even makes mention of Adam and Eve and the tower of Babel; that is, Mormon is suggesting that the Gadiantons blasphemously ape temple ordinances, and that the secret combination performs Satan’s counterfeit accolyte/initiation ceremony.

    Nate, you ask whether our theology more generally supports the conspiratorial view of history (as opposed to the providential view, perhaps?). I don’t know, but perhaps one would begin with the fact that we believe in the literal reality of Satan but not in a traditional Christian hell. Satan reigns and works here, on earth; his counterfeit kingdom is among us, not displaced temporally and spatially onto hell. I don’t know that this *should* support conspiracy theories, but it might.

  46. Larry on November 3, 2004 at 11:21 pm

    It is interesting to note not only the objectives of the Gadiantons but who revealed their secrets to them. My take on it is that there must be something in those oaths that is so appealing that it works as a magnet to draw those not firmly grounded into them, otherwise why would they not have been disclosed when discovered.
    That being the case, and our being warned against them in our time, surely they offer something more than casual conspiracy. Didn’t Pres. Benson indicate in one of his first speeches that he knew who the Gadianton’s of our time were? ( I need some help on this one because I know I heard him say it, I just can’t find the reference)
    If the oath was the same as that given to Cain, then I suspect that the consequences of betraying it would be a little more severe that just breaking the “omerta”. You can hide from the Mafia, but from Satan would be more difficult.

  47. Rob Briggs on November 3, 2004 at 11:34 pm

    Larry: “Didn’t Pres. Benson indicate in one of his first speeches that he knew who the Gadianton’s of our time were? ( I need some help on this one because I know I heard him say it, I just can’t find the reference)”

    Prior to becoming president, ET Benson identified “this secret combination” that would seek to “overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations & countries” & bring to pass the “destruction of all people” (Eth. 8:25) with communism. But he did not make this association while president. That’s based on my recollection.

    Which should be fair warning to all that you might want to do a search in GospelLink.

  48. XON on November 4, 2004 at 12:03 am

    What a fun post! I hate not having internet access at work. . .

    I have to come down on the other side of Nate. The world if full of conspiracies, and that’s not just a euphamism. These conspiracies are malignant and inflict significant carnage on the individual, institutional, and national lives they touch.

    My only real contribution to the great posts above is two points:

    1. — Most conspirators are unaware they are part of the greater conspiracy. Hypothetical: Criminal Mastermind is engaged in a criminal enterprise. On a person-by-person basis, he retains a burglar, a fence, a car thief, and a chop-shop owner. Each of the minions knows of Criminal Mastermind, but not his identity. None know of the existence of the others. Are the minions engaged in a conspiracy? And if they recruit sub-minions? (Anticipatory cut-off: disregard conspiracy-as-to-whom questions — Yes or No)

    2. — Very few people sit in dark catacombs, wringing their hands and cackling insanely while plotting to ‘be eeeeevil’. But there are a great deal that sit in offices of greater or lesser taste in decor, and apply education and experiences with which they have been graced to endeavors, the ultimate results of which they affirmatively avoid considering with the same rigor that they apply to the immediate task.

    I think there is not so much distance between this thread and Ryan’s right below.

  49. Larry on November 4, 2004 at 12:32 am

    Rob Briggs,

    I am well acquainted with what he said before becoming Prophet but I was struck with the comment after he became Prophet because it seemed to me he did not direct it at communism.

    He had mentioned the importance of reading the Book of Mormon and suggested we start in 3rd Nephi as it was a foreshadowing for our time. That being the case, I remember pondering the principle of “opposition in all things” and applying it to a free enterprise system gone amok, which I interpret as occurring in 3rd Nephi 6.
    I am a strong free enterpriser, but I do recognize the inherent sins of greed and avarice, and their accompanying vices, which can overtake overzealous pursuers of wealth. That is why I enjoy having those with social consciences around to remind us of our need for moderation and provide opposition to quell those drives and remind us of our need to look after the poor and the needy.

  50. Russell Arben Fox on November 4, 2004 at 1:54 am

    As Rob knows quite well, I’m rather impatient with conspiracy theories. But like Jonathan, at times like these it is somewhat soothing to me to read them. So thank you.

    As for me–I spent my day arguing with people over at Crooked Timber (thanks for the support, Clark), and then writing an unwieldly monster of a post on religion and the Democratic party over on my blog here. I figured I may as well link to it somewhere, so there you go.

  51. anon on November 4, 2004 at 2:05 am

    Ryan,
    Whoever you are, don’t take this too personally, but you really ought to come down off your high horse. Whether or not someone has “hit” on one of your pet peeves, it is out of line for you to make a string of judgments about their motivations (about which you have far too little information to judge fairly – that is, if you should judge at all). Your points about scripture interpretation are well taken, but likely not anything anyone would disagree with in the first place. I think the reference to the scripture was intended to be slightly tongue-in-cheek, a teasing jab with a dose of seriousness. That was my interpretation – which while possibly wrong, at least affords JH the benefit of the doubt. Further, to another reader, the reference may meet your own criteria. Teasing or not, it seems pretty clear to me that JH _is_ asking how it relates to us and today’s results, implies an answer in the question itself, and thus, conclusions. You may not agree. You may not like it. You may miss the humor. But comments like “Think more before you post – back up your position, and then we’ll talk” are unwarranted and do nothing to foster good discussion – if that is what you are really looking for. The rest of us will talk and get along just fine on this thread with or without your carefully rationed morsels of thought.
    I would venture to say that we all, including yourself, are prone to using the scriptures sometimes in a way that would “hit” upon your pet peeves. This is a fact of life. It happens in church meetings, lessons, and possibly even general conference. That method used does not immediately/inherently invalidate the point being made, though it may bother you personally. Luckily this is not your, my, or John Doe’s personal forum.

  52. jls4 on November 4, 2004 at 2:12 am

    As a person who has often participated with great edification in study groups with “Apostate American Christianity” and who frequently attends and studies the theology of such Apostates, and who has many friends among them, I’m rather stunned by the hatred Rob directs towards this entire class of persons. Perhaps Rob should identify who exactly these Apostates are, and why they are sending this entire country toward destruction. (Do non-Christian sinners have anything to do with this destruction?) If Rob means evangelicals, at least 25 percent identify themselves as liberal and vote for non-Republican candidates. And what of my good Catholic friends? Are they sending the country to hell too? Are they non-apostate when they vote left, or only when they vote right? Episcoplians? Automatically among the damned?
    Rob’s confession that “The only comfort I find is that if the rapture does happen in the next four years, at least the complete Bush administration will still be here to run the country.” is extraordinary, even accounting for hyperbole. Surely, a sense of Christian honor would require Rob furnish some clear evidence that he knows God has decided they all shall be left behind, and that this same God permits Rob to take comfort in the fact. I might be more careful in suggesting whose lips draw near to the Lord, and whose hearts are far from him.

  53. Ethesis (Stephen M) on November 4, 2004 at 2:19 am

    Somthing not well addressed above is that Michael Moore and Dan Rather influenced the election for Bush by causing many people with concerns to dismiss the related issues as overblown or unbelieveable.

    In a very real way, overblown or improperly foundationed attacks immunized large parts of the electorate.

    The same thing happened with President Clinton and those who demonized him. The hatred and demonization drowned out the legitimate criticisms and issues. It is a facinating trend in American politics — the manner in which rhetorical excess rebounds to protect a candidate from criticism in the area of attack.

    As for conspiring men ….

    Cigarettes used to use tobacco that ws cured the same way as cigars. That changed and suddenly cigarettes produced smoke with a different valence (simplifying why cigars have to have their smoke dissolved in the acid of your mouth to transmit nicotine and cigarettes can pass it through your lungs). Interestingly enough, the emphasis on the Word of Wisdom picked up around the time that trend started making headway.

    But looking at the entire industry, the conspiring men angle fits very well (as Adam Smith predicted, of course). Or consider asbestos, in both the “old days” when it was used long after the core group knew it was unsafe or the “modern days” with some of the litigation approaches.

    Yes, this creates a “web of conspiracies” of men, but still allows for a single motivating force, the same as for other sin.

    This post makes for a great confluence of two different issues — the results of rhetorical excess and the fact that there really are conspiracies (the history of antitrust legislation and early enforcement, or the recent insurance scandal, or MCI/Worldcom) and the way they fit together.

    Thanks for some good thoughts.

  54. Rob Briggs on November 4, 2004 at 2:30 am

    I’m not so much advocating “conspiracy theories” (with all their unfortunate baggage) as for the ubiquity of crime, in low places & high, and that crime frequently involves covert concert of action, or conspiracy. What I see is the ubiquity of criminal combination, or conspiracy.

    As for popular conspiracy “theories,” on the other hand, the main objections are that the passion with which they’re argued is frequently inversely proportional to the quality of the evidence and, two, that too often they take the form of a right wing (or left) bogeymen, i.e., they’re made to serve some ulterior ideological purpose.

    So partisan agenda and bad proof — these two sink most conspiracy theories.

  55. Rob Briggs on November 4, 2004 at 2:41 am

    & just for the record, jls4 is talking about the other Rob.

    So I’m going to bed. You guys on the east coast ought to be asleep. We’ve got work tomorrow.

    jls4, I think Other Rob was largely speaking tongue in cheek or hyperbolically.

  56. jeremobi on November 4, 2004 at 2:49 am

    “Surely, a sense of Christian honor would require Rob furnish some clear evidence that he knows God has decided they all shall be left behind, and that this same God permits Rob to take comfort in the fact.”

    Silly, these days we live, and more importantly, govern by faith. Neither Rob, nor anyone else needs to provide clear evidence of anything. Just repeat something enough times and that will be good enough. But I am curious, jls4, what evidence would you accept? :>)

  57. Frank McIntyre on November 4, 2004 at 10:01 am

    Jeremobi,

    The average value of a year of life in the U.S. is in the neighborhood of $100,000. This is just the average people have worked out by looking at people’s behavior and determining how people trade off money for increased risk of death. The estimates may be too high or too low, but that is the current number bandied about and, roughly, what gets used in policy decision making.

    In a developing country context, aid organizations consider a program cost-effective if they can save a year of life for less than $100.

    Just to give you a sense of the numbers…

  58. Rob on November 4, 2004 at 10:56 am

    Trojan1, you may have misread my post. I never said that the war was waged for Halliburton (However, Halliburton and its subsidiaries have benefited by the Iraq war more than any other company). I take Bush at face value when he says it is waged to spread “democracy” and protect the “American way of life”. That way of life depends on oil, so oil is part of the equation. You can figure out how big a part it is, yourself. I’m not defending Moore’s oversimplified depiction of the issue. But to deny that oil is a major factor is to simply not understand its importance to our society.

  59. a random John on November 4, 2004 at 1:05 pm

    Nate,

    I would be more willing to buy into your downplay of modern gadianton types if both candiates in the last election weren’t members of the same secret society. Other than a 15 minute piece on 60 Minutes I saw no mention of this. Should members feel good about voting for either Bush or Kerry? Or is their club just an ultra-elite frat, not really promoting the interests of its members?

  60. Ebenezer on November 4, 2004 at 1:15 pm

    Thanks for the interesting post, Nate.

    I think that Conpiracy Theories bear a marked similarity to Gossip. As human beings we seem to have a peculiar pleasure in gossip, and that pleasure is very like what we feel when we relate conpiracy theories. True or fabricated, gossip often appears to agree with the observable facts and is usually has good degree of internal logical consistency. Often gossip carries a great deal of explanatory power and provides a framework in which an individual’s actions may be interpreted. Conspiracy theories bear these same qualities.

    We often see what we want to see and at a very base, emotional level we would rather see the dirty-little secrets of others; we would rather see conspiracies. We want a consistent framework where everything happens because those involved planned it for a specific purpose rather than chaos, caprice, and chance.

    Because conspiracy theories are seductive in the same way as gossip I think that they should be approached with a great deal of skepticism and self doubt.

    However, I do believe that there are conspiracies. I think that there is a facinating similarity between the Letter from Giddianhi to Lachoneus in the Book of Mormon and Osama bin Laden’s video messages.

    I think that 3 Nephi 6 is an interesting passage:

    3 Nephi 6:27 Now it came to pass that those judges had many
    friends and kindreds; and the remainder, yea, even almost all the
    lawyers and the high priests, did gather themselves together, and
    unite with the kindreds of those judges who were to be tried
    according to the law.

    3 Nephi 6:28 And they did enter into a covenant one with another,
    yea, even into that covenant which was given by them of old,
    which covenant was given and administered by the devil, to
    combine against all righteousness.

    3 Nephi 6:29 Therefore they did combine against the people of the
    Lord, and enter into a covenant to destroy them, and to deliver
    those who were guilty of murder from the grasp of justice, which
    was about to be administered according to the law.

    3 Nephi 6:30 And they did set at defiance the law and the rights
    of their country; and they did covenant one with another to
    destroy the governor, and to establish a king over the land, that
    the land should no more be at liberty but should be subject unto
    kings.

    I think of the false affidavits filed against Joseph Smith, the mobs that attacked the saints, the government officials who declined to uphold the law, and the mob that stormed the jail and killed the prophet. It is that kind of anarchy that I most associate with secret combinations and so I tend to associate secret combinations with organized crime, gangs, KKK-like groups, terrorist groups, and any group that rejects the rule of law in its attempt to achieve its goals.

    Now if we read Abraham Lincoln’s Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield given in 1838 we can see that this kind of mob-anrchist action was not uncommon and Lincoln associated it directly with the overthrow of free government and the path to totalitarianism:

    Such are the effects of mob law; and such as the scenes, becoming more and more frequent in this land so lately famed for love of law and order; and the stories of which, have even now grown too familiar, to attract any thing more, than an idle remark.

    Whenever this effect shall be produced among us; whenever the vicious portion of population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision-stores, throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure, and with impunity; depend on it, this Government cannot last. By such things, the feelings of the best citizens will become more or less alienated from it; and thus it will be left without friends, or with too few, and those few too weak, to make their friendship effectual. At such a time and under such circumstances, men of sufficient talent and ambition will not be wanting to seize the opportunity, strike the blow, and overturn that fair fabric, which for the last half century, has been the fondest hope, of the lovers of freedom, throughout the world
    ….
    It is to deny, what the history of the world tells us is true, to suppose that men of ambition and talents will not continue to spring up amongst us. And, when they do, they will as naturally seek the gratification of their ruling passion, as others have so done before them. The question then, is, can that gratification be found in supporting and maintaining an edifice that has been erected by others? Most certainly it cannot. Many great and good men sufficiently qualified for any task they should undertake, may ever be found, whose ambition would inspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress, a gubernatorial or a presidential chair; but such belong not to the family of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle. What! think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon?–Never! Towering genius distains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored.–It sees no distinction in adding story to story, upon the monuments of fame, erected to the memory of others. It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction; and, if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen. Is it unreasonable then to expect, that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time, spring up among us? And when such a one does, it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.

    Lincoln’s address is very interesting, especially in the context of the church history of the same era and the threats of succession by South Carolina during the nullification crisis of 1832. Read Lincoln’s whole address.

  61. jeremobi on November 4, 2004 at 4:12 pm

    Good to see two things:

    1. Economists are finally and usefully putting monetary values on human life that we can use in real public policy. That’s great! I wonder how many of actually do walk around and give much, or any, thought to the monetary weight of our lives and acceptable levels of risk. There ought to be a poll!

    2. American lives are worth more $ than, say, Iraqi lives. I always knew it was true, but now I have a bunch of rat choicers to back me up! Does anyone know if LDS charities uses the $100 per life standard?

    Bravo, we’ve come a long way, baby.

  62. samuel on November 4, 2004 at 4:17 pm

    I am embarassed to be a Mormon when the Mormon vote is indistinguishable from the evangelical vote. Evangelicals are the literal and ideological descendants of those who tarred and feathered Mormon ancestors in Missouri and Nauvoo. Their pogrom against plural marriage is now the pogrom for “traditional marriage” and as soon as they’ve dealt with gays and lesbians, Mormons will get their’s. Evangelists are happy to have support for their agenda, but as soon as it is clear that their program is not the same as the Zion-building mission of the Church, Mormons will be in trouble.

    The only hope for Zion is for these folks to be wiped off the face of Missouri, as Brigham said, so that “when we return to that place there will not be as much as a yellow dog to wag his tail”.

    Sound harsh? Not as harsh as other prophesies about the chastening of the Saints when they forsake the gospel.

  63. Adam Greenwood on November 4, 2004 at 4:33 pm

    This sort of hatred of evangelicals and conservative Catholics has got to stop.

  64. danithew on November 4, 2004 at 4:45 pm

    Samuel, I’m going to make a guess that you’re upset about the election. If I were a Kerry supporter I would feel the same way. It’s ok to be upset. That doesn’t mean you can wish death on such a huge swathe of people. Take a deep breath. Count to 10. Count to 100. Whatever it takes to calm down. I’m seriously wondering about your sanity here.

  65. Larry on November 4, 2004 at 4:50 pm

    Well said Adam! My mother came from a born-again background and though I never appreciated their stand on Mormons, I will forever be grateful that they gave life to her and thus to me.
    They do have an ardent love for the Saviour, though often misdirected, and that can’t help but yield more good than evil in this world.

  66. Nate Oman on November 4, 2004 at 5:51 pm

    Jeremobi: The numbers are not statements about how much human lives are worth. They are statements about how people act. People may be acting improperly. It hardly makes sense to get all snide at the messanger. We live in a world where people tolerate finite levels of risk. This means that it is possible to at least attempt to quantify it. Furthermore, such quantification can be quite useful in the ethical calculus.

    Think about the problem in terms of causistry. Pick some activity that you know is risky, but which you are willing to tolerate. I think that driving a car is a good place to begin, but pick any other acceptably risky activity. Try to get data about how risky it is and data about the costs that accepting the risk allows you to avoid. Now, when faced with the question of whether some other sort of risk is acceptable, figure out how risky it is in comparison to your core case and how much cost is avoided by acceptance of the risk in comparison to your core case. Is it close or not?

    Also you ought to consider diminishing margins. You can do this, by the way, without thinking about things in crassly economic ways that make you want to get all huffy. Suppose that there is a starving child and a well-fed child. Both would like you to bring them a meal. I am assuming that we would say that we ought to be willing to accept greater risks to feed the starving child than to feed the well fed child. Imagine that you are seperated from the child by a World War I-esque noman’s land. Would you be willing to crawl under the machine gun fire to bring a meal to the starving child? Being the exceptionally moral and generous person that you are, I would assume so. Would you be willing to crawl under the machine gun fire to bring an extra bag of Cheetos to a well-fed child watching cartoons? I assume not. This is diminishing marginal returns. It explains why poor people are willing to take greater risks than wealthy people, and also suggests why within some limits we ought to tolerate those risks. It is not that poor people are less valuable. Rather, it is that the benefits they reap from certain risks are comparitively greater than benefits reaped by the wealthy from the same risks.

    In short, it makes more sense to use the numbers to try and think productively about the problem of risk regulation rather than use them as a platform for moral posturing about economics and rational choice.

  67. danithew on November 4, 2004 at 5:56 pm

    Would you be willing to crawl under the machine gun fire to bring an extra bag of Cheetos to a well-fed child watching cartoons?

    I like that imagery you’re using. :)

  68. The Only True and Living Nathan on November 4, 2004 at 7:20 pm

    To solidify what others have been dancing around the edges of, I have long been of the opinion that the true analogues of the BoM secret societies are to be found amonth the multi-national for-profit corporations: Huge, closed organizations which are dedicated to gain and their own perpetuation. Fits the bill close enough for me, I guess.

  69. Beau Sorensen on November 4, 2004 at 7:24 pm

    Nate,
    Unfortunately I don’t have my sources right in front of me, but I read about this recently in William Manchester’s biography of MacArthur (American Caesar) and also in the (I think) March 2004 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. MacArthur was Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces (Pacific) (SCAP) for the United Nations, viceroy of Japan, and Commander in Chief (Far East) (CINCFE) for the US. When he went into Korea, he had to coordinate both with the UN and the US because Korea was a UN operation. He usually conferred with the Joint Chiefs as CINCFE and then either the Joint Chiefs conferred with State or else MacArthur went straight through State as part of his role as SCAP. He had to give notice of his planned offensives to Washington to get them signed off before proceeding. State conferred with the British foreign ministry on these issues, because the British were the other main UNSC nation supporting the Korean War. These communications usually ran through Michael Straight in State or Guy Burgess and Donald MacLean in the British foreign ministry, all of whom were part of Philby’s Cambridge Four. In addition, intelligence from MI5 usually was picked up by Anthony Blunt (another Philby agent) and coordinated with American intelligence, who had details about MacArthur’s movements. Philby was in MI6 and also had access to these communications. The Soviets had infiltrated the entire intelligence apparatus of Britain and the diplomatic departments of both nations, which led to them having extremely good knowledge of MacArthur’s movements and battle plans. The Chinese had access to this because they were still on good terms with the Soviets in the early 50s.

  70. Clark Goble on November 4, 2004 at 9:22 pm

    Actually I think the best analogies are the quasi-government bandits which long plagued the ancient world and which can be found today in groups like FARC in Columbia. One could easily say that the tactics of some insurgents in Iraq who are doing what they do as much for money and power as political ideology would fit it as well.

    Claiming that it is corporations seems a bit difficult.

  71. Bryce I on November 4, 2004 at 10:10 pm

    Clark Goble–

    What’s so difficult about “claiming that it is corporations?” I don’t disagree with your analogy, but I don’t see a problem with TOTAL Nathan’s either.

    At any rate, when I think about secret combinations, I don’t think of them as being one thing or another in our modern world. The message that I get is that secrecy in general is bad for societies (not privacy). Surprise birthday parties aside, there aren’t too many people out there being secretive so they can do lots of good things for other people (not that secrets are bad as such either).

  72. danithew on November 4, 2004 at 10:22 pm

    I’ve lately been simply replacing the term “secret combinations” with the term “organized crime” in my mind lately. But I think Clark Goble’s comparison of “secret combinations” with FARC is a good one. Perhaps the Nephite version started out as organized crime families that turned into more rural paramilitary groups.

  73. jeremobi on November 4, 2004 at 10:30 pm

    Nate:
    “The numbers are not statements about how much human lives are worth.�

    Okay, the average worth of life measured in USD is in the neighborhood of $100,000.

    “They are statements about how people act.�

    Granted, people act as if the average value of life is in the neighborhood of $100,000.

    We might agree that the actual worth of a life is immeasurable (perhaps I assume too much).

    I think we went round on these concepts on a thread months ago, so I don’t know if I can spare the time to oblige multiple, lengthy posts. This is probably it for me. I can walk to the office next door when I want my fill :>).

    I’m not opposed to rational choice. I find in my own work it helps to relax some assumptions and apply “soft� or institutional rat choice models all the time. The car example is right out of my intro to game theory textbook, page 8 or 9. Unfortunately, both the driving risk and the stylized starving child/Gallipoli case are examples of a typical post hoc development model—just thought experiments designed to generate an explanation of a given phenomenon that is consistent with rational choice assumptions. They also project evidence from the theory, which may not be problematic, but they need to be tested for empirical accuracy. Do people in the normal range actually calculate the risk of driving to work, or most other risky behaviors, this way (“Try to get data about how risky it is and data about the costs that accepting the risk allows you to avoid.�). Do we have the mental and psychological tools necessary to make these judgments given imperfect information? How regularly do we seek out or even want more information (e.g. if Rob (above) had insider/expert information that there was deadly poison in your well, would you want to know so you could recalculate your interests today, or would you rather just wait for the market to catch up and make a correction some time in the future)?

    Whether poor people are more or less risk averse than wealthy people is also an empirical question with conflicting evidence, not a truism.

    The positive, armchair speculation about my morals and generosity is much appreciated.

  74. Rob Briggs on November 5, 2004 at 1:23 am

    Samuel: “Their [evangelicals'] pogrom against plural marriage . . .”

    Ohhh, I like that phrase.

  75. Rob Briggs on November 5, 2004 at 2:17 am

    Some have made the effort to take the notion of secret combination in the BoM & look for analogues in a modern setting. So far the list of potential modern analogues includes:

    GOVERNMENT SECRECY: “One lesson to be drawn from the Book of Mormon’s emphasis on the dangers of secret combinations is that as a general rule secrecy is not good for a government or a society. Certainly the current Bush administration has been among the most secretive in recent memory (I haven’t read John Dean’s recent book on the subject, but it sounds interesting). Intentions aside, the closed nature of the administration hampers public accountability and oversight, and increases the opportunity for conspiracy theories to thrive and flourish.”

    COMMUNISM: “It was anti-communist and one-time SLC police chief W. Cleon Skousen who wrote “The Naked Communist,â€? a 1960s-era book that he once used in a course he taught at BYU. Ironically, many of the things Skousen warned about in 1962, have been achieved, more or less.”

    NEOCONS IN GOVERNMENT: “The Neocon conspiracy is the more dangerous thing to be looking at. Can anyone deny that there were small groups of people getting together for the last decade plotting a way to expand American empire in the post Cold War era? It wasn’t secret, but it is definitely a conspiracy–a combination.”

    ORGANIZED CRIME (& similar): “But what if the pervasive & (possibly) systemic corruption beneath the tidy surface is: the underworld, the demimonde, organized crime, the Mafia, Murder, Incorporated., crime “familiesâ€? of ethnicities such as Italian, Sicilian, Irish, Jewish, Chinese and others (even Mormon Danites – if you believe 19th-century pulp fiction)? What about Bloods, Crips, Aryan Nation, Mexican Mafia & others? What about the same sorts of things in Japan, China, Russia, to name just a few prominent examples?”

    OATH-BOUND ORGANIZED CRIME: “And no doubt this oath meant absolutely nothing if things got difficult, just as omerta meant very little to Sammy “The Bullâ€? Gravano when he had to decide whether to testify against the Gambino crime family (in order to get a good plea deal). One of the main rules of organized crime is that everyone breaks their oaths … and the oath-breaking starts just as soon as the oath-making is over with.”

    SMALL-SCALE CONSPIRACIES: “I have to come down on the other side of Nate. The world if full of conspiracies, and that’s not just a euphemism. These conspiracies are malignant and inflict significant carnage on the individual, institutional, and national lives they touch. . . . 1. – Most conspirators are unaware they are part of the greater conspiracy. Hypothetical: Criminal Mastermind is engaged in a criminal enterprise. On a person-by-person basis, he retains a burglar, a fence, a car thief, and a chop-shop owner. Each of the minions knows of Criminal Mastermind, but not his identity. None know of the existence of the others. Are the minions engaged in a conspiracy? And if they recruit sub-minions? (Anticipatory cut-off: disregard conspiracy-as-to-whom questions – Yes or No)”

    BIG TOBACCO; OTHER CORPORATE EXAMPLES: “As for conspiring men …. Cigarettes used to use tobacco that was cured the same way as cigars. That changed and suddenly cigarettes produced smoke with a different valence (simplifying why cigars have to have their smoke dissolved in the acid of your mouth to transmit nicotine and cigarettes can pass it through your lungs). Interestingly enough, the emphasis on the Word of Wisdom picked up around the time that trend started making headway. But looking at the entire industry, the conspiring men angle fits very well (as Adam Smith predicted, of course). Or consider asbestos, in both the “old daysâ€? when it was used long after the core group knew it was unsafe or the “modern daysâ€? with some of the litigation approaches. . . . there really are conspiracies (the history of antitrust legislation and early enforcement, or the recent insurance scandal, or MCI/Worldcom).”

    ORGANIZED CRIME, GANGS, HATE & TERROR GROUPS: “I think of the false affidavits filed against Joseph Smith, the mobs that attacked the saints, the government officials who declined to uphold the law, and the mob that stormed the jail and killed the prophet. It is that kind of anarchy that I most associate with secret combinations and so I tend to associate secret combinations with organized crime, gangs, KKK-like groups, terrorist groups, and any group that rejects the rule of law in its attempt to achieve its goals.”

    MULTI-NATIONAL CORPORATIONS: “I have long been of the opinion that the true analogues of the BoM secret societies are to be found among the multi-national for-profit corporations: Huge, closed organizations which are dedicated to gain and their own perpetuation. Fits the bill close enough for me, I guess.”

    POLITICAL INSURGENTS: “Actually I think the best analogies are the quasi-government bandits which long plagued the ancient world and which can be found today in groups like FARC in Columbia. One could easily say that the tactics of some insurgents in Iraq who are doing what they do as much for money and power as political ideology would fit it as well.”

    I don’t subscribe to all of these. But I think it’s helpful to do the imaginative work of taking the text, trying to grasp the sociology it ever-so-briefly describes, then cast around for concrete examples in the modern world that seem to have a similar sociology.

    Naturally, I like my contribution. But I can’t believe I left off my list groups like FARC – political insurgents who engage in kidnaping, extortion & assassination. And those F#$%$%@ in the KKK. Two major oversights.

  76. JH on November 5, 2004 at 10:04 am

    Anyone who thinks that evangelicals and right wing catholics are freinds of the Mormons are sadly mistaken. Just today I was informed on the radio that the LDS church was a “Hooker” Church, since we “prostitute the word of God.” So, I don’t think that Samuel is that far off the mark.

  77. anonymous(because it should be thus) on November 7, 2004 at 5:22 pm

    JH,

    Don’t mistake the lunatic rantings of a radio evangelical as being totally accepted by their flock. They come and they go.
    As long as they vote the way you want, why argue with them. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.(at least for now)
    Of all the certitudes that surround us, there is one that bears remembering – things change, and so does our view towards who we call friends and who we call enemies. Let’s call them friends and pray for them.(That way you’re covered both ways)

  78. Keith on November 7, 2004 at 9:53 pm

    In reading over some of the comments here, I’ve been saddened to see the occasional attitude of intolerance show to those of other Christian denominations. Citing the prophecies of former saints is fine, but the attitude they are given in seems contrary to the current counsel of the Prophet. So many times he has urged not only tolerance, but a reaching out and (on appropriate issues, and without doctrinal compromise) joining together with those of other faiths in combating evil. Note the following (of numerous similar statements) by President Hinckley:

    “Let us as Latter-day Saints reach out to others not of our faith. Let us never act in a spirit of arrogance or with a holier-than-thou attitude. Rather, may we show love and respect and helpfulness toward them. We are greatly misunderstood, and I fear that much of it is of our own making. We can be more tolerant, more neighborly, more friendly, more of an example than we have been in the past. Let us teach our children to treat others with friendship, respect, love, and admiration. That will yield a far better result than will an attitude of egotism and arrogance.â€? (General Conference, April, 2000)

    Are Latter-day Saints sometimes misrepresented by others? No question. But we do much better not to return the same–either the misrepresentation or the fear and hatred that causes such. I think the attitude expressed in the “keep all the good that you have” has lots to teach in how we might think about the faith of others and in how we might treat them. We do not make the Church or the Gospel any truer by making others look bad–not even by exposing how certain others may mistreat us. President Hinckley has likewise urged us to look for others’ strengths, not their weaknesses, and that in doing so we will find ourselves strengthened and helped. There is a great deal of evil to be fought, but we can’t and (as I read President Hinckley’s Ensign article on opposing evil) are not intended to fight it alone.

    The tolerance and respect called for is not merely a kind of political correctness. It really is a change of heart and of the words that proceed from our hearts to a genuinely Christian way of encountering those with whom we have differences but also commonalities in advancing good in the world.

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