The Old Oil Chestnut

I seem to be delivering content to this blog at the moment and I have the horrible feeling that you (on meagre readership) might think this to be a) a good thing and b) a sign of further good things to come. I had hoped to dissuade you of this today with a filler post followed by a fortnight of silence but, as it happens, I have more content which needs promulgation. In fact, the next post (dateline: Thursday) was meant to be this one, but the next post is ‘timeless’ whilst today’s diatribe is fixed into place by the vagrancies of another’s blog.Anyway, on with the show.Aardvark Daily seems to have joined, albeit tentatively, the Power Corporates Conspiracy. It’s a popular Conspiracy Theory and it has a certain plausibility (just like the claim that the Milk Board runs New Zealand and that the reason why there is so much sugar in British food is that… Well, I think that’s just northern stupidity, really). Some of our largest corporations have a lot invested in their continued existence and some of our politicians recognise that fact and appreciate the monies that come from helping out.Does that mean that such companies will actively seek to suppress a technological revolution in power generation? Maybe, maybe not. It is true that a lot of large corporates engage in activities we consider harmful to the public good (and, like a lot of the population, I don’t think that the free market (whatever that is) will ultimately provide what is best for everyone; I think this assumotion is one of the root causes for conspiracy hypothesising in cases like these); look at Microsoft and the famous antitrust actions against it. Still, that doesn’t mean such companies deliberate set out to cause harm to consumers. Not all things that look like Conspiracies are conspiratorial activities. Sometimes they are just features (and you can read ‘features’ as ambiguously as you like in this case) of the system.Noam Chomsky, philosopher of language and of politics, runs a line of critique called Institutional Analysis (which I am sure I have mentioned before) in which he argues that some conspiratorial activity is actually just the result of, for want of a better term, normal business practice. Take Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch is a supporter of a fairly strong extreme-right view and his news corporation certainly treats the Republican Party fair more nicely than the Democrats. Still, has Murdoch, at any point, ever told his news editors and journalists to go soft on Republicans? Possibly not. Instead what you might have is a situation where a cub reporter, knowing that his ultimate boss is a Republican, portrays Republics favourably because they assume that is what Murdoch wants. If a significant number of people in the organisation think that way then you get a noticeable bias towards the Republicans without there ever having been explicit instruction to act in that way.I am fairly sympathetic to this account of conspiratorial-like activity, although I think it is very open to abuse. For example; one of Microsoft’s strategies in the antitrust case was to argue that the company hadn’t deliberately set out to lock out third-party access to the Window’s API set but rather that it was simply symptomatic of the culture at Microsoft that third-party vendors found getting the needed information difficult. If I were a board member I’d be using the exact same excuse to hide my conspiratorial behaviour.So, are Power Companies suppressing clean, green energy? Well, possibly. Is it a Conspiracy? Well, once again, possibly. Or maybe it isn’t. That’s the wonderful thing about Conspiracy Theories. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t and most of the time we only find out the truth of the matter well after the fact.Also. a tip. Energy saving bulbs are a good idea, except in rooms where the light is only on for a short amount of time. In those situations, like bathrooms, the pallid illumination they provide before they really get incandescent is of no use whatsoever to me when I need to go and have a piss.Just saying.


There’s an awful lot of ‘woulds’ in Aardvark’s article, so many that he can’t see the trees for them. He finds a case of apparent bullying by a pharmacutical corporation and then surmises that energy corporations would also behave badly in an hypothetical and unrelated situation. But then, I suppose it is a feature of conspiracy theories that imaginations get ahead of the facts.

horansome says:

Well, he is generalising dispositions; if these agents can act in this fashion then this similar group of agents could be acting in that fashion as well. It’s a fairly standard heuristic and most of what we call historical explanation is based upon it. In historical explanations, however, you have the benefit of hindsight and a fairly large repository (in best case scenarios) of supporting materials, whilst with a lot of contemporary putative explanations of this type you get the suppositions but the supporting material is somewhat… well, sparse.