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Conspiracy? It’s more like a confederacy of dunces

Essay by Ellen Miller

Federal government – May 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine

It seems the John Birch Society, ever vigilant in its quest to guard liberty, has announced it plans a blitz of Wyoming to educate the wind-swept masses about the conspiracy threats that face us.

The society contends that a huge conspiracy involving all of our institutions, from the government to the media, will rob us of our freedoms. That leap of faith, however, is based on the assumption that society’s institutions are capable of acting efficiently.

Take the government. We have an IRS that spent billions on new computers only to admit recently, after being caught by auditors, that the money has been wasted. Not that this was much comfort at tax time — taxes were collected and a few folks will be randomly selected for audits and they’ll be subjected to number torture that may or may not cost them everything they own. So to call the IRS efficient is a contradiction in terms. If the agency can’t figure out how to collect taxes, how could it be part of a conspiracy?

Try the military. The Air Force is not in the habit of misplacing jets, particularly jets loaded with bombs. With satellite tracking, radar, and AWACS, the Air Force can keep track of just about anything in the sky, and usually does. But recently, an A-10, for yet-unknown reasons, got away from them and at this writing still hadn’t been found, although search efforts concentrated on a rugged spot of terrain south of Edwards at the north end of the Sawatch Range. While the Air Force sees very occasional jets crashing from time to time, they don’t out-and-out lose them. This is a hell of a way to run a conspiracy.

Then there’s education. It’s not as some might suspect, a well-oiled conspiracy to turn little kids into liberal bleeding hearts. The educational establishment, as a whole, is filled with well-meaning but meeting-loving people. They’d rather schedule meetings and bring in experts and gripe about class size than just about anything else. Stacking up graduate credits in educational psychology, so as to extract raises from the local school board, does nothing to teach the kiddos. Teachers want to teach, but administrators make it damn tough on them. Most teachers spend more time filling out paperwork, so higher-ups have something to look at, than they do actually teaching the kids. This behavior is not what conspiracies are made of.

Then there’s the ever-favorite media conspiracy. This one I know doesn’t exist. This is an industry that ranges from weekly newspapers in itty-bitty towns to national networks. Like any business, keeping the bottom line in the black is the over-riding factor, particularly for publishers, radio station general managers and others who sign paychecks. For reporters and editors on the news side, producing the stories is what’s most important. Getting newspeople to agree on just about anything is nearly impossible. Go to any state press association convention and there will be a number of fights going on. The Society of Professional Journalists, which many reporters refuse to join on the principle that any organization could be regulated by the government at some point, took years to thrash out a code of ethics that many of its own members don’t agree with.

Conspiracies? Heck, most big agencies and industries are just too big and have too many different kinds of people in them to even think of plotting a conspiracy. Besides, the Peter Principle (that old maxim by Dr. L. J. Peter which formulates that in a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetency, thereby insuring incompetent management) is just too overwhelming as a natural law to allow such a thing.

Ellen Miller is the Denver Post correspondent for the Western Slope.