Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Starting a secret culture of combinations

Reading through Ether the other night, I found the comments about secret combinations interesting. Perhaps part of the reason was the transparent grab for power reflected in anti-establishment books like "No Logo". To me it always seems apparent that some people consider anything a majority does or chooses oppressive. Whether it is Walmart not carrying graphic magazines, or the loss of diversity caused by big stores serving the wants of the majority, someone always seems to feel trampled.

In the last few decades numerous groups have sprung up to fight the rolling monopoly of the majority. In No Logo, what struck me as odd, and revealing was how Naomi Klein mentioned that while identity politics certainly gave individuals more freedom, the tools that empowered this change were misuse and corrupted as corporations exploited the new dynamic balance. To me the main complaint seemed to be "We found a tool that could change things to suit our desires, we don't want any other group to use it. Once the majority get hold of it, someone will always get oppressed". Really this is just a transparent power grab. One group is asserting their right to control others due to a sense of entitlement.

Now couple this idea with the rising view that many far left (and far right) movements act in a pseudo religious fashion. They tend to have a set group of dogmatic beliefs giving them a unique world view. They believe people fundamentally want to accept their values, and fail to do so because they are either oppressed, or prefer to remain hegemonic oppressors. They evangelize their position by demonizing opposition and selling themselves as a light. And perhaps most importantly, there is a noticeable demarcation whether you are in communion with the group or not.

A third point that brings everything together revolves around the way civilizations collapse. As Wrethcard mentions this week at Belmont Club, civilizations run into problems when they can no longer identify "we". Once unification is lost, competition for power creates destabilization. In fact destabilization is what any group who wants power must achieve. Usually what is wanted is just enough destabilization to let them in, but not enough to let any one else in.

When one looks at scriptural references to secret combinations one usually assumes, quite correctly, that these groups are after profit and gain. However I wonder what conditions lead to a flooding of society with secret combinations? Is it a sense of entitlement combined with a false sense of justification? If it is, are activist groups setting up society for a culture of secret combinations? Or is it possible to view some of the more power hungry versions of these groups as embryonic secret combinations?

One of the defining characteristic of secret combinations in the difficulty in distinguishing them. Sure signs and tokens are used, but can social clues like rainbow necklaces, tatoos, nike=evil t-shirts, etc be thought of as signs of identification? Can professed attitudes and assumptions be thought of as tokens of participation? Certainly we find it easy to categorize people into social groups. Demographers are remarkably good at predicting the clustering of your habits. But to be a secret combination a group needs a clear agenda. Not all social groups have this. However most reform oriented ones do. This doesn't mean reformation is bad, however it may mean that once society is replete with quasi formal groups who organize around power grabs, we are set up for the type of coup that the Book of Mormon frequently encountered. We have created a culture of secret combinations.


Clark Goble said...

That's a really interesting take on secret combinations Chris.

William Morris said...

Great post, Chris.

As you mention, I think that too often we focus on secret combinations by the outward signs presented in the Book of Mormon and so look at the mafia and gangs as latter-day analogues.

However, the secret combinations in the Book of Mormon are political groups -- and they are made up mainly of a class of people with a very strong sense of entitlement.

Clark Goble said...

I think the quasi-political nature of the secret combinations is often neglected by Mormons - especially those focusing on the apologetic recognition of the text's distinction between bandits and thieves in the near east that is present in the Book of Mormon as well. Having said that though there obviously are extensive parallels between the Gadiantons and various political guerilla warfare movements from Shining Path, to Mao, and most importantly now, Al Queda.

I've actually found a lot of the more academic discussions of Al Queda rather illuminating for understanding the Book of Mormon as well. Although there clearly are some differences.

Geoff J said...

Very interesting thoughts Chris. I think the seeds of secret combinations can be everywhere in society (and even among us in teh church). Any group (incuding groups of friends or even families) that believes that that supporting its members is more important than rule of law or protecting society is moving in the secret combination direction I think. It is the "having one another's back" thing that our society often puts such a high premium on. So when the friend or family member does something that is morally or ethically wrong it is not uncommon for the friends or family to cover for them. That is exactly the kind of alliance that the BoM warned against -- when loyalty to group insiders is paramount and overrules the sense of right and wrong.

3 But behold, Kishkumen, who had murdered Pahoran, did lay wait to destroy Helaman also; and he was upheld by his band, who had entered into a covenant that no one should know his wickedness. (Hel 2:3)

In today's language: Kishkumen's friends just had his back...

Tim J. said...

Great post! We need more of these discussions.

Secret combinations want ONE thing--POWER--and they thirst for it and will do ANYTHING to attain it. The only way to acheive total power, and total control is when those beneath you have no freedom.

Ezra Taft Benson knew this and warned us about this. Unfortunately, he was and still is dismissed by some as an ultra right-wing conspiracy-theorist. After all, there's no way these Secret Combinations could still exist--even if they're a secret! Right? RIGHT?

chris g said...

Well, one thing I have often wondered about is just how secret combinations actaully were? It seemed like they had to have quite a base of popular support. This doesn't mean the populous needed to be up with the inner circle, though. Instead it seems like the background workings of the leaders may have been what was hidden. In the general populace I wonder if things were much more recognizable. What could have been hard was singling out any individual for participation. This is much the same as we have today with power hungry special interest groups. Large numbers of people may support them in varying degrees without actually supporting the destructive decisions of the leaders. The true agenda may often be hidden, couched in terms of social progression and empowerment. What is difficult for a society to do is weed out the thoughts and tendencies that may support such ideals.

For instance, support for anti-torture laws isn't a bad thing. Neither is support for organizations like Amnesty international. However judging from the their grossly erroneous conclusions the other year concerning US as the worst human rights violator one has to wonder about the upper level agendas. What happens if a group keep attacking the governing power, pushing for a hidden power grab, and yet portraying their cause to the populous as noble and not maliscious? To erradicate the problem do you elimate every person who supports an ideal? Do you just take out a hidden segment in that group that is responsible for the power grab? To me this seems like the tough part. The power grabbers are hidden within a culture of apparent reform. The latter isn't necessarily bad, the former most certainly is. In this sense, part of what makes a secret combination so dangerous is not that is it underground like organized crime, rather that it is seamlessley intergrated within an open movement.

Anonymous said...

I've sometimes pondered that the biggest secret combo. in our day is the United Nations. After all, it "sits on all the waters of the earth" and has all this power just waiting to unleash. I think this is discussed in Bentley's book The Hidden Things of Darkness. A very good read.

Anonymous said...

The worldwide secret combination of which President Benson spoke is still the single most destructive enemy of the people of God today. It has become clear to me that many have been seduced by them and come down to "believe in their secret works and partake of their spoils" like the Nephites did at a certain time period of their history. Those parasites have control of our monetary system and use their spoils for every subversive purpose imaginable. Their power is money. They have bought up most all of the important political offices even in our land. The danger to our freedom and to our very existence cannot be overestimated. However the greatest danger is in the heart of the individual. By being seduced by secret combinations one may place their own eternal welfare in jeopardy. One great key to safety is first and foremost to stand up for the acknowledgment of God in government. This thwarts the secret plans of the enemies of God in government and brings them out into the open. Thus having identified them we could get rid of them through peaceable elections which would be our right by the blood of our fathers. This we would be able to do if we were righteous to the level the Prophets warn us to be. But alas, we are not. Therefore bloodshed the likes of which has never been seen is about to be spread over the earth in fulfillment of the prophets and only an exceedingly merciful Savior's return will save a remnant of whomsoever he will. But I believe it will not be those who have been seduced by that spirit of anti Christ who look upon the acknowledgment of God in government to be a vain thing.