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.