In or about 1929, a state senator from the great state of Tennessee introduced a bill devoted to protecting the citizenry from the fearful menace known as the bogeyman
. The bill contained no precise details of how to spot a bogeyman, or what to do if you encountered one, but was peppered with suppositions as to what actions by the populace might attract bogeymen, what legislative philosophies could be considered as aiding and abetting bogeymen, and which of his fellow senators might be
bogeymen, based primarily on his own suspicions of what a bogeyman agenda would entail. Also, I just made all of that up. If there is one thing Fox News has taught us in this glittering new millennium, it is that making something up is just as noble as saying something true, so long as it all sounds good in the end.
Sadly, we are indeed now at the point where states are creating new legislation premised entirely from conspiracy theories. To wit:
A final legislative vote is expected Monday on a bill that would outlaw government support of any of the 27 principles contained in the 1992 United Nations Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, also sometimes referred to as Agenda 21. [...]
At a March 15 hearing on the bill, [State Sen. Judy Burges] said an executive order signed by then-President Bill Clinton in 1993 started the implementation of Agenda 21 after the Senate refused to pass a treaty ratifying it.
"Any way you want to describe it, Agenda 21 is a direct attack on the middle class and working poor" through "social engineering of our citizens" in "every aspect" of their lives," she told the hearing.
Agenda 21, for those of you not versed in the more ridiculous extremes of wingnuttery, is a conspiracy theory blaming a forced environmental agenda imposed by the United Nations for everything from proposed bike paths in Colorado to manatee-friendly powerboat speed limits in certain Florida waterways. It supposes the United Nations to have absolute power over such things, which is quite possibly the most flattering conspiracy theory the United Nations has ever been suspected of, and supposes that all world governments are in secret cahoots to bring this militant agenda to fruition. According to the tea party version, humans are going to become a subservient species (presumably because the United Nations and/or all world governments are secretly staffed by marmots or some other nonhuman group bent on our destruction). That the means of our destruction consists of providing humans with more bike paths and slower powerboats seems to suggest a plot that is inefficient at best, however, leading once again to the prime dilemma of all such conspiracy theories: how the conspirators can be so all-powerful, and yet so very incompetent, at the same time.
This, then, is what has the crackpot state of Arizona in the latest tizzy. The notion that the president of the United States is a secret Muslim Kenyan who is not really an American after all satisfied them for a while. Their own politicians essentially declaring the state a lawless hellhole thanks to illegal immigrants chopping off people's heads in the more imaginary parts of the Arizona desert was titillating, since all good conspiracy theorists love imagining themselves as facing imminent and horrifying dangers around every turn and behind every weedy shrub. But even those have their limits, and besides: the one thing conspiracy theorists the world over all have in common is an astonishing ability to multitask. A person who finds one conspiracy theory soon finds another, and then 10, and then 20, all connected by the lynchpin of batshit implausibility, all presumably proven by the sinisterness of nobody else being able to find a speck of corroboration anywhere.
(Continued below the fold.)
Just how sinister is this Agenda 21? This sinister, and then some:
Among the U.N. declaration’s non-binding principles are calls for sustainable development, environmental protection, eradicating poverty, eliminating unsustainable production and consumption patterns, economic growth and the participation of women in government decisions.
If there is one thing that non-binding U.N. resolutions are known for, it would not be the terror they strike among world governments clamoring to comply. Non-binding U.N. resolutions are, in legal terms, one step above international Hallmark cards. Congratulations on your new baby girl!
gets replaced with Please do not poison your own water, if it is not too much to ask
, a bunch of people sign it, and then everyone goes on their diplomatic way.
You may be asking yourself what role "eradicating poverty" or "the participation of women in government decisions" has in reducing the human race to obsolescence. You're not thinking big enough. Nearly anything that contains even a speck of common sense can be considered a worldwide conspiracy, if you look at it through the right lens (living in 110 degree weather and/or being a lifelong, flagrant racist also seem to help people uncover these plots). You may think that something like establishing sustainable energy supplies or not breathing mercury for fun makes a lot of sense, in the grand scheme of trying to preserve humanity as a dominant species. What you fail to recognize is that not breathing mercury for fun is exactly what the hummingbirds and polar bears want you to do. A true patriot breathes whatever the fuck Good Lord Industry presents him with.
Toward this end, the Arizona legislature seeks to bar anything that might resemble anything pertaining to anything that might match up with anything this Nonbinding Declaration of Vaguely Foreign Notions might have addressed. Detractors point out that in this zeal, the language effectively bars, well, a large percent of the functions of government. I might also point out that it is, aside from that, written as batshit crazy conspiracy theorizing (PDF):
"The state of Arizona and all political subdivisions of this state shall not adopt or implement the creed, doctrine, principles or any tenet of the United Nations Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and the Statement of Principles for Sustainable Development adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June, 1992 or any other international law that contravenes the United States Constitution or the Constitution of Arizona."
By definition, even the most sinister-sounding non-binding U.N. resolution does not contravene the United States Constitution, nor that of Arizona; the non-binding
part would be the first clue there. You might as well pass a law declaring that fortune cookies shall not be construed as contravening U.S. law, it'd make as much legislative sense (ed. note: in bed
.) So that part could have been left out. The rest of it, though, is ... problematic. It essentially bars any action on Arizona's part if it could be construed as aligning with the "principles" or "tenets" of the Worldwide Marmot Conspiracy. Given the extreme abstraction of said conspiracy, it's difficult to find much that would not apply.
That blanket ban on anything addressing pollution, poverty, or the environment would seem to make the next portion of the proposed law entirely redundant. It seems there mostly as an opportunity to showcase the deviousness of the conspiracy:
"Since the United Nations has enlisted the support of numerous independent, shadow organizations to surreptitiously implement this agenda around the world, the state of Arizona and all political subdivisions are prohibited from implementing programs of, expending any sum of money for, being a member of, receiving funding from, contracting services from, or giving financial or other forms of aid to the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives or any of its related or affiliated organizations including Countdown 2010, Local Action for Biodiversity, European Center for Nature Conservation, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the President's Council on Sustainable Development, enacted on July 19, 1993 by Executive Order 12852."
This would hardly seem a definitive list of sinister U.N. shadow organizations
, but it gets the job done, peppering the bill with dangerous-sounding words such as biodiversity
, and 1993
. So, you know, don't get money from that
. Or associate with them in any way. You may think the President's Council on Sustainable Development would have shown their true colors by now, after nearly 20 years of doing things
, but it is more likely that they are just lying in wait, plotting for the day when they can bring the tyranny of one or more non-binding U.N. resolutions down upon the heads of all mankind.
This, too, is the hallmark of any decent conspiracy theory. The enemy must be all-powerful and omnipresent, but also be so completely incompetent as to not actually manage to do much of anything. This lack of tyranny is taken as proof of deeper tyranny, turning the apparent powerlessness or dullness of the organization into a perceived asset, if not an outright superpower.
There are two interpretations of this proposed law barring Arizona from following any "principle" or "tenet" of environmental or social justice laws if sneaky-minded furriners thought of them first. The first interpretation would deem the law stupid and meaningless. The second would deem it stupid, but not at all meaningless; because of the all-encompassing nature of the law, observers point out that it would block nearly anything government did. An Arizona Daily Sun editorial puts it this way:
Then there is SB1507, which asserts that most of the world is under the thumb of a United Nations directive to manage natural resources sustainably, clean up pollution and improve energy efficiency.
Oh, and eradicate poverty and hunger, too.
The cure for this sinister attempt to impose a single, worldwide government is to allow any Arizona citizen to sue any government agency that supports any of those goals.
We are not making this up.
When you've gotten to the point where state newspapers feel the need to include the phrase we are not making this up
, when talking about proposed state laws, you know things have gone fairly convincingly off the rails.
This would not be the Arizona legislature's first foray into either conspiracy theorizing or incompetent lawmaking. Arizona, after all, is the state that sold their own legislature buildings so that they could lease them back at increased costs; the state that passed a birther bill so ridiculous that even ultraconservative Gov. Jan Brewer was too embarrassed to sign it; and, of course, the state that brought a new American renaissance to the phrase "papers, please." But the International Marmot Conspiracy, aka Agenda 21, is a special class of conspiracy unto itself. It combines fervent nationalism with even more fervent cluelessness, and wraps it all up with a big bow tied by invisible black helicopters. It is one of the touchstones of the batshit insane. It, as this particular bill lays out, opines that all of environmentalism, from pollution controls to solar panels to securing the long-term economic sustainability of core food supplies, is a single, sinister plot. Why? Damned if I know. Damned if they know, too. The danger posed by humanity not drinking toxic water, for example—how does that work? It has something to do with freedom, defined narrowly as I can do whatever I want, and screw you, little Timmy, if you don't want to drink the outcome. Sustainable food supplies, that one is a pickle, because it is supposedly a plot to elevate the cow above the human in importance, and how you get from point A to point B on that one is a stumper indeed.
Agenda 21 seems, for the most part, to be a meaningless code word unto itself. Like liberal, socialist or communist, the word is a catch-all for anything that the theorist finds objectionable, no matter how far flung it may be. Don't like coconuts? Then they're communists. Not a fan of rock music? It's probably like Hitler, somehow, though only a fool or televangelist could parse out the details. Whether it's protecting manatees in Florida or setting aside space for bike paths in Colorado, the only requirement for something to be a tendril of Agenda 21 is for some jackass, somewhere, to think so. Now the Arizona legislature, having a good number of jackasses in residence, thinks that the "some jackass objects to it" theory is as good a system of government, or anti-government, as any other. Think of it as controlled anarchy; dismantling of anything good the government ever did for anybody, one scarlet letter at a time.
All that said, most of this is nothing new. Legislators proposing headsplittingly stupid things is every bit as much a part of American government as grand speeches or Ben Franklin saying something pithy. The new part is that, in most of those other cases, there are enough clever people—no, enough sensible people—no, let's just say enough non-jackasses—to block the profoundly stupid thing from ever going anywhere. You can propose that all state agencies fly the flag of Narnia, or that the prisons of your state be surrounded by alligator-infested moats that are also full of lava and/or bears and/or very itchy sweaters, but the other people of your legislature will smile at you nicely, praise you for your insight and dedication toward solving "the problem," whatever "the problem" was imagined to be, and kill your abominable stupidity in committee. Not so, anymore. Once the number of jackasses exceeds a certain number, in any population, then the jackassery will be accelerated to escape velocity, leap from the legislature in question, and wind up on your doorstep in the morning papers. Arizona papers are up to the "we are not making this up" stage, which is one stage above "this seems a profoundly bad idea" and just a touch below "editorially speaking, we shit you not."
Oh, and historically there have usually been points at which jackasses could be publicly shamed into submission. The current environment seems to have rendered that, too, inoperative.
Ah, well, what to do? The black helicopters are upon us; the fine, upstanding elected officials of Arizona, at least, are determined not to let any bright environmental or anti-poverty or moderately energy-efficient ideas through on their watch.
Forty years from now, after the leaders of the state have built a border wall made up of refuse and old science textbooks, and once the Phoenix dust storms contain enough acids and toxins to strip the paint off your car, the fur off your pets, and give you hallucinations so extravagant that your extended family will be able to watch them alongside you, and once the first three-headed Arizona babies are old enough to get drivers licenses, necessitating a new "landscape" orientation for drivers license photos, maybe some jackass will look back and say, "You know what? Maybe not all government was bad after all." Then they will sigh gently to themselves and go back to their spartan meal of Fred, the neighbor from three doors down, and be thankful at least that they never had to pass any law that some furriner, somewhere, might have once secretly thought was a good idea.
That, or these fools will be voted out of office. Either works.