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The grand conspiracy

March 6, 2013

To the best of my knowledge the Chinese government has never hacked into this blog.  While I suppose I should be happy about that I have to admit it is a little disappointing.  I’ve been reading lately that government-sponsored hackers in China have been infiltrating the computer systems of, apparently, just about everyone else.  Government agencies, corporations, news organizations, think tanks, advocacy groups and, yes, some bloggers, report that they have been hacked by the Chinese.  So why not me?

One possible explanation is that my off-the-shelf security software is better than the custom-created efforts of the security pros.  I’d like to think that was true.  It would be quite gratifying to think that somewhere in the bowels of some government building in Beijing there is some junior-level hacker trying desperately to find out what I am thinking and reading.  I have a suspicion that isn’t the right answer though.

Humility forces me to say that it is probably that nothing I am writing, reading, thinking or doing is of even the slightest interest to the Chinese government.  So the question is, why not?  If you think you know the answer to that please keep it to yourself.  I am going on to question #2, why do they want to hack all those other sites?

The answer is simple.  China views itself to be in a global struggle and sees the U.S. as a potential threat.  They have decided that snooping on what we are doing electronically makes more sense than shipping over a couple hundred thousand spies to physically infiltrate our entire government, business, and social culture.  I do have to admit however that the latter idea would make a really cool TV miniseries.

I have to assume that, somewhere in China, is a storehouse of zillions of terabytes of data pilfered from America.  What are they looking for in this data?  Well, according to a security expert speaking to the Washington Post they are “searching for the unseen forces that might explain how [we] approach issues, with Chinese officials presuming that reports by think tanks, news organizations and the rest are secretly the work of government officials.”  In other words, there must be some secret plan somewhere that lays out the grand plan on which America is scheming for the future.  In this concept everything written everywhere fits, somehow, into a master plan and they are seeking to find that plan.

We have a name for this idea – conspiracy theory.  The foundational assumption of a good conspiracy theory is that that other side, the bad guys, are ceaselessly, ruthlessly, and effectively following some grand master plan to undermine and defeat our side.  The Chinese are trying to crack into the American conspiracy.  I admit it amuses me to think that there is an army of analysts in China reading millions of low-level e-mails, political pontifications, fundraising appeals, snarky observations, partisan blusters, and boring bureaucratic missives seeking some sort of grand scheme.

Sadly, politics in the US works the same way.  Right wing strategists see evidence everywhere of Obama’s grand plan to destroy American freedom and are sure “the media” is in on the plan and dutifully playing their part.  Left wing strategists are sure that Karl Rove or Rush Limbaugh or a few selected others are carefully scripting the actions and words of all people with even slight Republican leaning.  I am sure glad we Christians are exempt from that nonsense.

Oh wait, we aren’t.  We see grand plans too.  We see the big three, the “homosexual agenda”, the “pro-choice agenda”, and the “agenda to destroy religious freedom.” We interpret every random event as “proof” of the agenda.  We have the same ability to see inattention, ignorance and bumbling on our side but to remain sure that the other side is carefully and methodically following a systematic agenda of evil.

There have probably been thousands of plans drawn up for hundreds of agendas.  None of them ever survive first contact in the chaotic world of free-flowing information.  We are all capable of seeing how variations in opinion, interruptions, misunderstandings, and internal bickering can cause our own plans to flounder.  Yet we continue to presume that the other guys have no such problems.  They are unerringly precise in their plans and we see every scrap of information as proof of this ruthless efficiency.

I’ve decided as an evangelical that I am not going to listen to conspiracy theories.  If some teacher in some classroom somewhere in America tells a student to not bring his Bible to school I am not going to cry religious persecution.  I am not going to assume that Obama told him to do it.  I know how inept I am in trying to do what I want to do.  I’m going to assume everyone else is too.  I am going to leave the hunt for a conspiracy to Chinese hackers.

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