Monday, August 21, 2006

Conspiracy Theories: Was 9/11 An “Inside Job” and Other Stories
By Alexander Marriott


I was recently forced to break off an amicable correspondence of several years because of 9/11 conspiracy theories and this person’s acceptance of them. Our conversations became nothing but this person trying to convince me that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were an “inside job” and that for me to contend otherwise was to show my willingness to accept State lies and be a serf. This line of conversation and reasoning became tiring for me and all prior benefit of our correspondence was lost, so I broke off contact. I do not do this very often, mainly because I do not generally begin correspondences with the hopelessly irrational. But, unfortunately from time to time, it does happen that the previously rational become irrational for one reason or another. Before this instance it was because the correspondent lost someone close to them and turned, against my repeated pleas, to mysticism and altruism. So, as a way of expressing my disgust for conspiracy theories in general, and this one in particular, I write this article in dedication to all instances of broken correspondence I have personally gone through and heard about in similar cases from others over the years.

The conspiracy theory is the bastion of shadows and little or no evidence. It explains a famous or known event by appealing to the leftist dictum of “follow the money” or “look who benefits” as if actual evidence is irrelevant and personal ethics are just a farcical way for the rich and powerful to pull the wool over the eyes of everyone else. Whether it is the Kennedy assassination or the 9/11 attacks, conspiracy theories which pop up to counter the “official” tale of events share common characteristics.

As a historian, I come across conspiracy theories all the time. Progressive historians like Charles and Mary Beard made the conspiracy theory view of history a popular vogue for a while. They contended that the founders plotted the constitution as a way of aggrandizing their power and property at the expense of common folk, the evidence being that nearly all of the men at the convention were wealthy property owners and remained so afterwards, or became richer under the new system. Of course, this case is circumstantial at best and ignores the actual debates which occurred at the convention and afterwards on real political and philosophical issues.

Beard’s assertions inspired other historians to go into other historical episodes and see greedy conspiracies. The War of 1812 is a topic I study quite a bit and a topic with a historiography full of conspiracy theories, whether to steal Canada, Indian land, or whatever else, as opposed to the real issues of free trade and sailor’s rights which actually sparked the conflict. The conspiracy theory today is usually a way to cast the darkest aspersions upon the government in general and certain officers of the government in particular. I am no fan of the government in most of its actions. It is too big, too powerful, does a whole host of unconstitutional and immoral things, and is generally wasteful and inept. That does not mean I (or anyone else) should automatically buy into every conspiracy theory people come up with to explain events. I am not concerned here with delving into the specifics of these conspiracy theories to dispute their specific claims, there are experts and scholars already doing that in professional journals all over the country. I am more interested in the implications of conspiracy theories in general what one has to accept in order to buy one of these conspiracy theories.

To accept a conspiracy theory that the government or certain of its officers killed President Kennedy or carried out the 9/11 attacks, without overwhelming evidence (as in a criminal conspiracy case), requires the acceptance of certain other implausible facts. For instance, one would have to accept that scores of people in the government are able, at will, to plan secretly large scale attacks or plots and maintain operational security against leaks. This makes a good movie plot, but a rather alarming fact of reality if one accepts it. To accept this idea though, one has to ignore clear evidence that other plots and schemes by government officials including the “most powerful man on earth,” the President, have not succeeded and have been uncovered. The list of these is a long list of scandals from efforts to have the CIA kill Castro (a noble effort if ill-conceived) to Watergate, Whitewater, Travel Gate, the Iran-Contra scandal, Clinton’s efforts to cover up the Lewinsky affair and on and on. But for the person who accepts the conspiracy theory view of reality, the government is able to keep omniscient control of diabolical plots which are much more complex, require far more people, and involve the killing of perfectly innocent Americans.

Another point which the person who accepts these conspiracy theories much accept, at least implicitly, is that all people, particularly government officials, are evil incarnate. This may sound almost like common sense at first. How many of us don’t think the vast majority of officials and government employees are jerks at one point or another? But this belief is far more serious than frustration with the post office or genuine disgust with hated political foes. It means that you seriously believe that the vast majority of government officials are, on the whole, willing to kill anyone they have to in order to add to their own power or achieve certain goals, whether that means winning an election or, far more diabolical, toppling the republic to establish a despotism. As citizens we must always be wary and on guard against Catilines, men willing to scheme to overthrow the republic, but these men are rare (hence the name Catiline still rings down through history from ancient Rome). For one man to undo a political system and instate his own person rule is exceedingly difficult, the examples of it in all history are all too numerous but sufficiently small to make the threat real while rare. If we honestly believe that the majority or even a minority of our government is made up of genuine Catilines and Cromwells then we should give up on self-government altogether for it will prove nothing but a pipedream. We’ve had two large examples of purely evil governments in the 20th century, with hordes of evil henchmen, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Those governments were not brought about by shadowy conspiracies, but by very public leaders and their followers, along with the surrender and impotence of their opposition.

People who believe 9/11 was an “inside job” say Bush wanted a rationale for war or a way to win the next election, etc. So aside from the first two points (the government is capable of keeping such a plot secret and government is run by men of pure evil) one must also accept that Bush is a diabolical genius. He had to formulate and execute a perfectly secure plan to attack his own country in nine months in order to gather a rationale to attack Afghanistan and Iraq and win re-election in 2004. Since every new development, from the foiled plot in England to the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, can be added to the conspiracy, Bush’s tremendous mind and evil genius become magnified over and over again. He makes Lex Luther look retarded in the conspiracy theory universe. He sees things so far in advance he is almost prophetic. Of course, questions are being begged left and right. For instance, given that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda had already attacked the United States numerous times, why plot such an elaborate and traitorous scheme that, if discovered, would mean the utter contempt of people today and all posterity, not to mention sure death for treason? Also, Iraq was invaded under the auspices of the United Nations and their resolutions. Bush purposely and foolishly went out of his way to wrap all the rationale for the Iraq war in United Nations priorities and bromides, not 9/11. How did 9/11 help that? How did Bush know he could win in 2004, even with the terrorist attacks? His re-election was not automatic, and had the Democrats nominated someone competent they may well have won. Of course the conspiracy theory answers to these questions are predictable. Bush is evil; the attack created an environment to make the Iraq war acceptable; and Bush conspired to and stole the ’04 election. The evidence is that the event occurred and thus was in the interest of the subject of the conspiracy theory.

I will end this essay by creating my own conspiracy theory, using the conspiracy theory methods. Unfortunately it is all too easy.

George Washington, widely regarded as the father of his country and a great man, was in fact an evil genius bent on domination and tyranny. He callously egged on revolution and war with England and then purposely went out of his way to become commander of the continental army by shamelessly coming to the second continental congress in his uniform. When he relinquished his sword at the end of the war it was but a brilliant avaricious calculation for future power which worked perfectly as he chaired the constitutional convention and steered the proceedings to make the presidency powerful because he wanted to be the first one and knew the others would make him so. He also made sure Madison’s and the other delegates notes on the convention left his role of active manipulation out of the “official” record. When he became President he found the job not as powerful as he liked and wanted to quit which he did after two terms. As he was about to make his comeback as the commanding general of a huge army to, on paper, fend of French invasion (but really he was going to use it to kill President Adams and declare himself dictator), he caught pneumonia and died. Lucky for his country too, because he would have destroyed it as his whole malign career says he would.

These are all horrible lies about Washington’s great career designed to manipulate the various events of that career to fit an evil storyline. Because the events happened to his interest in this storyline it almost sounds plausible, but the evidence is very decidedly against all of it and historians are, on the whole, more than honest enough to tell it the way it was, not the way paranoid conspiracy theorists would have it. Bush is certainly no Washington, but with no evidence to the contrary, he is also no Stalin, Catiline, Cromwell, or Lex Luther.

12 comments:

chris Grieb said...

Excellent post. May I recommend to your the recently released book Debunking 9/11 Myths done by Popular Mechanics. Popular Mechanics did it in an issue but has expanded the material. It is excellent

Alexander said...

Ah, I know they have spent some time and effort going through these "theories" but I did not know they released a book, thanks for the tip.

Inspector said...

A particularly maddening aspect of this issue is that they didn't need to make up silly, impossible nonsense to make 9/11 a conspiracy. It already WAS a conspiracy: a conspiracy of Islamic terrorists to attack America and kill Americans.

Thanks for writing the article, Alexander.

Alexander said...

Oh so true.

Anonymous said...

Penn & Teller on their cable TV show Bullshit made inspector's point.

Anonymous said...

A person may uphold a conspiracy theory because of his ability to reason, to put necessary facts into a context that lead to a conclusion or set of conclusions which contradict conclusions proposed by a government commission. To undercut the assumptions of a conspiracy theorist does not necessarily undercut the facts that require specific questions--questions that require better answers.

Alexander said...

To the second anonymous poster:

This maybe true generally, not all conspiracies are garbage (i.e. the conspiracy to eliminate key members of the government in 1865 which through chance resulted in the only success being the assassination of President Lincoln) but the 9/11 attacks, without actual evidence cannot be made into a legitimate theory based on conjecture, assumption and irrational inference alone.

Conspiracy theory mentalities encourage people to waste time and see things when the explanation for certain phenomena are really much more simple and obvious.

Anonymous said...

A conspiracy theory, whether true or not, retains one value. It incites debate and provides arguments and opinions people can think about, talk about, analyse, or study--to refine skills in reasoning. A thinker learns two things from disecting an argument: he learns to compose arguments, and he learns the principles by which to judge them. Sometimes arguments persuade rather than prove, intimidate rather than uncover. Often when good thinkers apply reason to an argument, they find errors such as a straw man, an appeal to fear, a false alternative, or a few overgeneralizations. And note that these errors occur even if an argument rests on solid evidence or sound assumptions. Conspiracy theories give thinkers an opportunity to change perspectives, consider unlikely possibilities, or infer ulterior motives. Nothing inherently wrong rests in that. The objective, after all, is to determine the difference between what is so and what is not.

Alexander said...

OK, if I accept your premise that there is inherent value in random theorizing then we should always engage in unfounded speculations and assertions about everything, all the time. For instance, my new theory for 9/11 is that different zionist and government elements, all working separtely accidently ran operations at the exact same time, purely by coincidence to attack their own country in order to provoke the American people into supporting war(s). You would seriously contend that such nonsense helps us in any way beyond confirming my hopelessness as a thinker and observer of reality? Arguments, even poor ones, can serve as examples in improving our own reasoning, but we should not actively wish for them to be created seriously and then adopted by mass numbers of people. This is how we get religions, 9/11 hoax "inside job" movements and all other mass irrationality. Certainly we should neither encourage such mindlessness or treat it as a positive good.

Anonymous said...

Alexander,

I did not say an inherent value exists in random theorising. Nor did I infer that an inherent value means we should make baseless speculations and assertions about everything all the time. An inherent value in knowing weights and measures does not compel us to employ random standards of measurement. On the contrary, we may use the metric system and it works perfectly.

The task of making baseless speculations about everything all the time demands the capabilities of a supercomputer, not a reasonable human being. Even unreasonable human beings need to rank tasks, not to mention rest. Above all, we have important things to think about--work, family, friends, and personal interests--which take priority over thinking about endless theories.

One inherent value of a conspiracy theory, I reiterate, is that it incites debate, discussion, thought, and argument. I would rather focus on the process than the theory.

You said conspiracy theories are shadows based on little or no evidence. In other words, they spring from random theorising. I suggest something different. I do not think conspiracy theories come from random speculations. A random collection equals mere information, not theory. A theory without a logical structure or relevant facts is akin to belief. According to science, a theory must be based on relevant facts, reason and repeatability.

Furthermore, the foundation of a conspiracy theory consists not of "unfounded" assumptions, but of questions which have failed to render sufficient answers. Consider, for instance, the work of detectives who must identify a murderer. Many possibilities exist, so for brevity let us assume two failures. The Detectives follow certain leads which end with the arrest an innocent man or they follow leads which bring forth one dead end after another. At the brink of resignation, the detectives cannot doubt that the question persists: "who committed the crime?" Pointed questions do outlast failed theories.

Still another important facet of a conspiracy theory is appeal. Conspiracy theories do not invoke interest if they appear dull, vague or confusing. In fact, theorists draw attention to some kind of order within chaos, a hidden pattern or set of patterns. If organized and written cogently, a theory that exposes a hidden order--and proposes reasonable explanations--deserves a hearing. So we must grant one in order to remain objective.

Organization and cogency, of course, do not determine truth of a theory, but we must accept the difference between strong supporting points for a conclusion and weak supporting points.

Testing a theory or any of its supporting points then becomes a matter for reasonable discussion or debate. We must all the while, as thinkers, keep in mind certain principles. Just as it is irrational and mindless to accept any theory without evidence, so too it is irrational and mindless to reject any conspiracy theory because it is a conspiracy theory. In the end, such methods dull our exercise in the art of thinking.

Anonymous said...

All of you need to watch the following documentary: it was made by the families of the 9/11 victims, who over the last five years have been doing the sort of research that the liberal journalists at the New York Times don't bother to do anymore. What these people have discovered is absolutely shocking: but don't take my word for it: see for yourselves:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1016720641536424083

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