“Give up what is doubtful for what is certain. Truth brings peace of mind, and deception doubt.”
Scholars of future generations will be hard-pressed to make sense of early 21st century world history. Senseless violence begets senseless violence. Leaders speak of a desire for peace while dedicating the bulk of their energies to intensifying hostilities. It is fair to wonder if even national leaders have a good grip on the realities of world events. That some ordinary people should lack such a grasp is no particular shock.
Plenty of factors play into denial of what actually happened one fateful autumn morning. Perhaps foremost among them was the myth of American invulnerability. Terrorism on American soil, insofar as it was recognized at all, was largely associated with disturbed citizens like abortion clinic bombers or the men behind the Oklahoma City incident. The idea that Fortress America protected us from all prospect of foreign attack was never sound, but it was still comforting to a great many people.
There was an actual conspiracy at the heart of it all. A “conspiracy” is nothing more than a secret plan to commit a crime. Terrorism, provided it is not conducted under the auspices of a sovereign state (or in a jurisdiction where it is legal) is criminal activity. Legitimate reliable information on the subject reveals that the most newsworthy events of that day began with a conspiracy of hijackers coordinated by Al Qaeda with the knowing authorization and support of Osama bin Laden.
Yet the mechanism of misinformation reinforcing itself in echo chambers of passionate folly spills over into this. Like critics of evolution or global warming, critics of the mainstream view of 9/11 history find that wallowing in their own pseudointellectual filth is an addictive social activity. After getting an inside view of the sort of people who take denying global warming to the hobbyist level, I can understand why this is deeply satisfying to a certain type of person . . .
Individuals wrongly convinced that they are somehow gifted may never find any affirmation of that delusion in mainstream dialog. On the other hand, working with some other, popular, delusion is a recipe for validation. A tendency toward sound analysis is actually a liability when enmeshed in these subcultures. Instead it is the ability to be zealous in regurgitating false narratives that generates waves of support from others excited to feel a part of something special and important. It seems to me that the “9/11 Truth Movement” is, as with “Creation science” or global warming denial, a sort of Special Olympics for people with much more desire than ability to engage in insightful discussion of profound matters.
The thing is, everyone involved with Special Olympics events is well aware that the focus is on triumphs of spirit rather than advancing the frontiers of human athleticism. Such perspective is lacking in venues that glorify the intellectually handicapped. Participants in these peculiar subcultures will passionately hold up fanciful assertions and even outright lies as magnificent achievements. The work of bona fide experts dwelling on credible information is dismissed as part of some sinister plot. Conspiracy theory newsletters and the like have long been with us, but new media gives these subcultures a much greater ability to close ranks and insulate their most hallowed tales from pesky facts that might undermine “the movement.”
Something particularly bizarre about the 9/11 conspiracy theorists is the widespread assertion that U.S. involvement in the plot was intended to justify the war in Iraq. What actually happened did nothing to justify the war in Iraq! Even if Al Qaeda’s responsibility were a fabrication, that would only justify pursuing Al Qaeda, and by extension any regime significantly impeding efforts to neutralize the Al Qaeda threat. Among many other falsehoods, the dominant narrative of 9/11 conspiracy theorists rests on the bogus assertion that hunting a largely Saudi group of terrorists enjoying the protection of Afghani Taliban provided casus belli against Saddam Hussein’s secular Iraqi regime.
No doubt some of this confusion can be traced back to the White House. Almost immediately after the attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney started spinning tall tales of a working relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime. Yokels, including some with advanced degrees and book deals, now happily opine about “Islamofascism” as if the term made any sense at all. It is the result of a disturbingly successful Orwellian effort to dupe people into believing that attacking Saddam Hussein was somehow relevant to dealing with threats from Islamic terrorists.
Today government misinformation serves to ratchet up tensions between Iran and the United States. Again and again our President goes out of his way to emphasize any hint of possibility of some connection between Iran and insurgent operations in Iraq. Though there may be a kernel of truth underneath that neoconservative smoke screen, there is also a bigger picture to consider. Jihadists and bankrolls coming out of Saudi Arabia are clearly the greatest foreign source of strength behind terrorist and insurgent activities in Iraq. Yet no sanctions against that downright medieval regime are forthcoming. Hyping Iran as a menace may have as much to do with obscuring a real danger as it has to do with the ongoing Presidential commitment to maintaining a high level of fear among the electorate.
Perhaps there are few people who can truly claim to have never dignified the ridiculous with a moment’s serious contemplation. Ufology and ghost hunting clearly enjoy plenty of support from individuals more interested in validating fantasies than advancing the frontiers of science. Perhaps, as with many religious doctrines, no one is in a position to repudiate the existence of an enigmatic underlying phenomenon. Yet so much media activity inappropriately presents the wildest of speculations as non-fiction. Resonating in specific subcultures, pseudoscientists prosper to the degree they confirm popular falsehoods and deflect valid mainstream criticism.
Efforts to clear away this fog sometimes merely strengthen a bunker mentality amongst the zealous. The idea that modern political liberals are out to destroy the American way of life is ridiculous on its face. Yet many fortunes have been made using venom, lies, and/or wit to promulgate precisely that view. Be it expeditions to catch a Sasquatch or rants about Al Gore’s plot to sabotage American indusry, there is no accounting for what fictions might be entertaining to some people. Yet when coherent communities of belief form around such fictions, the results tend to be anything but entertaining.
Though it would be wonderful if every adult cultivated and exercised critical thinking skills in formulating opinions about matters of consequence, reality offers us no such wonder to behold. Problem subcultures apply skepticism selectively to reinforce orthodox thinking. In the process, they provide an avenues for false validation that cannot be found in an environment of even-handed skepticism. As gutters accumulate filth, so do these subcultures accumulate the worst concentrations of overconfidence coupled with misinformation.
Conspiracy theories about the terrorism of September 11th, 2001 would be good for a laugh if they were not potentially dangerous. They distract from dealing with serious problems, like the real menace from Al Qaeda or real misinformation coming out of the White House. In the latter case, nonsense about a false flag plot provides cover under which the administration can denounce entirely sensible criticism of their actual public deceptions. In short, enough poo is flung into political discussions by our elected officials. Grass roots movements adding their own brand of filth to the process do not deserve anyone’s support, regardless of how much unconditional acceptance they lavish on fellow believers.