Cosmography Politics

9/11 – New Revelations

Responding to my piece on 9/11 “Truthers“, reader Jeff Rubinoff had this to say:

I still think that the psychology of conspiracy theorists has a lot to do with it, probably because of the Truthers I know with no skin in the game (Brits, Irish, Slovaks…). A particular kind of (extreme) credulity that thinks it’s worldly cynicism. A sense of superiority that one has the “real truth” while the sheeple haplessly accept the official lies. And a complete lack of either the necessary knowledge to evaluate claims or a consciousness of this ignorance.
I have one friend who insists that WTC and the Pentagon were bombs, that the planes were generated by CGI, that a few bits of wreckage were planted in front of the Pentagon but clearly not enough and in too good a condition to come from an actual airplane attack: the most Byzantine, inconsistent and improbable pile of donkey dung imaginable. Of course, last time I met him he was telling me how he read on the Internet that the Pyramids were designed as chemical reaction chambers to send microwave signals into space, and how he found this “very persuasive.” Oh, and he’s a Holocaust denier.
He also told me once that University education only limits ones mental horizons, whereas the LSD he ingested daily over a similar period of time expanded his.

That’s also true. I was concentrating on the internal contradictions of the America-fearing American, but all conspiracists live with even deeper conflicts. As you say Jeff, they have a powerful faith which they think of as cynicism.

Apparently the official explanation is that WTC7 just blew itself up (Photo: Damon D’Amato)

I’ve said elsewhere, conspiracy theories seem to satisfy some of the same mental urges as religion. They are surprisingly like a mythos, in that they create exciting stories to explain the world about us. And just as religion, they provide the ultimate all-purpose explanation: Things difficult to explain can be seen instead as the manifestation of a powerful but invisible will. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that the idea of unseen will may actually be innate to the the human species, a built-in default hypothesis for about anything.

The thing making them different from religion though – or at least, traditional religion – is that the actors are not gods or spirits, but human. Still, perhaps conspiracy theories should be considered new materialist religions, belief systems for generations that, while still credulous, draw the line at the supernatural. (We’ll leave aside for now conspiracies that involve the influence of alien civilisations. These are supernatural beings in every sense that angels and demons are, just dressed from a contemporary costume box.)

But though the conspirators are not explicitly supernatural beings, they still have superhuman powers. They consistently pull off the scale of operation that non-clandestine organisations and governments usually seem to screw up. They have secrets that are never left in taxis or revealed by Wikileaks. They have superhuman powers of planning, efficiency, and organisation. Modern-day superpowers.

Hmm. They just don’t make gods like they used to.

Cosmography Politics

September 11 – The First Ten Years

View onto a lost world

Ten years ago I spent this day with an online community, riveted to the events of September 11 even as some of our members were living through them in New York. Many moving things were said. Many terrible too – naturally we had one or two who wanted vengeance equal in horror to the attack. One actually did use the term “carpet bomb them into the stone age”.

But that was overwhelmed by the nobility of what most had to say, even as their country was being attacked. And not just the things they said, but what they did. Phones were out in New York, and some were frustrated to the point of tears that they couldn’t let their families know they were all right. Then someone had an idea – the rest of us could make the calls for them. The community proved itself that day.

I hope they do not mind if, ten years on, I repeat some of their words here.

I’m sitting watching the sky get dark from the smoke of the third building collapsing, and seeing a layer of soot settling on the cars and sidewalks. Soot that might be skin and bone and hair and burnt fragments of family pictures.
I haven’t got to the anger and revenge part of the process yet. I’m thinking of the mommy and daddy who are right now dying under 110 stories of rubble, while their kids are waiting in some school cafeteria to be picked up.
And I’m buoyed by the simple acts of grace and humanity shown by most of the folks on this board, offering to make phone calls and expressing true concern.
Sleep and food don’t seem to be very necessary things. But solidarity and human-ness sure are.
Defending a home is as close to pure animal instinct as most civilized humans get, and that’s as it should be, I imagine.
But in the defense of principles, on the contrary, we must behave as principled people, we must act as rationally and intelligently as we have the capacity to muster.
I’ve spent the day in a lot of quiet thought and meditation, and in watching to be sure my friends and loved ones were safe. I don’t really have much to say about this, except that I hope that we do not inflame a larger conflict in our quest to bring the perpetrators to justice. That would be a far greater tragedy than a single bombing, however horrible.

Wise words, and prophetic.


Patriots And Paranoids

WTC antes9-11
They weren't much to look at but they were full of people

The 9/11 attack was brilliantly simple in its planning. All it required was a little organisation, and the mental capability to slaughter thousands of innocent strangers. Brilliantly successful too; its objective, to foster conflict between the West and Islam, seems to have been largely realised. Yet ten years on, a significant proportion of people insist on believing a far more complex explanation: That 9/11 was faked, not an attack but an inside job.

I say a significant proportion; it’s far from a majority, though any time at all spent on YouTube might persuade you otherwise. (One wide-ranging poll did find that less than half respondents thought that Islamists were responsible, but that survey included many people in Islamic countries naturally unwilling to be associated with the atrocity.) A 2007 Zogby poll (PDF) sponsored by conspiracy theorists themselves found that something approaching a quarter of Americans thought that elements within their government were complicit in the attack. This figure has probably dropped somewhat since Bush and Cheney left office peaceably, but there is still a sizeable minority – of Americans – who believe the US government was complicit in or even responsible for the most deadly attack on America in its history. Why?

I say ‘insist on believing’ because it takes an effort of will to decide that America was responsible for the attack on America. Even the ‘moderate’ version – that forces within the US government were merely complicit in the attack – asks us to believe that members of a Republican administration were willing to stand by and allow a devastatingly effective attack by genuine terrorists on the heart of America’s commercial interests, because they believed they could gain by it in some way. More ambitious theorists would have us believe that they blew the towers up with carefully set demolition charges, then flew planes full of passengers into them merely as a distraction.

Why do so many people, both Americans and their enemies, persist in this? Well, they have one telling thing in common: Both need to believe in the strength of America. For its enemies, the idea that a tiny terrorist outfit can wreak such destruction simply doesn’t fit with the image of a Great Satan.

By the same token, the Americans who think their own government destroyed the World Trade Center in order to make war and profit are patriots. They still believe that the one power on Earth capable of inflicting such terrible damage on the US could only be the US itself. These conspiracy theorists are not cynics. On the contrary, they have faith in America.

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