19 April 2007

Despicable delusions

In a society where substantial numbers of people believe in things like creationism, astrology, ghosts, psychic powers, and the like, perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that we also have September 11 conspiracy theories.

Let me make it clear what I mean by "September 11 conspiracy theories". I'm not talking about the claim that the US government incompetently failed to react properly to advance intelligence suggesting an attack was coming. That's actually quite plausible and doesn't even involve any actual conspiracy. We have had serious intelligence-evaluation failures before, and the present administration is particularly bad about not listening to expert advice or information which conflict with its established world-view. What I mean by "conspiracy theories" is the claim that the destruction of the World Trade Center was not plainly and simply a jihadist attack but rather was staged by the US government, that the buildings collapsed because of explosive charges placed inside rather than the effect of the planes hitting them, etc.

I can't claim expertise on the technical issues involved, but Popular Mechanics magazine can, and they have amply addressed those issues here and here.

But I do know an implausible claim about human behavior when I see one. Consider what it would imply if the September 11 attack had actually been staged by the government. Consider the number of people who would have to have been involved, not only in carrying out the staged attacks themselves but in ensuring that no subsequent investigation would ever get close to the conspirators. Consider that many of these people would probably have had to be members of the armed forces, who are sworn to uphold the Constitution, not to obey flagrantly-illegal orders resulting in a massacre of thousands of innocent American citizens (even in totalitarian states, military officers have been known to balk at killing their own people on behalf of the regime, even during major political unrest). Consider that the people who instigated the conspiracy would have need to feel absolutely confident that not one person among all those who knew what had happened would ever feel driven, by guilt or gain, to go public with the truth -- not even years and years after the fact. Consider that they would need to be equally confident that no investigation by a later Democratic administration (or Congress) would ever uncover the conspiracy. For crying out loud, we're living in an era when the President can't even get a blowjob in the Oval Office without the entire country hearing about it, and we're supposed to believe that something this gigantic could successfully be kept secret -- or even to believe that the instigators would imagine that they could successfully keep it secret -- forever?

Here's another point to consider. One of the administration's main justifications for the invasion of Iraq was its claim that Saddam Hussein possessed active programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. Since the invasion, no evidence of any such weapons or programs has been found, something which has caused the administration tremendous embarrassment. If the administration were capable of committing a crime as ghastly as staging the September 11 attacks, surely it would have no qualms about planting fabricated evidence of WMDs in Iraq. Yet it clearly has not done so, since no such evidence at all has surfaced.

One final point: in an important way, September 11 conspiracy theories are different from the above-cited delusions such as creationism, astrology, ghosts, psychic powers, etc. Those delusions merely constitute belief in abstract propositions about reality for which there is no evidence. Except insofar as they create opportunities for con men to fleece people with a poor grasp of logic, they are harmless. The September 11 conspiracy theories are more analogous to the belief that "the Jews" constitute a diabolical cabal that is secretly trying to rule the world, or the belief that black people as a race are innately violent and criminal. That is, we are talking about a belief, contrary to evidence, that a certain group of people are evil and degenerate. It doesn't matter that the group in question is a group I myself don't much like (the present administration). Throwing such a denunciation around, against anyone, when it is demonstrably false is not just a harmless delusion. It's despicable.

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