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October 14, 2011

Comments

Tyler M.

To say "9/11 Truth is a frivolous conspiracy" is really nothing other than to say, "I am an asshole, a wretch. And furthermore, fuck you."

NYC Occupier

First of all, a nice piece. Brief response to the final point:

Some people want to purge the truthers, some the anarchists, some the liberals, some the Stalinists, etc. But the fact is, having 'a message' doesn't keep the conspiracy theorists, Stalinists or liberals from showing up: usually it just keeps them from sticking around. And the vast majority of people who make up this country, and thus neccesarily, this movement, do not have a rigidly defined ideology in either direction.

Does a truther have nothing to contribute or participate in? Do they not equally deserve the respect and freedom of a society which does not divide by oppression?

The 'we need a message to cull the ranks' line suggests replacing racial/economic heirarchies with political/intellectual ones. I think that's nonsense, and if you talk to conspiracy people, you will realize the vast majority (at least those willing to leave their house and be in a big protest) are largely reasonable people trying to make sense of a world without proper analysis.

Also, conspiracy theories in general, and trutherism in particular, are significantly more common among poor and minority communities, where distrust of the government and media is more sincere and access to information and resources is limited. Limiting these narratives, even if we believe them incorrect, features a racist and classist function that must be recognized.

Nader

Thanks Justin. I have always felt that indulgence in impoverished conspiracy theories is a massive detriment to to dispossessed and disenchanted who could otherwise potentially become real radicals and comrades in the struggle against actual non-mysterious evident injustice. In the decade since 9/11 this was of particular concern for me, as I watched people obessess over the most misguided conspiracy theories instead of focusing on the obvious and self-evident problems of imperialism, a-symmetrical power, alienation in late-capitalism, hate, and inequity in the ways we have devloped democracy.

During the first few days of the occupy wall street movement I summed up my feelings in a tweet, which essentially read "I basically think the occupy wall street movement is kind of stupid, but let's be honest, I would die for them."

Picador

Along the same lines as the comments above, I think that your blanket condemnation -- "Conspiracy theories make me want to vomit" -- goes too far. Many atrocities openly acknowledged today began their public lives as "conspiracy theories". The "conspiracy theories" about innocent people being murdered and tortured by the US military, with top officials responsible for both the orders to torture and the subsequent coverups. The "conspiracy theories" about the police and US government illegally spying on innocent peace activists and Muslims. The "conspiracy theories" about the President and Vice President having secret meeting with energy companies, insurance companies, banks, and telecommunications companies to craft corrupt policies and direct illegal activities.

Each of these stories was dismissed by the government and the corporate media as "conspiracy theory" until they were finally all proven beyond a reasonable doubt. We live in an age where the most outrageous theories about the malevolence of government and corporate officers, denied categorically in public by spokesmen for those bodies and ridiculed in the press, are routinely proven true. Accordingly, while I share your frustration over the 9/11 Truthers, I can't condemn their paranoia as you do.

shlarl

Maybe the conspiracy is that those-in-powers act to make us believe in conspiracies so that we miss the picture of the greater (flawed) politico-economic structure....

OMG!

Jim

There may be conspiracies, that's up for grabs. But there is human nature and what it's capable of, that's indisputable.

In the case of Wall Street and it's relentless accumulation of wealth for wealth's sake no matter what, you have the collective worst of human nature just doing what it does if it's not curtailed by the best of human nature.

As to the Bolsheviks, I was thinking about them the other day too: http://blinkutopia.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/why-the-bolsheviks-kicked-out-the-czar/

what?

To wit: "Money talks and bullshit walks, but we don't like what the money's saying anymore either. Eat shit if you disagree."

Now, doesn't that fit more easily on your cardboard sign? The 99% are also tired of long-winded platitudes.

Chris Censullo

The conspiracy element in these types of protest movements are really disappointing. Inevitably, they will cause the demise of the effort to focus the nation's attention on the actual, verifiable problems that exist and the practical solutions to them that are available.

I remember going to Washington D.C. as a college student for a protest against the first Gulf War. We were hoping to express and discuss our rational views of why there may be alternatives to the war, but were quickly disenchanted by the "goofball" element. This included conspiracy theorists and evangelists of completely ludicrous associations like a Maoist party. Ultimately the Occupy movement will have to produce a sensible leadership to express a clear message.

Nick Smyth

I mean, what is an educated social sciences/humanities professor to do? You spend your whole life learning (and teaching) that reality is complex and that critical thinking is important. You see people on the right "side" and you want to join in. But in emotionally charged mass-movements, those same people end up chanting ridiculously simplisitc slogans, falsifying data, inventing conspiracies and ignoring history.

Do a poll: how many of the protesters know that the bailouts were loans and that they have largely been paid back already? How many of the protesters have any idea that without the bailouts, the great depression could have looked like an enjoyable evening of croquet in comparison? That if this worst-case scenario had occurred, the sick, the aged and young children would actually have started to die for lack of funds, resources, and stable infrastructre?

The truth is complex, it needs to be heard, but it cannot be spoken by mass movements. Yet, mass movements are the only things that make necessary, change. Educated people are thus stuck with the impossible choice of being on the wrong side or ignoring their deepest convictions about truth.

Sam L

I would like to respond to Picador's point, which I interpreted as being that we should not be totally dismissive of so-called "conspiracy theories" because they have on occasion turned out to be true.

I think that in focusing on whether or not such and such a "conspiracy theory" turns out to be true is missing the point entirely. In my view, the reason conspiracy theories are so damaging to a cause and to public discourse is because they have only the slightest connection to a rational evidence-based approach to analyzing problems.

As an analogy, if I was an early 20th century physicist going around telling everyone that space was curved and frame-dependent, and they asked me why and I told them because I had unnamed "sources" in the "control room" telling me, they would rightly call me a crackpot and my theory would instantly receive prejudice for being the ramblings of a madman, despite the fact that it would turn out to be "true" in some sense.

Therefore, the problem with conspiracy theories has nothing to do with how often they turn out to be true or false, but rather the manner in which they address a given problem.

Stephen Menn

Justin says:
"What has changed is that things really have got much worse, even in the course of my own lifetime. In fact, I was born right around the moment of the great global lurch towards the worse, when the relatively stable capitalist order of the post-War era mutated into its hyper-capitalist descendant, an order that could only survive through rapacious growth and constant innovation of new methods of exploitation. I don't need to recite the details as if they were unavailable elsewhere (thanks, Google), but the tragic feature of recent turbo-capitalism, for me, is that with the socialization of risk, and the corrolary privatization of profit, every last corner of our lives, of our experience and our consciousness, has been financialized, has been taken over by considerations of cost, of market viability. Everything that's dear in the profound sense has become dear in the pecuniary sense: palpably, explicitly dear."
But how new is this really? Here is Marx--note particularly the lines about what capitalism has done to "the man of science," and about the consequences of the need for the constant revolutionizing of production:
"The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his 'natural superiors', and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous 'cash payment'. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers ....
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere."

T. W.

I like Alexander Cockburn's point about conspiracy theories:
"These days a dwindling number of leftists learn their political economy from Marx. Into the theoretical and strategic void has crept a diffuse, peripatetic conspiracist view of the world that tends to locate ruling class devilry not in the crises of capital accumulation, the falling rate of profit, or inter-imperial competition, but in locale — the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg, Ditchley, Davos (2) — or supposedly “rogue” agencies, with the CIA still at the head of the list. The 9/11 “conspiracy” is the summa of all this foolishness."

Taken from http://mondediplo.com/2006/12/02conspiracy

Nick D

Interesting post, Justin. I liked N Smyth's response; I am not interested in the conspiracy theorists point, but I am in the points about how do we act as academics. I would say: holding on to your traditional 'research for research's sake' is a political act. Nobody is trying to turn the university into an activist activity center. Very powerful forces are acting to turn universities into a kind of Barnes & Noble or Walmart. That's why holding on to anything that is dear (aesthete-like) becomes political, simply because it subverts the logic of the market. Trying to resist the "marketisation" of education can be our way of "doing something" (maybe).

Lulu Bell

You sound like Marie Antoinette. You don't care because you don't have to, and caring would make you aggravated, "want to vomit" And the reason there are so many 9/11 truthers in the street is because of a different kind of theory, the theory of physics. All you have to do is watch the towers collapse and think "Path of Least Resistance," and you will start to want to hear what architects and engineers have to say about the official story. Oh, but by your own admission, you aren't a *scientific* academic. Thanks for being honest, though. You reflect the feelings of many: If hordes aren't at their personal door, trying to break it down, then whatever evil is befalling the world, it doesn't much matter to them. So we will attempt to clean up this mess without you, so as not to distract you from your very pleasant and comfortable life. You're welcome.

S

Regarding the point by Nick D, pursuing 'research for research's sake' will not be enough to resist the 'marketisation' of higher education. It might be useful to recall that one thing motivating some 'occupiers' to action is crushing student debt. A professor is not just a researcher. As a teacher, one has to acknowledge a certain complicity with an entire education system - including secondary education - that tells students, everything will be okay if you just go to college. But in teaching, I hope, one also finds a useful way to act. One teaches, as Nick S writes, critical thinking and the ability to recognize complexity. Which ideally gives more people the tools they need to, for instance, judge the reasonableness of conspiracy theories.

ilya

It seems however that it is Nick Smyth who is embracing simple slogans. Were the bailouts paid back? In some ways yes, by reshuffling money from one place to the other. They can only be called paid back if you ignore the AIG bailout which was a significant chunk of the money. And that ignores all the much larger sums (trillion of dollars) that were loaned at practically no interest rate at all. The same money could be used in the worst case to buy government bonds and thus create profit for these banks out of nothing.

Neither does the worst case scenario of widespread suffering come across as anything but the tales used to scare the populace to acquiesce. These resources for the old and poor wouldn't have disappeared they would simply have stayed in some people's pockets. You can't destroy the productive capacities of people by erasing numbers out of a ledger.

ilya

I don't mean this as an attack on Nick. His larger point about the contradiction between truth and mass action is valid and important.

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