Thursday, April 12, 2007

Bill Whittle Looks at Conspiracy Theorists

Bill Whittle starts a three part series on why people believe in lies. Stuff like the Loch Ness Monster, the Fake Moon Landing, the 9/11 Controlled Explosion and the Kennedy Conspiracy Theories. But it's the why part that intrigues Whittle.

I’ve met a number of these people. I know this is harsh, but I’m sick of watching the damage they are doing to this civilization: these people are, to a man, complete losers. Losers. They are desperate and sad people who need to believe in some dark secret to give meaning to their lives.

My guess is that such people inhabit every civilization. David Malouf argued, in a lecture he gave in Sydney recently, that the urge to believe in something greater than what Whittle calls a "sense of identity rooted in ... small achievements" is built into the human species. For Malouf, this desire is the mainspring of Islamic fundamentalism. It is probably no coincidence that the chief manufacture of the Middle East, after creeds, is conspiracy theories. And while cognizant of its dangers, Malouf is not quite sure whether this "idealism" should be totally condemned because he suspects this yearning represents something vital to the human condition which if lost may diminish us in some way. Malouf thinks the reason Cervantes created a Sancho Panza was to balance him against Don Quijote; and the reason he created Don Quijote was to offset Sancho Panza. Without both, the Quest would never visit us in slumber or take to the noonday road.

Maybe we are all condemned to live out our lives on this funny and sad, this magnificent and tragic planet in mixed company. Some, like Bill Whittle, seeking the truth. Others, like those who believe in Chemtrails, White Vans and Black Helicopters, seeking escape from the truth at every opportunity. Maybe we should ask Cyrano de Bergerac what he thinks:

If you fight with windmills
their heavy spars may spin you down to the mud.
Or lift you up to the stars.


Blogger wretchard said...

The Counterterrorism Blog has the bitter screed of the Islamic Army of Iraq (IAI) calling al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) names.

In the communiqué, the IAI ... countered with its own set of allegations against Al-Qaida--including that Al-Qaida is responsible for killing more than 30 IAI fighters in needless fratricidal violence, and that Al-Qaida was behind the assassination of 1920 Revolution Brigades leader Harith Tahir al-Dari.

If this mutual recrimination keeps up we will soon know whether it was the IAI or the AQI that was really behind the JFK assassination. We already knows that the Jews were behind 9/11.

4/12/2007 06:42:00 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

This makes me think about the central 'oddity' of Christianity: that God could be Jesus, that God could be (in every sense of the word) human and mortal and bound by time, and AT THE SAME TIME, God.

It is from this central mystery that Western Civilization's genius arises.

There is a mosaic somewhere in Ravenna (I think)that pictures the Trinity: Old Man, Young Man and in between the Dove. Today's physics provides a more perfect analogy to think about the Trinity, though: Light. Light is both particle and wave and warmth.

Conspiracy theories are embraced by the historically ignorant, the frightened, and the stupid, though.

What I am trying to say, is: counting the rocks is one thing; and picking out patterns from what you see is quite another....

4/12/2007 06:44:00 PM  
Blogger Pyrthroes said...

We think Heather's point is excellently taken: Beyond creed, spirituality induces an essential modesty, crucial to life's inherent disappointments, vital to mortal context and perspective.

We don't know much, but these are certainties: Our parents and their world preceded us. We do but sojourn here. Our end will come.

Perhaps the central crisis of modern day culture and society, inducing a generational funk without historic parallel, is unwillingness --even inability-- to confront mortality. This induces not only a profound moral cowardice but an intellectual stupor unable to accommodate reality in any guise.

Appended to II Ephem, the second of Aeris' Six Books, gnosis urges not one faith or another; certainly not atheism or agnosticism; but rather an "Askepsis"-- the willing suspension of one's Disbelief.

Wallace Stevens asked, "What is Divinity, if it can come/Only in silent shadows or in dreams?" Askepsis answers him, And what else have we, then? Who does presume to see Creation plain, when all we know are Matthew Arnold's "confused alarms of struggle and flight/Where ignorant armies clash by night"?

Numbers equate, words rhyme, but they both sing. Lift bardic Song, join Yeats' Fiddler of Dooney in a dance of hours: There is only The Dance.

4/12/2007 08:20:00 PM  
Blogger Papa Ray said...

Bill says: "Is there no end to the evidence – as if more evidence was needed – that we are daily led to believe the worst about our government, our businesses and our country by self-centered psychotics who understand nothing but the absolute imperative to glorify themselves at the expense of everyone and everything they share this civilization with?"

Our American Educational System has been churning out liberal socialists that are nothing but self centered, spoiled, ilinformed, brainwashed children, no matter what age they really are, for almost forty years.

And the sorry thing is...we have just set back, paid our good money and watched it happen.

Well, we are going to have to put a stop to it. Don't ask me how, but if we don't...well, I won't be here to worry about it, but you might try and figure out how, and fast.

Papa Ray
West Texas

4/12/2007 09:08:00 PM  
Blogger Allison said...

There are some separate reasons that come together to form the conspiratorial mind.

The first reason is a lack of knowledge of the past, and that means the big history stuff but also the recent past. When you don't have the past, nothing has perspective. When you don't have the past, you don't understand what's a political appointment vs. what's a meaningful appointment. So, the fact that GHWB was a director of the CIA seems to means he knew something DEEP AND IMPORTANT about intelligence operations, when all it means is that he was a political appointee with certain managerial experience. In the grander scale, without seeing the ebb and flow of ideas, moral and social deportment, etc. it can appear that this is the only point in history when we have detainees in Gitmo subject to a hearing, and that's functionally equivalent to the interment of the Japanese Americans.

The next big piece contributing to a conspiratorial explanation is an ego that needs someone to blame for one's own failures. You don't have to be a complete loser to want this blame; just one step too low on the ladder, and your own personal resentments are probably vastly outweighing your gratitude. Those much lower down may not have time to dwell on why their lives suck, but those so close to the success they want have leisure time to blame others. They are looking for a way to justify their own falling short.

4/12/2007 11:14:00 PM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

I blame larger society for tolerating and indulging conspiracy theorists. Feeling obligated to give them media attention and politely hear them out and not disparage the credibility of such "charming kooks" out of some sort of "being open-minded" and non-judgmental.

Which is stupid behavior towards stupid people of hucksters.

I got into it with a Lefty that said the US Navy shot down TWA Flight 700, and the USAF shot down Flight 93 - back in 2002. The fool had no idea how many people would be involved in such a conspiracy for either shootdown. I called him ignorant and dangerous and said anyone making such allegations should be subject to slander and libel laws for casting hundreds of Military as covert murderers.

That is really the problem with conspiracists...they spread a corrosive, cancerous false belief and undermine guillable people's faith in America or those in positions of responsibility. And I think the 1st Amendment is wrong and the Courts are wrong in not letting us be a society that can haul their stupid asses into court and demand they prove it, or pay libel and slander damages to the "CIA who killed JFK, not Oswald", the sailors cast as murderers in the Flight 700 conspiracy, the "government agents that attacked the WTC". And any nut that says Mossad did it, plus any publisher or media - should be allowed to sue in US court.

They should pay damages to the US government for conspiracists that blame America and create global anti-Americanism that endangers citizens with their charges America created the AIDs virus to kill off the 3rd World and distribute it from embassies and "corporations like Big Oil hired to spread it".

4/13/2007 01:17:00 AM  
Blogger Anointiata Delenda Est said...

Heather said..
that God could be (in every sense of the word) human and mortal and bound by time, and AT THE SAME TIME, God.

No Heather, the Western view of man is diametrically the opposite - that humans and mortals bound by time CAN BE GODs. Fame - I'm going to live forever - and you can - through your children and the values you transmit.

The reason people believe in conspiracy theories is that they have abdicated their Western view, abdicated their ability to be Gods, to change the world and be responsible for the failures that may possibly flow.

Better to submit. Better to seek a conspiracy that explains why I don't have to be a God.

Poor me. What are you going to do about me?


4/13/2007 05:13:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

Allison, you have it right, but there is another factor: simplicity.

One of the first things any organism learns is simple cause and effect. Clap your hands when someone happens to turn out the lights and a 2 year old will immediately assume you turned out the lights when you clapped your hands. My dogs have continued to urgently request that I turn off the thunder during storms; I apparently cause everything else to happen so I must be causing the big noises in the sky.

So, rather than learn many complex things about physics, chemistry, biology, the structure of the US Government, fire trucks, rockets, airliners, and the real nature of people you don't know, it is much easier to assume that SOMEBODY DONE IT. The Man Behind The Curtain really is there, Dorothy, even if can't see either him or the curtain. He has to be there, otherwise I must be stupid.

And Cederford: I have an old friend whom I never communicate with any more because he has eagerly embraced just about every nutjob theory that has come up. I finally quit talking to him after in virtually every conversation it became, - shall we say, obvious, - that the world did not end yesterday at 0757 Zulu as he has assured me it would. He got off on the TWA flight 700 business one night. I pointed out to him there was no reason for the USN to have been shooting missiles off of Long Island since they have a perfectly good test range they can use at Cape Canaveral, and where they do in fact shoot missiles from submarines. His response was "Aha! But a minute ago you said they did not shoot missiles from submarines!" I gave up on trying to explain to him that if TWA 700 had been hit by a Trident D-5 it would have been a trifle obvious.

4/13/2007 05:52:00 AM  
Blogger ElMondoHummus said...

Whittle's got his stuff together. And my reaction to conspiracy fantasists is the same as his, maybe even more emotional.

Conspiracy Fantasists (I refuse to call them "truthers", because I hate to see the word "truth" appended to any aspect of that group, even in an ironic fashion) make the most tenuous leaps of logic and fallacious arguments that can possibly be made. And they think their illusions are epiphanies! It hurts to witness the stupidity; the only thing removing any of the sting is realizing some of these idiots take dumb stances just to needle "neocons" or "evil Republicans". True, that's a rather strange way to look at things i.e. believe it's less painful that a guy stoops to idiocies out of antagonism than real belief. But I'd rather live with that than accept that said opponent truly believes the extreme abuses of logic and plain ignorance of reality it takes to believe in conspiracy theories such as 9/11 denial. I'll accept antagonism, but honest stupidity is just too much. And what makes it worse is knowing that for every one person who latches onto 9/11 conspiracy fantasy (or moon-landing fantasy, or whatever) just to antagonize, there are 2, 3, 5... 20, maybe... people who buy it because they honestly believe it, for the reasons Whittle puts forth. That hurts! It just plain hurts! My brain aches to realize some folks can misuse their God-given intelligence so badly. And it also hurts because it shows there are people in our modern enlightened age who manifest such an outrageous superstition against government that they easily match the supernatural superstitions held against supposed witches, devils, or evil possessions by the deliberately thought-arrested in the darkest ages of mankind's past.

Superstition is not an enlightenment value. And this... ignorance... is such a threat to enlightened thinking that at times I honestly fear for the future. Between the political superstitions of the conspiracy fantasists and the brain-deadening extremism of the radical militant islamicists, it's as if a huge portion of mankind is deliberately trying to drag us back into the Dark Ages. It's like the worst elements of mankind's intellectual past is becoming the future, and too much so because of the idiocies accepted as part of 9/11 denial, or moon-landing denial... or just plain reality denial. As T.H. White's Merlyn in "The Once and Future King" did, I feel sometimes as though my observations of the "future" are realistic because they're actually my past. Not my past personally; rather the past all of us have studied where reason conquers ignorance and superstition, where Ptolemaic Cosmology gives way to Copernican because of reason and observation of reality, where Typhoid Mary's infections are halted by Soper's reasoning and deductions. You see, Merlyn lived backwards through time, so he honestly saw the future, his prescience being mere observation. I live forwards through time, but I fear my observations becoming predictions based on mankind’s past, with these forces of ignorance are striving mightily to reverse the trend towards enlightened thinking, leaving all of us to witness an intellectual devolution, much like Merlyn witnessing society become increasingly superstitious, barbaric, and unlearned, where Ptolemy conquers Copernicus, not out of reason and observation, but out of dogma and sheer investment in belief. And that's a terrible future to ponder.

If you accept the logic denial required for 9/11 Denial, or other sorts of Conspiracy Fantasy, then you're laying the first stone in the long road to a future of emotionalism and irrationality, where an argument's veracity is far less important than the depth of individual belief behind it, regardless of the ignorance embodied in the belief to begin with. You lay a first step in a path to a revisited Dark Ages, where recourse to rationalism, or fact, or a simple concept of truth is a quaint anachronism in a future of relativistic anger and irrational groupthink unanchored to reality. And that vision disgusts me. Sagan wrote about this in The Demon Haunted World, and I fear his observations are just too canny a description of how people are.

I understand Whittle, and why he's upset. The stupidly empty charges of supporting "Republicans" when arguing against 9/11 Conspiracy Fantasies are such strong evidence of miniscule intellectual projection that it shows the shallowness of the groupthink embodied in such idiocy. I don't fear Republican marginalization, or "loss of power"; even as a conservative, I wouldn't care if the concept of a Republican party fell off the face of the earth tomorrow. No one's crying that Whigs no longer exist; it's just a damn group. My fears are more elemental. I fear for the intellectual health of society when such fantasies are believed so unskeptically, with such an extreme investment in energy but such an equal lack of true reason. Mankind is in danger of becoming ill as a whole if such irrationalism is allowed to go unanswered. So thank goodness for Whittle's essay. And also for the tireless work of others who refuse to accept the idiocies hidden in the guileless dodge of "just asking questions" about 9/11, questions which rhetorically resemble more the "Do you still beat your wife" line of accusations than the "What really happened" types of queries. Rationalism is unfortunately not yet a common virtue in this world, and it takes folks like Whittle to keep the Enlightenment alive.

4/13/2007 07:33:00 AM  
Blogger Edward said...

4/16/2007 07:28:00 PM  
Blogger Edward said...

address ends .html

4/16/2007 07:30:00 PM  
Blogger unaha-closp said...

I believe in a conspiracy theory.

15 Saudis from an organisation led by a Saudi and spouting the state religion of Saudi Arabia and funded I suspect out of Saudi Arabia carried out the 911 attack.

My conspiracy theory pertains to the notion that Saudi Arabia is deeply involved in the jihadi movement worldwide and a is a font for Al Qaeda in particular. I believe that the involvement of Saudi Arabia is denied because of the adillity of Saudi Arabia to provide money in a bi-partisan manner to American politicians. I believe that oil production is considered of greater value than the lives of any victims of jihadi terrorism.

I am able to find solace to my "loserness" (as defined by Bill Whittle and others) by hanging out at websites that provide a stream of partial or complete sympathy to my conspiracy views.

4/17/2007 06:38:00 PM  
Blogger 49erDweet said...

Sorry, but ade and C4 are speaking only to their (limited) perspective re: heathers comments vis-a-vis "God", in my view. But this is OT and I will drop it.

The conspiracy theorists are indeed "terminally" stupid, I fear, and should be charged an idiocy tax for all the silly and illogical hypotheses they put forth and then fail to prove out. But that would make too much sense, I suppose.

4/18/2007 02:53:00 PM  

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