While they have been deleted by this point, a clever soul with the aid of the Wayback Machine could find a few delusional articles on this blog by me, and more than a few similarly insane blog comments, "questioning 9/11" and otherwise engaging in juvenile and paranoid conspiracism. (See also here where the madness went to audio.) The basic point of this post is to declare that I have, of late, disabused myself of any and all notions of a grand conspiracy to destroy the Twin Towers, launch a war in Afghanistan and Iraq, promote an American empire, steal oil and other natural resources and create a police state here at home.
Like many Americans, I turned against the war in Iraq and the Bush administration around 2005, 2006. Being an extreme sort, I could not stop there, being merely against the current president, and then signing up for Obama's campaign or Ron Paul's campaign. No, I had to be more radically "against the system" than anyone else. It didn't help that I had a young man's hatred for authority and accountability, with all the arrogance and postmodern angst implied thereby.
As Saint Paul may have put it, I now count it all dung. And when it comes to false accusations, overheated rhetoric, leaps of logic, delusional thinking, fallacious reasoning and self-serving introspection--I am the chief of sinners. Bar none.
I honestly wonder now what the whole point of this blog is. I haven't settled on a firm decision as to whether I should keep it, or whether I should simply be silent and spend a few years reading, reflecting, studying, serving and getting busy raising the gift from God my wife now carries in her womb.
Regardless, I want to spend the next few posts trying to take apart conspiracy theories and conspiracist thinking in general, in the hope of providing some sort of helpful service here for inquiring minds. This post is the first of a series. It is tagged "conspiracism."
II. Conspiracism: Defining and Bounding It
The root of conspiracism is ultimately sin. Scripture teaches us that a man who falsely accuses his brother should have what he intended to be done to the accused done to him (Deut. 19:18-19). Conspiratorial thinking brings with it an inevitable spirit of accusation. It does no good to believe in an impossibly powerful, all-encompassing Hidden Hand of Evil directing everything if you can't point to at least a few likely culprits. In the case of 9/11 Truthers, the culprits are likely to be some combination of Dick Cheney, Neo-Cons, Bankers, Globalists, and the perennial conspiracy favorite, JEEEWWWS.
The trouble is, while the accusations are necessarily weighty, they are also non-falsifiable. No matter what evidence you present a conspiracy theorist with, no matter how devastating your argument, he will always find a way to continue to believe in his chosen delusion. He is a fanatic who can change neither his mind nor the subject. This fanaticism is where I draw the line between "conspiracism" and the legitimate investigation of real conspiracies. Abuse does not negate proper use. The existence of conspiracists doesn't mean that there are no real conspiracies; it means we all need to use wisdom, discernment, real evidence and relevant testimony. In short, we all need to live in the real world, which is another way of saying God's world.
The fanaticism with which a conspiracist holds his theories is the thing that holds his worldview together. Otherwise, if he submitted his theories to the light of reason, eyewitness testimony, physical evidence and rational investigation, as Scripture requires when accusations are made, he would have to admit his accusations are false. To admit this would crush his cherished worldview, so the conspiracist clings to his chosen apocalyptic dogma the way some people cling to revered religious texts or relics. This is an imperfect analogy of course, since there is probably more proof for your stomach flu being healed by touching a Fragment of the True Cross than for most wild conspiracy theories about the events of 9/11...
III. What Moves the Conspiracist?
What keeps conspiracism, as a movement, going? I am most familiar with 9/11 Trutherism, so I will try to address that brand of insanity particularly. A few folks are in it for the dollars.
David Ray Griffin has sold a lot of books peddling various lies and distortions about what happened on 9/11. If you look closely at his publicity photos, you can detect the faint signs of a Reptilian grin.
|Just look at his fangs and menacing eyes. The better to eat your sanity with...|
Richard Gage's conspiracism came out of his midlife crisis. His career in architecture has been ruined, his wife and family have left him, and so giving talks and rewriting the laws of physics are his only source of income. He's in it for the rent money and a meal ticket.
Alex Jones makes good money fomenting outrage and paranoia across the fruitcake plain.
|This man wants you to gently stroke his bullhorn...|
Most of the people who join the conspiracist cult don't make any money. Rather, they fade further into obscurity and social isolation. What's in it for them?
David Veitch, a former British 9/11 Truth activist, explained it this way once he came back to reality. He said that conspiracy theorists were often "bullied people. People who maybe didn’t get the girls at school… So they see a lot of rugger bugger types and they’re against anything to do with them. They will side with the devil, as long as the devil is against the West." ["Rugger bugger" is a Brit slang term for wealthy prep school kid.]
"There's a professional victimhood in conspiracy theorists. There's a hatred of high achievers," added Veitch.
The conspiracy theorist's resentment of others, his social awkwardness, his difficulties with fitting in and success, suddenly become assets to him once he delves deep into the conspiracist swamp. He now possesses "special knowledge" that makes him smarter and more enlightened that everybody else. The affirmation he always sought and was denied is suddenly granted to him.
There's more to it than this, though. I briefly shared my own experience at the top of this post, and for me I think young man's angst had a lot to with it. That seems to be the case for Dylan Avery, the man who gave us the documentary Loose Change.
Voactiv.com quotes Avery in a feature piece: "In my truly angry times, in 2005 or 2006, if you asked if the Bush administration planned the attacks, I would have said, ‘Fuck yeah.'"
Asked what he would say now, Avery says, "I don’t think Bush could plan a bowl of cereal."
Seeking to further distance himself from his old 9/11 claims and his movie, Avery says, "It’s a dark, dangerous world, the world of conspiracy. You make a commitment and either stick with it to the very end, or you don’t. It’s easy to get sucked in, and really hard to get sucked back out."
Then you read about Avery's early life, leading up to the making of the film and its release in late 2005. He never knew his father. He was "withdrawn and lonely." He didn't participate in team sports or know how to talk to girls. He was missing a father's positive influence in his life.
Then he meets Korey Rowe, who teaches him a form of masculinity and acts as a father to him. Rowe serves in the Army, returns angry and disillusioned, and together the two of them make a popular Internet film strongly suggesting that the U.S. government deliberately engineered the events of 9/11.
Father hunger drives the hatred and distrust of authority rampant in our culture. For some like Mr. Avery, it drives them to conspiracism. When you don't know how to be a man, you find fatherhood to be elusive and mysterious. When your feminist mother, who only saw men abandon and use her over her entire life, informs you that men are worthless and manhood is a joke, you believe her. You strive to prove you are a man who will consciously not be like the other men. This looks to be the experience of Dylan Avery.
Thus, you define your manhood and your quest for meaning by being the Anti-Man, the Anti-Father. All institutions, government agencies and seats of authority in society become suspect to you. You accuse of them of devious plots concocted behind closed doors. You confuse manly authority and protection with brutality and malice. You especially loathe the military and the police. More than anything else, they symbolize the brute jocks who picked on you in high school.
The reader can see the diverse and complex factors that lead to someone jumping into the conspiracy ditch. For some it's money and reputation that are apparently the motivators, but for most it is simply a delusional, religious-like devotion to a certain narrative of the world, combined with father hunger, resentment of others' strength and success, the desire to be thought special or enlightened, and/or the drive to be thought brave for exposing the Truth and the Hidden Hand of Evil. Obviously there's much more that could be said about all these myriad factors, which is what the posts that will follow this one are for.
It is probably insane to try to understand insanity, but at some level it is necessary. The Internet has made it possible for virtually anyone to live inside their own reality, their own truth, and then project their truth to the world. When large numbers of otherwise intelligent people abandon reason and sense, the survival of the body politic is at risk.
Let us gaze at the conspiracy ditch. Let us take its dimensions. Let us note its depth and how far from the edge of the road it is. Then, let us take pains to avoid it and warn others away from it.