‘What happened on 9/11 is, in the end a factual matter’

southpark4Charlie Brooker was on fine form the other day. From his article on the 9/11 denial movement:

It’s hard enough to successfully operate a video shop with a staff of three, for Christ’s sake, let alone slaughter thousands and convince the world someone else was to blame.

That’s just one broad objection to all the bullshit theories. But try suggesting it to someone in the midst of a 9/11 fairytale reverie, and they’ll pull a face and say, ‘Yeah, but …’ and start banging on about some easily misinterpreted detail that ‘makes you think’ (when it doesn’t) or ‘contradicts the official story’ (when you misinterpret it). Like nutbag creationists, they fixate on thinly spread, cherry-picked nuggets of ‘evidence’ and ignore the thundering mass of data pointing the other way.

And when repeatedly pressed on that one, basic, overall point – that a conspiracy this huge would be impossible to pull off – they huff and whine and claim that unless you’ve sat through every nanosecond of Loose Change (the conspiracy flick du jour) and personally refuted every one of its carefully spun ‘findings’ before their very eyes, using a spirit level and calculator, you have no right to an opinion on the subject.

Oh yeah? So if my four-year-old nephew tells me there’s a magic leprechaun in the garden I have to spend a week meticulously peering underneath each individual blade of grass before I can tell him he’s wrong, do I?

Mark Thwaite points me to a response by Dan Hind, author of The Threat to Reason. Most of Hind’s output seems to be dedicated to attacking sceptics: sceptics of postmodernism, alternative medicine and 9/11 denial. The title to this post gives you a fair idea of the quality of his arguments.

Here he is on Brooker:

The piece reproduces the standard line on the conspiratorial turn of mind. People believe conspiracy theories because they offer consolation of a sort; ‘I’ve seen through the deception that other people accept. What looks overwhelmingly complicated is, properly understood, comprehensible; there is a system, albeit a malevolent one. My life might seem dull, but really I am an actor in a cosmic struggle between Good and Evil’. In this Brooker echoes Frank Furedi, who likes to suggest that the popularity of conspiracy theories is part of a quasi-religious retreat from reason. I think Melanie Phillips’s position is similar. Cor, Charlie Brooker and Melanie Phillips.

Read the full article and you’ll know that Brooker in fact does a lot more than give the ‘standard line’. He poses practical and common-sense based challenges to the conspiracy theory. He’s saying that the administrative and planning burden would be too great to pull of an operation of this kind, and he’s asking how governments can be trusted to manage a conspiracy, given their incompetence in most areas.

And notice the lumbering smear-by-association at the end of this para?  We have a rival to Mitchelmore in the field of misrepresentation and creepy insinuation. Hind’s subtext is: ‘Don’t take Brooker seriously because his view is similar to Melanie Phillips’s – which means Charlie Brooker is a RIGHT WING NEOCON just like MELANIE PHILLIPS’.

Anyone familiar with Brooker’s writing will know that this has no basis in reality.

We are still left with the question of whether particular conspiracies took place. It might well be consoling in some way to know that the CIA plots the overthrow of unhelpful foreign regimes. But it is also true. To insist that, say, the CIA had nothing to do with the fall of Arbenz or Allende might feel terrifically sensible and sane – can’t always be seeing the hidden hand of the CIA, no call for reductionism … It is also, you know, wrong.

What happened on 9/11 is, in the end a factual matter – it’s up to you to decide whether or not the evidence stacks up for the official version, and how it does so exactly.

The point is that CIA involvement in the Pinochet coup is not conspiracy theory, but fact. It is supported by evidence, and I can’t think of a single serious commentator (and Hind doesn’t name any) who ‘insists’ that the CIA had ‘nothing to do’ with this matter.

To compare this with 9/11 conspiracism is ludicrous because the 9/11 denial movement hasn’t been able to provide any evidence to support its theories. Same goes for the Kennedy assassination and al-Fayed’s Diana plot.

Hind’s own analysis of September 11 is as follows:

Personally, I have fuck all idea what happened, because I have no more idea of how the business-intelligence-political nexus works than I have about what chess grandmasters are up to when they are staring at the board, looking all thoughtful. The whole thing, the thing of which 9/11 is part, is something to do with oil, and drugs, and organised crime, and imperialism, and actually existing institutions and us. Oh, and a bit of religion, and a lot of money.

But how it all fits together, or doesn’t, that is some way over my head. Maybe no one knows, maybe no one can. Maybe it is all, in the end, inadvertence and error. But it is possible – highly likely – that some people know a sight more than I do, than Charlie Brooker does.

Laughable!

And then, as a bracketed afterthought:

(It’s worth noting as an aside that the most pernicious conspiracy theory about the 9/11 attacks was promoted by the American state. In the run-up to the Iraq war every effort was made to link Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda. Those who want to debunk conspiracy theories have an awkward time with this one – that particular paranoid fantasy wasn’t pushed by the tinfoil hat brigade, but by a highly focussed and skilled group of people working in secret to manage the perceptions of the American and global public … A conspiracy to promote a (false) conspiracy theory. That’s much less entertaining than the 9/11 Truth Movement. The White House’s psywar team were successful and apparently well adjusted. And they helped prepare the way for an illegal war in which more than half a million people have died. Did someone say something about holograms?)

But as with the Pinochet example above, the Saddam/Al-Qaeda link was a piece of propaganda, quickly demolished, using evidence. The propaganda of the 9/11 truth movement has been similarly debunked. Hind has no answer to the argument that conspiracy theory is – in Deborah Lipstadt’s phrase – faith in search of reason.

Really, this is just chaff-throwing, isn’t it? If Hind was interested in 9/11 he could read the scholarship around the event from sources like Popular Mechanics or Sceptic. But all he’s interested in is giving an easy ride to any conspiracy theory, no matter how unsupported or deranged, that is critical of the US government.

I mean, what’s next, Dan? The great global warming swindle?

Update: Dan Hind in the comments box points out that there’s a more coherent version of his post on CiF.

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4 Responses to “‘What happened on 9/11 is, in the end a factual matter’”

  1. Conspirama Says:

    ‘What happened on 9/11 is, in the end a factual matter’…

    But try suggesting it to someone in the midst of a 9/11 fairytale reverie, and they’ll pull a face and say, ‘Yeah, but …’ and start banging on about some easily misinterpreted detail that ‘makes you think’ (when it doesn’t) or ……

  2. Dan Hind Says:

    If you like, you can have a go at the article I wrote for Comment is Free, which is a bit less sweary and a bit more measured.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jul/17/september11?commentpage=1

    The Saddam Hussein-al Qaeda link might have been amateurish, but it was highly effective – I think a majority of Americans though that SH was behind the attacks by March 2003.

    Brooker’s approach to conspiracy theories is relevantly similar to Melanie Phillips. Which is quite funny, I thought.

  3. maxdunbar Says:

    Dan

    Thanks for commenting on the post.

    I see you’ve tidied up the original piece for CiF – I have added a link.

    Just a few points.

    1) Saddam/Al-Qaeda

    The Saddam/Al-Qaeda link is an official story that is demonstrably false. It was investigated and established as false within months of being released. You say ‘a majority of Americans thought that SH was behind the attacks by March 2003’ – how many believe this now? Not many, I’d bet.

    By contrast, proponents of 9/11 conspiracy theories can’t produce any convincing evidence to counter the ‘official’ view.

    2) Equivocation on 9/11

    Do you actually read what you write?

    ‘What happened on 9/11 is, in the end, a matter of fact – whatever our worldview might incline us to consider plausible or possible.’

    I mean, this sentence just doesn’t make sense!

    If what happened on 9/11 is ‘a matter of fact’ then it can’t be ‘whatever our worldview might incline us to consider plausible or possible’. Either it’s a perception or a fact. You can’t have it both ways.

    Why do you say that ‘the true authorship of the attacks’ is ‘difficult to establish’ when Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility?

    Why say that we ‘don’t know’ what happened on 9/11 when we do know?

    I’m not being sarcastic when I say this – but I don’t think you realise how ridiculous you sound when you engage in all this waffling and equivocation.

    Just going ‘well, it’s all very complicated, we don’t know what happened’ is not good enough.

    Most people agree that the September 11 attacks were ‘authored’ by an Islamist group, which hijacked some planes and flew them into buildings. If you’ve got an alternative theory, let’s hear it.

    3) ‘Planning’ 9/11

    Your response to Brooker’s point about the level of organisation is no response at all.

    This is what Brooker said:

    Imagine the paperwork. Imagine the level of planning, recruitment, coordination, control, and unbelievable nerve required to pull off a conspiracy of that magnitude. Really picture it in detail. At the very least you’re talking about hiring hundreds of civil servants cold-hearted enough to turn a blind eye to the murder of thousands of their fellow countrymen. If you were dealing with faultless, emotionless robots – maybe. But this almighty conspiracy was presumably hatched and executed by fallible humans. And if there’s one thing we know about humans, it’s that our inherent unreliability will always derail the simplest of schemes

    To which you can only say:

    It might feel wise and sensible to declare that any explanation that differs from the official account requires hundreds of impossibly tight-lipped bureaucratic killers. But that presupposes that we know how the world works, and we don’t.

    With respect, that’s pathetic, isn’t it?

    Is that all you can say to Brooker’s point?

    Do you think we know nothing of how the world works?

    4) Charlie and Mel

    I didn’t realise that the Brooker/Phillips comparison was meant as a joke. Apologies.

    It does seem, though, by the way you link them together in your piece – and on your blog post entitled ‘Is Charlie Brooker Melanie Phillips?’ that you are trying to imply that Charlie Brooker is some kind of frothing neocon, like Melanie Phillips.

    You don’t actually come out and say this, because that would take guts.

    Can you really see Charlie Brooker writing a Guardian article entitled ‘Let’s bomb Iran!’

    The comparison is meaningless, isn’t it?

    Lots of people, from all over the political spectrum, are sceptical about 9/11 denial theories.

  4. My grave doubts about war in Iraq « Max Dunbar Says:

    […] Max Dunbar ‘And this transition from the blue to the black is very gradual and lovely’ « ‘What happened on 9/11 is, in the end a factual matter’ […]

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