I met a friend the day after the recent series of bombs in London. He is convinced that Bush and the Americans were responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Centre in September, 2001, and that ‘Bush and Blair’ were responsible for the London bombs.
In other words, a conspiracy theorist. I find it very hard to entertain any of his views regarding the causes of the attacks. However, he has challenged me to do my research, so, piece by piece, I’m doing so. He suggested I start by looking at the official versions of the attacks (starting with the World Trade Centre and the Oklahoma bombing in 1995) , and see whether the collapse of these buildings themselves support these versions. He claims that people placed bombs inside of both of these buildings, which were set to go off around the same time, as the official causes (Timothy McVeigh’s truck and the 2 planes) could not have had the effect they purportedly did.
Conspiracy theory is a disparaging term, applied to a wide range of beliefs. By painting something as a conspiracy theory, orthodoxy tends to discourage exploration of the theory. By associating, say, the theory that there was more than one killer of US president John F Kennedy, with the theory that Bush and the queen of England are lizards, it discourages further exploration of a topic that does deserve more investigation.
So, I’m not going to use the term conspiracy theory, as in my mind it conjures up David Icke, and lizards. I made a game attempt to read David Icke, but found his thinking wooly and flawed. He made interesting connections, tracing the links between people and organisations (and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that the facts were correct, for the purpose of this discussion). However, his reasoning was flawed. He lulled the uncritical reader into saying ‘yes, yes, yes’ as he laid out a chain of events and connections, then threw in some flawed reasoning, a leap of faith that was not logically connected. Many readers would find themselves saying ‘yes’ to that as well, thereby accepting his flawed theory. And of course the facts themselves can be challenged.
Without yet having done my investigations, there seem to be a number of reasons for why the theory as to these attacks would be false (I’ll call the theory X from now for brevity’s sake).
I should start with a brief introduction about my understanding of truth, and justification, which underpins a discussion like this. Very briefly, I believe in a universal truth (on a logical level, this means there are things that are absolutely correct, and things that are absolutely incorrect). I am also a coherentist, which means I believe that beliefs should cohere with other beliefs (on a logical level, that means they should be logically consistent). Theories that don’t cohere with the rest of the beliefs remain unaccepted, until such time as they form a more coherent whole.
X fails my tests, because it is so far from everything else I believe. There’s a useful principle called Ockham’s Razor that I bring out in times like these. Briefly put, it states that the simplest solution is usually the correct one. As an example, if I hear a thumping noise coming from the lounge, I’d prefer to believe that it’s the cat jumping onto the table rather than aliens landing. And so far it’s worked for me every time I’ve tested it in that particular case 🙂
However, that does raise the question of what do we actually know with certainty? I believe very little. Relying on certainty gets us stuck in a Cartesian dilemma. Descartes stated I think therefore I am, and got stuck beyond that. Basic axioms are either too easy to attack, or, as in the case of Descartes version, allow very little, if anything else, to be known from them.
So I know for certain very little. However, I claim to know many things because I have a fairly well-defined set of beliefs that cohere for me. It was raining today, I’m typing on the computer right now. Perhaps one day, these beliefs may, Matrix-like, be changed. I’m quite open to learning more about what the self (I) actually is, and to enhancing my consciousness and general perception, but for now lets just accept these.
X fails for me on a number of fronts.
In order for it to hold, Bush, Blair and the elite must control the media to such a degree that the news that we (in the English speaking world at least) are fed is entirely manufactured so as to create a false view of the world. And that’s not as unreasonable as it sounds. Investigative reporting is a rare art, and most newspapers reprint official press releases, which are just propaganda. Look at embedded reporters during the US invasion of Iraq. What kind of journalism is that? They may as well have stayed home and had the US army email the press releases to them. If you read carefully, most of the news is just propaganda of this sort. It has the advantage to the newspaper company of being cheap to produce (the nice US Colonel hands you a ready-written story, and even stays to answer any questions you may have).
However, the level of control and organisation that’s required to maintain such an illusion to the degree required fails Occams Razor for me. I have worked in large organisations. People make mistakes. People have their own agendas. Instructions are mislaid. Staff aren’t informed of the big picture. All of these would have stamped out, and the degree of control and efficiency be expanded to such a degree, and on such a large scale, that to me is surely unreasonable. There are people who claim responsibility for the attacks. There are people who have strong motive for the attacks. Marching against the Iraqi invasion, I shared the streets with some members of Qibla, and from listening to them I got an understanding of their hatred towards America, of the anger they feel at the presence of US troops in their Holy Land. It’s easy for me to postulate a bomber coming from amongst ranks such as these. Ockhams Razor suggests that the right theory is the one that fits easily, a clear motive, means, and people who’ve taken responsibility, not one that requires more and more far-fetched twists in order to remain consistent.