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Weary of conspiracy theories

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#1 Overstreet


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Posted 12 September 2010 - 06:55 PM

What's a good way to respond to smart folks who start buying into the 9/11 conspiracy theories that it was all an inside job, that our government planned it all, the mysterious airplane that nobody identified, that third Trade Center building that fell without any airplane to destroy it, etc, etc....?

Do you just tell them to please pursue the truth on their own?

Do you just bit your tongue and listen?

Have you come across a good debunking site regarding these theories?

Or do you ask yourself, "Am I just one of the duped masses?"

I'm all about "the sacredness of questioning everything," as David Dark would put it, but I'm not certain how it's helping anything when somebody starts sending me blog comments full of suspicious details that are meant to "expose the media fables" and make us rise up in anger.

Anybody have any experience responding to these rants and spiels?

#2 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 07:17 PM

THese things have been around forever. I like to point out that many scandals and atrocities that are uncoverd can be demonstrated or debunked by the evidence. However, almost every conspiriacy depends on almost no real evidence at all. It is the twisted evil, genius, or fear that keeps the evidence from coming out, donchano. Almost all conspiracies seem to depend on an elaborate construct of no real falsifiable evidence at all. Sadly, when confronted with a demand of evidence, or the accusation that there is no evidence, hence the reliance on the covering of evidence that would demonstrate, one then must resort to a variation on "well, it could happen." Or some reasonable scenario that would make a great thriller plot, but for lack of evidence is fiction. At that point, though I hate to walk away from an argument, I have no choice but to walk away.

When evidence is not needed, one has no reason to doubt the theory.

#3 Buckeye Jones

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 07:54 PM

My neighbors into this. He stopped telling me about it after I started making fun of him. Probably not the solution you're looking for.

#4 Persona


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Posted 12 September 2010 - 08:03 PM

I don't go on rants or spiels, as you say, but I do enjoy the documentaries that point out the loopholes in the way it has been explained already. Because I've never bought into the fact that the way it has been explained is sufficient, and you know there is always more going on behind the scenes. I don't hold to a particular theory as much as I believe that we don't know some of the basic facts.

#5 Joel



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Posted 12 September 2010 - 08:09 PM

Popular Mechanics did a book (and website) on this -- http://www.popularme...ry/news/1227842

I think there's been an interminable back and forth -- the conspiracy people refute PM, who refutes the refutations, etc. -- but I haven't really gone further. The book was good, in my opinion.

#6 Holy Moly!

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Posted 13 September 2010 - 02:01 AM

#7 MattPage


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Posted 13 September 2010 - 03:19 AM

Not sure about 9-11, but more generally you could always link them to this series of sketches on conspiracy theories by Mitchell and Webb. Awesome

Moon Landing conspiracy
Princess Diana conspiracy

and slightly unrelated, but vaguely in the same category, homeopathy.

Plus this Richard Dawkins sketch touches on this too.


#8 du Garbandier

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Posted 13 September 2010 - 07:14 AM

There's always the Buzz Aldrin approach:

Mr. Sibrel, [a Moon landing hoax theorist] who sells his films online, has hounded Apollo astronauts with a Bible, insisting that they swear on camera they had walked on the Moon. He so annoyed Buzz Aldrin in 2002 — ambushing him with his Bible and calling him “a coward, and a liar, and a thief” — that Mr. Aldrin punched Mr. Sibrel in the face. Law enforcement officials refused to file charges against Mr. Aldrin, the second man on the Moon.

When you come down to it, conspiracy theorists are not really interested in exploring the truth about their pet issue, which they know they already possess. As Ted Goertzel says in that link,

“They don’t undertake to prove that their view is true” so much as to “find flaws in what the other side is saying.” And so, he said, argument is a matter of accumulation instead of persuasion. “They feel if they’ve got more facts than the other side, that proves they’re right.”

And as the article also mentions, the internet multiplies theorists' collective fact-wielding, flaw-finding power exponentially.

So you have a surprisingly large number of like-minded people for whom it isn't enough merely to point out the limits of human knowledge in any particular historical thread (which theorists are very good at doing). These people are not duped by such simplicitudes. Every gap in knowledge has a clear explanation that has been suppressed; there has to be some deliberate intelligence at work behind the scenes. The masses may be fooled but theorists, through hard fact work, have demonstrated their rightness. They are like Manley Pointer: "I may sell Bibles but I know which end is up and I wasn’t born yesterday and I know where I’m going!" The trouble for those who value meaningful conversation is that theorists also know that people who don't buy their theories are either fools or liars, and are wont to call them just that. Or even if they don't call you a liar, they only seem to know how to talk on their pet topic, perhaps because they feel they haven't accumulated sufficient facts and flaws to beat you down in other areas. The burdens of persuasion do not trouble them, and the delights of conversation are alien to them (so to speak).

Edited by du Garbandier, 13 September 2010 - 07:32 AM.

#9 jfutral



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Posted 13 September 2010 - 08:36 AM

I usually reply "So the same people who can't handle welfare, health care, banking oversight, taxes, whatever other government program/service you can think of, is some how competent enough to pull off such a conspiracy and keep the general public blind?" Some times I'll tag on "That's impressive." But it usually ends the conversation and we go on to more important things like BBQ and the Braves chances at the world series. Now THERE'S conspiracies!


#10 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 13 September 2010 - 04:31 PM

My neighbors into this. He stopped telling me about it after I started making fun of him. Probably not the solution you're looking for.

I'm afraid I follow the same solution. "9/11 truthers" we call them. Comparing them to the "birthers" or the John Birch Society usually works.

Perhaps on a more helpful note, not one single friend (liberal or libertarian) who has talked to me about how 9/11 was an "inside job" has been able to answer any elementary level questions about it. They've just read a couple websites or watched a couple youtube videos and apparently want to believe it, so they do. Just a couple questions usually do the trick. When I unfortunately allowed my libertarian friend show me a video made by one of the more prominent/professional conspiracy theory groups of the two towers crashing down, the video used slow motion and little arrows pointing to little explosions up and down the building below where the plane hit a tower. "See all those little explosions underneath?" asks the narrator, "those are where the FBI rigged the building with dynamite."

"Um, that's their proof?" I had to ask my enthusiastic, anti-government friend.

"Yeah, makes you think, doesn't it?"

"I'm afraid those windows are blowing out because the air in the building has no place else to go."

"Yeah but ..."

"I hardly know anything about building demolition, but I do know that when a building collapses, its windows blow out because of the air inside the building, NOT because secret invisible FBI agents snuck into the building the night before and oh so perfectly hid explosives between the drywall."



Honestly, this is about the intellecutal level of all the conspiracy theories on 9/11 (besides just flat out ignoring basic science and hundreds of eyewitnesses, photographs, and other hard evidence). This is pretty old hat, I heard about the first couple conspiracy theories just a couple months after 9/11. I tried actually discussing them with people at first, because I believed conspiracy theories about 9/11 were taking Americans' eyes off what our real priorities should have been. But I don't have to stomach to try taking anything they say as worth my time anymore. Same sort of thing back in the 1950s, William F. Buckley said he could only talk to a person who sincerely believed President Eisenhower was a secret Communist for only so long, eventually you just have to ignore them.

Peter Hankoff wrote a good little column on this 2 days ago -

The vaunted conspiracy of our time is no closer to being proven than it was on 9/12/11. And it won't be. Why? Because it's such a perfect cover-up? No. Because it happened — as planned — by people who wanted the results we still see today: turmoil, paranoia, and economic uncertainty. If the Bush Administration had really been behind it, why would they be so willing to cede power in the freely-held elections of 2008?

#11 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 13 September 2010 - 05:20 PM

I hate the word "truthers". It almost implies that the people in question actually believe the truth. But they don't, and I don't want to flatter them as though they do in any way, shape or form.

#12 SDG


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Posted 13 September 2010 - 05:25 PM

I hate the word "truthers". It almost implies that the people in question actually believe the truth. But they don't, and I don't want to flatter them as though they do in any way, shape or form.

Yeah, it's a little less problematic in the full phrase "9/11 truthers," but still, what's wrong with 9/11 conspiracy theorists?

#13 Ryan H.

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Posted 20 September 2010 - 02:24 PM

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#14 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 30 September 2010 - 05:45 PM

On a more recent note, the 9/11 conspiracy theorists/"truthers"/crackpots/whatever-you-want-to-call-thems can now all proudly revel in the fact that current Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has enthusiastically joined their ranks - as he just announced to the United Nations.

per National Review-

Ahmadinejad understands perfectly well that confronting Iran is out of sync with the “new era of engagement” that is the trademark of Obama’s foreign policy. “Engagement” looks like this: The president of the United States keeps talking about “extended hands” and “open doors,” and the president of Iran keeps building nuclear weapons. As recently as September 19, even Secretary Hillary Clinton told Christiane Amanpour, “We’ve said to the Iranians all along…we still remain open to diplomacy. But it’s been very clear that the Iranians don’t want to engage with us.”

Ahmadinejad, therefore, took the opportunity provided by the U.N. to slam the door once more in President Obama’s face. While he lectured about the “lust for capital and domination” and “the egotist and the greedy,” the American U.N. delegation sat stoically in their seats. They had instructions to tough it out until Ahmadinejad really got offensive — though what would count as sufficiently offensive was never publicly announced.

The tripwire turned out to be Ahamdinejad’s suggestion that 9/11 was an inside job. “The U.S. government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy and its grip on the Middle East in order also to save the Zionist regime.” With that, the Obama representatives finally hauled themselves out of their seats and put engagement temporarily on hold.