Image: Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth
You would probably call me a conspiracy theorist. I’m not sure what you would mean, but from observing how others use the term, conspiracy theory usually means not believing what governments and corporate media say. I fall into that category, a failing that leads some to call me mentally defective.
Every few weeks I see articles by highly educated authors, calling people like me crazy. Despite feeling attacked and dismissed by them, I read articles such as “The Intellectual Character of Conspiracy Theorists,” or “Why People Believe in Conspiracy Theories”, or” What Conspiracy Theorists Don’t Believe,” trying to find out what is supposedly wrong with me.
Why can’t I believe the stories others believe? Is it just because the media’s narratives are often physically impossible, like two airplanes bringing down three towers at the World Trade Center? Or ridiculous, like the idea that Russia corrupted the 2016 election with $40,000 of Facebook ads? Or do I just not think straight?
I’m going to quote one such article at length, because it is infuriatingly typical. A piece on Aeon.co by Quassim Cassam, a professor of philosophy in Coventry, England lists thought disorders held by people who don’t believe government stories. “Oliver [a fictional character who doubts the 9/11 official story] believes what he does because there is something wrong with how he thinks.” He has good information, writes Cassam, but interprets and responds to it badly, because “he is gullible in a certain way. He has what social psychologists call a ‘conspiracy mentality.’
Oliver has other “conceptual vices. Carelessness, closed-mindedness, negligence, idleness, rigidity, obtuseness, prejudice and lack of thoroughness.” He doesn’t have “intellectual virtues including humility, caution and carefulness, and that is why his attempts to get to the bottom of 9/11 are so flawed.”
Keep in mind, the writer is talking about a character who has devoted years to the study of the events of 9/11, while Prof. Cassam admits to not having investigated beyond what news media have told him. He says he doesn’t need to investigate, because “Oliver’s theory is no good, whereas there is every reason to believe that aircraft impacts did bring down the Twin Towers. Just because you believe the official account of what happened in 9/11 doesn’t make you gullible if there are good reasons to believe that account.” He gives no such reasons.
So, this professor, like others who have written in a similar vein, has one basic argument: ‘this is the government’s story; this is what people like me believe, so you must be crazy to disagree.’ He doesn’t have to give any evidence, or even try to understand skeptics’ arguments. Don’t adjectives like “close-minded” and “negligent” apply to him far more than to people like Oliver?
Some critics don’t go quite so far as Professor Cassam. They attribute conspiracy theory to a natural human desire to make sense out of confusing situations. But these thinkers are just as dismissive of inconvenient facts.
One example: did you know about the ‘hijacker’s passport’ being found unharmed on the sidewalk a few blocks from the WTC, by an unknown pedestrian who turned it in to the police on Sept. 11, 2001?
Even a moment’s thought on this extraordinary event should totally discredit the government’s story of 9/11. How could a passport fly out a carry-on or a suit, out of a plane, out of a building, and be found on the street? And if it didn’t escape, who created the passport and planted it?
You may not have heard this story before. News reports of the passport were widely published at the time, but barely show up on a Google search now. See this one from The Guardian before it disappears, too.
I call people who believe stories like towers mysteriously collapsing and passports miraculously flying “credulity theorists.” To believe the lies our government tells requires a credulous rejection of one’s own perceptions and an attitude of completely undeserved trust that ‘They wouldn’t lie to us.’ Credulity theorists will tell you, “Well, it could have happened the way they say; I’m no expert.” Meanwhile, people who actually investigate government claims are derided as conspiracy theorists and kicked off platforms such as Wikipedia.
I don’t like being gaslit
Reading attacks like Prof. Cassam’s is tiresome and stressful. We are constantly told to doubt our own eyes, ears, and minds, a psychological control tactic known as gaslighting, from the 1944 movie Gaslight with Ingrid Bergman.
Gaslighting has evolved to mean ‘getting people to deny their own experience and believe things for which they have no evidence.’ But the treatment of conspiracy theorists goes back to the original meaning, literally trying to convince us we’re crazy.
I hate these attacks, usually coming from people who have put far less time and effort into studying a controversy than the “conspiracy theorists” have. It’s especially infuriating when media broadcasts false and discredited stories like Iraq leader Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, stories which led to a million people being killed and for which they never apologized. Nobody calls the purveyors of those destructive fantasies conspiracy theorists or analyzes their thought problems.
I don’t believe everything is a conspiracy
I’m not recommending people believe every counter-government theory they see on the Internet. Some of these stories are pretty weird. I don’t believe QAnon, the Earth is flat, or space aliens, because those theories make little sense, and I have seen no evidence for them. Occasionally, I fall for plausible but unproven anti-establishment narratives that turn out wrong. Usually, though, theories I believe, such as ‘The U.S. government funds terrorists,’ are logical, well-supported by evidence, even obvious.
I have learned to suspect every single thing government and corporate media tell me. Isn’t this a rational response to a lifetime of being lied to? I used to believe lone gunmen without clear motives killed John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. For years. I believed Arab terrorists based in Afghanistan carried out the 9/11 attacks, and I remained ignorant of all the counter-evidence.
That was when I was truly gullible, to use Prof. Cassam’s term. Now that I’ve stopped trusting our rulers’ narratives, the world has opened up and become scarier at the same time. It’s stressful having no media source I can trust, but at least I don’t fall for every scam the intelligence agencies put out.
Conspiracy theory wasn’t always an insult
Governments have always lied; they call it ‘diplomacy’ or ‘intelligence’ or ‘politics.’ Intelligent people have accordingly long doubted what governments say. Their doubts were not called “conspiracy theory” until the 1960s. According to Michael Butler, Professor of American Literacy and Cultural History at the University of Tubingen,”It was only a few decades ago that the term took on the derogatory connotations it has today, where to call someone a conspiracy theorist functions as an insult.”
The meaning of conspiracy theorist as a person who foolishly embraces absurd narratives got a big boost after President John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. According to Lance DeHaven Smith’s book Conspiracy Theory in America, the New York Times used the term “conspiracy theorist” five times in a single article in 1964 to describe doubters of the official JFK story, as written by the Warren Commission. Now, conspiracy theorists are seen as deluded and dangerous.
I will keep doing this as long as I can
If our corporate rulers really wanted to reduce the level of conspiracy thinking, they could stop lying to us. But they won’t stop, because their whole imperial system depends on lies.
In the 21st Century, they have lied us into a series of horrible wars that have destroyed and destabilized much of the world, as in Iraq and Libya. They’re now lying about China’s abuse of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang province to justify anti-China cold war. The Uighur narrative is based on highly dubious sources. And, given the USA’s 30-year history of brutal aggression against Muslim countries, the idea of American concern for Muslims is absurd. But thanks to repetition and the receptive minds of credulity theorists, millions of people have come to hate and fear China.
Australian journalist Caitlin Johnstone writes, “Those who control the narrative control the world.” That is why our rulers work so hard and spend so much to create false stories about other countries or about what’s going on this one. Without the narratives they create for us, their wars and destruction couldn’t happen.
All these narratives are built on a structure of previous lies (such as 9/11) about how dangerous the world is. Constant repetition conditions people to believe them. People who love justice and want peace need to sabotage this structure.
Those who challenge our rulers’ false narratives are dismissed as conspiracy theorists. Narrative managers in media and government use such labels to keep people from listening to alternative views. They drive people away from us because independent thinkers can effectively combat their oppressive lies.
I invite you to join us. Question everything you see and hear on corporate and social media. When you come across frightening or shocking news, whether about China, pandemic, terrorism or whatever, ask yourself ‘Does this really make sense?’ If it doesn’t, research it.
On the Internet, develop a small library of sources whom you can trust and whose positions usually turn out true. Don’t blindly trust any one source, or blindly reject one either. Sometimes truth comes from those you thought of as enemies. When you feel confident about what you’ve found, speak up about it.
Have courage for this uncomfortable but vital work. True, you risk losing some friends, being de-platformed from social media, and having many difficult conversations. But, as Ms. Johnstone says, we live in a world of narrative. Working to change society’s false, destructive narratives is one of the few ways we can fight back.