Friday, August 18, 2006

Conspiracy Theorists' Cousins

The nut-cases who believe that 9/11 was an "inside job" won't be deterred or converted by facts and logic, but perhaps their paranoia will not spread too far if Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up To The Facts is well publicized. Austin Bay writes about Debunking at TCS Daily:

[It] expands to book-length a collection of articles Popular Mechanics published in March 2005. The book contains new appendices and updated analyses. . . .

[T]he book follows a "Claim" and "Fact" format. Here are excerpts from the section entitled "Melted Steel":

"Claim: ... 'We have been lied to,' announces the Web site 'The first lie was that the load of fuel from the aircraft was the cause of structural failure. No kerosene fire can burn hot enough to melt steel.' The posting is entitled 'Proof Of Controlled Demolition At The WTC.' ..."

"FACT: ... Jet fuel burns at 1,100 to 1,200 degrees Celsius ... significantly less than the 1,510 degrees Celsius typically required to melt steel. . . . However, experts agree that for the towers to collapse, their steel frames didn't need to melt, they just had to lose some of their structural strength -- and that required exposure to much less heat..."

The "Fact" section includes analysis from structural engineers, a professor of metallurgy and explosives experts.

The 9/11 conspiracy theories have overt and covert promoters. Some are more nuisance than threat. Howard Dean verbally toyed with 9/11 conspiracy theories when he was playing primary election footsie with hard-left constituencies. . . .

[Popular Mechanics editor-in-chief James] Meigs analyzes eight 9/11 conspiracy-spinner techniques. I'll mention two:

  1. Attempts to "marginalize opposing views." Meigs says thousands of eyewitness 9/11 accounts and the analyses of numerous universities and professional organizations (including Underwriters Labs and the American Society of Civil Engineers) are dismissed as "the government version."
  1. Circular reasoning. Meigs writes that " ... among 9/11 theorists, the presence of evidence supporting the mainstream view is also taken as proof of conspiracy." He concludes: "Like doctrinaire Marxists or certain religious extremists, conspiracists enjoy a world view that is immune to refutation."

Meigs' analyses of "demonization" and the "paranoid style" are particularly crisp and compelling.

That should be that, but . . .

Bay's mention of Howard Dean's pandering to "hard-left constituencies" leads me to the conspiracy-theorists' cousins:

  • First, there are the Leftists, who will seize on any excuse to bash a Republican administration. Such Leftists are not true conspiracy-theorists; they would not countenance an "inside job" theory were Al Gore or John Kerry in the White House. They are merely unprincipled, and unhinged in their own way. (See this and this, for example.)
  • Then there are the radical libertarians, who do not subscribe to "inside job" theories. No, their conspiracy theory runs on a parallel track: The undeniably evil state is interested only in power, and it seizes on every opportunity to accrue more power. Thus it overblows the threat of terrorism and takes away our liberties, a slice at a time. (See this, for one example.)

Radical libertarians would be a greater threat to liberty than conspiracy nuts and Leftists, were there more than enough rad-libs to fill a high-school football stadium. Why? Because they seem more plausible than conspiracy nuts and Leftists; that is, they do not foam at the mouth.

Rad-libs are quick to assign evil motives to the state, without examining the evil motives of our enemies or acknowledging the necessity of state action against those enemies (given that we do not live in the stateless nirvana to which rad-libs aspire). Rad-libs are quick to minimize the dangers of terrorism by comparing the risk of being killed by terrorism to such risks as dying in an auto accident or falling off a ladder -- as if one could nullify terrorism by driving or climbing ladders more often.

Finally, rad-libs fail to acknowledge the likelihood that the low risk of being killed by terrorism is owed to those very actions that rad-libs assail as inimical to liberty (e.g., NSA surveillance, "sneak and peak" warrants). They prefer death in a pure state of liberty, which is not liberty at all.