New York City activist

September 8, 2009

On “conspiracy theory” and democracy — Important P.S. to “To debunkers”

I wrote “To debunkers” last night, shortly before going to bed. This morning I realize I left out something very, very important.


I wrote:

It seems to me that the label “conspiracy theory,” by being applied so broadly, has been used to discredit reasonable suspicions of government wrongdoing. That’s bad for democracy, because a willingness to suspect government wrongdoing — or at least to suspect the possibility of government wrongdoing — is essential to any fight for government transparency.

Let me elaborate:

Some people in the “9/11 debunker” crowd do agree that we need an independent investigation, with subpoena power, into the events before, during, and after 9/11. For example, Chip Berlet voiced his support for an investigation in his reply to a post of mine back in 2007. Also, in the spring or summer of 2008, I participated for a while in the Democratic Underground forum, where pretty much everyone in the “9/11 debunker” crowd agreed that a new investigation would be desirable.

However, I’m not aware of any writing of Chip Berlet’s in which he actually focused on making the case for an independent investigation, as distinct from just opposing “9/11 conspiracy theories” while conceding that an independent investigation would be desirable. (To Chip Berlet: If indeed you have actually written something that focused on making the case for an independent investigation, please let me know.)

Likewise, amongst the “9/11 debunkers” on Democratic Underground, when I suggested that they set a positive example of how to write a call for an independent investigation without advocating “inside job” theories, all of them either refused or ignored my suggestion. Usually I made this suggestion in response to complaints, by the “9/11 debunkers,” about how acrimonious the 9/11 debates were, or when they complained about being seen as “OCTers.” I suggested that if at least some of the “debunkers” were to show active support for the cause of an independent investigation, by actively making the case for it on their own terms, this would probably do a lot to cut down on the acrimony of the debates. But, for one reason or another, none of them were willing to do that. Hence, despite their claimed support for an independent investigation, all of them functioned de facto as nothing more than defenders of the official story.

I tentatively conclude that people who don’t suspect serious criminal wrongdoing, of some kind, are unlikely to have the political will to call actively for an independent investigation. That’s why I wrote that “a willingness to suspect government wrongdoing — or at least to suspect the possibility of government wrongdoing — is essential to any fight for government transparency.”

Hence “conspiracy theory,” to at least a limited degree, is essential to any fight for government transparency, which in turn is essential to democracy. Hence a blanket condemnation of all “conspiracy theory” is, in effect, anti-democratic.

At the same time, there are important lines to be drawn, beyond which “conspiracy theory” itself becomes a threat to human rights.

For example, though we may suspect criminal wrongdoing, we must keep in mind the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” regarding accusations against any specific person. We must draw a clear distinction between (1) regarding someone as a possible suspect and (2) having real evidence that the person has actually committed a crime. We should not make accusations against anyone without strong, documented evidence.

Some people believe that, in order to understand a situation, it is sufficient to ask, “who benefits?” In fact, the question “who benefits?” is a good source of preliminary clues, but no more than that. Were it more than that, then anyone who inherits some money would be automatically guilty of murdering one’s parents. The question of motive is an important part of a criminal case, but it’s only one of many parts.

In general, I think it is best to understate one’s suspicions in public — as the Jersey Girls did when they successfully lobbied for the creation of the 9/11 Commission.

Also, we must be willing to listen to people who disagree with what we believe to be evidence. We must be willing not only to listen, but to seek out their strongest counterevidence and counterarguments, to make sure our own arguments and evidence are on solid ground. Too many believers in CD of the WTC, for example, have simply not bothered to read anything by the more studious critics of WTC CD theory, nor have they bothered to have serious dialogue with their critics. They just assume that anyone who disagrees with what they consider to be blatantly obvious “evidence” of CD must be lying, end of story.

(On the other hand, when I began studying WTC CD theories back in the summer of 2007, I made a point of studying what people on both sides had to say, and I welcomed comments from “debunkers” here ont this blog, as long as they behaved themselves and focussed on the issues rather than on attacking people.)

Also, as I said to Chip Berlet back in October 2007, I agree with his critique of “conspiracism” as he defines it. I just think he mis-applies the term to things irrelevant to his definition. Chip Berlet has yet to reply to me on the specific issue of my distinction between (1) grand conspiracy ideology and (2) controversial allegations of government wrongdoing.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] It seems to me that the label “conspiracy theory,” by being applied so broadly, has been used to discredit reasonable suspicions of government wrongdoing. That’s bad for democracy, because a willingness to suspect government wrongdoing — or at least to suspect the possibility of government wrongdoing — is essential to any fight for government transparency. (P.S.: Please see also my post On “conspiracy theory” and democracy — Important P.S. to “To debunkers”.) […]

    Pingback by To “debunkers” « New York City activist — September 9, 2009 @ 11:44 am | Reply


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