Monday, November 23, 2009

Truth Comes to Aotearoa


But now the Falling Man is falling through more than the blank blue sky. He is falling through the vast spaces of memory and picking up speed.

Tom Junod, 'The Falling Man'

I had some misgivings about attending the presentation given at Te Papa last Saturday by Richard Gage, founder of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. In the first instance I was reluctant to engage, to be counted amongst those present. I also doubted that a live performance by a Truther would be much more revealing or informative than the materials regularly dumped on the Web by the movement. But Matthew Dentith was going, so at least I might get to meet him, and at the last minute curiosity got the better of me. What would it be like to see Richard Gage in action? Would he maintain in front of a large and receptive audience the patina of reasonableness of his media performances, or would he crack at least a little bit and give us a glimpse of the seething madness within?

If anything, I was the one who cracked: I simply wasn't prepared for how genuinely upsetting the experience would turn out to be. My half-formed thoughts were that these weren't Holocaust deniers, and that I could handle a two-hour slideshow on the 'controlled demolition hypothesis' just fine. It would be all about the manner in which the buildings came down, nothing to get terribly worked up about. But of course I didn't get into my topic because I enjoy seeing memory being torn to shreds, and moreover this particular story had plenty of people still in it: quite literally embedded in the buildings, scattered amongst the evidence that Mr. Gage rattled at us in order to prove his theory: namely, that the Twin Towers and World Trace Centre Building 7 didn't come down as a result of the attacks and the subsequent fires, but rather by means of controlled demolition, with bombs that had been planted months in advance at the behest of the US government.

In an important respect, what I witnessed on the day was a most interesting - if decidedly chilling - experiment in the psychology of mass persuasion. At the beginning of his presentation, Gage took an informal poll of where his audience stood on the issue, and besides the undecideds and those who agreed with him already, 29 people in the theatre (out of about 300) sided with the official explanation of the cause of the collapses. A far smaller sample than in the population at large, one hopes, but still amounting to a sizeable percentage of individuals not yet convinced by the Truthers’ argument. At the end of the presentation, this number had gone down to three, and that’s including Matthew and myself. So what happened during those two hours?

What happened is that a man took the stage, unopposed. And make no mistake, Richard Gage is not a brilliant man, nor is he especially well spoken; besides, his arguments are dishonest, logically flawed and more often than not downright laughable. But he had our attention, a compelling story to tell and visual aids, and that was enough. This should really make us question the role of our national museum in providing that pulpit, but that’s an issue that I’ll get to at the end. That substantial and measurable swing in opinion in however small a sample - in effect a manipulation of memory and understanding - needs to be accounted for.

So, is it possible that people were convinced because there is merit in Gage’s argument? Not really. His contention rests on two main tenets: that the collapse of the three buildings exhibits all the characteristics of a controlled demolition (this is also the only area in which Gage can claim any expertise), and the discovery in some of the materials in the rubble of 'nanothermite', a highly explosive material supposedly developed by the Pentagon at the end of the last century. This nanothermite is in fact the only piece of ostensibly hard evidence provided during the presentation, and we might as well deal with it first: in fact, no such material was found. Some minuscule paint chips handed in by the public almost six years after the event and tested by a, shall we say, less-than-independent group of scientists were found to include traces that reminded the researchers themselves of nanothermite thought to have been produced at the Livermore Labs and elsewhere. So, no real evidence that the stuff was there. What we do have in fact is some pretty strong evidence that it wasn’t: seismographs that didn’t register the explosions claimed by Gage immediately prior to the buildings collapsing, and the rather elementary observation that the several tonnes of highly explosive powder that supposedly laced the buildings weren’t set off in the massive fires that followed the plane hits.

What about the fact that the buildings crumbled the way that they did? Again, I can think of steel-reinforced buildings that collapsed upon their footprint in a matter of seconds no later than last April. Should it make us conclude that the earthquake at L’Aquila was a massive insurance fraud perpetrated with high-tech explosives? Hardly. But to the extent that I’m willing to give Gage some due, it is this: if in fact the Twin Towers weren’t supposed to come down in that manner, not even after a plane hit them - just like the building at Via Campo di Fossa 6 b in L’Aquila that the Italian authorities are investigating wasn’t supposed to implode during an earthquake of that magnitude - and there are deficiencies in the design and responsibilities that the official reports haven’t adequately pursued, it sounds just like the thing that a concerned group of architects and engineers might want to publicly address.

But clearly this is not the case here. While earlier that day Gage had done his level best to engage Kim Hill in a radio interview on the 'evidence' alone, claiming ‘we don’t speculate, we’re technical building professionals,’ most of his presentation consisted in fact of a broad range of wild speculations. And the pieces of evidence thus accumulated - in a process of painstaking selection to suit the hypothesis that would be familiar to anybody who’s read Foucault’s Pendulum - collectively implicate in the conspiracy and the subsequent cover-up the following organizations (at my own and likely very incomplete count): the CIA, the Pentagon, the United States Government, all major media as far afield as the BBC, the owner and insurer of the WTC, ACE elevators and the security company responsible for monitoring the coming and goings at the buildings, plus - in an accessory capacity - the boards of the major banks, military contractors, oil firms and really anybody who stood to make money and gain influence from the economic destabilisation that occurred and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There’s a question here that I don’t hear enough from the debunkers, who in the main tend to engage the Truthers, as I just have, on their so-called evidence. And the question is: why? Why would the conspirators bother to demolish the three buildings - thereby multiplying exponentially the number of co-conspirators, and the chances of getting caught - instead of just leaving them ravaged and unsalvageable, to be finished off by the municipality at a later stage? Or, if they felt that they had to in order to perfect their shock and awe design, why demolish them in a controlled manner? Why not plant explosives designed to make them fall more like a structural engineer would expect them to, slowly and ungracefully, not to mention no doubt more destructively?

To understand what might be going on here, and get to the part where I describe the effect that Gage’s presentation had on me, I have to reproduce the image below, and engage in a questionable act of manipulation of my own. If you saw this photograph in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, you're unlikely to have forgotten it, even though it was subsequently banished from the media in America and overseas under circumstances explored by Tom Junod in a remarkable piece for The Esquire and then by Henry Singer in his documentary The Falling Man
.

Image by Richard Drew.
What is it that is so arresting about this photograph, what does it capture that we didn't already know, that we couldn't process solely through the horrific reports that some of the victims - believed to be as many as two hundred - were driven to jump off the towers? I think it is its impossibly orderly, self-contained narrative, that cries against the furious anguish of that moment, producing a dissonance that is both aesthetic and affective: we see beauty where we cannot bear to see it, defiance where there was none. For the image isn't real. Writes Junod:
Photographs lie. Even great photographs. Especially great photographs. The Falling Man in Richard Drew's picture fell in the manner suggested by the photograph for only a fraction of a second, and then kept falling. The photograph functioned as a study of doomed verticality, a fantasia of straight lines, with a human being slivered at the center, like a spike. In truth, however, the Falling Man fell with neither the precision of an arrow nor the grace of an Olympic diver. He fell like everyone else, like all the other jumpers -- trying to hold on to the life he was leaving, which is to say that he fell desperately, inelegantly. In Drew's famous photograph, his humanity is in accord with the lines of the buildings. In the rest of the sequence -- the eleven outtakes -- his humanity stands apart. He is not augmented by aesthetics; he is merely human, and his humanity, startled and in some cases horizontal, obliterates everything else in the frame.

This is the breakdown of the Baudrillardian hyperreality: where a society develops instruments of representation that are just too powerful, and in that excess, in that surplus capacity for knowledge and understanding, finds itself unable to formulate definitive statements about the real.

Naomi Mandel has called the Holocaust ‘the most thoroughly documented atrocity in human history’, but the extent of this documentation hasn’t thwarted the Deniers, and neither has the picture-perfect record of that September morning of eight years ago prevented the Truthers from exercising their right to construct their own reality - a reality that the vast majority of the people in the room at Te Papa found compelling enough to say yes, this is what actually happened. For there is always an interstice, a space of dissonance, like the unbearably graceful pose of the man in freefall, or the far too orderly manner in which the buildings came down: just like in a controlled demolition, as if it had been staged.

That is the area - is it even gray? - occupied by the Truthers. And here I am, engaging with it, dissecting it, but I can tell you that my reaction on the day was of revulsion, and to be perfectly honest I left the museum quite shaken. There was a point, perhaps halfway through the talk, when Gage’s arguments ceased to be just grotesque and stupid, and struck me as something altogether darker. Weren’t they after all human remains, fragments of bone propelled onto the roofs of buildings several hundred meters away, which he was talking about with scarcely concealed glee, adding them to the ledger of his ‘incontrovertible truths’?

The activism of the Truthers is supposed to be motivated by a sense of justice denied, a monstrous crime gone unpunished, but there was no compassion in Gage’s voice and gestures. I compared it in my head to Marco Paolini’s impassioned ‘civil oration’ dedicated to the victims of the Vajont Dam tragedy, another crime with a similar human toll but far more mundane causes - incompetence and greed. Paolini’s too is an indictment, it too relies on data and numbers and argumentation, but it is also capable of conveying pity and a profound sense of human pain and loss. In his harrowing reconstruction of those final moments, in the tearful description of the wall of wind that preceded the arrival of the water, tearing the clothes off the people madly attempting to flee, is the naked commitment of the chronicler who undertakes to tell the whole story and be a servant to memory.

At quite the opposite pole stands Richard Gage, in whom I saw another Friedrich Sieburg: a technician who taught himself to ignore anyone’s truth but his own, another pseudo-historian with an agenda. I have no doubt that if he had come to New Zealand to argue that the Holocaust never happened, the doors of our national museum would have remained firmly shut. But are the Truthers all that different? Isn’t theirs too in fact a logic of hatred - for what else but hatred can lead to such dazzling incomprehension? If I am right - and even as I write these last few lines I struggle to make my mind up conclusively on this - then it would explain how I felt on the day that sense of being party to something so insidious, dangerous and wrong. And if you agree, perhaps you’ll join me in letting the museum know how you feel.






Tom Junod. 'The Falling Man'. The Esquire, September 2003.
Naomi Mandel, ‘Rethinking ‘‘After Auschwitz’’: Against a Rhetoric of the Unspeakable in Holocaust Writing.’ In
boundary 2 (2001), pp. 203-228. The quotation in the post is from page 205.
The Falling Man (dir. Henry Singer, USA 2006).

With thanks to Matthew Dentith who helped me confirm some of the details of the presentation.

To lodge a complaint with Te Papa about this event, you can email events manager Mere Boynton or write to her at

Te Papa Tongarewa
PO Box 467
Wellington

60 comments:

Di Mackey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Di said...

Thank you. This post stunned me. I enjoyed following your mind through its process and then there was the shock of the photograph and I realised how deeply I was in the text, in the story, in the moment.

I needed this for all kinds of reasons. Thanks again.

mico santos said...

Cool post:)

Stephen said...

I am glad you had the fortitude that did not have.

The mailto: link at the bottom of your post is broken.

merc said...

...moreover this particular story had plenty of people still in it: quite literally embedded in the buildings,...

There's a world in that line that I inhabited for a brief moment. Your writing does this to me. I want to look away, but cannot. Awe.

michael said...

Very insightful, thanks.

The little I heard of the Kim Hill interview sounded quite ridiculous - interestingly she is someone who asked Gage "why?" and he explicitly refused to answer, saying it wasn't his job and pulling out the mantra about not indulging in speculation.

Megan said...

Thanks for the link to the Junod story. That is a quite remarkable essay.

Scott said...

Great post. Gage told Kim Hill 95% of the people who go to his presentations end up agreeing with his theory by the end. It sounds like almost 95% were convinced before he even started. Depressing.

Lyndon said...

I felt the urge yesterday to mention I'd started reading Foucault's Pendulm, in the context of those climate change emails.

Something in the water?

Robyn said...

So, let's assume for a second that explosives were planted by some people who had somehow been convinced to do it.

Is it strange that not one of these people have reflected back on the mass murder they were responsible for and thought, "Oh dear! I did a very bad thing. The truth must come out!", and then reveal the terrible truth and their part in it?

Ben Wilson said...

I can't quite see it as a logic of hatred. It seems to me more like a crackpot theory whose motivation is just fame, exploiting a subject that people feel strongly about for many reasons to draw attention. Is it really much different to various JFK assassination theories? Can't one walk away going "hmmm, yes, that was indeed a very strange incident, that the buildings fell in that way.", in much the same way that it always seemed odd that JFK's head shot was the last one, when usually it is the first shot that is the most accurate?

Sometimes weird things happen.

Paul said...

"I think it is its impossibly orderly, self-contained narrative, that cries against the furious anguish of that moment, producing a dissonance that is both aesthetic and affective: we see beauty where we cannot bear to see it, defiance where there was none."

That is a beautiful thought, beautifully put. It leads me to wonder whether a desire for order is behind conspiracy theories of this kind. It is easier to attribute the act to a network of the powerful acting on self-interest than to face the irrational motives that cause people to do what the hijackers did.

merc said...

Yes, I feel there is alot in that need for order and mutual agreement.

Ben Wilson said...

The funny thing is, it's not like the way the buildings feel was the only odd thing that happened that day. We have this tendency to connect coincidences, like it's somehow painful to have some part of what happened unexplained.

I have to say, though, that feeling angry about an alternative explanation (however cracked) strikes me as the flipside of this feeling. It's a strong assertion that we *do* understand exactly what happened that day. I'm personally not sure I do understand. Certainly I don't know jack about how buildings fall. I really know SFA about the internal workings of terrorist suicide cells. There's an awful lot of speculation about everything to do with it, and I think we have to accept that much of it will always remain unknown to the general public.

Ben Wilson said...

buildings *fell*...DOH

Giovanni said...

I'll respond to some of the other comments later, but Ben, seriously, this is most emphatically not what is going on here. It's simply not a question of inquisitive minds asking honest questions in search of an explanation for what's not yet been answered. To the contrary, it's a complete and either maliciously or pathologically blinkered rewriting of the most fundamental truths about what happened. It's also almost physically written on the torn flesh of the victims - to that extent I'm willing to entertain the charge of callousness if not downright hatred as a motivation.

Ben Wilson said...

Who are they hating? The victims? I'm confused.

I can't/don't/won't deny your impressions of their conduct. But I do need to get a handle on what you think is malicious about it.

Also, I generally agree that such a theory hardly deserves a place in Te Papa.

Giovanni said...

Who are they hating? The victims? I'm confused.

I am struggling with this myself, so I can hardly blame you. But yes, the victims for one thing, their families (several of whom are now Truthers themselves), and I'm tempted to say humanity in general. At which point does the lack of compassion I described in the post, the turning of flesh into evidence, become in fact contempt? At which point does the smirk during the fifteenth consective replay of the north tower folding upon itself, the note of triumph in the voice, actually vilify those who died, and everybody else who witnessed those events or bore its consequences? I'm not sure, I can tell you it's something I felt in the room very strongly.

I brough up Junod's article and Singer's documentary precisely as a point of comparison, for they too might appear to us morbid at first, but are in fact authentic and respectful efforts to understand what is not immediately obvious, really delve into the nature of the evidence.

In the meantime, Peter Griffin has contributed his view of the presentation. It's perhaps in tone the post that I thought I might write before I actually went - a more or less cool demolition of the argument. I found out soon enough it wouldn't account for how I felt on the day.

(And I will get to some of the other points raised in the comments, honest!)

Ben Wilson said...

I can see that they might be 'unfeeling' towards the victims, but 'hating'? They're not trying to deny that these people were killed in a shocking criminal act...they're trying to make the criminal act a bigger and deeper one than the obvious interpretation suggests.

Is this disrespectful? I can see how upsetting the exploitation of shocking imagery of the day to garner emotional support for what is claimed to be a scientific position is. But it does seem to be in a very different class to Holocaust deniers. They avoid all pathos toward the victims, seeking to turn them into statistics to be argued over, rather than digging up pictures of horrors like massive piles of skulls or the detailed accounts of survivors (other than to try to claim they're fakes). The Truthers seem to be trying to increase the level of emotional connection to the victims.

But I do thank you for your account, it is beautifully written, as always. It does sound like a ghoulish theory, and only when you are there can you form opinions about the subtleties of the body language of the presenter, so your feeling of unease about this is very hard to convey perfectly in words and arguments.

Anonymous said...

"Is this disrespectful? I can see how upsetting the exploitation of shocking imagery of the day to garner emotional support for what is claimed to be a scientific position is. But it does seem to be in a very different class to Holocaust deniers."

Surely the core offence of Holocaust denial is to claim that people who we know to have been killed were never killed. Apart, possibly, from the "problem" -- to the so-called Truthers -- of the fate of the passengers of Flight 93 (and it seemed from the Kim Hill interview that Gage doesn't entertain theories about this) nothing of the sort is going on with the 9/11 conspiracy movement. And I certainly can't see hatred for victims in it. Its core is a fundamental distrust of government, of officialdom, of official narratives. On the face of it, such distrust is not a bad thing -- is possibly even healthy. I can't see what the "negatives" are with this theory that make you so upset, even traumatised, by it, Giovanni.

For the record, I don't buy into this theory either -- largely because I don't think a conspiracy this vast could have kept its protagonists quiet for so long -- and it seems to me to be a massive black hole of wasted time, whether you're promoting the theory or debunking it. But I think it's inaccurate to compare it to Holocaust denial.

Ben Wilson said...

On third reading I see I misread you about the depictions given of victims. There were none other than stats? Rather undermines what I was saying here.

Ben Wilson said...

>for the record

Anonymously on record :-). A contextual joke?

Anonymous said...

"Anonymously on record :-). A contextual joke?"

Respect my Authoriety.

Ben Wilson said...

You're the most Authorious person I don't know.

Giovanni said...

And I certainly can't see hatred for victims in it. Its core is a fundamental distrust of government, of officialdom, of official narratives. On the face of it, such distrust is not a bad thing -- is possibly even healthy. I can't see what the "negatives" are with this theory that make you so upset, even traumatised, by it, Giovanni.

I'd question that there's anything healthy about the distrust of official narratives deployed here, but I'm fully aware that there's something I'm not quite getting across. Put it this way: I know the Truther movement is not the same as Holocaust denial, their differences are important and I'd hate it if I was in any way instrumental to obscuring them. And indeed that's why I write that I wasn't expecting to be affected in the way that I was. But forget the vastly different histories that the two movements seek to rewrite for a moment: are their approaches to knowledge and the past in fact all that different? Aren't both examples of memoricide, to borrow Juan Goytisolo phrase? And if we accept the logic of one, shouldn't we be tempted to accept the logic of the other?

What I found 'traumatic' here was the lack of compassion so integral to Gage's epistemology (an architecture of memoricide, to borrow from the title of his presentation) and, let's not forget, how almost everyone in that room seemed very happy to go along with it. You clearly could convince those people in that manner of just about any old thing. Does that make Gage potentially any less dangerous than David Irving? I'm really not sure.

Giovanni said...

Respect my Authoriety.

I don't have a major problem with anonymous comments, but let's not abuse my hospitality here. Since you address me as Giovanni, it would be nice to be able to return the favour, if just in the form of a nickname.

Ben Wilson said...

but I'm fully aware that there's something I'm not quite getting across.

How can you, unless we went to the same show? You can only give snippets, a form of memoricide in itself, although of course unintentional. We have to trust you are being fair in the portrayal, unless we read multiple sources, or go ourselves.

It's very hard to discuss the non-verbals in a verbal medium of something that was not recorded. There's only memories left. Clearly the impression left on you was of a fairly unfeeling presentation, and that felt inappropriate to the subject, felt like it was coding messages in there. Which seems likely, I'd speculate it was trying to convey a 'reasonable, rational, scientific' tone, something it would very much need to do considering the context of the crazy conspiracy theories that form the backdrop.

Giovanni said...

The audio of the presentation is now up at Scoop.

Colin said...

I find it interesting the language you use in your blog. Paraphrasing here, but "dismissing nano-thermite as a bunch of paint chips, analysed by a bunch of hardly independant scientists". Can you attribute this to something that shows me this is just not your opinion? Appealing to us about the shock you had considering the deaths on that day, you then show a photo of a man falling to his death. That felt in such poor taste, but you evoked a response from some readers that you had just been condemning Gage for. Re the building shaken to the ground by an earthquake. That does not resemble a fire induced collapse to me, I'm not sure if you're joking when you connect the two instances. You must be, right? I sort of got the impression your article was motivated by some desire to display your mental/philosophical gymnastics. It was really bizarre!

Giovanni said...

@Di I think as a photographer you'd genuinely appreciate Singer's documentary. Not sure how available it is over there (although, *cough* YouTube *cough*), Wellingtonians will find it at Civic Video on Courtenay Place and of course at Aro Video.

@michael
The little I heard of the Kim Hill interview sounded quite ridiculous - interestingly she is someone who asked Gage "why?"

It wasn't the same why I advocated for in the post though - from memory she asked him for overall motive, not for the motive for destroying the buildings in that particular way. Still, no doubt gage would have obstructed the question in exactly the same way.

@michael
Gage told Kim Hill 95% of the people who go to his presentations end up agreeing with his theory by the end. It sounds like almost 95% were convinced before he even started. Depressing.

More significantly, he also "turned" about 90% of those who claimed at the outset to side with the official explanation (although some of them might have left during the talk - still, objectively that's a staggering result).

If anybody knows the final "upstairs" count (I didn't initially make it to the theatre, and saw the feed in the Oceania room - I moved down later), I would be interested to hear it. It was to start with a more skeptic room, shall we say.

@Robyn
Is it strange that not one of these people have reflected back on the mass murder they were responsible for and thought, "Oh dear! I did a very bad thing. The truth must come out!", and then reveal the terrible truth and their part in it?

For Gage that does not defy belief at all. If confronted about it, he will claim in fact that it's beside the point, and wave his 'evidence' at you.

Anonymous said...

"I'd question that there's anything healthy about the distrust of official narratives deployed here."

I'll make this my last Anon comment. Your "deployed here" complicates a very simple point. Yes, this particular instance is unhealthy. But my point is about distrust or suspicion of officialdom or authority in a more general sense. We can't forget that the narrative that flowed directly out of 9/11 was about Iraq's links to al Qaeda and WMDs in Iraq. Both fictions. In that sense, 9/11 theorising could be read as a useful skepticism, one that projects backwards from officialdom's fictions towards a perceived source.

stephen said...

In that sense, 9/11 theorising could be read as a useful skepticism, one that projects backwards from officialdom's fictions towards a perceived source.

What?! Not only not useful, but actually harmful, I would say, as it diverts attention from real problems (the incredible failings of the news media and political opposition in failing to point out the lack of connection with Iraq or criticise the incompetence of the politicians, intelligence agencies, yadda yadda) into a maze of epicyclic theorising that goes nowhere. As anti-semitism is the socialism of fools, the truther movement is the dissidence of fools.

If the world really is run by evil conspiracists, I expect they are running the truther movement, in the same way that Pratchett's Lord Vetinari sponsors all the groups that want to overthrow his rule and staffs them with incompetents.

Giovanni said...

What Stephen said - the Truther movement is a parody of critical thought, and actively undermines the sane but in most respects no less scathing critique articulated by the likes of John Farmer.

(And really you can post as Anon as much as you like, I just ask that you don't be snippy about it.)

Anonymous said...

"Not only not useful, but actually harmful, I would say, as it diverts attention from real problems"

True, and it's not just that the theorising goes nowhere: it disables both critical thinking (as the post and discussion have made clear) and, at the same time, overwhelms or arrests political energy. If They have it all worked out to that extent - and if the current state of the world rests on a plan or the machinations of the initiated instead of on structure or history - then passivity is a natural response.

This is one of the many insights you get reading and re-reading Dick: the first realisation of the conspiracy by the alienated and atomised main character leads only to further bewilderment and loss.

Dougal

Anonymous said...

P.S. Something that gets elided by advocates of these theories - and which is worth keeping separate - is the difference between accounting for the histories of particular conspiracies which are part of and subordinate to a wider social movement and pattern, and the Conspiracy Theory, which is then supposed to explain everything.

It’s obvious that recent history is full of instances of lying, double dealing, cheating and so on: this blog has dealt with some of the many examples from post-war Italy and, closer to home, there was the Howard government’s collusion with the bosses against the MUA in 1998. There’s important journalistic, scholarly, and political work to be done to get that sort of uncovering as part of a wider history (and with proper historical account for causes and consequences), but it’s of a wholly different order to the pseudo-explanations of Conspiracy. The Gulf of Tonkin “incident” involved plenty of subterfuge, covering-up, and conspiring, but we can’t begin and end with that story if we want to understand US imperialism in Asia. Conspiracy Theory is really then a mimesis of genuine historical inquiry, another reason why it’s disabling instead of productively sceptical.

This fits with the unease Giovanni records: the courageous work done to document the “strategy of tension”, for instance, involved and involves trying to bring some justice to the victims and those who have suffered loss - to restore them to memory and gain acknowledgement (I remember reading a very moving account somewhere of the work of families of victims of the Bologna bombing doing this.) The “Truther” accounts, on the other hand - and whatever the subjective intentions of those producing them - turn the material from September into so much grist for the theorising mill. There’s an obvious ethical distinction there.

Dougal

rachel said...

An interesting piece in so many ways..congratulations. I think you have given voice to how many people feel when they are confronted with truth that is uncomfortable, distasteful, and strikes at the very core of how we percieve the world around us. I imagine not unlike the uncomfortable and distateful truth that is the holocaust. It is hard to accept that 'government', 'people in power' are capable of such atrocities. This knowledge is indeed quite traumatising and like the child of an abusive parent, takes the pysche a long time to deal with. How can truthers be the same as holocaust deniers?
Truthers like the holocaust survivors demand answers to politically insighted atrocities.

Sir you yourself ask "why not make them fall more like a structural engineer would expect them to, slowly and ungracefully, not to mention no doubt more destructively?"
Within this question you have admitted that you want the 'official truth'..the messy story. And you show your hand in disbeliving the 'truth'. The official story of cave dwelling terrorists pulling this off would have been alot messier as you yourself have admitted. If everything were so messy though the traders would not have been back in business so quickly..many other structures would have sustained thousands of dollars worth of damage. Life is messy..this was quite controlled.

In reply to Robyn "Oh dear, I did a very bad thing. The truth must come out". Wow you must have been the most amazing child to raise..not too mention an amazing person who has never kept anything to themselves for whatever reason. I think it would be a great world if we could be so open and forgiving but unfortunately this is not the case. Actions have consequence and so far we have not seen a great outpouring of heartfelt regret for Guatemala, Chile, Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada...

Stephen Parkes said...

 “Or, if they felt that they had to in order to perfect their shock and awe design, why demolish them in a controlled manner? Why not plant explosives designed to make them fall more like a structural engineer would expect them to,”

Yes. It’s like the conspirators – otherwise obviously extremely cunning and thorough and well organised – went out of their way to make the actual collapse look suspect.

 “In that sense, 9/11 theorising could be read as a useful skepticism,”
I’d say the opposite of useful, if you mean the conspiracy part. To paraphrase Nicholas Fearn, extreme scepticism is really just gullibility.

 “In reply to Robyn "Oh dear, I did a very bad thing. The truth must come out". Wow you must have been the most amazing child to raise..not too mention an amazing person who has never kept anything to themselves for whatever reason.”

She means it’s strange that not a *single one* of all the many many people involved has cracked. Not that quite a number of them might not, by whatever reasoning.

Giovanni said...

Conspiracy Theory is really then a mimesis of genuine historical inquiry, another reason why it’s disabling instead of productively sceptical.

A distorting mimesis of historical inquiry and in Gage's case of the scientific method. It's clearly a pathological response, but the problem is real: faced with the systematic obfuscation and distortion of the public record, the public's frustration turns into a sort of cosmic, all-encompassing distrust, which then produces counter-narratives which are just as dishonest, selective and self-serving as the official narratives of political convenience. Take 9/11: the public records include letters addressed by Richard Clarke to the president and his advisors warning them about the possibility of such an attack. Here you have the very real possibility of either colossal incompetence or criminal negligence, and a conspiracy to cover it up, but it's a line of inquiry that nobody will pursue. So what you get instead is a completely unsubstantiated and in fact downright moronic theory concerning the collapse of the buildings, which then requires a much greater conspiracy implicating pretty much everyone but the theorists themselves. Yet this co-responsibility in another sense is very real. Rachel cites Nicaragua, but I could say the same of Italy, where the covert collusion by the CIA with our secret service to advance the strategy of tension was an extension of the overt policies of the US government in the context of the Cold War. Does that make the American public a co-conspirator? In an important sense, yes. After all it was their tax dollar that went to fund the militias and the bombs. And of course I have spoken of the acquiescence of my own compatriots, of the crimes that we have tolerated on the part of our leaders. The much more crudely imagined and understood notion of the mega-conspiracy put forward by the Truthers is a warped version of just that. And it acts as a screen, another thing that gets in the way of proper political analysis and action.

Anonymous said...

"A distorting mimesis of historical inquiry and in Gage's case of the scientific method. It's clearly a pathological response, but the problem is real: faced with the systematic obfuscation and distortion of the public record, the public's frustration turns into a sort of cosmic, all-encompassing distrust, which then produces counter-narratives which are just as dishonest, selective and self-serving as the official narratives of political convenience."

Excellent response -- the Why question. That's what I wanted Hill to get to with Gage -- why this thing has taken off as it has, and crossed between left and right, or incorporated both. The commentator who called it the dissent of fools was right -- it's impotent protest. But such widespread distrust is definitely a phenomenon worth examining or acknowledging, even if the expression of it is suspect in this case.

Taramoc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Taramoc said...

Great post as usual, Giovanni.

The only thing I'd like to add to the slew of excellent comments, is that I wouldn't underestimate just the sheer will of Gage to hang on to his 15 minutes of fame.

To be honest, I don't even know if he really believes the bunch of crap he advocates. He has become an authority at something, with a discrete following, and he's hanging on to it.

As per the followers, they are just looking for something else to complain about or simply a group to belong. The fact that 90% of the people in the audience already agreed with Gage tells a lot. And the ones that changed their minds, they were probably already leaning towards it, and that is why they attended in the first place.

Wv: wints, suggestions received while participating in a competition, directly responsible for winning it.

Charles said...

well done Giovanni. the case for an inside job is completely irrational. It reminds me of the aphorism 'in the kingdom of the blind a one eyed man is king'. Richard Gage is that one eyed man.

And it is almost cult-like the following that has embraced the shonky case that got an airing in Te Papa on Saturday.

Having in the past challenged some of its adherents, I'm struck by how belligerent and fanatical they are in defence of this conspiracy theory.

this despite that the overwhelming weight of evidence, likelihood, commonsense and other tools like Occam's Razor that point away from an 'inside job'.

my conclusion is that the truthers are made up of the gullible, the unworldly and the perverse.

With regards the perverse, you see this in parallel among the deniers of climate change and/or the thesis that global warming is being severely influenced by human activity.

you also see it among those that deny the holocaust, that believe that President Obama wasn't born in the United States, that Area 61 housed an autopsy of the alien victims of a UFO crash, that there are alien bases on the dark side of the moon, etc etc.

or perhaps they're all on to something that we cant see into - call it the fog of perversity if you will.

And i totally agree with you that the victims of 9/11 are being exploited by the propagators of this offensive fantasy.

Ben Wilson said...

The only people I know personally who fully agree with the Truthers also like their P. I think they find the paranoid mindset agreeable.

rachel said...

1. Why has the U.S government not charged u/osama bin ladin with the events of 911?
2. What about Sibel Edmonds?
3 Building seven fell at free fall speed but was not hit by an aeroplane?
4. How does a passport of a hijacker survive?
5. Why did Bush and Cheney insist on meeting together behind closed doors not under oath for the 'official' 911 commission?
And this is why I ask the questions..why did it take four amazing women who had lost their husbands over two years to get an investigation into 911 off the ground??? These courageous women were met with all kinds of resistance..is this protocol? For those of you that would brandish us 'nutjobs' and 'truthers' I dare you to read Kirsten Breitweisers book "Wake up call"
Think about where this event has taken us politically, socially, philosophically, where are we in terms of real media? Whether you subcribe to the 'theory' or not; as an independant thinker it is your'e right and your gift to examine this properly.




http://www.youtube.com
/watch?v=Zv7BImVvEyk&feature=rec-LGOUT-real_rev-rn-HM

Paul said...

1. Why do conspiracy theorists think that asking questions proves an argument?

2. Why do they think that people who claim, after an event, to have known stuff before the event are necessarily truthful?

3. Why do they think that it is the responsibility of the rest of us to prove the official theory?

4. Why do they think that any gaps or inconsistencies in knowledge prove their theory by default?

5. Why can they never spell independent?

Tony said...

Thanks Giovanni. Nice post.

You said "I have no doubt that if he had come to New Zealand to argue that the Holocaust never happened, the doors of our national museum would have remained firmly shut. But are the Truthers all that different?" with "I struggle to make my mind up conclusively on this".

A little analysis of the situations of each separate occurance and the reactions may help the struggle.

With the Holocaust we had a Government military machine inflict a terrible crime upon a section of the population. In general everyone agrees that it happened, was inhuman and the perpertrators need to stand trial.
There is a (very small?) section of the population who are willing to deny that it happened, commonly known as holocaust deniers.

With 911 we have a group of fanatacals who hijacked some planes and flew them into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. These hijackers were extremely lucky and everything went off probably even better than they dared to dream.
There is a (not small) section of the population who thinks that there is more to this than lucky hijackers, commonly known as truthers.

The people who witnessed the holocaust said something needs to be done about this.
The people who deny that it happened are saying hey that didn't happen, they weren't that cruel, (or something to that effect I imagine).

The people who witnessed 911 are still saying wow. Some are saying, the bizzare luck of those zealots has the military and spooks working overtime, and I've got no reason to think that what I've received from the media is not true or all I need to know.
Some are saying, there's more to this than meets the eye and I'm not happy about what I've received from the media, and when looking online there's a whole lot of other people with arguments that support my questions and doubts.

It seems to me the people who asked questions and wanted outcomes from the holocaust are more similar to the people who ask questions and want answers regarding 911.
Put another way - I suspect that people who accept the official line are more like deniers than those who want more questions regarding 911.
The wildly different numbers per population of deniers and truthers makes the comparison mostly worthless.
Truthers are different than deniers.

TePapa were correct to host Gage on his merits alone.
TePapa would be better served not opening their doors to Official Conspiracy Theorists by the reasoning you propose.
Comparison to the holocaust is incorrect.

Giovanni said...

Thank you Tony. Just to reiterate, I'm not against asking questions, and as I said above there are a number of perfectly reasonable lines of enquiry that could lead to very serious charges of conspiracy at the highest levels of government. That they are not pursued is nothing short of scandalous.

But the Truthers aren't doing that - they have constructed what Charles very aptly called an offensive fantasy which they then proceeded to make up evidence for. If you have followed the work of the Holocaust Deniers at all, you'll recognise in the nanothermite argument the very same patterns and pseudoscientific claims of the 'brick analysis' conducted by Fred Leuchter on the walls of the Auschwitz gas chamber. I find believing this crap frankly inexcusable, and again, in so doing the Truthers are materially contributing to undermine the efforts of the people who are actually trying to answer those difficult questions, like John Farmer.

In related news, Jake pointed me yesterday to the release by Wikileaks of pager messages by officials in the Pentagon, the New York police and witnesses claimed to have been intercepted throughout the day on 9/11. The Guardian correctly calls it a re-enactment, since is was rolled during a 24-hour period in the order in which the messages were sent. I'll have something to say about the 'replay of the past' approach, but in the meantime I'm sure our friends must be poring over the material in search of words that can be twisted into the Truth even as we speak.

Tony said...

The fact that some truthers are engaging in an offensive fantasy is damning on their part, but we must take into account the Orwellian existence of todays populace for a proper explanation of their actions.

As you youself say "words that can be twisted into the Truth", the capitalised truth implying not truth, we are now at the point where the word truth means lie, I confess that in my last post I actively stopped myself from using the word truth because of it's diminished meaning re 911.

As anonymous Dougal said re P.K Dick "the first realisation of the conspiracy by the alienated and atomised main character leads only to further bewilderment and loss". Therein more correctly lies the reasoning behind the "offensive fantasy" taken by some truthers.

Your continued comparison of Truthers to Deniers is also verging on the Orwellian, because as your original post made me analyse the situation I came to the conclusion that OCTers are in fact more akin to Deniers than Truthers.

Here is what I am seeing you saying in this post 911 Orwellian existence of today.

Truth means Lie
Denier means Truther


Clearly the Truthers need to do a bit of rebranding and Deniers need to accept that Govt Military machines can, have and will do the most heinous attrocities.

HORansome said...

Given that the slew of comments on my blog has dried up (for those of you who don't know, I'm the one who called Jeanette Fitzsimmon's naive for her endorsement of Richard gage) I feel I have the time and the experience to answer Paul's questions.

1. Why do conspiracy theorists think that asking questions proves an argument?

Because they aren't asking questions as such but rather hiding that they are presenting controversial premises. You're meant to be drawn into a conversation which implicitly puts them on the higher ground.

2. Why do they think that people who claim, after an event, to have known stuff before the event are necessarily truthful?

Would you disbelieve such honourable testimony?

Seriously, though, one of the major flaws in movements like this is the naive (there's that word again) trust in testimonial assertions without checking to see whether that trust is warranted in each case.

3. Why do they think that it is the responsibility of the rest of us to prove the official theory?

I've been having this debate with one Stephen Juan, and it seems to be that because the investigation wasn't independent it doesn't count as giving a legitimate explanation of the event and so both theories, Inside Job or Al-Qaeda, are equal rivals, one of which needs to be falsified or confirmed.

Which just shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the Burden of Proof and the nature of investigations of this type.

4. Why do they think that any gaps or inconsistencies in knowledge prove their theory by default?

Truthers subscribe to the notion that the explanation of 9/11 must explain everything rather than appreciating that no explanation is ever fulsome or complete.

5. Why can they never spell independent?

You aren't cleared for that information.

Charles said...

HORansome said:

"4. Why do they think that any gaps or inconsistencies in knowledge prove their theory by default? Truthers subscribe to the notion that the explanation of 9/11must explain everything rather than appreciating that no explanation is ever fulsome or complete."

Nails it. there are things about 9/11 are a mystery and probably will remain a mystery. Hardly surprising given the scale and confusion on that day and in the following weeks. Things just arent that black and white in life.

But they'll say that a lack of evidence is evidence of a cover up - Men in Black with memory erasers. Maybe that's why no one has come forward to admit their role in this monumental terror conspiracy.

One of the emails read out by Kim Hill after her interview with Gage said 'sometimes it just rains, not because there's some big guy in the clouds holding a hose'.

I like that.

the dude abides said...

If you want to see Gage get an easy ride from the media, check the interview with Mike Hosking on Close Up last night. Not exactly rigorous. Now consider that somewhere in the region of 500,000 people will have watched that, many of whom will have never thought it about before.
The clip is at:

http://tvnz.co.nz/close-up/terrorist-attacks-controlled-demolitions-3198472

Giovanni said...

Dear Lord. From "internationally respected architect Richard Gage" through to the end, the interview is a disgrace. If Hosking spent a little more time on the research and a little less on the hair, it would do him and the New Zealand public a power of good.

Truthers subscribe to the notion that the explanation of 9/11 must explain everything rather than appreciating that no explanation is ever fulsome or complete.

Very well put. Do you think it might also connect with what I write in the post concerning excesses of knowledge and description? It interests me that this particular group of conspiracy theorists didn't intervene in one of the many available grey areas - say, the exact nature of the forewarnings that the Bush administration received - but rather chose to doubt the thing that we all saw with our own eyes and that is most extensively recorded. In that respect I was strongly reminded of the moon landing skeptics. And if I'm right, I wonder if it signals a radical distrust not only of official truths, but also and more fundamentally of mediated representations.

HORansome said...

I think you're on the ball there, Giovanni; Brian L. Keeley, in his 1999 paper 'Of Conspiracy Theories' runs that kind of line; unwarranted Conspiracy Theories lead to an all-pervading scepticism of social data, especially that which 'they' tell you and the way it is told.

rachel said...

Horansome...how fantastic that you are so involved that you have to come on board someone else's site to get your opinion across...haa haa
Yes indeed Richard Gage reached over ....I don't know how many people who never knew that building seven fell! Awesome..power to people who have the ability to connect dots and see the big picture...xxxx

Colin said...

I tried to ask for some response to the claims of the Bat, Bean, Beam blogger that the thermite chips are flakes of paint, or the paper on Nano-thermite was put together by a bunch of hardly independant (Warning: spelling mistake, must have problems with thought process, do not engage with this writer) researchers, but it seems that the blogger is more interested in basking in the glow of supportive comments and, yet again, the issues raised are ignored. They aren't that tricky really, and by the level of erudite discussion I have read here, this should not be difficult for the writer or respondents to parse. Please engage.

Carl said...

What a fascinating discussion. May I suggest that there's a category error in both the Truthers' presentations and the reactions to them here. Their thinking is not scientific but religious. Just take Big Conspiracy out and put Satan in and the pattern clicks into place. Therefore they can't be judged by Enlightenment standards of evidence or logical coherence.

The tipoff is precisely the need for an explanation that explains everything, without loose ends. Only a transcendental power can accomplish such an explanation. These are almost the same sort of people who see intelligent design in any emergent regularity; the difference is that their relationship to the authoritarian
Father is fearful rather than cuddly.

The anger seething in these people comes from the anxiety of what would to them be a senseless, chaotic universe without some grand scheme behind it. Their theories seem to be fundamentally disempowering - a conspiracy on their scale would be too big to balk - but actually it gives them the power of understanding while absolving them of any responsibility other than the heroism of witness.

Giovanni said...

Thank you Carl. The appropriation of that role of hero witness is what I want to look at in my next post.

Their thinking is not scientific but religious... therefore can't be judged by Enlightenment standards of evidence or logical coherence.

In a sense, yes, although it’s very careful to mimic rational enquiry, put forward tangible and material evidence, and demands to be engaged with - see Colin’s comment above - on exactly those grounds.

In related news: am I looking forward to Erik Davis’ new book.

Samuel said...

"Thank you Carl. The appropriation of that role of hero witness is what I want to look at in my next post."

Something partly alluded to in that article I will send you. In fact I may fire through the whole magazine (if I can make sure I have a spare copy).

Giovanni said...

Apologies for lowering the tone, but you just reminded me of this.

harvestbird said...

Out of the scourge of metaphors
comes a different kind of falling:
a knife through Babel as through butter,
for hearts that dropped, a newer order.

I'll see you your imagination
and raise you waste upon a wasteland:
the blow that fell upon your neck
steered by another hand, out back.

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