CN23 - first, may I say congratulations on the web comic. Nice one. I particularly enjoyed the stuff about ATS. I have my own suspicions about this
site - it's too big a draw not to get some attention from the disinfo merchants.
Anyway, back to the topic. I've been mulling this over, and looking more closely at links which before I'd just skimmed.
The first thing to establish is, what is a "gatekeeper"?
How shall we define it?
I think a useful definition is, "someone who consciously frames an argument in such a way as to exclude discourse that is looked upon unfavourably by
the elite, however defined."
They must be conscious of what they're doing. They must therefore deliberately use disinformation techniques to divert attention from the arguments
to be dismissed. And they must be "controlled", however lightly, by the elites whom they protect.
Now, for various reasons, I don't believe Chomsky falls into this category, despite his dubious protestations on the 9/11 issue. I think it's
entirely possible that these statements which, taken in isolation, may seem strange, in fact form part of a consistent pattern of Chomsky's thinking.
In other words, he just looks at the situation differently
. But I've got something slightly more interesting to contribute to the debate
than a simple defence of Chomsky.
I've been looking at this Zmag article
you referenced earlier in the thread. I am
looking at the authors with somewhat new eyes now, because I find the writing dishonest. What follows is some of my thoughts on this piece.
Now I like Zmag in many respects. I like the facts it brings up, the humanity it brings to bear on political issues, I like the tone of dissent it
brings to bear. I do, however, find it somewhat ideologically driven and worthy (therefore dull at times) in nature. These are, however, minor
criticisms and I would be saddened indeed if it disappeared from the news-stands altogether.
The article concerned, on the other hand, is, to me, somewhat out of the ordinary for Zmag. The smug and dismissive tone of the opening paragraphs is
somewhat unusual, to me, but it is how the argument is developed that I find disturbing.
None of the “conspiracies” being talked about strike us as remotely interesting, much less plausible. Neither of us would ordinarily have
spent even five minutes exploring conspiracy claims because they fly in the face of our broad understanding of how the world works. But such
theories seem to have some popularity among progressives, so they must be addressed.
This is the statement of an ideologue. "Our broad understanding of how the world works" is correct; therefore, anything that contradicts it can be
easily dismissed. Still, some idiots believe this rubbish, so let's have a look at it... as long as we can use tongs, gloves and a nosepeg.
They start out with defining a conspiracy.
The most common definition of a conspiracy is two or more people secretly planning a criminal act. Examples of conspiracy theories include the
belief that: (1) JFK was assassinated by rogue CIA elements attempting to ward off unwanted liberalism; (2) negotiations between the United States
government and Iran to release American hostages in then-President Carter’s last year failed because Reagan’s aides secretly struck a deal with
Iran to hold the hostages until after the election; (3) 9-11 was a plot by a rogue CIA/Mossad team cunningly engineering rightward alignments in the
United States and/or Israel.
The examples they choose, and the way they phrase each one, is interesting. I had personally, in all my years reading around the subject, heard that
the motive of JFK's assassins was to "ward off unwanted liberalism". Far more pertinent motives have been put forward, though to enumerate them
fully is beyond the scope of this post and thread. Should we excuse this misstatement on the grounds that the authors have such disdain for their
subject matter that they cannot be bothered to research it correctly? In my opinion, we should not.
Now I thought the second example they chose was what actually happened. I cannot specifically remember, but I might even have picked up this idea
from Chomsky. I don't have time to research it right now... but it's an odd one to choose, frankly. We also have the JFK hit standing alone,
rather than, as it should be, put into the context of the MLK and RFK assassinations.
Then, the third example is something of a misdirection of the 9/11 truth arguments, but we shall come to this in more detail later on.
The overall impression given is that Conspiracy Theorists see conspiracies everywhere and, well, they're nut-jobs. Look at why they think these
things happen! Ridiculous!.
The fact that distortions of these ideas and of the people who hold them are necessary to prop up the central thesis of the piece is not a good sign.
The next paragraph contains an extraordinary assertion:
A broader definition of conspiracy includes misleading, but still legal acts. For example, even if the U.S. president and his top aides could
legally perpetrate the secret 9-11 attacks, doing so would still be a conspiracy.
Am I alone in finding the bolded sentence spectacularly illogical and astonishing in a think-piece in a respected magazine? Under what circumstances
would perpetrating such attacks be legal? What kind of bizarro-world
would we have to be living in?
The paragraph continues with something that even tops that last sentence:
Legal assassination disguised as an accident or secretly pinned on someone else might also fit the second definition because it’s not
just secret, but actively deceptive. But no definition of conspiracy, however broad, includes everything secret.
HUH? Assassinations are never legal. True, Israel regularly assassinates inconvenient Arab politicians, and Pinochet was responsible for thousands
of deaths... but in this small, busybody world, what they do is illegal somewhere
. I mean, even Saint Donald of Rumsfeld is wanted in
Germany... oh! the humanity!
But the point we are meant to grasp is that "no definition of conspiracy, however broad, includes everything secret."
My point would be that the legal, criminal definition of conspiracy would be entirely sufficient to define most "conspiracy theories." JFK:
conspiracy to murder, likewise 9/11. Florida 2000: conspiracy to pervert the electoral process. Here's one: in defiance of antitrust laws,
California power suppliers get together in secret to manipulate the power markets. Brown-outs ensue. The Governor of California, Gray Davis, and his
deputy, Cruz Bustamente, sue. The power companies meet in secret with Arnie and back his candidacy in the recall election. Arnie wins: the lawsuit
Conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
My argument is that almost all conspiracies (racking brain, can't think of exceptions, but covering myself just in case) can be defined in terms of
simple criminal activity and treated as such. But the authors' purpose is different. Here comes the straw man.
People often secretly get together and use their power to achieve some result. But if this is a conspiracy, then virtually everything is a
conspiracy... Every business decision, every editorial decision, every university department closed session would be a conspiracy. Conspiracy would be
ubiquitous and, therefore, vacuous. Even in the broadest definition, there must be some significant deviation from normal operations. No one would
call all the secret acts of national security agencies conspiracies, as they are sufficiently normal and expected.
Say WHAT? Er... when the national security agencies do something in secret, all too often it's because they'd get into bloody hot water if it came
out. Like torture people in a network of secret jails strung out across Europe. Like hire al-Qaeda to assassinate Colonel Qadaffi. Like overthrow a
government in a sovereign country. I mean, sponsoring coups is what the CIA does for a living
- no serious student of the history denies
But the message of the paragraph is clear. "Conspiracy theorists" see conspiracies everywhere
. They're nuts
There then follows a spectacular example of eating your cake and having it too, which we know in the real world is impossible. However, in
world, it's necessary and good. We're going to find out what makes conspiracy theorists tick...
Conspiracies do happen. But a conspiracy theorist is not someone who simply accepts the truth of some specific conspiracies. Rather, a conspiracy
theorist is someone with a certain general methodological approach and set of priorities.
Conspiracy theorists begin their quest for understanding events by looking for groups acting secretly either in a rogue fashion, or to fool the
public. Conspiracy theorists focus on conspirators’ methods, motives, and effects. Personalities, personal timetables, secret meetings, and
conspirators’ joint actions claim priority attention. Institutional relations largely drop from view. Thus, rather than seeking a basic
understanding of U.S. foreign policy, conspiracy theorists ask, “Did Clinton launch missiles at Sudan in 1998 in order to divert attention from his
Monica troubles?” Rather than examining the shared policies of Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson vis-à-vis Southeast Asia, as an examination of
institutions would emphasize, they ask, “Did a group within the CIA kill Kennedy to prevent his withdrawing from Vietnam?”
This establishes two points: one, conspiracy theorists have incorrect understanding of the structural nature of things, and two, because of that, they
get all personal about stuff and look for evidence to support their wackjob theories.