THE TOOTH FAIRY

Posted in Rants on June 24th, 2009 by Ed

Local conditions may be different wherever you live, dear reader, but in my city the graffiti, stickers, and other public displays of the "9/11 was an inside job" movement are so numerous that they have become part of the urban landscape, no more noteworthy than stop signs or flyers for band shows. That we are nearing the eighth anniversary of the events in question and the conspiracy theories are only getting more popular is more depressing than it is alarming. Are our lives really so fucking dreary that we've resorted en masse to this kind of delusion as a preferred alternative to reality?

These theories are popular and, if you spend a lot of time reading things with comment sections on the internet, on some days it seems like half the country believes them. The internet isn't a random sample, of course, but the evidence for the popularity of these theories is clear. A Scripps-Howard poll from 2006 showed 16% of people believing it is "likely" that "controlled demolition with explosives" brought down the WTC while a whopping 36% believe that the government knew of the attacks in advance and willingly chose not to act. On the plus side, we might applaud Americans for these "low" numbers…compared to the 55% who believe they are protected by a guardian angel, 20% who believe that God has spoken directly to them, and the full one-third of your friends and neighbors who believe in alien abductions, astrology, and witchcraft. Compared to those figures we look like a nation of solemn skeptics regarding 9/11.

To paraphrase the argument in The Great Derangement, there are three major explanations for the popularity of such opinions. First, Americans are stupid and, in contradiction of everything known about the relationship between wealth and education in the history of civilization, getting stupider. Second, conspiracies about shocking, unbelievable events have always been popular because we can't accept boring explanations for traumatic events. Third, the post-Watergate public is so jaded to governmental malfeasance that even the most idiotic claims seem downright plausible. So many things that we would have considered implausible have actually happened that in order to stay one step ahead of the real news coming out of Washington our imaginations have had to delve into the truly ridiculous.

Of course all three explanations are relevant. We are dumb. We like to think things are more exciting than they are. Watergate, Iran-Contra, Kuwaiti incubator baby hoaxes, and eight years of Bush featuring a war in Iraq based entirely on pure bullshit have put many people in the mindset that no conspiracy is too outlandish to be true. Hell, if I just woke up from a 30-year coma I'd find the possibility of the government having planned 9/11 and a bunch of jurassic neocons starting a war with the evidence used in 2002/2003 to be equally implausible. And one of those things actually happened.

That's not a statement of support for 9/11 conspiracism, i.e. If Iraq happened then maybe this is plausible too. One argument has facts beneath it and the other doesn't. But pushing more and more people to the fringes of plausibility in their beliefs about what our elected leaders are capable of doing is just another negative externality of our carnival sideshow in Iraq. It re-defined what is plausible to younger generations like Watergate did for those before us.

The sad thing is that I love a good conspiracy theory, especially when there are tantalizing shreds of evidence to support them. I do not believe that we know everything we will ever know about 9/11. Over time we will see more information declassified, more offical "we fucked up" admissions (i.e., NORAD admitting that it lied its ass off to the 9/11 Commission), and more facts/evidence uncovered. Personally, I will not be shocked if we someday find conclusive evidence that the Bush administration had far more advance warning about potential attacks than it has thus far admitted. But natural skepticism based on our political system's tendency to withhold information is a far cry from swallowing theories about controlled demolitions, "inside jobs", computer-generated planes, and all of the other horseshit these people believe.

In an era in which the availability of information makes us all self-appointed experts ("I watched WTC 7 videos on YouTube and there was a lot of stuff flying out the windows, which totally looked like an explosion!") this is inevitable, of course. I divide the blame and my anger at the American public for being dumb enough to swallow something so stupid and elected leaders whose actions have gotten so brazen and so corrupt that our imaginations have been forced to go beyond the merely implausible and take up the downright ridiculous in order to stay one step ahead.