Monday, January 26, 2009

The trouble with conspiracy theories

People who think the U.S. government was complicit in 9/11 or in the JFK assassination sometimes complain that those who dismiss them as “conspiracy theorists” are guilty of inconsistency. For don’t the defenders of the “official story” behind 9/11 themselves believe in a conspiracy, namely one masterminded by Osama bin Laden? Don’t they acknowledge the existence of conspiracies like Watergate, as well as everyday garden variety criminal conspiracies?

The objection is superficial. Critics of the best known “conspiracy theories” don’t deny the possibility of conspiracies per se. Rather they deny the possibility, or at least the plausibility, of conspiracies of the scale of those posited by 9/11 and JFK assassination skeptics. One reason for this has to do with considerations about the nature of modern bureaucracies, especially governmental ones. They are notoriously sclerotic and risk-averse, structurally incapable of implementing any decision without reams of paperwork and committee oversight, and dominated by ass-covering careerists concerned above all with job security. The personnel who comprise them largely preexist and outlast the particular administrations that are voted in and out every few years, and have interests and attitudes that often conflict with those of the politicians they temporarily serve. Like the rest of society, they are staffed by individuals with wildly divergent worldviews that are difficult to harmonize. The lack of market incentives and the power of public employee unions make them extremely inefficient. And so forth. All of this makes the chances of organizing diverse reaches of the bureaucracy (just the right set of people spread across the Army, the Air Force, the FBI, the CIA, the FAA, etc. – not to mention within private firms having their own bureaucracies and diversity of corporate and individual interests) in a short period of time (e.g. the months between Bush’s inauguration and 9/11) to carry out a plot and cover-up of such staggering complexity, close to nil.

Another reason has to do with the nature of liberal democratic societies, and the way in which they differ from totalitarian societies like Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, whose leaders did conspire to do great evil. The point is not that the leaders of liberal democratic societies are not capable of great evil. Of course they are. But they do not, and cannot, commit evils in the same way that totalitarian leaders do. There are both structural and sociological reasons for this. The structural reasons have to do with the adversarial, checks-and-balances nature of liberal democratic polities, which make it extremely difficult for any faction or interest to impose its agenda by force on the others. In the American context, the courts, the legislature, and the executive branch are all jealous of their power, even when controlled by the same party. The Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, CIA, FBI, etc. are all also notoriously often at odds with one another, as are the various departments within the executive branch. The same is true of private interests – the press, corporations, universities, and the like. All must work through public legal channels, and when they try to do otherwise they risk exposure from competing interests. Unlike traditional societies, in which the various elements of society agree (if only because they’ve never known any alternative) to subordinate their interests to a common end (e.g. a religious end), and totalitarian societies, which openly and brutally force every element to subordinate their interests to a common end (e.g. a utopian or dystopian political end), liberal democratic societies eschew any common end in the interests of allowing each individual and faction to pursue their own often conflicting ends as far as possible.

Now I do not claim that liberal democratic societies in fact perfectly realize this ideal of eschewing any common end. Far from it. The liberal democratic ethos inevitably becomes an end in itself, and all factions that refuse to incorporate it are ultimately pushed to the margins or even persecuted. (John Rawls’s so-called “political liberalism” is nothing more and nothing less than an attempt to rationalize this “soft totalitarianism.”) But that does not affect my point. The imposition of the liberal ethos may involve an occasional bold power grab on the part of one faction (as Roe v. Wade did in the case of the Supreme Court). It may involve attempts culturally to marginalize the opposition (as in the universities and entertainment industry). But the other factions know about these efforts – they are hardly carried out unobserved in smoke-filled rooms – and never roll over and play dead, as they would in a totalitarian society. Liberal ideologues must work through the very adversarial institutions that their ideology calls for, which is why these alleged arch-democrats are constantly complaining about the choices their fellow citizens democratically make (electing Bush, voting for Prop 8, opposing gun control, supporting capital punishment, etc.). For them to impose their egalitarian ethos on everyone else through force of law takes generations, and a series of public battles, before the other side is gradually ground down. The evil that results is typically the result of a slowly and gradually evolving public consensus to do, or at least to give in to, evil – not a sudden and secret conspiratorial act.

So, structurally, there is just no plausible way for an “inside job” conspiracy of the JFK assassination or 9/11 type to work. There is simply not enough harmony between the different institutions that would have to be involved, either of a natural sort or the type imposed by force. And this brings me to the sociological point that the liberal ethos itself, precisely because it tends so deeply to permeate the thinking even of the professedly conservative elements of liberal democratic societies, makes a conspiracy of the sort in question impossible to carry out. “Freedom,” “tolerance,” “democracy,” “majority rule,” and the like are as much the watchwords of contemporary American conservatives as they are of American liberals. Indeed, contemporary conservatives tend to defend their own positions precisely in these terms, and are uncomfortable with any suggestion that there might be something in conservatism inconsistent with them. The good side of this is that contemporary American conservatives will have absolutely no truck with the likes of Tim McVeigh, and will condemn right-wing political violence as loudly as any liberal would. The bad side is that some of them also seem willing to tolerate almost any evil as long as there is a consensus in favor of it and it is done legally. (Same-sex marriage? Well, the courts imposed it without voter approval. But what if the voters do someday approve it? Will conservatives then decide that it’s OK after all? Some of them already have.)

The point, in any event, is that just as the structure of a liberal democratic society differs from that of totalitarian states, so too does the ethos of its leaders. They generally like to do their evil in legal and political ways, through demagoguery, getting evil laws passed, destroying reputations, and other generally bloodless means. Occasionally they’ll resort also to ballot-box stuffing, and maybe the odd piece of union thuggery or police brutality. But outright murder is extremely rare, and usually folded into some legitimate context so as to make it seem justifiable (e.g. My Lai or the firebombing of Dresden, atrocities committed in the course of otherwise just wars). Do ideologically motivated sociopaths like General Jack D. Ripper of Dr. Strangelove fame sometimes exist even in liberal democratic societies? Sure. But hundreds or even just dozens of Jack D. Rippers, occupying just the right positions at just the right times in the executive branch, the FBI, the FAA, the NYPD, the FDNY, the Air Force, American Airlines, United Airlines, Larry Silverstein’s office, CNN, NBC, Fox News, The New York Times, etc. etc., never accidentally tipping off hostile co-workers or fatally screwing up in other ways? All happily risking their careers and reputations, indeed maybe even their lives, in the interests of the Zionist cause, or Big Oil, or whatever? Not a chance. Indeed, the very idea is ludicrous.

Of course, some conspiracy theorists will insist that the adversarial, checks-and-balances nature of liberal democracies and their tolerant ethos are themselves just part of the illusion created by the conspirators. Somehow, even the fact that conspiracy theorists are perfectly free to publish their books, organize rallies, etc. in a way they would not for a moment be able to do in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia is nevertheless just part of a more subtle and diabolical form of police state.

Here we’ve gone through the looking glass indeed, and come to a third and more philosophically interesting problem with conspiracy theories, one that can be understood on the basis of an analogy with philosophical skepticism and its differences from ordinary skepticism. Doubting whether you really saw your cousin walking across the bridge, or just a lookalike, can be perfectly reasonable. Doubting whether cousins or bridges really exist in the first place – maybe you’re only dreaming they exist, or maybe there’s a Cartesian demon deceiving you, or maybe you’re trapped in The Matrix – is not reasonable. It only seems reasonable when one is beholden to a misguided theory of knowledge, a theory that effectively undermines the possibility of any knowledge whatsoever. The difference here is sometimes described as a difference between "local" doubt and "global" doubt. Local doubts arise on the basis of other beliefs taken to be secure. You know that you are nearsighted or that your glasses are dirty, so you doubt whether you really saw your cousin. Global doubts have a tendency to undermine all beliefs, or at least all beliefs within a certain domain. You know that your senses have sometimes deceived you about some things, and being a philosopher you start to wonder whether they are always deceiving you about everything.

Notice that unlike local doubt, global doubt tends to undermine even the evidence that led to the doubt in the first place. Doubting that you really saw your cousin doesn’t lead you to think that your belief that you are nearsighted or that your glasses are dirty might also be false. But suppose your belief that you sometimes have been fooled by visual illusions leads you to doubt your senses in general. You came to believe that your perceptual experience of a bent stick in the water was illusory because you also believed that your experience of seeing the stick as straight when removed from the water was not illusory. But you end up with the view that maybe that experience, and all experience, is illusory after all. You came to believe that you might be dreaming right now because in the past you’ve had vivid dreams from which you woke up. You end up with the view that maybe even the experience of waking up was itself a dream, so that you’ve never really been awake at all. Again, the doubt tends to swallow up even the evidence that led to the doubt. (Philosophers like J. L. Austin have suggested that this shows that philosophical skepticism is not even conceptually coherent, but we needn’t commit ourselves to that claim to make the point that it does at least tend to undermine the very evidence that leads to it.)

I suggest that the distinction between ordinary, everyday conspiracies (among mobsters, or Watergate conspirators, or whatever) and vast conspiracies of the sort alleged by 9/11 and JFK assassination skeptics, parallels the scenarios described by commonsense or “local” forms of doubt and philosophical or “global” forms of doubt, respectively. We know that the former sorts of conspiracies occur because we trust the sources that tell us about them – news accounts, history books, reports issued by government commissions, eyewitnesses, and so forth. And there is nothing in the nature of those conspiracies that would lead us to doubt these sources. But conspiracies of the latter sort, if they were real, would undermine all such sources. And yet it is only through such sources that conspiracy theorists defend their theories in the first place. They point to isolated statements from this or that history book or government document (the Warren Report, say), to this or that allegedly anomalous claim made in a newspaper story or by an eyewitness, and build their case on a collection of such sources. But the conspiracy they posit is one so vast that they end up claiming that all such sources are suspect wherever they conflict with the conspiracy theory. Indeed, even some sources apparently supportive of the conspiracy theory are sometimes suspected of being plants subtly insinuated by the conspirators themselves, so that they might later be discredited, thereby discrediting conspiracy theorists generally. Overall, the history books, news sources, government commissions, and eyewitnesses are all taken to be in some way subject to the power of the conspirators (out of sympathy, or because of threats, or because the sources are themselves being lied to). Nothing is certain. But in that case the grounds for believing in the conspiracy in the first place are themselves uncertain. At the very least, the decision to accept some source claims and not others inevitably becomes arbitrary and question-begging, driven by belief in the conspiracy rather than providing independent support for believing in it.

Now, while “global” forms of skepticism might be fun to think about and pose interesting philosophical puzzles, it would hardly be rational to think for a moment that they might be true. Seriously to wonder whether one is a “brain in a vat,” or trapped in The Matrix, or always asleep and dreaming – not as a fantasy, not in the course of a late-night dorm room bull session, but as a live option – would be lunacy. Certainly it would make almost any further rational thought nearly impossible, because it would strip almost any inference of any rational foundation. But something similar seems to be true of conspiracy theories of the sort in question. The reason their adherents often seem to others to be paranoid and delusional is because they are committed to an epistemological position which inherently tends toward paranoia and delusion, just as a serious belief in Cartesian demons or omnipotent matrix-building mad scientists or supercomputers would. Their skepticism about the social order is so radical that it precludes the possibility of coming to any stable or justified beliefs about the social order.

Am I saying that news organizations, government commissions, and the like never lie? Of course not. I am saying that it is at the very least improbable in the extreme that they do lie or even could lie on the vast scale and in the manner in which conspiracy theorists say they do, and that it is hard to see how the belief that they do so could ever be rationally justified. But what about government agencies and news sources in totalitarian countries? Doesn’t the fact of their existence refute this claim of mine? Not at all. For citizens in totalitarian countries generally do not trust these sources in the first place. Indeed, they often treat them as something of a joke, and though they might believe some of what they are told by these sources, they are also constantly seeking out more reliable alternative sources from outside. Moreover, these citizens already know full well that their governments are doing horrible things, and many of these things are done openly anyway. Hence, we don’t have in this case anything close to a parallel to what conspiracy theorists claim happens in liberal democracies: evil things done by governments on a massive scale, of which the general population has no inkling because they generally trust the news sources and government agencies from which they get their information, and where these sources and agencies purport to be, and are generally perceived to be, independent.

On such general epistemological and social-scientific grounds, then, I maintain that conspiracy theories of the sort in question are so a priori improbable that they are not worth taking seriously. That does not mean that the specific empirical claims made by conspiracy theorists are never significant. In my college days I read a great deal about the JFK assassination case, and was even convinced for a time that there was a conspiracy involving the government. While I no longer believe that – I believe that Oswald killed Kennedy, and acted alone – I concede that there are certain pieces of evidence (e.g. the backward movement of Kennedy’s head, Ruby’s assassination of Oswald) that might lead a reasonable person who hasn’t investigated the case very deeply to doubt the “official story.” (I’ve also examined a fair amount of the 9/11 conspiracy theory material, though I must say that in this case this has only made the whole idea seem to me even more preposterous than it did initially, if that is possible. They don’t make conspiracy theorists like they used to.) But in my judgment, in the vast majority of cases the alleged “evidence” of falsehood in the “official story” is nothing of the kind, and where it is it can easily and most plausibly be accounted for in terms of the sort of bureaucratic ass-covering, incompetence, or just honest error that is common to investigations in general (whether by police, insurance companies, or whatever).

If one is going to claim more than this, then just as in these other sorts of investigations, one needs to provide some plausible alternative explanation. The “I’m just raising questions” shtick is not intellectually or morally serious, certainly not when you’re accusing people of mass murder. And given the considerations raised above, it is hard to see how conspiracy theories of the sort in question could ever be plausible alternatives.

Why, then, do people fall for these theories? Largely out of simple intellectual error. But what makes someone susceptible of this particular kind of error? That is a question I have addressed before, in a TCS Daily article which suggested that the answer has something to do with the (false) post-Enlightenment notion that science and critical thinking are of their nature in the business of unmasking received ideas, popular opinion, and common sense in general. Some readers of that article asked a good question: How does this suggestion account for the existence of conspiracy theories on the Right, which generally sees itself as upholding received ideas and common sense?

I would make two points in response. First, consider some standard examples of such right-wing conspiracy theories, such as those involving Freemasons or Communists. These can be understood in two ways. On one interpretation, the idea would be that Freemasons, Communists, or whomever, given their ideological commitments, have actively sought to get themselves and their sympathizers into positions of power and influence so as to promote and implement their ideas, and that they have done so subtly and by using duplicity. But there is nothing in this idea that conflicts with anything I’ve been saying. In particular, there is nothing in it that entails that any single massively complex event was engineered in detail by a small elite manipulating, with precision, dozens or hundreds of actors across a bewildering variety of conflicting institutions and agencies in the context of a society that is to all appearances reasonably open, all the while skillfully covering their tracks to hide their actions to all but the most devoted conspiracy theory adepts. Rather, it just involves like-minded people working systematically and deviously to further their common interests in a general way over the course of a long period of time – a phenomenon that is well-known from everyday life, and does not require belief in any radical gap between appearance and reality in the social and political worlds. In short, it does not involve belief in any “conspiracy theory” of the specific sort I’ve been criticizing.

The alternative interpretation would be that Freemasons, Communists, and the like have done more than this, that they have indeed conspired to produce individual events of the sort in question, in just the manner in question – that they conspired across national boundaries and bureaucracies to engineer World War I, say, or various stock market crashes, or whatever. Here the right-wing sort of conspiracy theory does indeed run into the problems I have been identifying, and is as a consequence just as irrational as its left-wing counterparts. And this brings me to my second point. As I said earlier, given the hegemony of liberal, post-Enlightenment ideas in modern Western society, even many conservatives can find themselves taking some of them for granted. Ironically, this sometimes includes even those conservatives most self-consciously hostile to liberal and Enlightenment ideas, namely paleoconservatives (the sort, not coincidentally, who are most likely to be drawn to conspiracy theories). And it does so, even more ironically, precisely because of their awareness of this hegemony. Because they quite understandably feel besieged on all sides by modernity, and utterly shut out of its ruling institutions, they are tempted by at least one modern, post-Enlightenment, left-wing illusion, and the most beguiling one at that: that all authority is a manifestation of a smothering, omnipotent malevolence. Like the Marxist or anarchist, they find themselves shaking their fist at the entire social order as nothing more than a mask for hidden forces of evil, and even the most absurd conspiracy theories come to seem to them to be a priori plausible.

The overall result is something eerily like the old Gnostic heresy, on which the apparently benign world of our experience is really the creation of an evil demiurge, and where this dark and hidden truth is known only to those few insiders acquainted with a special gnosis. (Into the bargain, the demiurge was often identified by the Gnostics with the God of the Jews.) For “world” read modern Western society, for “demiurge” read Freemasons, Communists, or Zionists, and for “gnosis” read the vast labyrinth of conspiracy theory literature. Alternatively, it is like the Cartesian fantasy of a malin genie who deceives us with a world of appearances that masks a hidden reality. Certainly these similarities should give any traditionalist pause; and the conspiracy theory mindset is in any event a very odd thing to try to combine with the traditional Christian anti-Gnostic emphasis on the public and open nature of truth, and the Aristotelian-Thomistic rejection of any radical Cartesian appearance/reality distinction in favor of moderation and common sense.

Anyway, if the question is how, given that (as I argue in the TCS Daily article) conspiracy theories are essentially an artifact of certain key modern, post-Enlightenment attitudes and assumptions, right-wingers could ever accept them, the answer is that here, as elsewhere, conservatives and traditionalists are too often not conservative and traditional enough.


  1. I read your blog and tried to make sense of it, but I simply can't follow your logic. Read "JFK And The Unspeakable," and then tell me conspiracies are not possible in a democracy. And since when is America a "liberal" democracy? What, exactly, was liberal about the Nixon, Reagan, and Bush I and Bush II administrations?

    Tim Fleming
    author,"Murder of an American Nazi"

  2. Hey, Ed -

    With all due respect, have you ever done any research on Prescott Bush (the grandfather of Dubaya)? Check out this link:

    It's like Shakespeare wrote "the evil that men do lives after them/ the good is oft interred with their bones."

    'Nuff Said

  3. Great insights, especially regarding conspiracy theories on the Right.

    "Why, then, do people fall for these theories? Largely out of simple intellectual error."

    As a card-carrying paranoid who is also a reasonably intelligent fellow, I can tell you that the intellect has very little to do with the attraction of what you are calling global conspiracy theories. The whole thing is driven by emotional need, which can easily rope in even a high-powered intellect and make it dance like a puppet. Above all else, conspiracy theories are comforting and seductive to people who are desperately seeking to feel that the world has some kind of meaning - that things are connected, that they "add up", even if it's only in a sinister way. In this way, conspiracy theories are basically a substitute for religion. At the same time, of course, they stroke the ego by elevating a person (in his own eyes) far above the common rabble who are too blinkered to grasp how the world REALLY works. As a special bonus, conspiracy theories give a person the feeling of being a total underdog fighting bravely against enormous odds (an especially seductive feeling for Americans).

    It might not seem that intellectuals would be prone to such "base" emotional drives as these. But I would say that they are, if anything, especially prone to them.

  4. Harumph! He just won't have it!

    It's the usual fallacious non-debunking: a pretentious, likely inexperienced, triumphalist, straight-A naive person - well-read but with low life-experience and environmental acumen, and embarrassingly unaware of the sheer quantity of highly contestable assumptions he's making, and hence how inappropriate they are on which to base a 'debunking'....or any reasonable opinion.

    Every one of his points rests entirely on (quite naive) unestablished suppositions where he is basically asserting that "the system wouldn't allow it" and yet he repeatedly, in a stupidity-indicating attempt to, I suppose, seem "balanced", gives examples of why what he is saying often isn't true and he expects you to just skim over those caveats as 'token fairness' and not think about what they really mean. They mean that many of his assumptions may very posssibly be incorrect.

    The quantity of incorrect ivory tower assumptions about what is or is not likely to occur in the real world of power relations demonstrate pretty clearly to me that he is an inexperienced dabbler with little comprehension of the scope of geopolitical agency. But it's all for the best - we must have lots of shoddy thinking so we can tell what good thinking is...even if it takes hundreds of years!

    But in reality, in the end the simple situation remains: there's a substantial and troubling amount of both hard and circumstantial evidence of insider hanky-panky in every major aspect of 9-11, and almost no good evidence for any of the government's theory's major fantastic claims. They won't even deal with the biggest problems in their theory, like Bldg. 7, the pyroclastic dust clouds, the almost total lack of plane debris, lack of bodies, immediate destruction of obvious major evidence in a crime, U.S Air Force not being available, etc.

    Mr. One-Of-The-Best-Contemporary-Writers-On-Philosophy sounds to me like an ostrich who tends toward poor suppositions and excessive credulity of some very shady players' "shore stories". Even he likely knows that no sharp, well-informed person can ever be convinced on the merits of the government's ridiculous conspiracy theory. He's just arbitrarily (ideologically by the suppositions) deciding a large and complex criminal conspiracy of this nature is impossible and he wants you to assume the same. But it's not impossible at all.

  5. Warren--

    The meta-scientific feats of the zig-zagging, indestructible, bone-shattering, but impregnable magic bullet were not driven by my "emotional need." They were driven by an ambitious, ruthless, little-known spectre of a lawyer who hoisted himself via JFK's tombstone into the US Senate.

    Tim Fleming
    author,"Murder of an American Nazi"

  6. The objection is superficial. Critics of the best known “conspiracy theories” don’t deny the possibility of conspiracies per se. Rather they deny the possibility, or at least the plausibility, of conspiracies of the scale of those posited by 9/11 and JFK assassination skeptics

    But many skeptics of conspiracy theories don't make the above distintions. They dismiss all the "conspiracy theories" without qualify their position, making the objection of inconsistency very pertinent.

    And many of them are not skeptics, but deniers! (of everything that challenge the mainstream scientific view)

    Another problem that I see is that "skeptics" of conspiracy theories tend to be credulous of official theories, and use a double standard to judge evidence. If it favors the orthodox view, then they accept almost any kind of evidence (and non-supported assumptions). If not, then they use any trick on the book to dismiss it.

    As an example of it, see the self-proclaimed "skeptic" Michael Shermer to defend the orthodox conspiracy theory of 9/11. To do that job, he uses a bunch of rhetorical tricks and fallacies exposed in detail in this article:

    Does it proves that the official story of 9/11 is false? Obviously not. But a real skeptic would try to examine the evidence in a fair way, not to act like an apologist for orthodoxy using fallacious reasoning, unsupported assumptions and rhetorical tactics.

    Hear an detabe between "skeptic" Shemer (in defense of the offical conspiracy story) and Jim Fetzer (in defense of an alternative conspiracy story)):

    Part 1:

    Part 2:

    I'm a great admirer of Edward Feser as a philosopher.

  7. Done, guys? OK. Now, how about, you know, actually answering one of my arguments?

  8. BTW, the debate's been slightly more to-the-point in the comments section to the cross-posted version at the What's Wrong with the World group blog. Interested readers might check it out:

  9. professor Feser:

    I'm the previous "anonymous". Your arguments are interesting, and they deserves consideration for a discussion of political topics. I'm follower of your blog and articles.

    However, I've studied in detail the conspiracy theories of 9/11, and the official conspiratory theory about it too. I consider myself a real skeptic regarding that topic (I mean, skeptic in the sense that I'm not jump to conclusions based on inconclusive evidence or prejudices)

    I don't think it's a problem of general philosophy or political philosophy, or rhetoric. This is a problem of objectively examining the evidence for and against each hypothesis, without favor one or the other side by ideological or political reasons.

    I'm libertarian too, but it doesn't affect my critical thinking skills when considering how vested interests, economic and political factors, can play a role in conspiracies.

    For example, I'm not naive regarding existence of non-scientific interests (economical, burocratic, etc.) of modern medicine industry. The most recent example is the scandal about the last year Nobel Prize of medicine given to a scientist. According to this news: "The integrity of the Nobel prize was called into question last night after it emerged that a member of the jury also sat on the board of a pharmaceuticals giant that benefited from the award of this year's prize for medicine"

    I'm libertarian, but not credulous regarding the influence of interests (like those of the big pharma) in medicine and its multi-billionary business.

    My current conclusions about the 9/11 debate are:

    -The official theory has many flaws (some of them fatal), and when you examine the best arguments of its defenders, you can see they use all sort of fallacious pseudo-arguments, propaganda tactics and lies to make their points (see the above link on Shermer as a documented example).

    If their case were solid, we would expect rigurous argumentation and data, not rhetoric or propaganda.

    -There are exists many "alternative" theories about the 9/11, but as far I know, most of them are rubbish. However, it doesn't prove that the official story is correct (nor that alternative theories are correct too).

    -Some of the evidence presented against the official story, suggests that the 9/11 operation was an "inside job".

    But to reach that conclusion is not easy, and it can't be claimed with 100% of certainty. It's a conclusion that (and I tentatively share it) is plausible, not for philosophical reasons, not for ideological pro-Socialist anti-Libertarian motives, but because some of the best evidence points out to it.

    It's impossible to discuss all the arguments and facts (some of them technical) in a blog in a detailed and rigorous manner.

    I suggest you to read the following website ( )for a introduction to the relevant arguments of serious skeptics (not charlatans) of the official story of 9/11.

    Also, the recent book The New Pearl Harbor Revisited: 9/11, the Cover-Up, and the Exposé by David Ray Griffin.

    Also the Journal of 9/11 studies:

    Given than English is not my native language, I've intented to make my points in the best way I could. I hope you can understand them.

  10. Ya know, perhaps just an FYI, but this subject has a bit of relevance presently with Pope Benedict's recent decision to reinstate the Society of Saint Paul X and additionally reinstate four bishops who had been excommunicated. At least one of those bishops, Richard Williamson, is a conspiracy theorist relative to the holocaust, 9/11, the Kennedy assassination and the Masons as well.

  11. "So, structurally, there is just no plausible way for an 'inside job' conspiracy of the JFK assassination or 9/11 type to work."

    To be charitable: pure, unadulterated lunacy -- psychobabble and pseudo-history in service to the grandest illusion.

    In re the JFK assassination: Nothing stated in the entire essay addresses the irrefutable physical, medical, eyewitness, earwitness, photographic, audio, and additional forensic and circumstantial evidence -- that is, proof -- of conspiracy which, honestly and deeply analyzed, establishes beyond all doubt the identities and motives of the top tier conspirators.

    This is nothing more than an old pig in a new dress. See, "People can't believe a nobody like LHO killed a world-historic leader."

    And then we have: "I read a great deal about the JFK assassination case, and was even convinced for a time that there was a conspiracy involving the government. While I no longer believe that – I believe that Oswald killed Kennedy, and acted alone – I concede that there are certain pieces of evidence that might lead a reasonable person who hasn’t investigated the case very deeply to doubt the 'official story.'"

    Anyone with reasonable access to the JFK evidence who does not conclude that conspirators killed the president is cognitively impaired and/or complicit in the crime.

    The author is encouraged to explain his "essay" accordingly.

    Charles R. Drago
    Co-Founder, the Deep Politics Forum

  12. P.S. to the above:

    The timing of the appearance of Mr. Feser's JFK commentary is, at the very least, thought-provoking.

    This self-described bearer of "a traditional Roman Catholic perspective" weighs in on the Dallas conspiracy in the wake of James Douglass' "JFK and the Unthinkable."

    Douglass is a Thomas Merton scholar, a celebrated peace activist, and, with his wife Shelley, is the co-founder of Mary's House, a Catholic Worker house of hospitality in Birmingham, Alabama. His books include "The Nonviolent Cross," "The Nonviolent Coming of God," and "Resistance and Contemplation."

    Mr. Feser, it seems, is being offered in a classic "level the playing field" gambit.

    Too little, too late.

    Charles R. Drago
    Co-Founder, the Deep Politics Forum

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. I don't like "conpiracy theorists," especially in the new vernacular. The implication is frizzy hair, paranoia and the absence of logic . I'm no conspiracy theorist. One must have facts to work a theory, and facts have a way of strangling each other when discussing Dallas at the end of 1963. Why did Chief Justice Warren and those other esteemed men sign off on CE 399 shattering a rib and a wrist and come out looking as it does? I have no theories worth much, I'm just a citizen who reads books now and again, never set foot in the Nation Archives to plow through the millions of documents. I've read enough to know the FBI put out a report on the assassination saying the stretcher bullet only hit Governor Connally. So, Mr. Fesar, your essay mentioned a conspiracy involving a harmony between gov't institutions- this obviously did not take place. The inconsistencies in official stories have an ad-hoc quality to their creation. Everything was a mess on all sides and I don't believe we as citizens have been given all the facts. Forget theories. Can't I just be a student of history with a little common sense without being the object of ridicule when I question Oswald's solitary guilt?

  15. Listen guys, I don't know what you're all getting so worked up about. Sure this guy's smart but lots of smart guys were duped by the official orthodoxy, heck quite a few of them were actually in on the plan from the beginning (or close to the beginning, very few people obviously were involved in having made the initial decision).

    My own guess would be that Edward himself isn't actually purposefully involved in the coverup but that some people who have "made their arguments" in convincing him ---

    Fuck. I can't do this. I just wanted to fit in! Be one of the boys! Get myself a basement! Come on you guys, with your masturbation parties or shriveled up wives, you've Got It Going!

    But I just can't keep writing this stuff with a straight face. God knows I tried and I do believe that with some effort I can get good at it, but I'm, just not there yet.

    Sweet Gooey Gumdrop Jewish Jesus, please get me there.


    P.S. I'm actually a conspiracy theorist myself. I believe that Fleming is likely just a "bot" looking for info on the subject rather than being a regular reader and also that he directed at least one other prolific commentor here and also that he himself probably signed on under another name as well in order to increase the number of seemingly independent views that all support Conspiracy, in this thread.

    But I'm not really tied to any of that. After all I myself only came here cause I read this post elsewhere and am still trying to figure out this Catholic Skeptic (wtf?).


  16. "Like the Marxist or anarchist, they find themselves shaking their fist at the entire social order as nothing more than a mask for hidden forces of evil"

    Rather unkind to associate economic , sociological and anthropological analyses of societies with conspiracists .

    For a Marxist view on the concept of conspiracies you can read here:

    an extract:-
    "...So do conspiracies actually exist at present? Of course – from minor political conspiracies and plots (e.g. the Tory Party plot a few years ago to depose Margaret Thatcher) to the more renowned activities of political dissenters meeting in secret (the actual origin of most secret societies). There are of course plots and conspiracies by the rich and powerful to cover-up their misdeeds too on occasion (like Watergate) and it almost goes without saying that there have been well-documented clandestine activities by the ruling class and its agents against the organised labour movement, even from before the days of the First International. But we can also say with a fair degree of certainty that:

    No reliable evidence has ever been furnished in support of a conspiracy “worldview”.

    Such views are typically the product of misplaced theories and perspectives that interlock with, and reinforce, other erroneous ideas (such as with the Illuminati and numerology; anti-semitism and the occult).

    Postmodernist culture has helped open the floodgates to a swathe of unsound conspiracy theories that seek to systematically interpret world events in a non-rational and unscientific manner.

    Conspiracy theorists' assertions that a complex, technologically advanced society like capitalism cannot be at root “anarchic” in many of its operations, are misplaced.

    So the conspiratorial worldview is certainly not helpful in promoting an understanding of modern society and is itself, in large part, a product of the times we live in.

    The organisation of society as it currently exists – capitalism – is certainly not a conspiracy, even if its structure means that conspiracies exist from time to time within it. And for those interested in overthrowing the system which now seemingly leads to secrecy and paranoia almost like night leads to day, a more fundamental approach is needed than that exhibited by the conspiracy theorists. A truly democratic society, where power no longer resides in the hands of a few, and where the incentive for power struggles and subterfuge will decrease accordingly, cannot be built within capitalism, by its very nature. Instead, a democratic socialist revolution, carried out by the majority and in the interests of the majority, will be the time in history when the conspiracy worldview is finally put to bed...."

    Also not lets forget Noam Chomsky contribution to conspiracy theory . Hideous acts of state terrorism are generally presented as noble quests for justice, not because of some conspiracy or official state censorship, but because of the basic operation of capitalism. It's all about money after all: the ruthless securing of markets, trade routes, raw materials to make the world safe for the profit system-and the media (as it is vaguely termed) is part of that system. The modern mass media is not, as some like to remark, controlled by corporations; it is corporations. Businesses do not control the car industry; the car industry is big business. Likewise, the media is made up of large corporations, all in the business of maximising profits .This immediately suggests that, at the very least, media corporations might have a tendency to be sympathetic to the status quo, to other corporations, and to the profit-maximising motive of the corporate system .

    But anyway lets end with a quote from Upton Sinclair
    "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

    And thats probably the real conspiracy !!

  17. It is my understanding that John Kennedy had just finished thumbing through Chomsky and Marxist theory texts when he was shot, as the evidence demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt and to the degree of metaphysical certitude, by at least two conspirators.

    Charles Drago

  18. My son seems to have fallen for all the current conspiracies - and I hate it. Your arguemnets make sense to me but I can see by those who comment once your mind it made up - don't confuse me with the facts is one of the troubles with conspiracy theories.

  19. Shirley,

    The troublel with the JFK Lone Nute theorists is that they have ZERO facts supporting their position.

    All they've got is the power of the parent state -- and its bought-and-paid-for propagandists.

    Charles Drago

  20. Oh, how I wish you might be right.

    But the evidence is overwhelming that 9/11 was a false-flag operation and that JFK was killed by an alliance of CIA, Secret Service, and other agents, acting under orders from ... what would you prefer I call it? The secret government? Military-industrial complex. You choose the term.

    Not only was JFK assassinated but so was Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, CIA Director William Colby, Rep. Paul Gilmor, Billy Cooper, Phil Schneider, and the list goes on.

    But don't take it from me. Accountability for these and other crimes will come and I don't think it will be in the distant future either.

    How I long for the world you describe. But I just don't believe it exists any longer and hasn't for a very long time.

  21. (Quick note: John Kennedy was extremely isolated within his own Administration. He was at war with his Vice President Lyndon Johnson; the CIA - hellbent on a coup - was out of control; the JCS did not like him, some hated him [think Curtis Lemay], the FBI director Hoover hated both Kennedys. Add to this hatred very influential Texas oil barons AND the Rockefeller business/intelligence nexus in the Eastern Establishment... not to mention the mafia who was friends with CIA/Lyndon Johnson/Texas oil).

    Lyndon Johnson and Clint Murchison, Sr organized all of these powerful "interests" for the 1963 Coup d'Etat.

    Google my essay "LBJ-CIA Assassination of JFK"

  22. Unfortunately, the real issue seems to be a lack of process. With a valid historical process, one takes more than one working hypothesis and follows it through all the evidence, weighing and evaluating what is available.

    So "conspiracy" or "no conspiracy" is in itself just a strawman.

  23. Dr. Feser seems to deny the existence of secret societies that can covertly micromanage large scale deceptions.

  24. Edward Feser's point of view is typical of mainstream rationalizations and says nothing. Methodologically he also wishes to have his cake and eat it too. He uses social science to try to probe the social psychology of "conspiracy theories" yet does not interrogate the facts and anomalies of the actual "conspiracies" themselves. This is called bad social science, not mention bad research methodology, and betrays the author's overall bias and emotive approach as opposed to distance and objectivity which would offer a meticulous scientific approach that interrogates the actual facts in their details and trajectories, and only afterwards when the facts are assembled uses the social science to explain the contour and nexus of things. In other words, from the first to last paragraph of his blog post the author appears to have an ideological - rather than a factual - animus and so axe to grind with what he designates "conspiracy theorists." Underlying his bias is also his disbelief - although he waffles here - that the nature of power in so-called liberal democratic societies can actually behave in mercurial and conspiratorial ways as the traditional model of totalitarian power is posited to behave. Frankly, this is undemonstrable from his reasoning given in the blog - and in fact can be shown to be the exact opposite - nor does the author demonstrate why he believes this is the case with actual comparative case studies. He is talking platitudes and generalities without unpacking facts.

    I am afraid the author is going to have to do a lot better than that in convincing a skeptical audience of his point of view. That simplistic and kooky theories are propounded and held by certain groups and individuals, does not invalidate the nature and reality of a conspiracy per se. People can get all kinds of details and facts wrong. This doesn't change the occurrence of an event. It just means the propounded facts and arguments attempting to explain a given event are off.

    I leave you with a quote and link to Julian Assange's The State & Terrorist Conspiracy.

    ...[A] conspiracy is something fairly banal, simply any network of associates who act in concert by hiding their concerted association from outsiders, an authority that proceeds by preventing its activities from being visible enough to provoke counter-reaction [is engaging in a conspiracy] -Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy to destroy the Invisible Government in The State & Terrorist Conpiracy

  25. Well done. I'm glad you spent a little bit of time picking up litter from the beach. As you can tell from the comments, the litterers never give up. They seem to have infinite time to ponder all kinds of weird facts from new angles, never asking why they don't apply the skepticism they use on official sources to their even less believable sources. So thanks Sisyphus.

  26. I'm wondering if the gift of hindsight has changed the authors staunch opinions much. How many conspiracies were laid bare in the Podesta emails, Snowden revelations, Climate emails, any number of WikiLeaks or Hillary and Wieners' off the grid computers. Still clinging to the "someone would have said something" cop out now that so many people have said something?

    I bet he actually is.

    Sometime back around 2008 the Daily Mail called the author something like "a great thinkers and writer". 9 years later this "great" thinker has failed to make any impact on anyone. I never knew he existed until today and remain unmoved post discovery. Because the 'logic' presented in this article is the most piss poor thinking I've ever seen outside of a frightened child (the writing is OK but not great). Nearly every example and logical case made here has been debunked in the mainstream in the years since. Including the famous video showing a "plane" hitting the southtower on 9\11, shown ad nauseum in the years since (look close and you'll see the CGI "plane's" wing tip pass through, then behind, a building that is 4 blocks down the street. It's as plain as the nose on your face that this video is fake).

    Feser is a tool. He made a few arguments like these that were useful to the establishment, mostly due to their ignorance. This briefly got him some play in the mainstream media that was selling the same lies. He drunk deep of the hubris that this afforded him never understanding he was really just a useful idiot. Now that he has faded into obscurity, we need only read his tragically flawed, mostly debunked take on things and understand why. I wonder if he has figured it out yet or is still clinging to his hubris and his children's stories about how the world really works. Any bets he was a "Never Trump-er"?

    1. "Failed to make any impact on anyone" is quite simply false. He had an impact on me. I read The Last Superstition sometime during 2011 or 2012, and it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say I was thereby "awakened from my dogmatic slumbers." Until that time, I unthinkingly accepted a mechanistic view of nature and a "theistic personalist" view of God. The former was abandoned by the time I finished the book. It took a bit longer to really get Classical Theism, but I ultimately came around.

      Chapter one had me hooked with its biting wit. The first half of chapter two, refuting nominalism, dazzled me with the cogency of its arguments for a view I had never really considered - realism regarding universals. The second half was almost mundane, laying out pedestrian facts I had always known but never bothered to put into words. In chapter three, I discovered that those seemingly trivial principles entail the existence of a God far more alien than any I had until then conceived. At the time, I viewed that God with skepticism - He couldn't really be *that* alien, could He? - but continued investigation of the Thomistic system ultimately convinced me. Chapter four defended certain positions on morality and the soul in terms of the same truisms from chapter two. Chapter five was what sealed the deal, demonstrating that the "traditional" problems of modern philosophy are nothing more than the consequences of abandoning Aristotelian philosophy - the blindingly obvious principles presented in chapter two.

      When one position makes sense of the world and is based on evident facts, while the other generates intractable difficulties and requires one to *ignore or reject* evident facts, there is only one reasonable response: accept the first and reject the second. So, after reading chapter five, that's what I did: I accepted Aristotelian principles and rejected the mechanistic worldview. Chapter six was just icing on the cake, the book had already achieved its purpose.

      So no, Feser *hasn't* "failed to make an impact on anyone." He made an impact on me, and I'm sure that many of the other readers of this blog could say much the same.

  27. Something feels wrong about allowing Mr.Dutch to have the last word. So, to sum up, some nut stumbles across Ed's blog. Now our *extremely intelligent* Mr.Dutch sees through Ed's reasoning *so clearly* that he can defeat it without analysing a single thing that was actually said. In fact, he's so well able to defeat it that he instead launches into attacks of Ed's character and importance, saying that he's "done nothing and made no impact on anyone", apparently oblivious to the fact that Ed is mostly a Catholic Thomistic philosopher, and only comments on conspiracy theories when he feels like it, and that he has written a number of well-regarded and popular books regarding Thomism.

    He then launches off into an elaborate "narrative" that is big on speculation about Ed's motives and status as a 'useful idiot' and short on any actual substance. Dutch concludes with some Gnostic preening about the depth of his secret enlightenment, laughing at the poor, damned, ignorant unenlightened masses, safe in the knowledge that, since this thread has been dead for over two years, nobody is likely to contradict his little diatribe.

    And that's my take on it. You are a troll, sir, and if you had any sincere interest in the truth you would not make laughably misinformed judgments about people behind their backs, and then gloat about it.

  28. Very brave and intelligent of Mr. Dutch to comment on a dead topic to mock Ed, ignore all of the points made, and go off on irrelevant tangents about his suspicions regarding Ed's moral character. He also seems to be under the bizarre impression that someone is "obscure" and has had "no impact on anyone" merely because our great Mr.Dutch has never heard of him, regardless of Ed's significant written output, and shows no knowledge of the fact that Ed specialises in a fairly niche topic (Thomism). Mr. Dutch then goes on with some Gnostic gloating about the depths of his hidden knowledge, which surely raises him above the poor and ignorant sheeple.

    How very grand of him.

    (If this appears beneath a similar comment, then I apologise. I could not see my first comment and assumed that it had been swallowed by the Blogger machine).

  29. I don’t know about conspiracy theories, but I do know that there are now almost 3000 architects and engineers who disagree eith the official account of 9/11, based on the physical evidence alone ( a recent article by one of them: Let’s start with science, not conspiracy theories, when it comes to 9/11: )

    “The idea of a local failure being initiated by thermally expanding floor beams which then leads to the symmetrical, free-fall collapse of the entire structure is so improbable that it would require a staggering amount of evidence to even be considered plausible. But NIST has not provided that evidence.”David Llewelyn, mechanical engineer

    University of Alaska Fairbanks is now in the process of releasing an independent study, open to peer review for all those interested. So far, it doesn’t look good for the official story.

  30. "3000 architects and engineers" qualifies as the lunatic fringe.

    1. Yes. And the construction-steel durability "problem" has always been rather amusing one. However, long after 9/11 I caught on the news where some utilities and/or tires had caught fire below an overpass. After burning for a couple hours or so, that particular section of overpass, in all its steel-and-concrete reinforced glory, finally gave out and collapsed into the smoke below.
      My response: "Obviously, an inside job—attributable only to controlled demolitions..."