In a recent article ultraconservative pundit Paul Craig Roberts goes on at great length about the gullibility of Americans and our willingness to believe any lie we’re fed by the government. His main example is the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11, which he sees as a second Reichstag Fire, a manufactured event designed as a pretext for a great power grab by the Bush administration and their allies. He comments:
“Americans never check any facts. Who do you know, for example, who has even read the Report of the 9/11 Commission, much less checked the alleged facts reported in that document. I can answer for you. You don’t know anyone who has read the report or checked the facts.”
While I’ll admit to not reading every word in the 9/11 Commission report, like many other Americans I have read large portions of it and used it as a reference source on the events it examines. What’s more, I’ve also read portions of the FEMA and NIST reports. In fact, anyone who wants to can read these reports or find clear summaries of the facts they contain, and I do actually know people who have read them all, yet don’t share Roberts conspiratorial mania.
Roberts is convinced that we have bought a pack of lies about 9/11 and the War on Terror and various other conspiracies because we don’t take the trouble to read these reports or look beyond the news. But the truth is that the conclusions of almost all of those who composed these reports, of the experts consulted and of those who have studied them don’t support the conspiracy theories which Roberts advocates. The truth is that the 9/11 Commission report does not say that the government conspired to destroy the twin towers and the FEMA and NIST reports definitely don’t say that the towers were brought down by anything other than the airplanes which were deliberately crashed into them.
Perhaps rather than being gullible, the American people have a certain amount of common sense – enough to know that the accepted theory of the events of 9/11 makes a hell of a lot more sense than the crazy conspiracy theories of the lunatic fringe which Roberts finds so fascinating. They may not be familiar with the work of William of Ockham, but the public seems to be able to apply his basic maxim Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate, which is most commonly rendered in modern terms as “The simplest answer is usually the correct answer.”
While the majority of the public may not be as as gullible as he suggests, there is still a large and easily duped minority. They seem to agree with Roberts and buy his pack of bizarre suppositions and improbable connections. A recent Zogby poll determined that 42% of those polled think the 9/11 Commission was a coverup and a recent Scripps/Howard poll found that 36% think the government was involved in the planning of the attacks. Despite Roberts’ efforts those are still minority opinions, but that they are so high is indeed a matter for concern.
What I find more troubling than any gullibility of the American people is that there are people like Roberts who prey on that foolishness to promote conspiracy theories which are designed to deceive and mislead the segment of the public which lacks a certain, basic common sense. Some people see a huge event like 9/11 and want it to have a grand and fanciful explanation, and Roberts and his cohorts play to that insecurity. Their opportunistic promotion of these fantasies is far more dangerous than the common and familiar mendacity of politicians.
The government may certainly be lying to us about all sorts of things – they do it to make it easier to push their agenda and implement their policies. But we did vote them into office, and after 6 years we’ve got a pretty good idea what they agenda is and what their policies are. We may not like them, but we know them. We even have a pretty good idea when they’re lying and can judge when those lies are excusable and when they aren’t. They’re actually not terribly good liars and their small deceptions are fairly transparent.
They trouble me a lot less than those who spread gross deceptions and spin elaborate paranoid fantasies and whose agendas, allegiances and objectives we do not know because they are not familiar or transparent or in the service of policies which our elected representatives had some say in formulating.
I think it’s right not to give unquestioning trust to the government and we should keep a wary, informed eye on them at all times. But we should also apply common sense and Ockham’s Razor and not leap to crazy conclusions just because simpler ones aren’t grand enough or complex enough to fit our expectations.
I may not trust the government, but I really, really don’t trust paranoid conspiracy-mongers like Paul Craig Roberts.