Monday, May 30, 2011

Debating Truth Decay: A Response

Little did I guess, when I posted some thoughts last week about how hoaxes, predictions and theories affect our politics and relationships, that so many people would respond – and many so angrily. The article initially appeared here, then on the AlterNet, Common Dreams, Truthout and other websites, where about 1000 comments have been posted to date. That’s almost twice as many as responded to my previous essay about psychopaths and power. And these were much more often critical.

Responding to every person or argument is impossible, so I'm posting this brief reply. Like the article, it doesn't pretend to cover every angle. It merely gives my own view and a few impressions.

The comment that apparently sparked the angriest replies was the idea that arguing 9/11 was an “inside job” is a radical conclusion. Not necessary wrong, just radical. Many people were offended, and felt I was debunking that and every other conspiracy theory. This is far from true.

I also came away from reading the comments with the impression that many readers didn’t finish the article. Maybe I’d already made them too mad. But the point of the piece, which was stated early and reiterated near the end, was to explore why some theories and predictions get all the attention while others that may be more credible and crucial get downplayed. I specifically pointed to the gradual and dangerous government “takeover” of cyberspace, a problem largely downplayed. Only a few people seemed to notice. I also made the point that some theories -- the word “conspiracy” was added to the headline and only appears once in the article, in reference to myself -- are distractions or disinformation, while others are very serious and need more attention. I was pointing to the need for some accountability and discrimination. But for many people any questioning of certain ideas – for example, that bin Laden wasn’t killed last month, or that 9/11 was actively orchestrated by the government, or that Roosevelt let Pearl Harbor happen -- is evidence of ignorance or being a government agent.

In a way, many responses inadvertently reinforced the argument I presented: “…some theories may be distractions or even deliberate deceptions, but others are worth considering, as long as we stipulate that they aren’t necessarily facts and resist exaggeration. The problem is that it’s becoming more difficult to tell the difference in an era when facts have been devalued. There are so many possibilities, the standard of proof appears to be getting lower, and theories tend to evolve, expand and mutate rapidly in unexpected ways as they circulate through cyberspace. As yet, there is little follow up to see whether new facts reinforce or discredit a particular idea or prediction. Corruption of truth meanwhile contributes to social division and civic decay. Yet there are apparently no consequences for stoking paranoia, intentionally confusing speculation with fact, or perpetrating a premeditated hoax.”

What made the personal accusations ironic – especially that I was debunking any questioning of official stories – is that I’ve spent so much time as a journalist doing just that, and much of my life generally questioning authority. More than thirty years ago I exposed a large-scale disinformation program designed to scare people about European terrorism supposedly coming to the US. In 1980, I also exposed how the FBI used to pose as Census takers, and began to go after the perception management of the intelligence community. A long and detailed article on perception management appeared in Project Censored 2008.

Over the years I’ve written and published articles about the JFK conspiracy, the Bilderberg group, and the hidden hand of the Council on Foreign Relations and Trilateral Commission. Here’s one example, an article called Conspiracies Unlimited that was published in Toward Freedom, which I edited for more than a decade. I’ve continued to follow the activities on the Bilderberg Group, for example in this IndyMedia Update on the 2002 Bilderberg meeting. Prior to the 2008 election I noted that Barack Obama was being cultivated in the same way, and by some of the same people, that helped Jimmy Carter go from obscurity to the White House.

In 2005, while I was editing a weekly newspaper, Vermont Guardian, I covered David Ray Griffin’s 9/11 research and published a piece called Mission Improbable: Challenging the Official Story on 9/11. There had been a news blackout of his appearances. Several months later, when I became CEO of Pacifica Radio, a number of leftists uncomfortable with the 9/11 Truth movement declared that I was a conspiracy nut just for exploring the issue. While at Pacifica I helped organize a September 2006 public forum in Berkeley with Griffin, Peter Dale Scott, Ray McGovern, Peter Phillips and Kevin Ryan. It was called 9/11 & American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out (released as a DVD). Now I’m a collaborator or enemy of truth for not accepting the most extreme view of what happened.

By the way, I’ve also done research and writing that points to the invasion of Afghanistan as a pretext for the first resource war of the 21st Century, noting that the plans were in place months before the Towers fell. Check out The Oily Road to 9/11. And I’ve frequently written about older conspiracies, notably the fact that the US lured the USSR into Afghanistan in order to create a quagmire that might bankrupt the country and undermine the Soviet regime. In my book Uneasy Empire: Repression, Globalization and What We Can Do, I begin by noting that even the first war on Iraq was initiated through a phony pretext.

However, in the current polarized environment, when information you don’t like can easily be ignored and extreme arguments go viral, trying to make distinctions between speculation and facts can be seen as a form of betrayal and establishment complicity. More and more people retreat into a self-constructed reality –  unfortunately, too much like conservatives who “know” Obama is a Socialist despite considerable evidence to the contrary – and condemn anyone who isn’t prepared to buy in 100 percent.

That said, thanks to everyone for reading and writing. Personally, I think such a discussion -- despite the more nasty stuff that comes with it -- is valuable, even if we aren't likely to agree.

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