A CONTROLLED DEMOLITION IS NOT A FLYING SAUCER
by Steven Gray
There was an article in the New York Times Magazine, May 26, 2013, by Maggie Koerth-Baker, a science editor at BoingBoing.net. It was entitled: “SURE YOU SAW A FLYING SAUCER. Psychologists are beginning to unravel the mystery of why even rational people buy into conspiracy theories.” The article has nothing to do with flying saucers or UFO’s, which aren’t even mentioned – although the government is known for covering up information regarding such. The article is misleading from the beginning, with a diagram of a man’s head seen from the side, showing numbered sections of the brain and in the middle of those a flying saucer is emerging while the man is gazing with a blank stare. Koerth-Baker is trivializing the doubts that many people have about the government, the banks, and the military, reducing that well-worn skepticism to the level of an optical illusion in the sky. The implication is that if flying saucers don’t exist, then shady operations by the government don’t exist either, and anyone who thinks so is “crazy.”
This sounds like the glib dismissals by government spokesmen, and it makes you wonder who is paying her. Is it purely coincidental that her article is closely aligned with government propaganda and disinformation? The subtitle of her article would make more sense if it read, “Psychologists are beginning to unravel the mystery of why even rational people believe the government,” with quotes from sources like The Mass Psychology of Fascism.
There is a deflection of conspiracy theories from a political/historical context to one of mental illness and self-delusion. These theories couldn’t possibly be grounded in reality, therefore it’s all in your head. That approach is similar to how dissidents were treated in the Soviet Union, the ones who didn’t drink the Stalinist Kool-Aid. They knew about the false consciousness that was propagated by Pravda, and had the courage to say it was not a workers’ paradise. Writers and dissidents were often put into mental hospitals where they were diagnosed as having “sluggish schizophrenia.” The assumption was that one would have to be mentally disturbed to question the authorities. Some were injected with anti-psychotic drugs like Thorazine.
Koerth-Baker begins her article with the Boston Marathon bombings, and in the first paragraph her reasoning is off. She notes that online speculation about the suspects was “rampant.” Maybe with good reason – the circumstances were suspicious, up to and including the decision to shut down the entire city of Boston for a day while turning loose an occupying army (hello martial law) in order to look for one (1) possibly wounded teenage suspect with no police record. When has this ever occurred? It looked like an exercise to get the public used to heavily-armed government forces on Main Street. Wasn’t it odd that the dead suspect had longtime contacts with the FBI, and why were Israeli doctors required (as was stated) to treat the wounded, as if this is a country where violent events are uncommon?
It’s clear the event had some aspects worth investigating, but Koerth-Baker doesn’t consider that for a second. “Crazy as these theories are….” Doesn’t that sound familiar? It’s the voice of someone speaking with a false authority, the knee-jerk status quo. It could be a holy dignitary sighing a few centuries ago when Galileo suggested the earth is not the center of the universe. The church censored him because it thought people would be disturbed if the truth was known. Also, it would undermine the church’s authority, which is even worse. Never mind the empirical evidence, we need to feel secure in the warm embrace of a mass belief system.
“Crazy as these theories are, those propagating them are not – they’re quite normal, in fact.” You might wonder why she is putting them down. “But recent scientific research tells us….” That is worse than the old cliche about “3 out of 4 doctors recommend you smoke….” No sources are cited, and how is the research “scientific” when it is dealing with people’s feelings? “If you think one of the theories above is plausible, you probably feel the same way about the others, even though they contradict one another.” I am living proof that isn’t true. “…[A]nd it’s very likely that this isn’t the only news story that makes you feel as if shadowy forces are behind major world events.”
This is a world where massive illegal banking manipulations have caused huge recessions, unemployment, and wars, where leaders from JFK to Martin Luther King, Jr. get assassinated and the official stories don’t add up, where the CIA is by definition operating behind the scenes and not without some dire consequences. What about the Iran Contra scandal, the many anomalies and lies of 9/11, the cover-up of TWA Flight 800? Is it crazy to think there are “shadowy forces” behind world events, whether those forces are the banks and corporations which are too big to jail, or the CIA when it is destabilizing and overthrowing foreign governments? A CIA which is so shadowy we are not even allowed to know its (taxpayer-funded) budget. If there are other news stories that make us feel as if shadowy forces are behind major world events, maybe that is because those forces exist. The government/military/banks have been lying to us for many years, which lies have been documented in many cases (phony Gulf of Tonkin incident, anyone?). There are levels of power whose very existence, not to mention activities, are classified, top secret. These are shadowy forces which we are not supposed to know about, but which are known for throwing their weight around. How is this even remotely untrue or hard to grasp? For her to dismiss the concept of shadowy forces – which are all the more shadowy with censorship and lousy journalism, is like when the little dog pulls back the curtain to reveal an old man pulling levers and operating the inflated image of the Great Oz, and he says: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain….”
Koerth-Baker refers to The Paranoid Style in American Politics by Richard Hofstadter (1965). It’s like the assassination of JFK two years before wasn’t enough to make us paranoid, considering a government cover-up, the inconsistencies of the official story, the fairy tale of the magic bullet, etc. Nothing to see here, move along.
“Americans have always had the sneaking suspicion that somebody was out to get us – be it Freemasons, Catholics or communists.” Note the omission of the real suspects – the banks, the CIA, and organized crime. When was the last time anyone worried about Freemasons or Catholics? The fear of communists was magnified by government propaganda and people like Joe McCarthy. But now, “the Web fills with stories about ‘false flag’ attacks and ‘crisis actors’ – not mere theorizing, but arguments for the existence of a completely alternate sense of reality.” That’s like saying when you walk out of Disneyland you’re in an alternate version of reality. False flag operations have been a tried and true phenomenon for many years. A good example is the Reichstag fire in Berlin in 1933. It was used as an excuse for suspending civil liberties and outlawing the Communist Party (which was blamed for the fire), and was the pivotal event in the rise of the Nazi Party. It is now understood it was a false flag operation perpetrated by the Nazis.
Other examples: “The 1953 Iranian coup d’etat was the consequence of the U.S. and British-orchestrated false flag operation, Operation Ajax.” “… [T]he CIA-sponsored coup d’etat” was used to “depose the democratically elected leader of Iran, Mohammed Mosaddeq.” Oil had something to do with this. In 1962, the U.S. Department of Defense had a plan, Operation Northwoods, to provoke a war with Cuba by attacking U.S. planes and ships with aircraft disguised as Cuban jets. For that matter, the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbor in 1898, which was instrumental in provoking the Spanish-American War, is thought to have occurred from an internal explosion, which raises the question of who did it. In 2003, according to the famous “Bush-Blair memo,” Bush was “floating the idea of painting a U-2 spy plane in UN colors and letting it fly low over Iraq to provoke the then-leader Saddam Hussein to shoot it down, providing a pretext for America and Britain’s subsequent invasion.”
False flag operations are in line with the public charade of law enforcement agencies when they arrest an innocent person for a brutal crime. The public can rest easier “knowing” that justice has prevailed, and the whole system goes through the motions of convicting said person, even though the suspect had an alibi and the killer remains at large.
“Since Hofstadter’s book was published, our access to information has vastly improved, which you would think would have helped minimize such wild speculation.” What wild speculation? “But according to recent scientific research on the matter,” (what scientific research, and by whom?) “… it most likely only serves to make theories more convincing to the public.” Well, damn the public, and let’s put a stop to this increased information, especially if it only makes the public better informed, and being better informed it is more likely to believe conspiracies exist. As an older friend of mine said, he is a conspiracy realist. Who would ever believe a corporate-operated government has been lying to us? That’s crazy.
“What’s even more surprising is that this sort of theorizing isn’t limited to those on the margins.” What a surprise if more and more people in the mainstream have a critical perspective and are questioning the government. And who are on the margins? Is that some no man’s land where opinions don’t matter? “Perfectly sane minds possess an incredible capacity for developing narratives, and even some of the wildest conspiracy theories can be grounded in rational thinking, which makes them that much more pernicious.” Pernicious for whom, the liars? Don’t tell me this critical perspective is grounded in rational thinking. That would suggest that it is fact-based, grounded in the evidence and downright logical, the sort of thing a Sherlock Holmes might appreciate when looking at the clues and solving a crime. If all of this is being done by “sane minds,” then maybe it lends some credibility to their suspicions – particularly when the powers that be (the banks, government, military) have so little credibility. What was the latest poll of the public’s trust in Congress – 10 percent?
What makes the “wildest conspiracy theories” so wild? How is the official story any less hard to believe? Despite the empirical evidence of a high-rise tower collapsing exactly like a controlled demolition, although no plane hit it (Building No. 7), and the fact that no high-rise building has been brought down by a fire, there are those who want to believe Bush and Cheney. They are grounded in a well-insured normality which tells them what to believe. History is full of violent extremes like wars and famines, but those don’t happen here (forget about the Civil War, that was in the past). We are beyond the reach of “wild” events and coup d’etats, which are no more to be accepted as possible realities in our country than flying saucers. This is making a religion of mainstream insulation, and that includes an insulation from the facts. To question this is treated as a heresy. People are offended by the suggestion that something so corrupt could be occurring on their watch, so to speak, and during their lifetime. It is disturbing to mention it, and the mainstream press rarely does. It is a faith-based belief in a national myth. These true believers are in the position of spoiled aristocrats who can’t be bothered with the sordid details. They remind me of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest (by Oscar Wilde), speaking to a young man who had no parents. “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” In other words, it is too extreme for her to consider, much less sympathize with. Such things do not occur in her world.
And yet, “63 percent of registered American voters believe in at least one political conspiracy theory.” Again, what is Koerth-Baker implying, that the majority of American voters are crazy, or in need of psychiatric medication? I wouldn’t be surprised if she is being funded by the pharmaceutical companies which are coming up with more and more mental disorders, even in children, which gives them the rationale to push their drugs on more and more people, including children, to “cure” these so-called mental problems. Now we have another one – the belief that the government is lying to us and we’re living in a phony democracy. There must be a pill for that, or there will be.
“While psychologists can’t know exactly what goes on inside our heads, they have, through surveys and laboratory studies, come up with a set of traits that correlate well with conspiracy belief.” First of all, psychology and science are strange bedfellows, and Freud was known for being unscientific if not dead wrong in some of his theories. Did I say theory? Second, it is insidious to be looking at conspiracy belief as a trait, if not an illness, which can be treated. Koerth-Baker is operating on the false assumption that she is on the side of truth and mental health, while those who question the government are not. Keep in mind the dubious history of psychiatry, which not long ago was diagnosing homosexuals as being mentally ill. For that matter, something else was “long considered a disorder.” “In the 19th and 20th centuries [it] was variously classified as an ‘immigrant psychosis’ … and a ‘mentally regressive compulsive disorder’ among other pathologies.” It was “originally described as a ‘neurological disease of essentially demonic cause’….” (John Tierney, NY Times, 7/9/13). They are talking about nostalgia.
“In 2010, Swami summarized this research in The Psychologist, a scientific journal.” Once again she is leaning on the word ‘scientific.‘ Viren Swami is “a psychology professor who studied conspiracy belief.” “They found, perhaps surprisingly, that believers are more likely to be cynical about the world in general and politics in particular.” Interesting that they are now “believers,” a term usually used in a faith-based religious context, or for those who swallow anything the government says as true believers. I should note that the online version of this article in the New York Times had a huge number of comments, and the majority of those were questioning the premise of the article. The general consensus was that given the countless scandals involving the government and banks, it would be crazy not to question their activities. As someone pointed out, instead of “cynical” she might have said “skeptical,” and what’s wrong with that, all things considered?
Here is a second opinion from Dr. Kevin Barrett, a Ph.D. Arabist-Islamologist:
Psychologist Laurie Manwell of the University of Guelph agrees that the
CIA-designed “conspiracy theory” label impedes cognitive function. She points
out, in an article published in American Behavioral Scientist (2010), that anti-
conspiracy people are unable to think clearly about such apparent state crimes
against democracy as 9/11 due to their inability to process information that
conflicts with pre-existing belief.
… But now, thanks to the internet, people who doubt official stories are no
longer excluded from public conversation; the CIA’s 44-year-old campaign to
stifle debate using the “conspiracy theory” smear is nearly worn-out. In academic
studies, as in comments on news articles, pro-conspiracy voices are now more
numerous – and more rational – than anti-conspiracy ones.
“Conspiracy theories also seem to be more compelling to those with low self-worth, especially with regard to their sense of agency in the world at large. Conspiracy theories appear to be a way of reacting to uncertainty and powerlessness.” This is priceless. It is so vacant and full of holes you could drive a Building No. 7 through it. My first thought, concerning low self-worth, is Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth – thousands of highly-trained professionals who question the government from a far more scientific angle than anything she has come up with. Do they have low self-worth? What about the men in positions of power in the early part of the 20th century who were alarmed at the prospect of a privately-owned central bank coming into existence – and it did, unfortunately, in 1913 (the Federal Reserve). The conspiracy behind it continues to this day. Did they have low self-worth for suspecting the motives behind a privately-owned central bank which would control this country’s money supply? If you have low self-worth you might consider yourself unworthy to criticize or have an opinion on matters of such import and magnitude, which is exactly how the authorities want it. Leave it to the experts, you don’t know what you’re talking about – which they try to ensure by limiting and censoring the work of investigative journalists, a dying profession by anyone’s estimate and why is that?
“Economic recessions, terrorist attacks and natural disasters are massive, looming threats, but we have little power over when they occur or how or what happens afterward.” How did natural disasters get into this, assuming they’re not man-made? Actually, never mind, they are very possibly man-made these days. But why would citizens have so little power over what happens in an economic recession – as if it is an act of god which can’t be prepared for so less people suffer? It reminds me of fundamentalist religious people who refuse to give their sick children medicine.
“In these moments of powerlessness and uncertainty, a part of the brain called the amygdala kicks into action… it jump-starts the rest of the brain into analytical overdrive – prompting repeated reassessments of information in an attempt to create a coherent and understandable narrative, to understand what just happened, what threats still exist and what should be done now.” Well that’s just crazy, why would people want to understand what’s going on around them? That’s something for intelligent citizens, not passive consumers. People have an instinctive biological impulse to make things coherent – maybe an old defense mechanism – like when you’re confronted by hundreds of people running down the street and your brain has to figure it out quickly. Are they running from a madman with a machine gun, in which case you should run in the same direction, or are they in a footrace? Is my essay an example of analytical overdrive? What is the usual gear for analyzing things around us? Do some people leave it in neutral or go no further than first gear? Put it in reverse and believe everything the government tells them?
“This may be a useful way to understand how, writ large, the brain’s capacity for generating new narratives after shocking events can contribute to so much paranoia in this country.” I think one investigates to ease the paranoia. She seems to be saying what can a psychologist do to shut down the tendency of the brain to analyze things around it and form “new narratives.” New in what sense? They don’t follow the official story line? “If you know the truth and others don’t, that’s one way you can reassert feelings of having agency,” Swami says. “It can be comforting to do your own research even if that research is flawed.” Of course it must be flawed if it’s by a mere citizen or network of citizens who are thinking for themselves, compared to the government’s research which is never flawed or compromised – for example on tobacco or global warming or weapons of mass destruction. Actually, it isn’t comforting to do your own research, particularly when what you are coming up with is so disturbing. And how is there a sense of agency if you are shut out by the mainstream media which are parroting the party line?
“Surprisingly, Swami’s work has also turned up a correlation between conspiracy theorizing and strong support of democratic principles.” Sounds downright subversive, we have to find these people and stop them. Are democratic principles a bad thing now? Why would it be surprising if people with a critical perspective have those principles and what’s wrong with it anyhow? “But this isn’t quite so strange if you consider the context.” Who said it was strange? “Kathryn Olmsted, a historian at the University of California, Davis, says that conspiracy theories wouldn’t exist in a world in which real conspiracies don’t exist.” Well, exactly. How did this line get into an article which is trying so hard to discredit conspiracy theories? If the conspiracies do exist, then the whole article falls apart because you don’t need to come up with a patronizing psychological explanation for people who are so strange as to think existing conspiracies do exist. What a concept.
Koerth-Baker even has the nerve to bring up “confirmation bias – the tendency to pay more attention to evidence that supports what you already believe.” As if that doesn’t apply to the status quo. “You can’t just drown it in facts.” So where are the facts coming from with respect to various conspiracies? Not from the government or corporations which are fabricating cover-ups along the lines of the Warren Commission or the 9/11 Commission Report which couldn’t even explain Building No. 7 collapsing late in the afternoon. The facts undermine the government’s fairy tales which are meant to comfort us or keep us in the dark.
Meanwhile, Swami says “the internet and other media have helped perpetuate paranoia.” I think the NSA alone is doing that with its mass surveillance of our private communications – which was lied about and kept secret for years. Is that a conspiracy theory? Does it qualify as shadowy? “Not only does more exposure to these alternative narratives help engender belief in conspiracies…” (which exist) “…but the internet’s tendency towards tribalism helps reinforce misguided beliefs.” Who said they were misguided? Which beliefs are we talking about? She has some nerve to be calling others misguided in an article with so many errors, lies, and empty generalities. You can’t get more misguided than to assume ‘it can’t happen here,’ and that we can believe everything the government tells us. When Cheney had secret meetings with oil executives in the White House before invading Iraq and refused to produce any notes from those meetings, that doesn’t mean that shadowy forces are behind world events. It’s more like shadowy forces are ahead of world events.
The condescension and presumption are a tour de force in an article full of official-sounding clap-trap. This is not the first time I have wondered about the academic or professional credentials of a writer, wondering what happened along the way of their education which would lead to a grammatically correct and serious-sounding effort of counterfeit analysis. What happened in the course of her education which left her so removed from real life?
“… [A]nd that’s a problem…” (misguided beliefs) “… because while believing George W. Bush helped plan the Sept. 11 attacks might make you feel in control, it doesn’t actually make you so.” Is she talking to ten-year olds or what? It doesn’t make sense. For one thing, who believes that Bush helped plan anything? He was a puppet, a “retarded cowboy” as an English comedian said. Thinking that people around him helped plan September 11 (with Cheney in charge of war games which by sheer coincidence occurred on the same day as 9/11 and supposedly were the reason no fighter jets were on hand to intercept the hijacked planes, which is standard procedure, although they also had stand-down orders to not respond to any hijackings over the most heavily watched and guarded airspace in the world) does not make one feel in control at all. In control of what? If factions in your own government are behind a terrorist attack, do you feel more in control? No, you feel more vulnerable and helpless, because not only are these factions not some foreign enemy operating from a distance, they are not even recognized by the mainstream news media as existing. That is hardly a recipe for feeling in control, although she is astute enough to note that “it doesn’t actually make you so.” No it doesn’t. And jumping off a high building doesn’t make you a bird. It is the true believers who feel in control, which is part of the attraction of identifying with a higher power, however vicarious – the ones who believe the official fairy tales, because they are on the side of powerful forces which are themselves in control. One reason that otherwise rational people are reluctant to question the official fairy tales would be that loss of power, however imaginary.
“… [I]f conspiracy theories are a tool the average person uses to reclaim his sense of agency and access to democracy, it’s an ineffective tool. It can even have dangerous health implications.” I think she is trying to discourage us from questioning the government. God forbid that mere consumers should have a sense of agency or access to democracy, however illusory. Shut up and watch TV. I thought democracy is something you do. Questioning the corporate state puts you in touch with thousands of others who are doing the same and sharing the information and writing letters to Congress and putting pressure on the phony politicians.
What would the “dangerous health implications” consist of? Is that when your small plane falls out of the sky for no reason because you were getting in the way of certain neo-cons (RIP Paul Wellstone), or your car blows up because of your investigative journalism (RIP Michael Hastings)? If one suspects the tobacco companies were lying about the lethal side-effects of their product for decades, would that be endangering your health, even while millions “take a puff” and think it is “springtime”? Is it endangering your health if you wonder about Monsanto’s death grip on the government?
She gives an example of blacks who “believe AIDS is a weapon loosed on them by the government” and who therefore “are less likely to practice protected sex.” Is that even true? Something here doesn’t add up. If AIDS was meant for blacks, why was it wiping out mostly white homosexuals for many years, with the black community feeling immune? When it did cross over into the black community and blacks started dying from it, why would they be reckless with a lethal disease – whatever its origins? That’s like saying you believe the government is trying to kill you with solar flares, so you spend hours lying naked in the backyard. The ones who are less likely to practice protected sex are the ones who distance themselves from the facts of cause and prevention, who dream up self-serving superstitions like having sex with virgins will cure their AIDS. Conspiracy realists are looking for the facts. They are starved for facts, especially when the corporate state is denying or diluting the facts. It is not given to transparency or sunshine laws. There are shadowy forces built into the very definition of a corporate state.
From the final paragraph: “Psychologists aren’t sure whether powerlessness causes conspiracy theories or vice versa.” What psychologists, in what study? She is trying to put anyone who questions the status quo in a negative light, with the implication that feeling the power is what you get when believing the government, and being cut off is what you get for doubting the government (or corporate state), however vicarious that sense of power. It is like working class people who vote Republican because they want to identify with winners, even at a distance. It’s like a stadium full of poor people who are watching a handful of rich men in the spotlight. How much power does one need before one no longer questions the corporate state? And does that have anything to do with the notion that “power corrupts?”
“Either way, the current scientific thinking….” Again with that empty cliche – who is she talking about? I could say, with far more evidence, the current scientific thinking suggests that global warming is a man-made disaster (she earlier referred to “conspiracy theories about climate change”), and that explosive residue was found in the WTC site (implying a controlled demolition), and that JFK could not have been killed by a lone gunman (so why did the government lie to us?).
“The current scientific thinking suggests these beliefs are nothing more than an extreme form of cynicism, a turning away from politics and traditional media – which only perpetuates the problem.” Do scientists measure cynicism like something in a test tube or on a microscope slide? For that matter, is it more like skepticism than cynicism? The latter is associated with the assumption that the authorities are corrupt and there is no hope for the common man. Again, she is distorting things. Questioning the corporate state and its propaganda is not a turning away from politics any more than “speaking truth to power” is a turning away from politics. It is confronting the power structure, looking into it with x-ray vision, monitoring Congress and the bills and the revolving door policy with Wall Street. This is hardly a turning away. And what does she mean by “turning away from… traditional media?” What is that? Television is traditional? I suppose it should be trusted at all times, even though the stations are corporate owned and known for their compromised reporting.
Lady Bracknell wants the (nearly) final word:
I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is
like a very delicate exotic fruit. Touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory
of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately, in England at any rate,
education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger
to the upper classes and probably lead to acts of violence….
In East of Eden (by John Steinbeck), there are two brothers, one of whom (Aron) is idealistic and favored by his father. The other (Cal) is neither one of those. When Aron learns the truth about his mother (that she is not in heaven, she is running a brothel in the next town) he loses it. He gets drunk and joins the Army. In the film he is seen on the troop train, laughing madly and smashing the window with his head. I think of this when I wonder what will happen when the truth comes out with respect to 9/11.
Meanwhile, where are the flying saucers referenced in the title? I didn’t see any.