One theme that I have kept in this blog is that not all bad ideas are religious (and not all religious ideas are equally bad). If we focus too much on religious bad ideas, we give other bad ideas a pass that they do not deserve.
One bad idea that is getting a pass that it does not deserve is the conspiracy theory that the Bush Administration planned and executed the 9-11 attacks. It is quite reasonable for somebody to offer this as a hypothesis that best explains the observed data. It is quite another for people to become so infatuated with the idea that they would take up heckling on a live television show.
As a hypothesis explaining the events of 9-11, the conspiracy theory fails. It requires an explanation that is so elaborate and complex that it needs to be thrown out in favor of a simpler theory – 19 Jihadists hijacked 4 airplanes, flew 2 into the World Trade Center buildings, 1 into the Pentagon, and crashed 1 into a field in Pennsylvania.
One of the pieces of evidence is that Building 7 at the World Trade Center also collapsed. Conspiracy theorists would have us believe that this was due to a controlled explosion.
Okay, I can just imagine this going on at the planning session.
Planning Officer: Then, we rig Building 7 over here with controlled explosions so that it will collapse apparently on its own without any real cause several hours after the original attack.
Andy (one of the planners): Why?
PO: To make the attack even more dramatic!
Andy: Having the two World Trade Center towers collapse is not dramatic enough?
PO: No! No! Not at all. This will be better, you see.
Andy: But, we’re already allegedly rigging the two towers to collapse using controlled explosions. The idea is to bring them straight down. Then, all of the sudden, another building, with might not even get damaged in the original attack, is supposed to collapse. Don’t you think that this might look a bit suspicious?
P.O.: Okay, obviously we have to rig the Towers to do damage to Building 7, so that we can at least have something that we can blame the collapse on. Good job, Andy. I’ll tell the demolition team now.
Andy: But, sir, why go to all this work, adding layers of complexity and significantly increasing the chance of discovery? Why not just crash the airplanes into the buildings and let the concrete fall where it may.
PO: Because that is not how we do things around here. Even though the possibility of a leak or of people discovering our plans would be catastrophic, what we really need to do is to make this as complex as possible, involve more and more people, all of which must be sworn into secrecy.
Then there is the idea that the government (1) Hijacked an airplane, (2) Took it somewhere where it would not be found, (3) Destroyed it, and (4) Launched a missile at the Pentagon.
PO: Yes, Andy?
Andy: Look. We have an airplane. We need to get rid of it anyway. Why go to all of the extra effort of moving it somewhere, making sure we can hide where it went, destroy it without any trace, kill all of the passengers, and fire a missile at the Pentagon. Why not just crash the airplane into the Pentagon, when we don’t have to worry about destroying it.
PO: Because we have to use a missle.
PO: Because that’s the way we do things! Listen, Andy, do you want to be a part of this project or not? You can be replaced. Quit questioning things!
If it was an inside job, the planners would have wanted it to look just like it was an outside job. The simplest way to simulate a bunch of terrorists hijacking 4 airplanes and crashing them into 4 buildings is to take 19 people all willing to die for the greater glory of the Republican Party, hijack 4 airplanes, and crash them into 4 buildings. Adding even one complexity would have been insanely stupid. Adding the layers and layers of complexity and involving all of the people that the conspiracy theory needs carries insane stupidity to new heights.
When Hitler wanted something to increase his power by simulating a terrorist attack, he knew the virtue of keeping things simple and keeping the number of people who knew about it to a minimum. He aimed for the simple arson of the German parliament building. When he wanted an excuse to start World War II, he took some prisoners out near a radio station, shot them, broadcast a simple message, and launched the invasion of Poland. Neither plan required the help of more than a half dozen people, none of whom had to die in the process.
That is how you simulate an attack against the country.
Having said this, I have no doubt that the Bush Administration wanted a reason to start a war in the Middle East preferably through the invasion of Iraq. Feeding this desire into the principle that people always act so as to fulfill the more and stronger of their desires, given their beliefs, it follows that this desire would have affected their decisions. However, the most likely affect would have been a virtually subconscious decision to lower the priority of defending the United States from a terrorist attack. Because they did not really want to fight terrorism, when they had to set priorities for the day, ‘fighting terrorism’ simply slipped a couple of notches on the priority index. This increased the terrorist’s chance of success.
This doesn’t require a conspiracy theory. This does not even require making a plan.
What it requires is a group of people who have a lot of work to do who need to prioritize their daily tasks. In doing so, they look at their pile of work and move to the top of the list those that ‘feel’ like they are the most important. Fighting terrorism simply does not ‘feel’ that important, particularly when compared to rewarding those who invested in the campaign with tax cuts and banning abortion and homosexual marriage. If asked, these agents would probably say that terrorism does not feel important because they do not see it as much of a threat. In practice, it doesn’t feel important because the agent is acting so as to fulfill a desire to invade Iraq.
I am not saying that this agent is lying. I am saying that this agent is basing his conclusions on what to believe on his feelings, and he is giving his feelings the interpretation that is best for his ego. He does not want to see himself as somebody who would allow the deaths of thousands of people in order to find an excuse to invade Iraq, so he denies – to himself as much as to others, that his desire for such a war is what motivates him to set aside the ‘fight terrorism’ project.
I am not even saying that they did not have good intentions. They wanted a war in the Middle East so that the could sew a crop of democracy that would spread through the area like a weed and make the whole region safe for people in their oil-industry friends. I am only saying that desires affect the ‘level of urgency’ that one feels over certain external threats, and the neo-con desires made the prospect of a terrorist attack on American soil unworthy of serious consideration. Not without hard evidence.
The real problem here is not that there are people who believe this nonsense. The real fault is that the personality traits that allow people to adopt these foolish ideas allow them to adopt other foolish ideas. The fault is a culture that does not teach people how to reason and, in neglecting this skill, must continually endure the waste of people acting on foolish ideas.
We could be a better country if the people who are wasting their time, effort, and talent on conspiracy theories would instead invest them on things that actually made sense.