Saturday, July 08, 2006

9/11 Conspiracy Theories and Academic Freedom


Ann Althouse discusses Kevin Barrett, a lecturer at UW-Madison. In his Intro to Islam course, Barrett apparently seriously discusses the theory that the Bush administration pulled off 9/11 in order to start a forever war in the Middle East. Barrett agrees with this view, but claims that he will discuss it objectively in class.

Coupla quick things:

1. Barrett is pretty clearly an idiot.

2. Althouse and her readers are infuriated. I don't blame them, but some of the comments betray a fairly thin commitment to academic freedom. That principle should, of course, be defended. Which in no way contradicts 1 (above).

3. See, this is one of the things that makes people worried about leftist bias in the academy.

4. Since I haven't complained about postmodernism for a couple of hours...note that this is a fairly common kind of thing in the humanities and social sciences now: folks teaching about things they don't understand in the least. It's fairly clear that Mr. Barrett isn't an engineer. But that doesn't stop people in the postmodern era. If your Ph.D is in Victorian lit, hey, go ahead and hold forth about quantum mechanics. If you got a degree in speech communications (motto: "Ees phoney major!), feel free to pontificate about economics. Since nothing is really true or false, you might as well discuss whatever amuses you.

4'. Welcome to my world. I've encountered people in other departments who assured me that they specialized in (specialized in) metaphysics and epistemology, but who couldn't name a single living philosopher other than Richard Rorty, and who knew less about the subjects than the undergraduates three weeks into one of my courses. Everybody, of course, gets to teach about philosophy...even people who know absolutely nothing about it whatsoever.

5. The folks on Althouse's site are fairly clearly right-of-center. I'd like to ask them whether they're as upset about the prospect of creationism being taught in biology classes. We actually have more evidence that evolution is true than we have that the airliner impact was the cause of the collapse of the WTC. As far as scientific travesties go, creationism is worse than Barrett's 9/11 fantasies.

6. Incidentally, I know virtually nothing about the collapse of the WTC. I don't take the conspiracy theories at all seriously, but I'm just deferring to the conventional wisdom here...I don't know the first thing about engineering.

7. But that business about the Bush administration doing it has got to be one of the single stupidest things I've ever heard.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can be plenty pissed of at idiots like Barrett, even as a liberal non-philosopher non-engineer. He's like Jeremy Rifkin--there are problems with the Bush administration, just as there are problems with some genetic engineering. But these idiots raise the noise level so high that it's much harder to hear the substantive criticisms.

That said, it would be no skin off my nose for Barrett to be fired. I don't think academic freedom needs to cover utter crackpots, and I don't think it's a particularly slippery slope, either.

12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the 9/11 conspiracy theories of extra aircraft and imploding buildings are baroque and excessive to the point of reeking of disinformation.

However, there is much to suggest that the Bush regime may have colluded with bin Laden to permit a spectacular attack when it might have been easily prevented or at least blunted.

The amount of incompetence we must assume in the Bush regime beggars Occam's razor when we consider the many warnings beforehand, an intelligent analysis of the tactical aspects of a domestic hijacking, changes in air-intercept procedures before 9/11, recent revelations of surveillance programs which preceded the event by seven months, and the incredibly lax pursuit of bin Laden by Bush. These two men share family ties and an odd, evil symbiosis; bin Laden serves Bush as a bogeyman to excuse endless power grabs; CIA analysts concluded that bin Laden's October 2004 tape was meant to help re-elect Bush and continue the clumsy War on Terror which revitalized al Qaeda. As points out, it would be so very easy for Qaeda suicidists to drive gasoline trucks into shopping malls here in the States, yet this has not happened: perhaps there's a secret agreement (no more attacks over here, and we don't really try to catch you).

My suspicion: the Bushists allowed 9/11 to succeed because it was the 'Pearl Harbor' the neocons had sought. The plot was very fragile; if the FBI agents had been heeded, the suspicious 'flight students' could have been rolled up; if earlier intercept rules had been left in place (google Payne Stewart's plane crash) fighters could have caught up; and most obviously, changing the instructions to airline crews would have made it impossible for hijackers to control a plane long enough to hit a building, since the plot required the passengers' and crews' ignorance and compliance. A kakikaze attack was the only logical reason for a domestic hijack by 2001, since SWAT teams could easily handle an old-fashioned ransom hijacking as soon as the aircraft landed anywhere! Anybody getting paid to deal with such scenarios must have realized this, yet nobody bothered to tell the public. Another hijack won't happen because the passengers will never cooperate. It's still possible to destroy the plane, but not to use it as a a missile, because the ignorance of this tactic is gone; but it could and should have been eliminated before.
Bartcop also tells us to be wary when someone makes a 'mistake' that gives them more power or money.

For those who might respond by saying such a conspiracy is utterly unthinkable, I would reply: argumentum ad misericordiam! Just because the consequences are horrifying doesn't hean a thing is impossible. Every now and then the conspiracy is real; every now and then the noises in the next apartment really are a murder in progress; every now and then someone unluckily buys a ticket on the flight that's about to get jacked.

12:55 AM  
Anonymous lovable liberal said...

Anonymous 2's "argument" seems to reduce to (1) this or that is possible, and (2) a conspiracy wraps up every fact into one compelling story.

Like the Pearl Harbor/FDR ravings before it, there's no evidence here.

The incompetence of large organizations is hard to overestimate - especially one run by these Mayberry Machiavellis. And the consequences of getting caught are so dire that a vast conspiracy is too dangerous a means to play geopolitical chess on this scale.

7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A conspiracy theory also, I might note, presupposes that anyone in the Bush administration is either smart or organized enough to pull off a massive, perfectly coordinated scheme and then manage to cover all the evidence. If they could in reality manage this, then they would have been able to do any number of other things that they have stated the intent to do and then completely fucked up or failed at.

The 9-11 conspiracy theory gives the Bush administration entirely too much credit for qualities they clearly lack. That is why I don't buy it. - Anonymous3

12:06 PM  

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