I have a couple of things to say about David Ray Griffin’s work this afternoon. Then I have to get outside.
First, you should see how Griffin takes apart Cass Sunstein’s work on consipiracy theories in Cognitive Infiltration. Sunstein and Verveule’s paper, titled Conspiracy Theories, looks impressive when you first pick it up. It’s dressed up in academic language. It has the academy’s accouterments, too: abstract, footnotes, bibliography. It’s also shot through with academic hubris.
The article aims to discuss how we should respond to conspiracy theories. Because false conspiracy theories have pernicious effects, Sunstein says we can’t let them stand unchallenged. For instance, government should undermine accounts of 9/11 that suggest it was a false flag operation. We can’t let people believe in false theories that make the government look so bad, Sunstein suggests. Sunstein wrote the paper not long before President Obama hired Sunstein to help him make the government look good.
Now the interesting thing about this paper, eventually published in the Journal of Political Philosophy, is that Sunstein has nothing to say about how we tell whether or not a conspiracy theory is false. First, he acknowledges that some conspiracy theories are true. The government’s account of 9/11 is a conspiracy theory. Sunstein clearly believes it to be true. He believes other accounts of 9/11 – accounts that challenge the government’s conspiracy theory – to be false. He compares the other accounts to parents’ conspiracy theory about Santa Claus. The problems with this comparison are so numerous I won’t detail them here. For now, I’ll ask you to check out Griffin’s critique of Sunstein at Amazon, and hope we can return to the subject later.
Here are some links relevant to Cognitive Infiltration:
- Obama confidant’s spine-chilling proposal, by Glenn Greenwald in Salon.
- Cognitive Infiltration at News from Underground, with comments.
- Cognitive Infiltration at Amazon, with comments.
- Conspiracy Theories, by Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule, downloadable PDF at Social Science Research Network.
The second thing I want to say about Griffin has to do with speculation that the 9/11 phone calls from the hijacked airliners were faked. I ran across some good discussion of this speculation online. Griffin indicates that the possibility of faked phone calls is just as high as the possibility of authentic ones. I agree with Griffin’s critics, that expressing a belief in faked phone calls is problematic, but I’m not sure Griffin actually believes they were faked. At many points in his books, it appears he does.
This issue bears more analysis, too, but not today!
New entries for the American Political Dictionary:
Washington weasels – government officials who never see a question they don’t want to evade.
Reporters – people who ask weasely questions.