Your mother told you not to make fun of people, but sometimes they just ask for it. Cass Sunstein wants you to make fun of him. Co-author of Conspiracy Theories, a scholarly article on conspiracy theories in general and 9/11 conspiracy theories in particular, he holds himself out as a non-crippled epistemologist. Let’s see, what would you expect a non-crippled epistemologist to know?
David Ray Griffin exists.
Griffin is the dean of 9/11 skeptics, or conspiracy theorists.
Griffin is not an epistemological cripple.
Given the nature of academic controversies – Sunstein teaches law and Griffin taught theology – we would also expect Sunstein to know:
Griffin would see Sunstein’s attack on 9/11 skeptics in Conspiracy Theories.
Griffin would read Sunstein’s attack on 9/11 skeptics, carefully.
Griffin would respond to Sunstein’s attack on 9/11 skeptics, vigorously.
Now Sunstein has three options:
Defend himself against Griffin’s response.
Ignore Griffin’s response.
Concede the argument to Griffin.
What do you suppose Sunstein did? He ignored Griffin’s response!
Suppose you went up to Muhammad Ali during the 1960s and said to him in public, “You don’t know how to box. You’re a pugilistic cripple.” Ali might appreciate the choice of words, but I don’t think he would invite you into the ring with him. Given Ali’s mouth at press conferences, you might expect him to say something entertaining about you to the reporters. The Greatest might have something to say. You would not come out looking good.
In Cognitive Infiltration, Griffin just takes Sunstein’s argument apart, piece by piece, with grace and forbearance, but ultimately without mercy.
That’s a little like what Sunstein did to Griffin. He publicly ridiculed Griffin’s crippled epistemology. In a long career as a theologian and philosopher, Griffin established himself as perhaps the foremost epistemologist of the last fifty years. Now why would Sunstein do something like that?
I can say Griffin’s response is a lot more polite, but nearly as humorous as Ali’s might have been. In Cognitive Infiltration, he just takes Sunstein’s argument apart, piece by piece, with grace and forbearance, but ultimately without mercy. Honestly, why you would want to take on someone with Griffin’s intellect, unprepared and on Griffin’s home ground, I cannot say. It reveals either a masochistic or an ignorant streak a couple of miles wide.
Which makes me have to ask: did Sunstein know Griffin exists when he wrote Conspiracy Theories? Did he not know who he was?
I believe Sunstein and other public information gatekeepers see themselves acting in service to their country, to protect the republic from actual threats and pernicious influence of conspiracy crackpots.
I had these thoughts in response to a discussion with a friend about government lying, and about government’s allies in the media who help to propagate government’s big lies. I don’t think people like Sunstein see themselves as lying when they support official accounts of crimes like 9/11. They also don’t see themselves as wing nuts, though Sunstein’s description of wing nuts’ reasoning applies to his own case against conspiracy theorists:
Motivated reasoning helps to account for two defining characteristics of wing nuts and their fellow travelers: a readiness to attack people’s good faith, rather than their actual arguments, and an eagerness to make the worst, rather than the best, of opposing positions.
Like the hacks, I mean journalists at NBC who tried to discredit New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison in the 1960s, I believe Sunstein and other public information gatekeepers see themselves acting in service to their country, to protect the republic from actual threats and pernicious influence of conspiracy crackpots. If you focus on such dangers, you don’t reflect for long about whether crackpots may be right.
That’s why I say our media collaborate with government to propagate, maintain, and then overlook fictional accounts of political crimes. They publish government’s official stories, then attack people who express skepticism as nuts. An independent press would vigorously go after the truth, which means they would go to hear what skeptics have to say. Like I. F. Stone, they would be troublemakers. Yet it only takes a few deaths to impress people they ought to stay away from that kind of provocation. Dorothy Kilgallen and Mary Pinchot Meyer are examples of courageous people who died premature deaths in the Kennedy case because they threatened to provoke. Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone and his entire family may be examples for 9/11.
As citizens, we simply need to bring our best judgment to everything we read.
These deaths are unsolved, but that’s the point. It doesn’t take much to intimidate people. Nixon was a hard man to intimidate, but I’m telling you, he would not go near the Kennedy assassination ten years after, even though he knew the CIA and FBI had the capacity to bring him down. If he had decided to go to war with these agencies, he could have opened the conflict by bringing to light their role in Kennedy’s assassination, but he would not do it. He chose resignation instead.
Nearly forty-three years after Nixon’s resignation, the media have many reasons to be compliant. They do not see what they do as lying, nor do they see their behavior as self-serving. In fact, in the theater of press conferences and presidential debates, they pretend their relationship with government is adversarial! Reason and The Intercept contain articles that do not pretend anything. As citizens, we simply need to bring our best judgment to everything we read.
Cognitive Infiltration, by David Ray Griffin
Infamy: Political Crimes and Their Consequences, by Steven Greffenius
Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas, by Cass Sunstein
How to Humble a Wing Nut, by Cass Sunstein
A sports columnist recalled the story of a flight attendant who asked Muhammad Ali to fasten his seat belt. Ali replied, “Superman don’t need no seat belt.” The flight attendant’s retort: “Superman don’t need no airplane either.”
“If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” ~ Abraham Lincoln
“He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know.” ~ Abraham Lincoln