Noam Chomsky speaks [MP3] at the LSE. It’s a good talk. A third of his points had me murmuring agreement. A third had me pondering whether he might be onto something. And a third had me shouting at the car stereo. Things like: “Yeah mate, nice ad hominem, that really proves your point!”, and “Ok so let’s surrender the right to intervene to the Security Council, because they’ve done such a fine job in the past, haven’t they!”
The best bit of the whole talk comes in question time though. A hasty transcript (it’s not word perfect!):
Question from audience: “Hello my name is John Unica from We Are Change Media. A recent scientific paper published in the peer reviewed Open Chemical Physics journal proves the presence of nano-thermite in dust samples taken from 9-11 Ground Zero. This coupled with the opinions of nearly a thousand scientists and engineers that support the controlled demolition hypothesis are inconsistent with the official explanations given by the 9-11 Commission, and the subsequent misreports. When these explanations have been disproved by peer reviewed science and the opinions of so many experts how can you maintain your stance that the findings of the 9-11 Commission are correct.”
Chomsky: “Well, what you are referring to is a statement by about a thousand people, most of them basically unknown, who make certain claims about technical facts in which I’m not position to evaluate…and the obvious thing for them to do is present their findings to the people who can make evaluations. So, instead of sending 10,000 letters to me, they should send them to the civil engineering department at MIT or other places, or they should they should publish the articles in acessible scientific journals just like other people do. So, for example, supporters of intelligent design biologists (and there are a few), they publish their articles in standard scientific journals so that they can be discussed and outsiders like me…can make an evaluation of what these claims amount to based on the subsequent debate. And that hasn’t happened.
“You could say, and thousands of letters tell me, that I should learn enough so that I could make the judgment myself. Well I know enough about science to know that you can’t learn enough in a couple of hours on the internet. If you want to understand these things you’re going to have to do what, there’s a reason why say MIT has graduate courses in civil and mechanical engineering, and physics and maths, you just can’t pick it up by roaming around the internet. And so the question is should I take off the time, years in fact, to learn the technical background and study the structural characteristics of the buildings so that I can make some evaluation of, you know, nano-thermite or whatever it is. And there’s a good reason not to do that, because these people you’re referring to, though they don’t seem to understand it, are in fact working very hard to absolve George Bush and to implicate Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Ladin. And the reason is extremely simple: I mean everyone agrees, this is uncontroversial, that the destruction of the WTC was attributed to Saudis. Now suppose the Bush administration had done this, they would have attributed to Iraqi. I mean they’re trying very hard to find an excuse to invade Iraq, and if they’d attributed it to Iraqis it would have been a walk away. They’d immediately get total popular support, a UN resolution, a Nato resolution, and then they could go to attack. When they attributed it to Saudis, first of all they alienated their post powerful ally in the region, and second they forced themselves to jump through hoops to try to concoct some sort of pretext for invading Iraq: connections between Al Quaeda and Saddam, weapons of mass destruction, the whole business which collapsed exposing them to ridicule. And they also diverted their efforts to a side show: invading Afghanistan – for which there was very little purpose – and getting themselves caught up in that and delaying the invasion of Iraq, which is what they wanted in the first place. So they couldn’t have done it short of lunacy…
“But who does it point to, who would have gained, by attributing the destruction to Saudis? Well I can think of only two people: one is Saddam Hussein, who wanted to divert a US attack on Iraq, the other is Osama Bin Laden, whose worst enemies are the Saudis, to try to get the US to hate Saudis, it would be wonderful. At least I can’t think who else would benefit. So it seems to me that all these efforts are essentially directed to absolving the Bush administration and blaming Saddam Hussein and OBL and I just don’t see any point taking of years to study to try and prove this.”
9-11 ‘Truthers’ are vexing, depressing even, but one thing they’re not is frightening. Which is more than can be said about the other group of conspiracy theorists who sprung up in the wake of September 11th: the Neo-Conners. The people who concocted an elaborate conspiracy in which Iraq was flush with WMDs, Saddam in cahoots with Osama Bin Laden, and a small fucked up oil state a major threat to sole world super power.
Whatever else you might say about 9-11 Truthers, they’re nothing more than a bunch of slightly sad true believers jumping up and down on the fringes of our political discourse. The Neo-Cons on the other hand: they happened to be running the US at the time. Now that was frightening.
The other bunch of conspiracy theorists who scare me are the Climate Change Conspiratoids. In this case a bunch of men (and a few women) who argue that anthropogenic climate change isn’t happening. Like the Truthers, their arguments are either specious or hinge on factoids and facts out of content. And they’re slavish in their aversion to information at odds to the narrative they believe in. Just like the Truthers they see an active conspiracy to keep knowledge from the public: this one involving Al Gore, the UN and almost all the World’s climate scientists.
Unlike the Truther’s the Climate Conspiratoids get listened to. They’re funded by wealthy think tanks. And the media affords them a heap of air time. And they’re contributing to humanity’s delay in tackling the greatest challenge it has ever faced.
International Development has it’s own conspiracy theory in the form of John Perkin’s Confession’s of an Economic Hit Man. In Perkins’ telling the West lent money to developing countries in the 1960s, 70s and 80s because it knew that by owning their debt it would own them. Not just their allegiance in the Cold War (which is a reasonable argument) but literally own them, once they defaulted on their debts. On default the West would stride in, enforce neo-liberalism, and take ownership of their industries. It’s an exciting story. But alas Perkins doesn’t provide any evidence (other than a, gasp, sex scene) to back it up. And in the absence of evidence it’s hard to see why we should believe Perkins’ theory (which involves the World Bank et al successfully predicting the Volker Disinflation and debt crisis years in advance) over the alternate hypothesis, which sees all that lending (and eventual neo-liberalism) as products of previaling economic beliefs in their time, plus some readily transparent cold war bad faith of the “sure he’ll squander the money, but he’s our dictator” type.
Oh well. At least Perkins isn’t frightening.