September the Eleventh

I’m hesitant to write anything about September the Eleventh. For one thing, despite being not being that way inclined, part of me worries that saying anything about September the Eleventh will cause something to happen (true story; one of my best friends has his birthday on the 11th and he complained one year that nothing ever happens for his birthday. The next day it did happen.) and I don’t really want to get involved with rumour mongering.Yes, for the student of the Conspiracy Theory today is as important as that day in November back in 1963.Bomber Bradbury, Auckland ‘personality’ and former Craccum editor, has posted a list of 101 ‘issues’ surrounding the Official View of 9/11. It’s a fairly dire trotting out of easily solvable riddles; all the standards are there and its a fairly good poster for why people think Conspiracy Theories are deserving of ridicule. Michael Shermer’s latest e-Skeptic has a little article (by Phil Mole) in it that debunks some of the material and most of the rest of the salient debunking can be found online. I’ve yet to see a convincing case for the American Government wanting to destroy the Two Towers and kill their own civilians (I’m sure a case can be made, but, as I said, I’ve yet to see a convincing one be presented). David P. Farrar, a prolific blogger, posted his own comment on the Bomber piece citing something like a law of large numbers for Conspiracy Theory plausibility; I quote:

If 1 – 2 people then a conspiracy is probable if there is evidence of oneIf 3 – 5 people then a conspiracy is possibleIf 5 – 10 people then a conspiracy is highly unlikelyIf over 10 people then no chance at all of a conspiracy workingIf over 100 people, then you think the moon is made of cheese and the landings were faked

It’s a nice schema but utterly useless; a number of historically verified Conspiracies had cabals numbered well over the 10 person mark; the Trotsky Trials, the assassination of Julius Caesar and the planning and initial execution of the Holocaust to name just three. Cabal size isn’t all that important, really, in respect to whether a Conspiracy Theory is plausible; sure, at certain large sizes the thing will get unwieldy but it’s still possible (let me stress that we are talking mere possibility here), especially in a hierarchical society like our own, to keep enough control over the flow of information.There’s an important distinction here between the logical and material tasks of arguments (which, for the sake of this entry I will claim explanations are an example of). Conspiracy Theories are explanations and (mostly) they have the right kind of logical structure in that they link an event with a reason for that event having come about. As long as the explanation is logically good then the actual cabal size isn’t really a mark for or against the explanation’s plausibility; that worry comes in with the material task of ascertaining whether the premises of the argument are plausible. A good logical structure couple with implausible premises makes for an implausible argument; Conspiracy Theories usually end up being bad because we can question the plausibility of the premises. And (never start a sentence with ‘and’) it may turn out that the argument becomes implausible because one of the premises mentions a cabal size we think unlikely.In other news; Oliver Stone’s new film, ‘World Trade Center’ was hoped by some to advance a Conspiracy Theory view of 911 (like his ‘JFK’ had done). Apparently it doesn’t but that hasn’t stopped people from claiming that it does. At least, that’s the word on the street. It might be a Conspiracy Theory but it’s one I’m more than willing to buy in to.Well, for today at least.


horansome says:

Good friend Josh, creator of ‘Brainstab’ has more to say on 911 here.

David Farrar says:

You miss my point. Sure you can have greater numbers to plan a conspiracy, but not to keep it secret afterwards.

The comparison would be if the Ceasar “Liberators” had tried to deny Caesar was killed in the Senate House, took his body down to an alleyway and then claimed Caesar was killed by a mugger.

horansome says:

I don’t really miss your point so much as you probably didn’t explicate it very well in the first place. You say:

Here’s how I approach all conspiracy theories – how many people would have to be involved and keep it a secret.

Note that you’re talking here about keeping it a secret and not keeping quiet about it afterwards.

Now, admittedly, ‘keep it a secret’ is a fairly vague success term; it might refer simply to keeping the plot and its execution secret but not the effect (ala the assassination of Caesar) or it might mean that the plot must remain secret for some time (there’s a big question here as to how long that timeframe has to be). For the assassination of Caesar the conspirators revealed their hand (or were revealed, depending on which historical source you read) just after the fact. For the Trotsky Trials and the planning and execution of the Holocaust; well, no immediate reveals.

Which is kind of the point. For the assassination of Caesar the important part of the Conspiracy was to hide the fact they were planning to kill the Dictator. For the Holocaust the planning and execution wasn’t just important; the effects had to be hidden away as well (the same is true for the Trotsky Trials). The ‘keeping it a secret’ part of any Conspiracy depends on the intended ends; there was a Conspiracy by Al Qaeda to destroy the Twin Towers but there wasn’t a Conspiracy by Al Qaeda to keep quiet about it.