A piece of excised thesis: Charlie Sheen

People like LaRoche, who are prominent and considered to be well-read advocates of conspiracy theories, may not be the appropriate authorities when it comes to the evaluation of whether such theories are warranted. To conspiracy theorists of their ilk, however, the fact these people support particular conspiracy theories is taken to be an important factor as to why you and I should come to believe in such a theory. To use a quote from the “Los Angeles Times” as an illustrative example:

“But when someone with the gravitas of a Charlie Sheen issues a statement, anyone is forced to listen.”

Now, if Charlie Sheen were speaking on matters theatrical, then maybe his gravitas might be a reason to listen to him, but given that Charlie Sheen’s gravitas is being used as a reason for demanding the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, have a meeting to discuss the conspiracy theory that claims 9/11 was an inside job and not an act of terrorism by Al-Qaeda, you might be forgiven for wondering why an actor, unqualified in such matters, would be considered to be an appropriate authority on 9/11. Yet, for some proponents of conspiracy theories, someone like Sheen is such an authority.

[It’s possible Charlie will make it into chapter four, but in chapter one he’s just a dead weight. Like his acting, really.]


Spitfire says:

Please, do not call Charlie Sheen’s acting ‘dead weight’ – his character is pure comedy and that takes skill. He himself is pretty much dead in the water but his acting is not. Which is why he is the highest paid actor in LA (per episode).

However, he has no gravitas and that is the error in your quote from the LA Times. Gravitas! Falling about laughing. As is Charlie!

We’re going to have to disagree about the quality of Sheen’s acting, I fear.

Spitfire says:

I agree we will disagree about his acting abilities. And I agree with you that he has no gravitas as an authority on 9/11.

Just goes to show how celebrity in the US lends gravitas to anything one says, cf Sarah Palin! Charlie when not on set is a charlie!

Agreement is good!

Kumquat says:

This argument is simply an inference based on an ad hominem attack. To the extent that you disqualify Charlie Sheen’s criticism of the 9/11 report, but nonetheless consider yourself qualified in criticising experts in some fields (e.g., “You don’t have to become an expert in a field to assess a theory’s credentials. For example, I’m not a theologian but I do think the various responses to the Argument from Evil that most theologians trot out to explain away the presence of evil in the world are fallacious”), your argument is duplicitous.

If the point you are making is that Charlie Sheen being a celebrity does not give him credibility regarding the 9/11 commission, you are guilty of an argument from ignorance. The fact that Charlie Sheen being a celebrity does not give him credibility regarding the 9/11 commission, does not thereby discredit what he says.

You claim to be providing an epistemology of conspiracy theories. What you most certainly deliver is rhetoric.

It’s not an inference based on an ad hominem attack; all I am saying is that Charlie Sheen’s gravitas (if he has such a quality) comes from his success as an actor and is not relevant to his views on 9/11. Thus you cannot merely say “If Charlie Sheen believes this, so should you.”

Out of curiosity, are you a 9/11 Truther?

Kumquat says:

You seem to have difficulty dealing with ambiguity. The negation of a proposition does not thereby imply its contrary. Yet this is precisely what your argument that “endorsement matters for working out who holds the burden of proof” rests on.

Whether or not I am one of “them” has nothing to do with your specious use of logic.

First of all, you are not arguing against what I have written but rather your mischaracterisation/what you think I’ve written.

Second, I am not making any claim about whether Charlie Sheen knows what happened in re 9/11 (which is what the LA Time quote is in reference to). I am simply saying that his “authority” (suitably finessed) is that of an actor and thus is not sufficient grounds for a legitimate appeal to authority on matters to do with 9/11.

Kumquat says:

1. Insofar as you suggest one need not be an expert to nonetheless be qualified to criticise a theory, this does not thereby disqualify Charlie Sheen’s comments. [Not your argument, I get it].

2. Charlie Sheen being a celebrity does not therefore make him an expert on the 9/11 report.

Insofar as someone cites Charlie Sheen as an authority with respect to 9/11 report, it seems particularly relevant to determine in what capacity he is being cited. Is he being cited as someone with the capacity to criticise a theory, or is he being cited as an expert on the 9/11 report. If one can be qualified to criticise a theory without being an expert, then how does being an expert help determine where the burden of proof lies?

Again, this gets back to my initial observation that credibility and trust are at the heart of the matter. Conspiracy theories it seems are premised on a perceived lack of credibility and/or loss of trust from the official story. Why then would you assume the credibility of the very authorities that are being put into question as a basis for determining where the burden of proof lies? It is easy to see how, based on this circle, you would then go on to make a positive claim regarding the inherent suspiciousness of the suspicions raised in conspiracy theories.

In its most basic form, a conspiracy theory is premised on the negation of the official story as a suitable explanation for a certain set of events, and based on the need to nonetheless explain the set of events, goes on to posit a different (yet to be determined) ground for explanation. Obviously, it is then very easy to pick on individual examples of non-official stories and discredit them. However, to the extent that your argument focuses on the justification of non-official stories in general, you must first provide an argument that establishes why doubting the official story is itself inherently suspicious, from which you might then consider the inherent suspiciousness of inferring some other (yet to be determined) explanation.

It is difficult to see how your argument does not collapse into a form of “inference to the best explanation” where “best” is defined in terms of the established authority.

I think part of the problem here is that we have radically different defintions of what a conspiracy theory is; I define a conspiracy theory as an explanation of an event that cites a conspiracy as a salient cause or feature.

No part of my definition requires that they be in opposition to some official theory; indeed, I take it that the official theory of 9/11, that it was an Al-Quaeda terrorist attack, is a conspiracy theory.

Also, my thesis is an argument against the supposed inherent suspiciousness of conspiracy theories. You are confusing my skepticism of specific conspiracy theories, like the Inside Job Hypothesis, with a skepticism of conspiracy theories in general.

Once again, you are arguing against something that I don’t actually propose.