To Reflections on
Reflections on conspiracy, part two
I swear, if any of us unpersons rattling around down here in the memory hole had any money, people would think we were bribing Establishment scribes to come up with some of the stuff they write.
Knight Ridder's Steve Goldstein is the latest paladin of Official Truth to back a truck up to my loading dock and dump five tons of grist for my personal mill, free gratis. The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, Knight Ridder's local outlet, headlined his piece in its edition for September 11: "U.S. government was behind 9/11 attacks in minds of deniers." (p. 6A)
Yes "deniers." Thanks to good work by the copy hackers on the newsdesk, News-Sentinel readers didn't even have to go beyond the headline in order to understand that Minitrue, or at least one representative of it, had broken vast new ground. Goldstein himself gets down to it in his fourth 'graf:
In the historical evolution of nonbelievers and conspiracists, the 9/11 deniers are the spiritual brethren of those who say the Holocaust never happened, who doubt that millions were killed under Stalin's repression, who insist that man landed only on a mock lunar stage. The deniers dwell on history's grassy knoll.
"Nonbelievers"! Come, come, Mr. Goldstein, you're making it too easy. You're letting me get away with merely quoting instead of analyzing.
Nevertheless I'll bestir myself to pull at a couple of threads. The first dangling fiber I see is the changing line on "denial." Minitrue's established line has been that the Jewish Holocaust was unique and incomparable, a historical singularity (sort of like the Incarnation, back during the Christian Era) protected from ordinary analysis, whether forensic, documentary, psychological, political, cultural, or commonsensical. As Henry Gallagher Fields notes, it has attained the status of a religious dogma. In The Holocaust in American Life, Peter Novick puts it this way:
In what might be called American "folk Judaism" less bound by tradition and less scrupulous about theological consistency a de facto sacralization of the Holocaust has taken place.... Even many observant Jews are often willing to discuss the founding myths of Judaism naturalistically subject them to rational, scholarly analysis. But they're unwilling to adopt this mode of thought when it comes to the "inexplicable mystery" of the Holocaust, where rational analysis is seen as inappropriate or sacrilegious. (Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1999, p. 200)
You may have spotted that excerpt elsewhere on the TLD site. Unlike Mr. Fields and me, Novick does not seem to have been unpersoned for what he wrote, but that may be only a matter of time. Just to be on the safe side, he'd better stay out of Europe and Canada. They jail writers like him there.
Now, people who reject a dogma and, you know, when it comes to dogmas you pretty much have to swallow them whole or not at all are indeed "nonbelievers" in the sense that Goldstein uses the word; that is to say, they are heretics, or in modern secular terms, deniers.
The thread I'm pulling at is this. The folks at Minitrue (insofar as Goldstein really is pioneering new territory for them) now seem to want to have it both ways. The Jewish Holocaust is unique, but on the other hand it's not so unique that it can't inspire other, newer historical dogmas that no respectable man may deny: such as the Official Truth of 9/11. Perhaps the rule is: Don't worry about violating the law of non-contradiction if doing so makes it easier to defame dissent and dissenters ad libitum.
On the other hand (we at TLD always want to be fair), maybe there really is no contradiction. Maybe the Holocaust and 9/11 had something uniquely in common, in contrast to other mass-murderous historical events on which disagreement is tolerated. But what could that possibly be? I'd like to assure the Thought Police, right here, right now, that I'm stumped.
The business about Stalin and the grassy knoll is mostly just smoke and dust. Questioning what happened with Stalin and the grassy knoll may or may not be nuts, but the folks at Minitrue and Miniluv seem to be able to digest those kinds of nuts a lot more easily, and without all the loud cracking and shelling. Which is to say, no one goes to jail or loses his job for "denying" that Stalin murdered millions. Quite the opposite: in the 1930s Walter Duranty of the New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for it.
Since when has "denial" of the Christian Holocaust perpetrated by the Communists been an issue with anyone respectable? Before Goldstein published, when was the last time anyone at Knight Ridder had denounced such "deniers"? When was the last time any Establishment organ sought to drive a writer or an academic to his knees, gibbering in fear for his career and slobbering for forgiveness, after he had opined that Stalin murdered not 20 million but only 2 million?
In fact, since Minitrue devotes about a hundred times as much attention to the Nazis and their crimes as it does to the Communists and their crimes, it's hard to believe that the Christian Holocaust is so much as a blip on most Americans' radar screen.
As for the grassy knoll, you can still get ridiculed in some quarters for retailing a conspiracy theory about the Kennedy assassination but you can get ridiculed almost as easily for proposing that every jot and tittle of the Warren Report must be believed. You know, like a ... how you say? ... dogma?
But Goldstein's inclusion of the Moon Deniers is more than smoke and dust. It's a technique of defamation that's central to what he's up to. You may want to think of it as lunacy by association. Goldstein's clever packaging is designed to convince the unwary shopper for truth that all who question any important aspect of the "Muslim Dr. No" conspiracy theory are in the same lunatic class as those who believe that the Moon landings were a fraud. (Actually, the government space program was pretty much a big fraud, but you know what I mean.) This is the second dangling Goldsteinist thread I need to yank, and, really, it's not so much a thread as a straw: as in straw man.
Actual flesh-and-blood revisionists, as opposed to straw men, are quite a mixed lot. No doubt, some who would appropriate the noble title of revisionist are prepared to tell us that Venusians disintegrated the WTC using telepathic rays. But sober revisionists such as TLD's own Stephen J. Sniegoski assemble evidence, raise questions, and pursue arguments. Often they disagree, not just with their mainstream critics, but amongst themselves. The very idea!
"In June," Goldstein writes, "the [9/11] deniers held their Woodstock of sorts, as about 200 people with varying degrees of disbelief about 9/11 met in Washington under the banner of the Barnes Review, a publication founded by a well-known extremist and Holocaust denier named Willis Carto." Goldstein indicates that there was no party line even among these "deniers," just a salad of mutually exclusive fantasies, ranging from "controlled demolitions" to a "disintegration ray."
The fact that some of the same people who question established accounts of the Jewish Holocaust also question established accounts of 9/11 makes it much easier to extend the mystical penumbra of the older Official Truth to envelop the newer one. Much easier, but no more logical.
Following the Oklahoma City blast, as you may recall, certain conspiratorialists produced the theory that "There was no truck." However tenable it may have been for a time, or may still be, Minitrue seized on it as a definitive Crazed Raving and used it to smear all OKC revisionists. Imagine the hunger with which they now fall on the theory that "There were no planes"! Sure enough, that's the first school of 9/11 revisionism Goldstein tells us about, in his lead: "Forget what you think you know. After all, has anyone proved beyond doubt that an aircraft plowed into the Pentagon?"
Deeper in his article, Goldstein introduces us to "French author Thierry Meyssan," whom Goldstein numbers "among the leading 9/11 deniers." Meyssan, according to Goldstein, believes that the Pentagon was damaged not by a civilian airliner at all but rather by "a guided missile or a truck bomb." And that the attack was carried out by "far right-wing conspirators in the U.S. government." (Digression: some people might achieve a real conceptual breakthrough if only they could envision such a thing as moderate mainstream conspirators, at once banal and mass-murderous.)
Then there is "libertarian author Peter Meyer," who, again according to Goldstein, believes
the twin towers collapsed as a result of a controlled demolition by well-placed explosives. Meyer rejects the notion that the hijackers were skilled enough, the pilots defenseless enough, the Air Force slow enough to allow the suicide jetliners to crash.
Zounds! That last bit really is equivalent, isn't it, to believing that the Mojave Desert stood in for the Sea of Tranquillity on a moonless night in '69. It's nuts, just nuts! Unskilled hijackers? Muscular pilots? A fast and efficient fighter force? Could never happen in a million years!
Goldstein takes a swipe, too, at the theory that the September 11 planes were under remote control, but nowhere does he reveal to his readers that a chief proponent, or at least presenter, of that theory is a world-famous science writer respected (hitherto) by established "skeptics": namely, Prof. A.K. Dewdney, author of "Ghost riders in the sky." I suppose that when a certain writer isn't quite ready for defamation, and thoroughly refuting him would require pages and pages of detailed critique, the only thing to do is just ignore him and hope he shapes up. [Author's note: Prof. Dewdney hasn't "shaped up," but he has abandoned the original "Ghost riders" hypothesis as a result of his further exploration of the evidence. NS, November 2003]
Absent altogether from Goldstein's piece is any confrontation with the sort of hard-boiled geopolitical analysis that Steve Sniegoski specializes in. Absent also is any recognition that such analysis exists. But coming to terms with something like that would be no fun at all. It would be like asking Bozo the Clown to go 15 rounds with Lennox Lewis. It's much safer to shadow-box with straw men.
In avoiding a confrontation with heavyweight analysis, Goldstein sidesteps some dangerous territory. I couldn't find Knight Ridder's canonical text anywhere on the Web, but at least in the version of the article published by the News-Sentinel, the words "Israel" and "Mossad" do not appear. I don't think I'm going out very far on a limb in assuming they were absent in the story as it originally came across the wire. If that's so, then it is remarkable how, by repeatedly mentioning Holocaust "denial," Goldstein pumps the mephitic smog of anti-Semitism into the air, while at the same time keeping Israel and the Mossad safely off stage.
There has grown up in this country an odd school of thought that I'm going to dub Establishment skepticism. It is represented, for example, by the "skeptic" who concentrates on deriding the "nutty" Ufologist in order to divert attention from the possibility that the Pentagon may be up to something sinister at its secret bases out in the desert. Sniegoski points out that established authorities customarily write off "as an absurd impossibility" any "'conspiracy theories' that are in some way 'anti-Establishment' (while simultaneously promoting a host of other conspiracy theories that comport better with their own world-view)." In winding up his article, Goldstein duly trots out Paul Kurtz, "who has made a career of debunking parapsychology and urban legends" while doing a little debunking of Holocaust revisionism, too. Well, of course: It's all the same stuff, isn't it? "This [disbelief in the official account of 9/11] doesn't surprise me," Kurtz tells Goldstein, "because I know the Holocaust deniers."
Now, it is right and necessary that dissident views of public affairs be subjected to ruthless and corrosive analysis but it is equally right and necessary that established views be so subjected as well. Only a handful of oddballs hold the dissident views; but millions upon millions hold the established views, and the effects of error are magnified enormously if they are wrong.
But from the Establishment skeptic we see, simultaneously, a corrosive skepticism toward dissent and an invincible credulity toward crucial aspects of authority. One is entitled to suspect that the skepticism serves the credulity, and that the Establishment skeptic himself serves as the avant garde of Official Truth.
However effective, Establishment skepticism is an unusual and seemingly oxymoronic conjunction of mental habits, and it cries out for analysis. In The Ordeal of Civility, John Murray Cuddihy writes of the "skeptical fanaticism" that Michael Polanyi identified in Marxism and that Cuddihy finds to be present as well in the other great schools created by the Diaspora intellectuals Freudianism, the structuralism of Lévi-Strauss, and the Marxian-Freudianism of the Frankfurt School (pp. 152-53). Skeptical fanaticism, Cuddihy writes, "appeals to an intellectual clientele at once cynical about the 'situation of social action' and utopian about the 'ends of social action.'" (p. 153)
In coming to terms with Western civilization, the emancipated intellectual of the Diaspora exhibits both a driving hostility toward the general culture and a driving ambition to stake out a part of it as his own. Cuddihy detects both "a pitilessly punitive and skeptical objectivity [that] unmasks a given world of fact [and] a homeless revolutionary longing [that] projects a new world of value." (p. 153) One might understand it as the desire to blast a secure new home out of the strong old mountain and devil take those previous dwellers upon whom the rubble rains.
Helping today's skeptical fanatic keep his footing is the fact that his stance has become ever less a tricky balancing act and ever more a confident pose. Though no one these days wants to admit to being a Freudian or a Marxian, and no one speaks of Adorno or Marcuse or Lévi-Strauss any longer, the mentality shared by those thinkers dominates the intelligentsia and trickles down to all of us. Yiddishkeit has been modernized into Zeitgeist. (Here Cuddihy treads very lightly indeed; and Kevin MacDonald in The Culture of Critique is a bolder guide.) We old Western men of the mountain are now the interlopers, living in the rubble, alienated, longing for a livable home. Much is revealed about those who luxuriate on the commanding heights by how they praise one another in the established media, which they control. As Joe Sobran writes, "Offending blacks, Jews, feminists, or homosexuals is 'insensitive,' while offending Christians is 'irreverent'...." ("Christianity and History," September 28, 1999) Yes, it requires a brave irreverence indeed to spit on the pitiful rubble of our old civilization!
I may mine too deeply, here, in search of an accounting. But at least I am not making a mountain out of a molehill. Goldstein himself, of course, is a minor figure, and his article a minor effort. But as a type, the Establishment skeptic is a defining figure of our time.
Whether or not Goldstein truly reflects the intellectual and cultural heritage dissected by Cuddihy and MacDonald, I cannot see where his dogmatic defamation of dissent can lead, except to a reflexive belief in the state's party line no matter how grossly it contradicts ordinary logic, no matter how roughly it shoves aside inconvenient questions, and no matter how drastically it may change from day to day.
If the original Goldstein Emmanuel, that is had practiced that brave brand of Establishment skepticism, his face would have been right there alongside BB's, on that big poster in Victory Mansions, when the clock was striking thirteen.
September 23, 2002
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