Saturday 1 October 2016

Conspiracy theories are the new religion and the demented 9/11 plots have no shortage of believers

Published 07/09/2016 | 02:30

Fiction trumps the facts every time as internet theories about the causes of 9/11 win out no matter how bizarre. Picture shows the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.
Fiction trumps the facts every time as internet theories about the causes of 9/11 win out no matter how bizarre. Picture shows the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

For most people under 30, the events of 9/11 are little more than a blurred memory of exploding planes, collapsing buildings and the kind of images more normally associated with a Hollywood disaster movie.

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For those of us who are older, the 11th of September 2001 is the demarcation point. Everything changed that day and they will never return to the way they were on September 10.

Most 15-year-old events eventually fade into the memory. But the sheer scale of the attacks, coupled with the constant repeats of the footage, ensure that it's still fresh today.

It all felt surreal at the time. Yet bubbling under the immediate horror and grief at the sight of the devastation in New York, effectively the capital of the world and a second home to many Irish people, was a burgeoning anti-Americanism which secretly - and not so secretly - believed that the US deserved what had just happened.

For the week that followed, there was much sympathy but every news programme also seemed obligated to include at least one person who was convinced that this was a case of just desserts - but even the people who said the Americans had brought it on themselves never thought they had done it to themselves.

There are plenty of arguments about the rights and wrongs of US foreign policy, and trying to score cheap political points while the area which would become known as Ground Zero was still burning undoubtedly left a sour taste in the mouth.

But even the shrill and utterly callous response of those old-school lefties now looks positively benign in hindsight.

In the fog of war which followed the attacks, the febrile and ever-changing nature of the story left holes which needed to be filled in. So, we got the theories - the inside job, the 'truther' movement, the non-mysterious 'mystery' of the third tower collapsing (it fell because of the heat of internal fires and the weight of external debris).

In fact, no reason was too demented - including the still-breathing idea that the planes were actually holograms timed to coincide with a controlled explosion.

And, of course, there were the Jews. Everything from Mossad spooks to the incorrect rumours that Israeli citizens were warned to stay away from the Twin Towers that day was dragged out and despite being comprehensively debunked, they still find fertile ground today.

Only last month, Russian network REN TV ran a 'documentary' blaming the Jews for 9/11. That the film also blamed them for the Titanic and Chernobyl didn't seem to offer pause to any conspiracist who was just happy to acquire more fatuous 'evidence' for their convictions.

The problem with conspiracy theories is that, fundamentally, they are simply religious belief by another name. They feed into the same sense that the true believer is saved and more enlightened than non-believers. There's a reason, after all, why the conspiracy nuts are called 'truthers'.

These theories, no matter how many times they have been demolished, also feed into a need that burns deep inside some people to believe there is a grander scheme of things - that somebody, somewhere is pulling the strings.

Even if the shadowy cabal is evil, it seems that is still more reassuring than the idea that the world is just a random place of mistakes and atrocities, where our leaders react in hot confusion rather than conspire with cold malice.

The similarities with religion is something which tends to infuriate the average truther, who tends to resent being lumped in with such gullible types.

But even when that ridiculous movie 'Loose Change' was comprehensively and scathingly debunked, its supporters still believe it to be the case - because they want to believe.

One of the more depressing developments over the last 15 years is that these stupid, illogical theories have now developed a sort of equivalence with the actual recorded, verifiable and fact-checked truth of what happened. For a younger generation, in particular, now encouraged to 'curate' their own news feeds on social media - in other words, to ensure they are only ever exposed to the kind of news they will agree with - the endless stream of freely available theories seems to indicate that surely one of them must be right, therefore anyone who dissents is either stupid or, wonderfully, somehow part of the conspiracy.

Does anyone honestly believe that a government as hopelessly porous as the American administration could have kept a lid on something like this for so long?

In an era of WikiLeaks (which, ironically, was only made possible by the forced pooling of intelligence data post-9/11), surely some incriminating evidence would have been discovered by now.

Scepticism and scrutiny of the powers that be is essential for any democracy.

Ultimately, this constant rehashing of tired, demonstrably false and repeatedly debunked theories reminds us that while the nature of religion may change, some people will always choose being faithful over being logical.

After all, that is probably easier for them than accepting, as Homer Simpson once wisely noted, that "life is just a bunch of stuff that happens".

Irish Independent

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