As the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack on America approaches, allow me to be among the first to offer some proposed insights into the twisted heaps of our psyches left in the wake of 9.11.
I have a friend of 35 years, with whom I attended grad school in philosophy, who is a 9.11 “truther.” 9.11 truthers are intellectuals, mostly on the left, who refused from the outset to accept the government version of the events of that terrible fall day in 2001.
If they simply pressed for answers to political and philosophical questions, they would have provided a service to humanity and history, even if the illegal invasion of Iraq, and the misguided invasion of Afghanistan could not have been prevented. But truthers became mired in the minutiae of technical details, such as which levers and knobs in the jetliners were purportedly used to disable pilot control and enable ground control of the planes.
9.11 truthers started a veritable conspiracy theory industry. My friend, a dyed-in-the-wool rationalist, became obsessed with it, pouring over reports and analyses, and giving lectures for years. We had little contact during this period, and I didn’t realize until later how obsessed he had become.
In recent weeks, the issue has resurfaced in our talks during the pandemic. (Not surprisingly, he and his wife are vehemently opposed to “the vaccine propaganda” and refuse to get vaccinated). An unsettling insight has settled over me.
A key figure in 9.11 truther circles is David Griffin, professor emeritus at Claremont School of Theology. An irony, given that Griffin is putatively a religious philosopher, is that 9.11 truthers are driven to fill a metaphysical vacuum that they refuse to see and acknowledge.
Conspiracy theories are attempts to fill the vacuum created by an absence of an adequate philosophy of evil. The expansion of evil, which has become the predominant unaddressed challenge to the wholeness, health and growth of human consciousness, is rationalized, psychologized and politicized away.
On the left, and to a lesser extent on the right, far-fetched explanations for the evil of 9.11 are focused on the US government, even to the point of denying that Arab suicide bombers flew the planes into the Twin Towers and Pentagon.
Intellectuals on the left have based their conspiracy theories on exhaustive review of the 9.11 evidence. Truthers have thereby provided the foundation and impetus for the completely divorced-from-reality fantasies of Q schmucks on the right 20 years later.
Tellingly, when I point out conspiracy theories on the left and right flourish in the vacuum of an adequate philosophy of evil, my philosopher friend refuses to address the issue, much less give a fair and sympathetic consideration to my insights. Instead, he rationalizes his obsession by saying, “9.11 is an all-important topic because it is the justification for the Forever Wars with all their pointless destruction.”
He insists, “The failure to acknowledge the disturbing truth about 9.11 is the locus of a deep pathology of the national psyche, which only a painful reckoning can relieve.”
Both statements attest to the dangers of half-truths. A justification for war is not the cause of war, which lies much deeper in human consciousness than the Bush-Cheney machinations to invade Iraq before and after 9.11.
And 9.11 is not the “locus of a deep pathology of the national psyche;” rather, the reactions to it, by government and citizenry alike, have exposed and intensified America’s sickness of soul.
Sadly, you cannot reason even with an avowed rationalist when he has gone off the deep end. I realized this when my friend insisted that the planes on 9.11 were not flown into the Twin Towers and Pentagon by the hijackers, but through “pilot override control of the airliners.”
Why? Because he was so predisposed to believe “that the American government carried out the attacks to enable an aggressive foreign policy amid suspension of civil rights.” Cue the Q crazies.
Did left-wing 9.11 intellectual conspiracy theorists pave the way for right-wing anti-intellectual conspiracy theorists? I feel they did. At minimum, the across-the-spectrum pathology of filling a metaphysical vacuum with conspiracy theories attests to the truth that fascistic Trumpism has roots that don’t just lie in the rump Republican Party.
Looking beyond America, the spiritual, psychological and political condition of humankind will continue to deteriorate as long as the nature, origins and operation of evil aren’t honestly examined and insight brought to bear within.
We live in an age of arrogant ignorance, when scientific knowledge and technology have outstripped the development of the human being’s capacity for insight and understanding. Is intelligence beyond the increasing darkness of human consciousness operating?