9/11: Political Propaganda and the Epistemic Privilege of the Masses
Paul Craig Roberts’ essay “Why Propaganda Trumps Truth,” reproduced
appeared first on
Information Clearing House,
September 15, 2009. “In my own experience in scholarship, public
policy, and journalism, I have learned that everyone from professors to
high school dropouts has difficulty with facts and analyses that do not
fit with what they already believe.” His recollection of the experience
of Michael Polanyi, his professor at Oxford, at the hands colleagues
blind to facts their belief could not face, enlivens his essay with a
personal touch while illustrating its epistemological and psychological,
not merely political, theme.
I wish to voice one concern about this essay’s effectiveness. The
impress upon their malleable audiences the idea that in Mein Kampf Adolf Hitler
endorsed the “Big Lie Technique” of political propaganda.
Since Dr. Roberts knows that Hitler rather exposed his enemies’
use of that technique, he is careful not to give credence to a distortion vended for public consumption. Unfortunately, however, his
phrase, “What the sociologists and Hitler are telling us . . .,” may
give critics sand to throw in his reader’s face, for few will be happy
to grant him that Hitler had something valuable to teach us about war
and peace. I fear many will discount Roberts’ case just because he cites Hitler so
nonchalantly. “Today,” Roberts writes, “I experience readers who
become enraged just because I report on someone else’s work that is
outside their belief system.” One can only imagine the rage he may experience
now that the “someone else” is Hitler.
Dr. Roberts also laments the failure of antiwar.com (and, by
implication, some of their libertarian allies) to see how they undermine
their noble efforts by giving the government a pass on 9/11. It’s
about time someone with his standing called them out on this.
“The 9/11 event . . . has not been investigated.”
David Ray Griffin
has already established that to perfection. So who will not demand a real investigation
to be confused with the dog-and-pony show called the
except the guilty and the masses they’ve duped?
September 17, 2009
Why Propaganda Trumps Truth
Paul Craig Roberts
article in the journal, Sociological Inquiry, casts light on the
effectiveness of propaganda. Research-ers examined why big lies succeed
where little lies fail. Governments can get away with mass decep-tions,
but politicians cannot get away with sexual affairs.
researchers explain why so many Americans still believe that Saddam
Hussein was behind 9/11, years after it has become obvious that Iraq had
nothing to do with the event. Americans developed elaborate
rationalizations based on Bush adminis-tration propaganda that alleged
Iraqi involvement and became deeply attached to their beliefs. Their
emotional involvement became wrapped up in their personal identity and
sense of morality. They looked for information that supported their
beliefs and avoided information that challenged them, regard-less of the
facts of the matter.
Mein Kampf, Hitler explained the believability of the Big Lie as
compared to the small lie: “In the simplicity of their minds, people
more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they
themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed
to resort to large-scale false-hoods. It would never come into their
heads to fabri-cate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that
others could have such impudence. Even though the facts which prove
this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still
doubt and con-tinue to think that there may be some other explanation.”
the sociologists and Hitler are telling us is that by the time facts
become clear, people are emotionally wedded to the beliefs planted by
the propaganda and find it a wrenching experience to free themselves.
It is more comfortable, instead, to denounce the truth-tellers than the
liars whom the truth-tellers expose.
psychology of belief retention even when those beliefs are wrong is a
pillar of social cohesion and stability. It explains why, once change
is effect-ed, even revolutionary governments become conser-vative. The
downside of belief retention is its pre-vention of the recognition of
facts. Belief retention in the Soviet Union made the system unable to
adjust to economic reality, and the Soviet Union collapsed. Today in
the United States millions find it easier to chant “USA, USA, USA” than
to accept facts that indi-cate the need for change.
staying power of the Big Lie is the barrier through which the 9/11 Truth
Movement is finding it difficult to break. The assertion that the 9/11
Truth Movement consists of conspiracy theorists and crackpots is
obviously untrue. The leaders of the movement are highly qualified
professionals, such as demolition experts, physicists, structural
architects, engineers, pilots, and former high officials in the
government. Unlike their critics parroting the government’s line, they
know what they are talking about.
to a presentation by the architect, Richard Gage, to a Canadian
university audience. The video of the presentation is two hours long
and seems to have been edited to shorten it down to two hours. Gage is
low-key, but not a dazzling person-ality or a very articulate presenter.
Perhaps that is because he is speaking to a university audience and
takes for granted their familiarity with terms and concepts.
who believe the official 9/11 story and dismiss skeptics as kooks can
test the validity of the sociologists’ findings and Hitler’s observation
by watching the video and experiencing their reaction to evidence that
challenges their beliefs. Are you able to watch the presentation
without scoffing at some-one who knows far more about it than you do?
What is your response when you find that you cannot de-fend your beliefs
against the evidence presented? Scoff some more? Become enraged?
problem that the 9/11 Truth Movement faces is that few people have the
education to follow the technical and scientific aspects. The side that
they believe tells them one thing; the side that they don’t believe
tells them another. Most Americans have no basis to judge the relative
merits of the arguments.
example, consider the case of the Lockerbie bomber. One piece of
“evidence” that was used to convict Magrahi was a piece of circuit board
from a device that allegedly contained the Semtex that exploded the
airliner. None of the people, who have very firm beliefs in Magrahi’s
and Libya’s guilt and in the offense of the Scottish authorities in
releasing Magrahi on allegedly humanitarian grounds, know that circuit
boards of those days have very low combustion temperatures and go up in
flames easily. Semtex produces very high temperatures. There would be
nothing whatsoever left of a device that contained Semtex. It is
obvious to an expert that the piece of circuit board was planted after
asked on several occasions and have never had an answer, which does not
mean that there isn’t one, how millions of pieces of unburnt, uncharred
paper can be floating over lower Manhattan from the destruction of the
WTC towers when the official explanation of the destruction is fires so
hot and evenly distributed that they caused the massive steel structures
to weaken and fail simultaneously so that the buildings fell in free
fall time just as they would if they had been brought down by controlled
the explanation of fires so hot that steel fails but paper does not
combust? [Perhaps the paper came from
floors that were not engulfed in flames. Just a thought.--A.F.]
don’t even notice the contradictions. Re-cently, an international team
of scientists, who studied for 18 months dust samples produced by the
twin towers’ destruction collected from three separ-ate sources,
reported their finding of nano-ther-mite in the dust. The US government
had scientists dependent on the US government to debunk the finding on
the grounds that the authenticity of cus-tody of the samples could not
be verified. In other words, someone had tampered with the samples and
added the nano-thermite. This is all it took to discredit the finding,
despite the obvious fact that access to thermite is strictly
controlled and NO ONE except the US military and possibly Israel has
access to nano-thermite.
physicist, Steven Jones, has produced over-whelming evidence that
explosives were used to bring down the buildings. His evidence is not
en-gaged, examined, tested, and refuted. It is simply ignored.
Jones’ experience reminds me of that of my Oxford professor, the
distinguished physical chemist and philosopher, Michael Polanyi.
Polanyi was one of the 20th century’s great scientists. At one time
every section chairman of the Royal Society was a Polanyi student. Many
of his students won Nobel Prizes for their scientific work, such as
Eugene Wigner at Princeton and Melvin Calvin at UC, Berkeley, and his
son, John Polanyi, at the University of Toronto.
young man in the early years of the 20th century, Michael Polanyi
discovered the explanation for chemical absorption. Scientific
authority found the new theory too much of a challenge to existing
beliefs and dismissed it. Even when Polanyi was one of the UK’s ranking
scientists, he was unable to teach his theory. One half-century later
his discovery was re-discovered by scientists at UC, Berkeley. The
discovery was hailed, but then older scientists said that it was
“Polanyi’s old error.” It turned out not to be an error. Polanyi was
asked to address scientists on this half-century failure of science to
recognize the truth. How had science, which is based on examining the
evidence, gone so wrong. Polanyi’s answer was that science is a belief
system just like everything else, and that his theory was outside the
what we observe all around us, not just the perfidy of Muslims and 9/11.
economics scholar I had a very difficult time making my points about the
Soviet economy, about Karl Marx’s theories, and about the supply-side
impact of fiscal policy. Today I experience readers who become enraged
just because I report on someone else’s work that is outside their
belief system. Some readers think I should suppress work that is
inconsistent with their beliefs and drive the author of the work into
the ground. These readers never have any comprehension of the subject.
They are simply emotionally offended.
find puzzling is the people I know who do not believe a word the
government says about anything except 9/11. For reasons that escape me,
they believe that the government that lies to them about everything else
tells them the truth about 9/11. How can this be, I ask them. Did the
govern-ment slip up once and tell the truth? My question does not cause
them to rethink their belief in the government’s 9/11 story. Instead,
they get angry with me for doubting their intelligence or their
integrity or some such hallowed trait.
problem faced by truth is the emotional needs of people. With 9/11 many
Americans feel that they must believe their government so that they
don’t feel like they are being unsupportive or unpatriotic, and they are
very fearful of being called “terrorist sympa-thizers.” Others on the
left-wing have emotional needs to believe that peoples oppressed by the
US have delivered “blowbacks.” Some leftists think that America
deserves these blowbacks and thus believe the government’s propaganda
that Muslims attacked the US.
people think that if the US government’s explanation of 9/11 was wrong,
physicists and engineers would all speak up. Some have (see above).
However, for most physicists and engineers this would be an act of
suicide. Physicists owe their careers to government grants, and their
departments are critically dependent on government funding. A
physicist who speaks up essentially ends his university career. If he
is a tenured professor, to appease Washington the university would buy
out his tenure as Brigham Young University did in the case of the
outspoken Steven Jones.
engineering firm that spoke out would never again be awarded a
government contract. In addi-tion, its patriotic, flag-waving customers
would re-gard the firm as a terrorist apologist and cease to do business
York today there is an enormous push by 9/11 families for a real and
independent investi-gation of the 9/11 events. Tens of thousands of New
Yorkers have provided the necessary signatures on petitions that require
the state to put the proposal for an independent commission up to vote.
However, the state, so far, is not obeying the law.
the tens of thousands of New Yorkers who are demanding a real
investigation dismissed as conspiracy theorists? The 9/11 skeptics know
far more about the events of that day than do the unin-formed people who
call them names. Most of the people I know who are content with the
govern-ment’s official explanation have never examined the evidence.
Yet, these no-nothings shout down those who have studied the matter
are, of course, some kooks. I have often wondered if these kooks are
intentionally ridiculous in order to discredit knowledgeable skeptics.
problem that the 9/11 Truth Movement faces is that their natural allies,
those who oppose the Bush/Obama wars and the internet sites that the
antiwar movement maintains, are fearful of being branded traitorous and
anti-American. It is hard enough to oppose a war against those the US
govern-ment has successfully demonized. Antiwar sites believe that if
they permit 9/11 to be questioned, it would brand them as “terrorist
sympathizers” and discredit their opposition to the war. An exception
Information Clearing House.
sites do not realize that, by accepting the 9/11 explanation, they have
undermined their own opposition to the war. Once you accept that Muslim
terrorists did it, it is difficult to oppose punishing them for the
event. In recent months, important antiwar sites, such as antiwar.com,
have had difficul-ty with their fundraising, with their fundraising cam-paigns
going on far longer than previously. They do not understand that if you
grant the government its premise for war, it is impossible to oppose the
as I can tell, most Americans have far greater confidence in the
government than they do in the truth. During the Great Depression the
liberals with their New Deal succeeded in teaching Americans to trust
the government as their protector. This took with the left and the
right. Neither end of the political spectrum is capable of fundamental
ques-tioning of the government. This explains the ease with which our
government routinely deceives the people.
Democracy is based on the assumption that people are rational beings who
factually examine arguments and are not easily manipulated. Studies are
not finding this to be the case. In my own exper-ience in scholarship,
public policy, and journalism, I have learned that everyone from
professors to high school dropouts has difficulty with facts and
analyses that do not fit with what they already believe. The notion
that “we are not afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead” is an
extremely romantic and idealistic notion. I have seldom experienced
open minds even in academic discourse or in the highest levels of
government. Among the public at large, the ability to follow the truth
wherever it may lead is almost non-existent.
government’s response to 9/11, regard-less of who is responsible, has
altered our country forever. Our civil liberties will never again be as
safe as they were. America’s financial capability and living standards
are forever lower. Our country’s prestige and world leadership are
forever damaged. The first decade of the 21st century has been
squandered in pointless wars, and it appears the second decade will also
be squandered in the same pointless and bankrupting pursuit.
most disturbing fact of all remains: The 9/11 event responsible for
these adverse happenings has not been investigated.