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Conspiratorial dialogue

BY WILL MATTESSICH | FEBRUARY 09, 2011 7:10 AM

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How do we know 9/11 wasn’t an inside job?

Richard Falk is a longtime professor with degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, Yale, and Harvard. By the typical standards of our society, he should be respected, and he has researched the events of 9/11 more than almost anyone. So why should we dismiss his views offhand?

We should not. As controversial as his views are, he should be allowed to speak at Iowa, and people who want to entertain a rational discussion of their beliefs should listen. Falk is an accomplished academic who will present his views logically and support them with evidence.

Members of the community can listen and decide for themselves if what he says is true.

If you have already researched the event and come to the conclusion that the theories are complete bunk, there is no reason to attend Falk’s lecture. But his ideas should not be dismissed merely because friends or government officials have told us they should be.

The stereotypical conspiracy theorist is a sanctimonious megalomaniac like Gen. Ripper from Dr. Strangelove, or simply paranoid and mentally unstable, like Jared Loughner. Anytime a public figure denounces the theory, the activist easily pronounces that the official is part of the conspiracy.

The net of the supposed cover-up is spread so wide that, at some point, the only evidence that can be cited by the would-be saviors of the brainwashed populace is the absence of evidence. Using conspiracies as a sort of deus ex machina to explain everything we do not understand is harmful, but denying the sanity of every individual who questions the official account of an event is harmful as well.

The majority of conspiracy theories have little to no conclusive proof. Evidence shows that some people are predisposed to believe in conspiracies and that conspiracy theorists are often attempting to rationalize irrational fears and beliefs without critically examining their own views.

A 1994 psychological study found that belief in conspiracies is strongly correlated with insecurity and a lack of interpersonal trust. Believing that one is privy to an exclusive truth can reinforce self-image.

Because of the prevalence of the aforementioned type of theorist, a measured position on the subject should be welcomed. Falk has said in the past that he does not entirely endorse the opinions of so-called “9/11 Truthers,” but he thinks there were flaws in the official investigation and a lack of transparency on the part of the U.S. government. If Falk’s speech makes his listeners question their beliefs and try to find the truth, then the lecture will have had a positive effect.

I remember the first time I saw the documentary Loose Change in high school. I was so shaken by the arguments it presented that I had to find out the truth for myself, so I spent five hours on my home computer surfing the Internet, trying to find evidence for or against the assertions made by the movie. I found that the eyewitness claims of a missile hitting the Pentagon were unreliable and saw wreckage from an aircraft, including landing gear, recovered from the debris. I found that while jet fuel does not burn hot enough to melt steel, it does burn hot enough to compromise the structural integrity of steel girders, which can then buckle. I decided that the conspiracy argument was false, and I had the evidence to support that conclusion.

Until reading this information, however, I had simply assumed the official account was accurate. Maybe Falk’s lecture will aid members of the community in forming actual foundations for their own opinions. The University of Iowa community should give him a chance to express his views and decide for ourselves what really happened.

It is foolish to harbor such an exaggerated distrust of institutions as to believe in a vastly complicated conspiracy theory instead of a logical explanation with a few holes. If we strive for a truly transparent and accountable democracy, however, we should never accept the official account unquestionably.


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