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Thoughts Online Magazine
Collected Articles on Culture & Politics
Ever Wondered What They Were Thinking? 
17th-Jan-2007 08:18 am
Inspiration
After September 11th, after we had had our heads hit, many of us awoke to the fact that there was already a war on: a war against us, coducted by people who had published their positions widely.

Sure, there have been those unable to grasp this fact:they are still unable to grasp it. This is the kind of thing that led a friend of mine to say, "Let's elect a democratic president next time, and see whether reality strikes." It's a strategy.

Most of these people are engaging in "displacement" -- attacking a scapegoat they can reach rather than acknowledge that the threat to them comes from elsewhere. George Bush, Mexican immigrants, Christianists -- these are all threats to people who don't want to admit that they are the minor, everyday noise of the nation, not people with guns who want to kill us. It's an amusing strategy, but not worth paying attention to.
Comments 
18th-Jan-2007 08:08 am (UTC)
Most of these people are engaging in "displacement" -- attacking a scapegoat they can reach rather than acknowledge that the threat to them comes from elsewhere. George Bush, Mexican immigrants, Christianists -- these are all threats to people who don't want to admit that they are the minor, everyday noise of the nation, not people with guns who want to kill us. It's an amusing strategy, but not worth paying attention to.

That's a very good point. In a way this is a product of the success of this war -- I can guarantee you that if Al Qaeda were dropping a huge skyscraper a month, there would be very little debate on whether or not the war was "real." And no interest in simply declaring it over and going home -- it's more likely that the question would be whether or not we should escalate to deliberate genocide.

There is a very dangerous form of this displacement activity, though, and one that is especially the case in New York City, where apparently almost half the population now believes that some entity other than Al Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks. This is because New York City, like no other place on Earth, cannot forget the attacks, but as liberals they don't want the cognitive dissonance of acknowledging the war. Thus they focus on George W. Bush or the Israelis as the "real" attackers, which lets them get back to hating Bush or the Israelis or whoever and ignoring the Muslim threat.

This must be really difficult for New York Jews, I'm thinking. They are traditionally liberal and yet for obvious reasons can't go with scapegoating Israel.
18th-Jan-2007 08:11 pm (UTC)
In a way this is a product of the success of this war -- I can guarantee you that if Al Qaeda were dropping a huge skyscraper a month, there would be very little debate on whether or not the war was "real." And no interest in simply declaring it over and going home -- it's more likely that the question would be whether or not we should escalate to deliberate genocide.

I hadn't thought of it as a byproduct of success, but, on further reflection, I believe you have a key insight. Thanks.
19th-Jan-2007 01:08 pm (UTC) - The Disempowering Effects of Conspiracy Theories
There's another thought I had, but didn't include in my original comment:

The reason that I consider this displacement "dangerous," especially when it extends to large numbers of people giving credence to the idea that Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks, is that it is exactly the same thing that cripples the Arabs.

Politically, the Arab states have been astonishingly total failures. The only ones that have even remotely succeeded have been the oil-rich Gulf states, and of these the only ones that have maintained some degree of internal stability without insanely murderous tyranny are the traditional emirates and kingdoms. And those have maintained this stability at the price of avoiding cultural modernity, a policy with the obvious downside that, come the Revolution, it'll be a doozy.

Militarily, the most obvious manifestation of this Arab failure has been their protracted jihad against Israel. Despite overwhelming numbers and (during the Cold War) the support of the Soviet Union, they have not only failed to eradicate Israel, but have suffered one humiliating defeat after another. They have displayed, in the course of these wars, a near-total lack of anything resembling military competence: time and time again, the Israelis have gotten inside their decision loops and defeated the Arab armies in detail.

The intelligent, competent cultural reaction to such a series of defeats would be to analyze their own mistakes, discover their errors, and correct them. The Arab response has been to engage in conspiracy theories, in search of excuses; and to define victory down to generate complex explanations of why they didn't "really" lose.

The obvious problem with this is that the military flaws never get fixed. A subtler problem has to do with the disempowering effect of conspiracy theories -- they distract one from one's real enemies and neutralize any implicit threat of retaliation against them. When the Arab populations are fixated on the CIA and Mossad as the authors of all their miseries, they do nothing about the very real pervasive selfishness, clannishness, and criminal incompetence of their own leaders (which, of course, is exactly how those leaders like it, for the obvious reasons).

As applied to us, there is an obvious dangerous corollary. Any segment of the population which believes that George W. Bush was the author of 9/11 will seek to retaliate against the crime of 9/11 by impeaching Bush, not by hunting down Al Qaeda. They will try to prevent a recurrence of 9/11 by keeping Republicans out of office, not by suppressing international terrorism. And international terrorists who are aware of this will be far less deterred against launching future, possibly worse attacks, because they will reasonably hope that we will scapegoat our own leadership, or (even better for them) perhaps the Jews (as at least one major 9/11 conspiracy theories already does.

This is why these conspiracy theories are, IMO, more than just the amusing foibles of the gullible. If we're not careful, we might wind up as pathetic as the Arabs.
19th-Jan-2007 03:43 pm (UTC) - Re: The Disempowering Effects of Conspiracy Theories
This is great. It really deserves to be a standalone post on your weblog.

Thanks.
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