By Marc Seltzer; originally published September 14, 2009, at politicsunlocked.com
As we acknowledge another anniversary of September 11, our national attention focuses on various aspects of the 9/11 experience. From personal grieving and reflecting to rekindled feelings about political ramifications of the 9/11 response — two wars, increased security, intrusions into privacy, and controversial treatment of detainees, to name only the most obvious — the date has meaning for nearly everyone old enough to have experienced the 2001 attacks.
A significant number of people in the United States, and likely worldwide, are captivated by alternative stories of 9/11 events and their aftermath. According to those referred to as “9/11 doubters,” or “truthers” the cause of the destruction was not foreign political extremists, but a yet undiscovered conspiracy. For these conspiracy theorists the investigations since 9/11 have been part of a cover-up, to keep the true plotters hidden.
Having conflicting and alternative views is nothing new in the American experience. Freedom of thought and belief were so fundamental to the founding of the nation that they were institutionalized in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights as freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The Founding Fathers had seen mayhem and destruction result from the conflicting beliefs of Catholics and Protestants in 17th and 18th century Europe. Their solution was not to reconcile the different beliefs, but to guard against abuse protect those who express them.
Civilizations have come to demand decision-making based on reason in dealing with issues of engineering, law, economics, medicine, security, etc. The numerous and thorough investigations of 9/11 have answered the questions about what happened that day. Continuing disputes over responsibility for the government’s failure to anticipate the Al Qaeda threat and disagreement over the appropriate military response illustrate that people can reason differently from the same facts.
What can be disturbing about conspiracy theories is that they are maintained in the face of substantial factual evidence. Claims such as Holocaust denial, the belief that the Apollo Moon landing was a fabrication, President Obama’s foreign birth or that 9/11 was perpetrated by a secret U.S. government program seem as wildly improbably and unrealistic as science fiction or fantasy literature to those who judge them on a scale of reason.
It is worth remembering that logical reasoning is only one human approach to understanding. Love, friendship, religion, philosophy and politics are largely governed by intuition and cultural beliefs rather than logic.
9/11 conspiracy theorists, who disregard a mountain of evidence to maintain their belief in mysterious acts, demonstrate that intuition and belief are alive and well in the 21st century.