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The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
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NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

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Friday, September 13, 2019

BEFORE I BEGIN


I promised today to revisit Piketty, but before I do, let me comment briefly on some of the reactions to yesterday’s post.  Jerry Fresia suggests that someone high in positions of power knew of the attack sufficiently in advance to plant explosives in a third building near those slated for attack, and this complicity extended even to news reporters who claimed the building was collateral damage of the attack while it could be seen standing behind the reporter.

This is an extraordinary, apparently incredible accusation.  What do I think of this?  Do I know whether it is true?  Of course not.  Do I believe it?  I am, on this question, agnostic.  If it is true, would it change my understanding of the world?

Well, if it is true then I would be compelled to acknowledge that Bush, Cheney, and their compatriots, whom I have always thought of as sinister, cruel, heartless, hypocritical criminals, are actually … sinister, cruel, heartless, hypocritical criminals.

Which brings me to Piketty.

17 comments:

s. wallerstein said...

As to 9-11:

I have no doubt that Bush and Cheney are capable of staging a terrorist attack which kills 3000 people in a 3rd World country, but would they be capable of staging a terrorist attack in the financial district of New York killing members of their own social class among the dead?

I doubt it, but it could be.

Then could Bush and Cheney recruit enough CIA agents or mercenaries to stage the terrorist attack in New York City killing 3000 of their fellow citizens? If so, would the CIA or mercenaries keep quiet for 18 years without pangs of conscience among them or without yielding to the temptation to sell the story for millions of dollars to the CNN or to a foreign power, say, Putin?

That seems very doubtful.

As I read George W. Bush, he had a streak of conventional patriotic moralism to him and while he had no problems of conscience killing dark skinned people in far-off countries, he would not have been able to deliberately kill so many of his fellow-citizens. Yes, he could send his fellow citizens to die in wars and sit passively while Hurricane Katrina killed his fellow citizens, but for Bush, as I read him, that would not be the same in moral terms as deliberately staging or facilitating a terrorist attack on New York City. I went to college with people like Bush and I believe I have some idea how they think in ethical terms, but I could be wrong.

LFC said...

Just to reiterate something I said yesterday since RPW did not address it: the Saudi Arabian govt hated OBL and the US public's outrage at the Saudi govt after 9/11 was thus misplaced. The main reason OBL spent years in Sudan and then in Afghanistan (w time in Pakistan also both before and of course after 9/11) is that the Saudi govt had expelled himself from Saudi Arabia and labeled him persona non grata.

David Zimmerman said...

Does this fine blog really have to become a haven for 9/11 trutherism? Really?

LFC said...

Typo correction: "himself" shd be "him"

LFC said...

Personally I would rather hear RPW on the Grandin book, which he said he had started to read, than
hear him rehash Piketty again.

Michael said...

Very tangential, but on the topic of Trutherism, has anyone read anything by David Ray Griffin?

I'll probably check out a few of his books as I eventually ease myself into the study of Whitehead etc. I'll definitely have to be selective. (For one, DRG writes too damn many books.) There's a saying, "Be open-minded, but don't be so open-minded that your brain falls out." And I think DRG nicely illustrates the transition from the former to the latter.

One begins by reading DRG on the philosophy of religion. He's a process theist. That's well and good. It's philosophically unpopular, but it's a far cry from the popular superstitions, and it's in keeping with the Whitehead/Hartshorne tradition, which is an interesting and respectable tradition. Chances are it wouldn't be a waste of time to read DRG on the subject; he might even prove a refreshing, relevant voice if one finds the New Atheism business stale or tiresome.

So far it seems "open-minded" to look into some of DRG's writings. But then one discovers that he has written with interest and active sympathy on the scientific study of parapsychology. And that puts the reader in more of an uneasy position. DRG's position seems pretty sketchy in light of the common opinion of the scientific community. But one may approach his work nevertheless without too much fear of being deceived or completely wasting one's time; after all, a small number of great or very good philosophers were of a similar mindset, as active participants in the Society of Psychical Research (James, Sidgwick, Broad).

So, we begin with DRG's philosophy of religion, which warrants "consideration with an open mind"; then we pass over to his writings on parapsychology, which are more to be "approached with caution." And at last we cross the line when we come to...you guessed it! 9/11 conspiracy theories. On which, I don't think it's especially closed-minded if I decline to read even an interview.

Jerry Fresia said...

Not exactly. You seem to have read into my statement. II would only go this far - to be on solid ground: Bldg 7 collapsed via a controlled demolition, as confirmed by the owner of the building (and it is rather obvious when one watches it fall).

This raises questions: why was it wired so? and when? I don't know. As far as prior knowledge goes, I don't know of course. But I don't think we know the full story and I think the report, in that it left the consideration of a range of questions, was incomplete and a coverup.

Paul Kern said...

Hi Jerry, I watched the footage from the BBC. Here are a couple of observations. Yes, building 7 is on the screen intact while they’re announcing its collapse. They obviously have no idea what building 7 looks like otherwise they’d be acknowledging the contradiction. Most likely, I think, is that they’re using footage from earlier in the day in the background and calling it live when the only thing live is the woman reporter in the foreground. I believe this is not an uncommon practice, particularly during times of crisis and catastrophe. I’ve been through a couple of disasters and its not uncommon for news organizations to report unverified events or inflated casualties. I imagine the chaos on the ground makes this very difficult. Also, I suppose we all know about the reporter standing in the hurricane pretending to be battered by strong winds? The building collapsing certainly appears to be imploded by set charges but this does not in itself suggest who the culprits might be or the motivation but given its timing… are you suggesting that the men who commandeered the planes are not associated with the party that caused the building 7 collapse? Are you saying someone knew about this threat (Bush et al) and allowed it to happen as some have claimed about Pearl Harbor?

Anonymous said...

If you believe the official story about 9/11; if you’re open-minded, rational, and at least 30 years old (teenagers and twenty-somethings are too young, immature, and sensitive); and if you can stomach and handle some HORRENDOUS truths about the world; then I encourage you to read the following:

David Ray Griffin's 'The New Pearl Harbor'
David Ray Griffin's 'The New Pearl Harbor Revisited'
David Ray Griffin's '9/11 Ten Years Later'

I have read all three. Griffin lays it all out. Once you know all the details and relevant facts, it’s utterly obvious that 9/11 was a false flag black operation.

Also, watch this video with Susan Lindauer, a former CIA asset who played a minor role in the build-up to 9/11:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiEsGLX1Imo

For those who dismiss all this talk as mere “conspiracy theory”: a conspiracy theory is a theory or account that involves two or more people secretly cooperating to commit an action or crime. Thus, the official story about 9/11 is itself a conspiracy theory: numerous Middle Eastern men secretly cooperated to hijack four planes and crash them into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a fourth unknown target (i.e. the one that crashed in Pennsylvania).

An alternative conspiracy theory is that Bush, Cheney, the CIA, etc. orchestrated 9/11. Why would they do this? First, to invade Afghanistan in order to restart opium production; Afghanistan was previously the largest supplier of opium in the world but the Taliban banned it in 2000 or so, and opium production collapsed. Second, to invade Iraq in order to plunder their oil. Third, to pass the PATRIOT Act. Fourth, to commence the never-ending War on Terror, which has now lasted 18 years.

Given these two conspiracy theories, which seems more plausible given the relevant facts and evidence? See Griffin’s books.

And if you think Bush, Cheney, etc. could not do such an evil, horrendous thing, recall that they blatantly lied about Iraq having WMDs. If they lied about Iraq, then it’s within the realm of plausibility that they lied about 9/11.

If I recall correctly, Jerry Fresia previously said he worked in US military intelligence and he saw firsthand that intelligence is largely about lies, manipulation, and deception. Also, in a recent Israeli documentary series about Mossad, a former Mossad agent described the intelligence business as a “rotten game.” Now apply this to Bush, Cheney, the CIA, and 9/11.

Anonymous said...

Here is a second, longer, more comprehensive video of Susan Lindauer:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68LUHa_-OlA

The first video is just a snippet of her.

If you cannot emotionally handle this “conspiracy theory,” if it’s going to make you too depressed, hopeless, etc., then just forget about it and continue to believe in the official 9/11 story.

LFC said...

There is no "official" 9/11 story, or rather the modifier "official" is highly tendentious inasmuch as it suggests that it is all a government concoction. Rather, there is an account supported by substantial research (by journalists, among others). Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower lists, on pp. 501 to 507, all the people he interviewed. It's a long list, comprising people of v. different nationalities, positions, ideologies. To believe the David Ray Griffin story as outlined by 'anonymous', you have to believe basically that all those people lied to Wright or that, even more implausibly, he sat down and made up the entire contents of his book.

p.s. Btw the notion that Bush and Cheney wanted to invade Iraq to "plunder" its oil is v. shaky. They wanted to invade Iraq, imo, mainly b.c the neocons around Cheney were convinced that Saddam Hussein was not only a tyrant but one who threatened the US geopolitical position in the region (and possibly that of US allies as well, incl. Israel). After all, he had invaded Kuwait; what might he do in the future? The people in and around PNAC, on the whole, really didn't give a s*** about oil. They wanted to demonstrate US power and clean up what they viewed as the unfinished business of the first Gulf War.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_for_the_New_American_Century

I'm not going to spend any time investigating the Griffin theory (or whatever it is). If other people want to spend their time that way, that is of course their business.

LFC said...

Well, I have in fact looked at the exchange Griffin had w Chip Berlet back in c.2004 (as archived on an old site). Some of the exchange had to do w Griffin's arguments about what kind of plane hit the Pentagon on 9/11. This gets into technical stuff about what cd be supposed to happen when a large airliner hits a reinforced concrete bldg like the Pentagon, and seems to end w Griffin suggesting that he looks rather favorably on a "two-airplane hypothesis," that "hypothesis" being that there was a Boeing airliner that came v. close to the Pentagon but did not in fact hit it, and that it was instead hit by a "small" (or smaller than a Boeing airliner) "military plane" or perhaps a missile.

Griffin appears to acknowledge that that "hypothesis" does leave open the question of what happened to the Boeing airliner (and the passengers on it, and the pilots) if it did not hit the Pentagon. Did it go into a secret hangar? Did it crash somewhere else? Or what? Maybe in subsequent works Griffin has addressed this issue or perhaps has just "moved on" -- I don't know. Whatever...

Michael said...

I apologize for the tone of my previous comment (particularly the remark about the "brain falling out").

For me, one of the main issues that "conspiracy theories" (which I doubt were adequately characterized by Anonymous - on that, more in a moment) call to mind concerns the epistemology of testimony, especially expert testimony.

I have a (modest) background in philosophy, and not in any other discipline, and so I rarely consider myself particularly competent to weigh in on matters requiring a certain command of special empirical data. But I'm also a human being who identifies with certain intellectual communities, and this means I often adopt opinions on empirical matters based on considerations that are logically extraneous to the actual merit of those opinions: I often place my confidence in X to the extent that the people who most impress me (and my like-minded peers, as far as I can tell) as thoughtful, educated, intelligent, honest, etc., seem more-or-less unanimously to accept X.

(I say "logically extraneous" because, of course, this way of thinking just amounts to so many "arguments" from authority, popularity, character, and personal convenience - and as any college freshman knows, these are just so many "logical fallacies." But obviously we all do in fact take, and must take, a massive variety of such epistemic shortcuts in order to get along in the world. Otherwise we might suspend judgment on our cancer diagnosis unless we had first corroborated the entirety of medical science, but only after we had deduced the external world from the Cartesian ego, etc.)

I don't have the firsthand specialized knowledge or training requisite to refute every argument for every "fringe" theory (meaning something like, "widely felt ridiculous, generally rejected by experts"), off the top of my head. It might be open to me to educate myself on some of the basics of evolutionary biology, but I'd have to invest a lot more than that to go toe-to-toe with a seasoned defender of Intelligent Design. And similarly for climate change denial, the resurrection of Jesus, etc., etc. I place 9/11 conspiracy theories in the same category, and ultimately my reason for doing so boils down to personal impressions regarding expert consensus, as well as something like "common sense" (e.g., as to the unfeasibility of a cover-up). This isn't so much an argument meant to persuade, as it is a confession, just for general interest, or at most an explanation as to why my position isn't particularly "outlandish" (psychologically, anyway).

But I will contend that Anonymous's definition of "conspiracy" (as in "conspiracy theory") doesn't do justice to common usage. "Two or more people secretly cooperating to commit an action or crime" is too banal (if that's the right word) to capture the essence of such exemplary cases as New World Order theory, Flat Earth theory, the Moon landing hoax, Alex Jones on Sandy Hook, etc., etc.

You can find sophisticated defenders of just about any such theory, but if you ask yourself to account for your impression that "common sense" dictates against "wasting time" on them, I think you'll land on something quite like what I describe above.

Apologies again, and I'll just leave it at "agree to disagree."

Anonymous said...

Michael,

You said my definition for a conspiracy theory “doesn’t do justice to common usage,” but I think it’s a pretty good definition with a neutral connotation, whereas the word “conspiracy theory” in the mainstream media often has a very negative connotation (e.g. “If you believe this, then you must be a tin-foiled-hat-wearing, paranoid, uneducated lunatic and nobody should listen to you”). Here are two, neutral, dictionary definitions for “conspiracy”:

1. An evil, unlawful, treacherous, or surreptitious plan formulated in secret by two or more persons; plot
2. Legal definition: an agreement by two or more persons to commit a crime, fraud, or other wrongful act

These definitions apply to the 9/11 “inside job” theory, New World Order theory, Flat Earth theory, etc. But not all conspiracy theories are equal. Some are true, some false, some partly true, some plausible, some highly implausible. When evaluating conspiracy theories (if one wants to spend time doing so), one must take them on a case-by-case basis. Similarly, when evaluating epistemological or ethical theories in philosophy, one must take them on a case-by-case basis. For example, if you think virtue ethics is a ridiculous ethical theory, you cannot just dismiss all other ethical theories (e.g. utilitarianism and Kantian ethics) on that basis. You must examine them individually.

Now, here are some TRUE conspiracy theories that the mainstream now accepts, which you can verify on Wikipedia:

1. Project MK Ultra
2. Operation Paperclip
3. Operation Mockingbird

Given that there are at least some true conspiracy theories, let's focus on 9/11 alone. The official story about 9/11 has some massive, critical flaws:

1. Why did the Twin Towers collapse? They were constructed specifically to withstand plane strikes and large fires (e.g. the ones caused by the plane strikes and the subsequent leaking fuel). Due to the very high melting point of steel, it's physically impossible that the fires and crash damage could have caused the Twin Towers to collapse. The only thing that could have caused their collapse was a controlled demolition, and their collapse pattern looks exactly like a controlled demolition, as affirmed by many independent architects, engineers, and scientists.

2. Why did Building 7 collapse? No plane hit it. Debris from the falling Twin Towers hit it. But it's physically impossible that the debris or resulting fires could have caused Building 7 to collapse. Also, its collapse pattern looks exactly like a controlled demolition.

3. After the Twin Towers collapsed, why was there a ton of molten steel at the base of Ground Zero for MONTHS afterwards? If the towers had collapsed simply due to fires and structural damage, then there would not have been molten steel for months afterwards. In contrast, if the towers were demolished using extremely powerful, military-grade nano-thermite, which produces extremely high temperatures that can easily melt steel, then there would be molten steel lasting for months. And, yes, nano-thermite residuals were found in numerous samples of debris from Ground Zero.

Anonymous said...

Continued:

4. When the Twin Towers were collapsing, why were there horizontal projections shooting out from each floor? These projections do not make sense unless the buildings had controlled demolitions. Indeed, the horizontal projections led to debris/dust falling into nearby buildings, including some apartments which had their windows open. Some of the Twin Tower debris/dust samples contained pulverized (fine powder) human bone fragments. The only reasonable explanation for pulverized human bone fragments in the debris is extremely powerful controlled demolition. If the Twin Towers had collapsed simply due to fires and structural damage, then the human bodies and bones would have predominantly stayed in the rubble of the footprint of the collapsed towers. They wouldn’t have been pulverized and ejected horizontally.

5. How could a plane hit the Pentagon, especially after two planes had already hit the Twin Towers? The Pentagon has an extremely secure air defense system (e.g. fighter jets, among other things) to protect it from hijacked airplanes, enemy fighter jets, incoming missiles, etc. After the two planes hit the Twin Towers, the air defense system should have been at the highest alert level and fighter jets should have shot down any hijacked airplane entering the Pentagon's airspace.

These are just some of the many critical flaws in the official story about 9/11. In ‘The New Pearl Harbor,’ ‘The New Pearl Harbor Revisited,’ and ‘9/11 Ten Years Later,’ David Griffin rigorously exposes all the flaws and contradictions of the official story. So I encourage you to read these texts or at least ‘The New Pearl Harbor’ by itself.

To expand on what I said earlier: if you think Bush, Cheney, etc. could not do such an evil, horrendous thing (i.e. murder 3,000 Americans, demolish the Twin Towers and Building 7, cause significant damage to the Pentagon, and blame it on Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and 19 hijackers), then please recall the following:

- Arguably, Bush, Cheney, and their fellow Republicans stole the 2000 US presidential election by stealing Florida. Or at the very least, the conservative Supreme Court tilted the deck in their favor by stopping a vote recount in Florida. In addition, there’s evidence that they stole the 2004 US presidential election by stealing Ohio.

- They started two major wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) that ended up costing $4-6 trillion and 300,000-700,000 lives, including 200,000-500,000 Iraqi lives and 7,000 American lives.

- They blatantly lied about Iraq having WMDs.

- They passed the PATRIOT Act, which led to NSA domestic surveillance.

- They authorized the use of rendition, CIA black sites, indefinite detention, and torture (e.g. water-boarding). Recall the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib.

- They exposed an undercover CIA officer (Valerie Plame).

If they did all this, then it’s well within the realm of plausibility that they orchestrated or facilitated 9/11.

Anonymous said...

The conversation seems to divide into two questions at this point:

(1) Does it make sense to propose a definition of "conspiracy theory" that does *not* have a certain negative connotation? (I'll say something in a moment about what that connotation is.)

(2) Is there good reason to believe that the US government was (knowingly, primarily) responsible for 9/11?

I'd rather not go into the second question. I don't think we're likely to get anywhere on that. You've read a lot more on it than I have, and my acquaintance with the issue doesn't go particularly far beyond the words and sentiments of people I already regard as trustworthy, who just about unanimously accept the usual account, and regard the opposing accounts with suspicion and even disdain. If I see the general opinion begin to shift in this regard, then I might be prepared to shift accordingly.

Moreover, I don't really have the information and training required to evaluate any claim of the form, "X is generally accepted to have happened, but on our best scientific theories, X is physically impossible." If I were to respond to the claims you have put forward, with a series of contrary claims to the effect that "X" either is not what actually happened (i.e., is a distortion of the generally accepted account), or else admittedly is what happened, but is nevertheless consistent with scientific knowledge, then each of my claims, in order to register as credible to some degree, would have to rest upon one or more cited authorities. From a certain angle, that procedure is legitimate and even innocuous; it's what non-specialists do all the time. But from another angle (that illustrated by myself earlier, and lately in a separate entry by Prof. Wolff), it wouldn't amount to much more than pitting my mass of hearsay against someone else's.

To me, unfortunately, the only way for the conversation to become truly satisfactory (and not merely something resembling a contest of hearsay and prejudice) would require me to rectify my deficits in information and training: to become an expert or specialist of the relevant sort(s), rather than merely decide which authorities to trust. But there are endlessly many arguments to be had, about endlessly many topics, and we all have only so much time. I think this is the position we're all in, if not on the 9/11 issue specifically, then on an endless variety of other empirical issues.

That brings me to (1).

I say it doesn't do justice to the common usage of "conspiracy theory" to define it merely in terms of agents carrying out nefarious plots in secret. For one thing, that would make a conspiracy theorist out of anyone who investigates a simple bank robbery. But also, the definition doesn't do justice to common usage, precisely *because* it omits the connotation you regard as objectionable: the insinuation that the theory in question belongs to a class of notions which seem so "strange" and "fringy" and unpopular among the best-informed, that to withhold one's natural suspicion toward the theory, pending an exhaustive firsthand evaluation of its empirical merits, would be to misspend one's limited time and energy (not least because there is an overwhelming abundance of material elsewhere on the intellectual landscape, which undoubtedly is worth studying).

I think each of us is bound to admit, from where we stand, that the class in question is not an empty class. If we all in practice can identify such a class, and if enough such classes on the part of laypersons and authorities alike happen to largely coincide, then it makes sense to have a word for it. And that happens to be "conspiracy theory." It might not be the most literally apt, as you suggest, but to propose something else in its place would be fighting a needless, uphill battle against an ingrained feature of the language, as far as I can tell. (I'm curious if you have similar objections to the term "pseudo-science.")

Michael said...

(Sorry, Anonymous above = Michael.)