The standard theories and beliefs of 9/11 conspiracy buffs are well known and need not be repeated here. What needs telling, though, is the nature of the source of their adamant convictions. Perhaps a tour of the shaky substructure of their belief system can return them to their senses.
Journalist and author George Monbiot lamented last week about the 9/11 conspiracy phenomenon: "There is no reasoning with this madness," he wrote. In comments about the conspiracy film, Loose Change, Monbiot observed that the film's viewers are susceptible to its assertions "because it proposes a closed world: comprehensible, controllable, small. . . . This neat story draws campaigners away from real issues-global warming, the Iraq war, nuclear weapons, privatization, inequality-while permanently wrecking their credibility."
It's true that reasoning collapses at the portals of madness. But the conspiracy theorists are not mad in any clinical sense. Their reasoning is subverted by emotional issues, and that reasoning can shift and become rational when their minds are opened to new insight.
These conspiracy theorists are usually very bright, but they have an emotional weak spot. They reacted to the events of 9/11 with a sense of helplessness and powerlessness, which generated anxiety and fear in them. Their emotional priority was to scramble for safety, which they found in the world of fantasy. In self-deception, they developed a conspiracy fiction that they soon transformed into non-fiction and proclaimed to be absolute certainty. Religious fundamentalists, too, use rigid beliefs to develop certainty about the nature of the world. In both cases, the certainty doesn't have to be rational; all that matters is that the belief has a stabilizing, calming, or grounding effect, like that of nicotine or alcohol.
The calming effect is accompanied by the illusion of power. Borrowing from the proposition that knowledge is power, conspiracists proclaim: "I know what actually happened! I know the truth!" This produces an impression of power that, coupled with the intensity of their 9/11 obsession, feels substantial to them. The power, however, is puny indeed, for the cognitive trickery in which they engage bestows enormous power on the "evil" conglomerate of elitists who they claim orchestrated 9/11. In locating these evil forces in their own backyard, they feel even more at the mercy of them, to which their fear of the imminent imposition of martial law in the USA bears witness. Unhealthy though it is, they gravitate to feeling powerless.
Monbiot, who has published two recent stories on the conspiracists, is being angrily attacked in hundreds of posts for his opposition to their beliefs. The anger in one particular article at infowars.net is symptomatic of underlying passivity. The writer, Steve Watson, reacts righteously and defensively. His lack of power is evident in his act of writing an angry, personal attack on Monbiot. Watson repeatedly refers in his article to the "ineffectual left," an unfair generalization that can only be a projection of his own ineffectual passivity.
The more we feel helpless, the more we make spurious claims to have power or to represent it. For instance, when children chase pigeons in the park they are after the thrill of exercising power. The Harry Potter books and movies appeal to the desire in children to have the powers of a wizard. But real power frightens us when we're not mature enough to accept reality. As Monbiot says, "The 9/11 conspiracy theories are a displacement activity. A displacement activity is something you do because you feel incapable of doing what you ought to do."
Conspiracy theorists relate to the world as if viewing a movie. They can critique what they see as vile and evil, but they can't imagine engaging with it. They prefer to blame others for being evil or for letting evil things happen. Blaming is a framing technique that gives them many degrees of separation from the evil they claim to see. Blaming absolves them of any feeling that they need to interact in the process of reform. They think they're resisting evil, but they're bogged down in their imagination, tangled up with images instead of engaging the enemy.
Conspiracists are often desperate to convince us of the "truth" of their perceptions, which is another trait they share with religious fundamentalists. The more we use a belief system for inner balance or consolidation, the more secure we feel when others are enticed to join our belief system. The more emotionally attached we are to a belief system, the greater the danger that we could develop a form of madness (phobia, paranoia, or persecution complex) when that belief system is challenged by others.
These are not the End Times, but indeed they are the grim times. Allies are needed, and so I plead with conspiracy buffs to join our cause. You will be most welcome! The "ineffectual left" is going to triumph, and we would be happy to share the glory with you.