9-11 at fourteen: spectacle commodified

Last night, this blogger visited the 9-11 Museum—invited by a friend who got free passes that evening because she worked in the area of the disaster in September 2001. I certainly was not going to pay the absurd $24 entrance fee. There was also a surreal irony to the fact that entering the museum entailed a full airport-style security check, complete with X-rays, full-body metal-detector scans, complete emptying of pockets, removal of belts, and so on. And this at a supposed memorial to American freedom. Talk about the "terrorists win." The museum itself is in many ways impressive—starting with its sheer scale. It is actually built in the World Trade Center "Bathtub," the huge foundation pit with reinforced walls to keep the waters of the Hudson River at bay. These walls are left visible, loaning an atmosphere of stark industrial majesty. The Mohawk iron workers who risked their lives in the construction of the WTC are, at least, briefly mentioned. There is inevitably a lot of maudlin and/or bellicose patriotism on display, but any honest presentation would have to reflect that, and it is generally shown with a sense of objectivity.

The section dealing with historical background on the Afghanistan war and rise of al-Qaeda is surprisingly in-depth, and the accompanying video presentation (about which there was much ado upon its unveiling last year) was not particularly problematic to this viewer. There is even one anti-war leaflet on display from the jingoist paroxysm in the disaster's aftermath—although unfortunately from the dictator-cheering, genocide-abetting faction ANSWER. (Will you please stop telling us that these idiots don't represent the anti-war movement? Here, in a place where it really matters, displayed for the masses and preserved for posterity, they manifestly do exactly that.)

The sickest thing about the museum (apart from the entrance fee and the security measures) is the gift shop. The crass commercialism is evidence of how completely the disaster of September 2001 has been commodified. And a block away on Liberty Street there is another 9-11 Tribute Center, which, if more democratic in conception (it is a project of the September 11th Families' Association), is also asking a hefty $22 for a guided tour ($15 general admission). (We are glad to see that that the anti-war September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows also remain active, with an event planned later this month.)

The following day, Sept. 11, I returned to the scene in the afternoon, and walked through the memorial grounds, above the museum, centered on the two giant reflecting pools where the towers used to be. There were many heartfelt messages and floral bouquets left by survivors, as well as clueless tourists cheerfully snapping selfies. But the most disturbing thing was (predictably) the level of security. Access to the memorial was only through a narrow choke-point carefully watched by agents of the NYPD Counterterrorism Units, who also patrolled the grounds. There was no sense of the self-organized spontaneity and even political contention that characterized the impromptu memorial gatherings at the intersection of Church and Vesey streets (the closest accessible point to what was then called "Ground Zero") in the years before the memorial opened.

I always viewed the 9-11 conspiracy-mongers who noisily crashed the memorial every year as disrespectful idiots and political vampires of the lowest order. But the last year I saw them out there on Sept. 11 was 2011. If they've finally thrown in the towel because they've thought better of their obnoxious tactics (not to mention their wacky theories), that's a good thing. But if they've done so because it simply isn't possible to protest at the memorial site, that is definitely a very bad thing. After all, the right to be a disrespectful idiot is an important one. If freedom means anything at all, it means the right to voice unpopular, disturbing ideas—and, indeed, the right to be wrong.

As we noted in our Sept. 11 2014 report, the day still resonates as an occasion for jingoism and war propaganda. But perhaps the day's commodification and transformation into an empty spectacle is ultimately even more disturbing… 

  1. What do we do about the 9-11 conspiranoids?

    Just posted to Facebook:

    It's a serious question.

    On Sept. 11, a meme appeared on my wall reading:

    "NEVER FORGET: Jet fuel burns at 1500° (max). Steel melts at 2750°"

    To which I responded:

    "Also never forget that the temperature at which steel melts is irrelevant to the question at hand. It's not like jet fuel was poured over the steel beams and set on fire. There were huge explosions. This whole line of questioning avoids the overwhelming issue of TRAUMA. And the beams did not have to 'melt' at all–they had to be sufficiently weakened that they collapsed. You get the answer you want by asking the wrong question."

    What ensued was the usual ghastly pile-on from the conspiranoids, exhibiting their two beloved tactics aimed at derailing any criticism of their improbable theories. One is older and better known than the other, so I'll discuss the newer one first. I have actually coined a name for it. I call it "Quantitative Bamboozlement."

    The logic of Quantitative Bamboozlement is that if you throw enough bullshit at the wall, maybe some of it will stick. Maybe the slow-witted will miss the fact that you are changing the subject and be impressed by your supposed wealth of evidence. And (here's the clincher) maybe your opponent will get tired of responding to your bullshit and stop engaging you, allowing you to claim victory. Shoot down one trope, and 100 more are hurled at you. It can also be called the "What About?" tactic. Shoot down the relevancy of whether jet fuel can melt steel and you get a barrage of "What Abouts"… What about building number 7? What about Larry Silverstein's "pull it" quote? What about the (supposed) lack of video footage of a plane hitting the Pentagon? Etc., etc. This time it even went so far afield as What about JFK?

    But the reason I call it Quantitative Bamboozlement is that "What About" questions CAN be raised honestly. For instance, my opponents could have responded to my critique of the meme thusly: "Wow, you've got a point, Weinberg. I guess the meme really is totally full of shit. OK, never mind the controlled-demolition theory. But what do you have to say about building number 7?"

    Now, that would be an actual conversation, and I could go on to explain how there is actually very little that is mysterious about the collapse of WTC 7. But they don't really want a conversation, They want to AVOID one. They will NEVER admit that their opponents have a point. Instead, they throw all the other tropes to AVOID addressing the criticism of the first one. And a day later they will be happily recycling the melted-steel trope as if nothing had happened. The "Truthies" are not actually seeking the truth. They are seeking to AVOID it.

    The second tactic is the time-honored Ad Hominem attack. For instance, in response to my criticism of the meme–which contained NO name-calling–I was called a "retard," "insane" and a "Zionist extremist," among other things.

    This is particularly ironic, as the conspiranoids are constantly complaining that their opponents call them crazy. You'd think they would take the high road. But they don't. I actually hear far more Ad Hominem attacks from the conspiranoids than I do from their critics.

    I should make clear (before they point out that I am calling them "conspiranoids") that there is a difference between an Ad Hominem attack and using a political label, even a colorful epithet like "conspiranoid." The Ad Hominem attack is a bogus debating tactic, in which you attempt to delegitimize your opponent with name-calling INSTEAD OF addressing the argument. No need to reply to my point about the irrelevance of the temperature at which steel melts: the mere fact that I dared to dissent from the conspiranoid dogma means I am a retarded, insane Zionist extremist.

    In contrast, when I call the conspiranoids "conspiranoids" it is precisely because they engage in the dishonest debating tactics described above. I don't say they are wrong because they are conspiranoids. On the contrary, I conclude they are conspiranoids because of their demonstrated lack of good faith and intellectual honesty.

    Similarly, when I call conspiranoid leading lights like David Icke "fascists," I am not doing so to avoid their arguments, but because it is an accurate description of their ideology. Icke's theories that the world is secretly run by an occult elite with names like Rothschild comes straight out of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It is fascist ideology, and those who propound fascist ideology are fascists.

    Now, if instead of critiquing the jet-fuel meme, I had said "Transfer the Palestinians into Jordan," there would be a legitimate basis to call me a "Zionist extremist." But I said nothing like that. Therefore, calling me a "Zionist extremist" is just an Ad Hominem attack–as well as a clear ethnic slur, as the only possible reference is to my surname.

    So, we really do have a dilemma here. On one hand, arguing with the conspiranoids is a waste of time and a sucker's game. You cannot win with them, because they do not argue honestly and are not interested in the truth.

    On the other hand, failing to challenge their bullshit leaves a new generation vulnerable to being taken in by sophistries about the temperature of melting steel.

    With activist energies now desperately needed to resist rising fascism in the guise of Donald Trump xenophobia, to demand a humane response to the world refugee crisis, to build solidarity with the Rojava Kurds and other Syrian revolutionaries, and so on… it is tiresome to have to grapple with how to address those who would divert our enegies into the time-wasting black hole of 9-11 conspiranoia.

    Nonetheless, it is a genuine dilemma.

    I await your thoughts…..

    1. …also kown as ‘Gish Galloping’

      I still prefer Quantitative Bamboozlement, but I am not the first to adopt a neologism for the practice, it seems. From the science website Speaking of Research:

      Gish Gallop is a technique, named after the creationist Duane Gish who employed it, whereby someone argues a cause by hurling as many different half-truths and no-truths into a very short space of time so that their opponent cannot hope to combat each point in real time. This leaves some points unanswered and allows the original speaker to try and claim his opponent lacks the counter-arguments.

      While this term was originally coined by Eugenie Scott to describe the arguing techniques of creationists, much the same tactics are employed by opponents of animal research. Not convinced that a few well developed lines of thought were suitable, many animal rights activists prefer to take a machine gun approach, hoping that some stray bullet will be the one necessary to convince their opposition.

      We aren't too crazy about animal research ourselves, but the "debating" tactic (if we may so flatter it) hardly makes the animal-rights crowd look good. Of course it is used far more (in our experience) by the 9-11 "Truthers," not mentioned by SoR. Use by "Truthers" is briefly noted by the RationalWiki page on Gish Gallop.