Shhhh…. Don’t tell anyone about this! THEY might find out!
In my adventures around New Zealand, I met an inordinate number of people who believe in conspiracy theories surrounding Sept 11th. And when I say this, I don’t mean people who believe that “well, maybe the US Government knew something, or maybe their not telling us everything, but I think its basically what people know”. I mean people who think that the Illuminati specially designed the trade towers to collapse at a predetermined time.
Ok, maybe not that extreme, but the two people I’m going to talk atebout were damn close… and the truly scary part is that they were both otherwise quite intelligent and successful people, even international businessmen in one case. And yet, for some reason, they felt the need to reach out for “greater meaning” and “hidden agenda” in events, both times ignoring accepted facts and scientific evidence in favor of the belief that the vast majority of people are out to get us.
First up is a young woman about the same age as me, that I met on a long bus ride in the South Island. Her and I were sitting next to each other, and had started chatting about pretty much whatever came to mind. After about an hour of basic “getting to know you” conversation she dropped the bomb – “what do you, as an American, think of September 11th?” My reply, as always, was couched in a veil of ambiguity that I’ve learned to keep up when discussing sensitive subjects with people I don’t really know. As I expected, she took my vague reply to mean that I agreed exactly with what she thought, and so she leapt headfirst into a rant about how “the science just doesn’t add up” as to how the Tower’s could fall like that.
Really. Seriously. She was trying to convince an engineer that the science didn’t add up. Don’t get me wrong – I haven’t done any in-depth stress/strain analysis of the World Trade Towers, and I haven’t run any Finite Element Analysis of the impact forces on the super-structure. But an important part of being an Engineer is being able to understand information, and to verify the results of others. I’ve heard the theories that “Jet fuel doesn’t burn hot enough to melt steel”, and that “the towers should have fallen over if they were hit, right?”, and I’ve done enough basic research to understand that they don’t hold up. First – Steel doesn’t have to melt in order to weaken to the point that it will collapse. Metal is like that, it doesn’t need to be liquid for it to be useless as a support structure. And that’s just the tip of the iceburg when it comes to a discussion of why those thoughts are incorrect.
But, not surprisingly, when I told her about this, she worked over it with a simple “well, thats what they want you to think”. Right there, is what I cannot understand. “So, what you’re trying to say, is that hundreds of years of modern engineering, not to mention thousands of years of science, have been fabricated simply to trick the American public?”
A second example comes from a very successful young entrepeneur that I met while exploring the Northern Island of New Zealand. (See what I did there? One example from each Island. I’m good like that) He ran an export business that shipped kiwi products over to Europe, and at age 28 had amassed a very impressive lifestyle that I honestly would very much enjoy myself. However, the same scene repeated itself again here; an hour or so of “getting to know you”, followed by the dreaded question of “so as an American, what do you think of the wars in Afganistan and Iraq?”.
Right here I’ll mention something else that I’ve learned on my travels – I am an “American”, its true. But so are Canadians, Mexicans, Venezuelans, and Bolivians. The United States is NOT the only country in America, and its honestly insulting to every other country when you assume “American” only means “people from the United States”. I know this is strange, a Politically-correct rant from someone like me, but I find statements that marginalize entire civilizations in preference for more “European” nations to be a bit small-minded.
As I always do, I zigged and zagged, dodging and weaving in my reply enough that he was confident that I was on his side… or at least confident enough to drop the real bomb of information into my uneducated skull – Osama Bin Laden hadn’t planned or helped with Sept 11th, and he had actually denounced the attack as unethical. And that, when he released a video saying that the Arabic world and the Western world should ally, the United States hid it, and refused to accept his offer to help find the real perpetrators.
I questioned the sanity behind this statement, as politiely as I could, and requested some sort of verification as to its authenticity. “Ohh man, just give me 5min on Google and I’ll show it to you. I saw it on this one news site, or maybe it was Wikipedia…” And then he proceeded to start rocking the Google searches, expecting any moment to be rewarded with a BBC article explaining how George W Bush himself had actually installed computers in the planes that hit the trade towers. He never found anything of course, but this lack of evidence only further stoked the furnace of his conviction, “It’s gone because THEY don’t want you to know about it!”
I honestly don’t know why this belief in grand conspiracies annoys me so much. Maybe its the ignoring of the basic scientific method, or maybe its that they always make the deaths of so many innocent people seem like simple moves in a grand chess game. Perhaps it’s because these people always use these conspiracies as a reason why life isn’t better. They feel that a grand scheme is in place to make the world a bad place, and to keep the normal people down… and if there is a grand scheme, it’s not their fault that the world is in such sad shape.
But I think that my problem, at the heart, may come from something akin to jealousy – I am honestly somewhat envious of peoples ability to believe in their opinion so strongly that no science, no lack of evidence and no expert can sway them from their belief. Its horrifying, at some level, that I want to be able to ignore the world around me as well as they can. But I can’t, I can’t even begin to pretend that I understand the real way that the world works. And I think that’s part of being human, the ability to admit that we don’t understand everything, and to accept that there will be things that aren’t controlled by some outside force. That there is no grand scheme in place for humanity, and that we only survive by the barest strands of luck and fate.