Friday, July 08, 2005

Considered Judgment on 9/11

Catherine Z. Elgin's Considered Judgment (Princeton, 1996) has several features of interest to 9/11 activists. Some salient instances are her use as an example, "conspiracy theories about the assassination of President Kennedy" (144), her recognition of the importance of emotion in the process of inquiry (146-169), and her discussions of Wittgenstein, Kuhn and Rorty, or what she calls "pure procedural epistemology" or "Knowledge by Consensus" (60-100), which more or less says that what is true is determined by common consent, since common consent determines what words mean. (One seems to encounter this position fairly often in broaching 9/11 Truth.)

But through the book a theme recurs; the theme of composition and division of evidences.

"Justification is holistic. Support for a conclusion comes not from a single line of argument but from a host of considerations of varying degrees of strength and relevance. Indirect evidence and weak arguments, which alone would bear little weight, may be interwoven into a fabric that strongly supports a conclusion. Each element derives warrant from its place in the whole." (130).

"In forging connections among initially tenable claims, we integrate them into a mutually supportive network. This enhances their tenability, each being more reasonable in light of the others than it was alone. It also confers tenability on the sentences we annex, transforming initially doubtful claims into integral parts of an acceptable system of thought." (104).

"It [constructionalism] can adopt considerations too poorly supported for perfect procedural epistemologies to countenance, secure in the knowledge that unwise admissions can later be rescinded. ... It requires weak reasons to be more tightly woven into the fabric of commitments than strong ones. But it allows that this can be done, that collective action can compensate for individual shortcomings.
A constellation of weak reasons sometimes constitutes a strong case." (121).


Compare this with what an older book says: "For the two pieces of information, visual and (say) acoustic, taken together [original italics] contain the information ... , information that neither signal, taken by itself, contains."----Fred I. Dretske, Knowledge and the Flow of Information, pp. 95f. Dretske caters to a well-known fact when he says that, "This constitutes a relativization of the information contained in a signal because how much information a signal contains, and hence what information it carries, depends on what the potential receiver already knows about the various possibilities that exist at the source. " (p. 79).

(Cf. "compound argumentation" in Frans H. van Eemeren and Rob Grootendorst, A Systematic Theory of Argumentation: The pragma-dialectical approach, pp. 120f.)

Since the emotional resistance which 9/11 Truth encounters is so strong, any one part of the case for it is subject to being overwhelmed, and its rejection is subject to being used as a justification for refusing to consider the rest of the case. That is why the 9/11 Truth Movement is currently looking for a "smoking gun" (a concept also discussed by Elgin) or a way to "open a cut" (as mentioned in "Ruppert's Approach II"), and compiling "top ten" or "top twenty" lists of anomalies in the official coverup.

The conspirators at some level of consciousness must have counted on their ability to control the media in order to prevent the presentation of all the evidence together, while not absolutely preventing the revelation of many individual incriminating facts. Putting apparently harmless facts together to reveal surprisingly useful, unsuspected information is what CIA analysts do, and the conspirators know that the public has relatively few such persons working for them.

When facts are presented piecemeal and never together, there is a sense in which everything has been revealed, and there is another sense in which it hasn't.

In a media context, presenting "too many" incriminating facts in the same place can be construed as bias. Result: automatic, seemingly legitimate protection for the coverup.

Another way to hide in plain sight is long familiar to anyone exposed to advertising, or contract-signing: it is the institution of the fine print. Any marketer knows that you must make it as easy as possible for the prospect to buy. There is effort involved in everything, and that includes the acquisition of knowledge. "I buy it" is one way to say "I believe it." How easy is it to know what is in a headline, as opposed to what is in the fine print? The headline giveth, and the fine print taketh away. The daunting prospect of actually reading the stuff makes attractive the thought that it isn't important anyway.

And what if the great bulk of it isn't important? What if the crucial sentence is surrounded by a million words worth of twaddle? Induction leads one to think that since most of it is like this, all of it is like this. Or what if the information promised just is not there? In that case the unread and unreadable mass can be used as "proof" of something that, when examined by the skeptical, turns out to be "beyond the scope of the inquiry."

The published recommendations on how to build buildings so that in future they won't undergo "progressive collapse" when hit by airplanes, and how to minimize loss of life in such a case ("have fire drills") are promised to be 10,000 pages long. I think Popkin claimed to have read the complete Warren Commission Report. I greatly doubt that any human being will ever read those 10,000 promised pages. Our legislators commonly don't read the bills they vote on; they take someone's word for what's in them. How can the public be held to a higher standard?

I think these are considerations almost as important as the topos of composition and division, and susceptible of likewise weighty philosophical treatment.

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