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Mar 16 2014

Guest post: The Myth of the Consistent Skeptic

Originally a comment by Blanche Quizno on Another bad model.

Let’s not fall into the trap sometimes described as the “Myth of the Consistent Skeptic.” Albert Einstein was an huge and outspoken admirer of the Soviet Union’s government system, holding onto his positive view even as negative information poured in:

Einstein held a wide range of beliefs beyond his contributions to science and outside his area of expertise. For example, in 1933, Einstein (we believe correctly) voiced his opinion about political liberty in Germany, “As long as I have any choice, I will only stay in a country where political liberty, toleration, and equality of all citizens before the law are the rule. Political liberty implies liberty to express one’s political views orally and in writing, toleration, respect for any and every individual. These conditions do not obtain in Germany at the present time” (Einstein 1949, p. 81). Einstein openly criticized Nazism and the brutalities that occurred under that government.

The important point, however, is that Einstein’s positive beliefs toward the Soviet Union did not change as substantial information came forth demonstrating that the Soviet Union was a totalitarian state that did not tolerate political liberty. Einstein was never shy about judging capitalism or Nazism by their deeds and actions instead of their rhetoric. He did not apply this standard to the Soviet Union. A consistent skeptic would not use double standards to evaluate different forms of governments.

If Einstein was a consistent skeptic, one would predict that, as the accumulating evidence came forth over the years, Einstein would modify his beliefs and become a leading critic of both Stalin and the Soviet Union for their violations of political liberty.

The point is that, since people are complex, complicated individuals, you’re rarely going to find a single person who is completely, unfailingly luminary in every characteristic bar none. So do we throw out the baby with the bathwater if we happen to find something icky?

If so, then we’re going to have to OURSELVES be consistent across the board. Out with Heidegger. Out with Einstein. Out with Thomas Jefferson:

In his original draft of the Declaration, in soaring, damning, fiery prose, Jefferson denounced the slave trade as an “execrable commerce …this assemblage of horrors,” a “cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberties.” As historian John Chester Miller put it, “The inclusion of Jefferson’s strictures on slavery and the slave trade would have committed the United States to the abolition of slavery.

But in the 1790s, Davis continues, “the most remarkable thing about Jefferson’s stand on slavery is his immense silence.” And later, Davis finds, Jefferson’s emancipation efforts “virtually ceased.”

Somewhere in a short span of years during the 1780s and into the early 1790s, a transformation came over Jefferson.

The Virginia abolitionist Moncure Conway, noting Jefferson’s enduring reputation as a would-be emancipator, remarked scornfully, “Never did a man achieve more fame for what he did not do.

The critical turning point in Jefferson’s thinking may well have come in 1792. As Jefferson was counting up the agricultural profits and losses of his plantation in a letter to President Washington that year, it occurred to him that there was a phenomenon he had perceived at Monticello but never actually measured. He proceeded to calculate it in a barely legible, scribbled note in the middle of a page, enclosed in brackets. What Jefferson set out clearly for the first time was that he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children. The enslaved were yielding him a bonanza, a perpetual human dividend at compound interest. Jefferson wrote, “I allow nothing for losses by death, but, on the contrary, shall presently take credit four per cent. per annum, for their increase over and above keeping up their own numbers.” His plantation was producing inexhaustible human assets. The percentage was predictable.

In another communication from the early 1790s, Jefferson takes the 4 percent formula further and quite bluntly advances the notion that slavery presented an investment strategy for the future. He writes that an acquaintance who had suffered financial reverses “should have been invested in negroes.” He advises that if the friend’s family had any cash left, “every farthing of it [should be] laid out in land and negroes, which besides a present support bring a silent profit of from 5. to 10. per cent in this country by the increase in their value.”

The irony is that Jefferson sent his 4 percent formula to George Washington, who freed his slaves, precisely because slavery had made human beings into money, like “Cattle in the market,” and this disgusted him. – “The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson”, Smithsonian Magazine, October 2012

George Washington freed his slaves. Thomas Jefferson never did – even though Jefferson’s old friend, Polish nobleman and Revolutionary War hero Thaddeus Kos­ciuszko, left him in his will the equivalent in today’s dollars of $280,000 to use in freeing his slaves. Jefferson had helped draft this will; he knew what was in it. As executor of that will, Jefferson had a legal responsibility to carry its terms out as specified, which meant using that money to free his slaves. Jefferson did not. He refused to accept the cash because he could make more money off his slaves. Jefferson never freed his slaves, many of which were his own children.

Isn’t enslaving your own children far more heinous than believing and saying horrible stuff about an ethnic group that’s not your own?

 

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  1. 1
    Ophelia Benson

    The slavery issue has definitely influenced my opinion of Jefferson, to put it mildly. I don’t totally ignore him as a result, but…I don’t take him as a model, either.

  2. 2
    Enkidum

    But… is there anyone who’s a model? Should there be?

  3. 3
    Pierce R. Butler

    Given CSICOP’s known libertarian tendencies, any scoldings from them about anybody being insufficiently anti-communist should be taken with (ahem) abundant skepticism.

  4. 4
    idahogie

    One possible explanation of Jefferson (but not one that makes him look any better) is that he didn’t actually write the first draft of the Declaration. Some (very few) scholars argue that Thomas Paine was the author. He had been in the US less than a year at that time, I believe. And Paine may have felt that the Declaration would not be accepted coming from an unknown recent immigrant.

    There isn’t anything to support this hypothesis, other than circumstantial arguments. The sentiments in the first draft match Paine’s, as does the phrasing. And neither matches anything that Thomas Jefferson ever wrote.

  5. 5
    Marcus Ranum

    is there anyone who’s a model? Should there be?

    I don’t think so; human beings will always have contradictory beliefs – otherwise we’d all agree all the time. Our ability to disagree is what makes us able to contradict eachother and ourselves, and ultimately that’s a creative process – we have to try on different beliefs and reject them in order to learn then teach.

  6. 6
    brucegee1962

    I had heard that the main reason Washington freed his slaves while Jefferson did not was that Washington didn’t have any children who were his heirs, and thus didn’t have Jefferson’s sense of responsibility. He was also probably a better businessman.

    None of which is to excuse Jefferson, who really should have known better. Didn’t he also espouse a “back to Africa” plan for a while?

  7. 7
    Katherine Woo

    Wow, I had always heard the apologetic that Jefferson could not free his slaves due to debt covenants. The matter with Kos­ciuszko makes Jefferson utterly indefensible.

    Einstein seems to be a pretty typical leftwing intellectual of the 20th century, a dreamy embrace of leftwing utopianism, while scorning the Western capitalist societies that actually gave them shelter. Being blind to the crimes of the USSR is so common place among academics and intellectuals that is why we have such a limited collective consciousness about the scope of their crimes (as opposed to how we feel about Nazism).

  8. 8
    Shatterface

    Einstein was a physicist and his reputation doesn’t rest on his failure to denounce the Soviet Union.

    A more relevent case would be Eric Hobsbawm, who, as a historian, should have known better. That failure DOES undermine the rest of his work.

    And while Noam Comsky is primarily a linguist he has become more famous as a political commentator and his refusal to denounce the Khmer Rouge seriously undermines his reputation.

  9. 9
    Brony

    Jefferson is still my favorite founder. But I really needed to see this.

    Thank you for that.

  10. 10
    Celegans

    I’m not quite sure what point is being made here. People are often inconsistent, yes, but that doesn’t mean they should not be criticised for it. Einstein was not entitled to hold the views he did on the Soviet Union and that makes those views reprehensible given the human cost of that regime. We don’t throw Einstein’s scientific discoveries out b ecause of that, but we should discount his social prognostications somewhat.

  11. 11
    Blanche Quizno

    The guest post above was motivated by a discussion of whether Heidegger’s contributions to philosophy should be set aside, given the recent revelation, through his diaries, that he is a screaming antiSemite.

    What of the lovely book titled “On The Jews And Their Lies”? That was written by no other than Christian reformer Martin Luther, the Father of Protestantism. 65,000 words condemning the Jews for existing. No one can deny that the entire New Testament is thoroughly antiSemitic. Jews have been persecuted for centuries as “Christ killers” on the basis of the contents of the New Testament. In fact, modern antiSemitic views are typically validated by references to the Christian scriptures.

    That’s the macdaddy of all antiSemitism right there – what now?

  12. 12
    Blanche Quizno

    @ 4: Interesting, Idahogie. I did not realize that, but it also does not surprise me. Paine was an incredible guy, no doubt about it.

    @5: “we have to try on different beliefs and reject them in order to learn then teach.” – Marcus Ranum

    You are correct, and this isn’t even an entirely voluntary, conscious process. When people hear something, they believe it. Even if only for a millisecond. When the information enters the consciousness, the person believes it. Upon evaluation, s/he might reject it, even so rapidly as it appears instantaneous. But there’s still the sequence of events. That is why those who wish to convince you of something typically talk rapidly, changing subjects rapid-fire. So as to not give you a chance to evaluate what you’ve just heard.

  13. 13
    Latverian Diplomat

    @7

    It was the democracy of the US that gave Einstein shelter, not its capitalism (the country he fled from was proudly capitalist too).

    The capitalism of the 1920s had many terrible flaws, which some of our elites seem determined to restore to us.

  14. 14
    Blanche Quizno

    “I’m not quite sure what point is being made here. People are often inconsistent, yes, but that doesn’t mean they should not be criticised for it. Einstein was not entitled to hold the views he did on the Soviet Union and that makes those views reprehensible given the human cost of that regime. We don’t throw Einstein’s scientific discoveries out b ecause of that, but we should discount his social prognostications somewhat.”

    The point being made that prompted the guest post, above, in rebuttal was the suggestion that Heidegger’s entire body of work in the field of philosophy should be set aside because he was a screaming Nazi antiSemite. My point was that, yes, he was a dick. So what? His work should be evaluated on its own merits or lack thereof (as with Einstein’s theories) and not chucked wholesale into the garbage just because he was a horrible person. My point is that there are lots of horrible people who are remembered not for being horrible, but for what they contributed/produced that WASN’T horrible. Like Thomas Jefferson.

  15. 15
    Celegans

    I agree with all that Blanche, but didn’t see what consistency in skepticism had to do with it. I do think that the fact that Heidegger’s ideas led him into National Socialism (as is now being claimed despite Arendt and others arguing against) is reason to discount his philosophy at least somewhat though.

  16. 16
    Blanche Quizno

    “And while Noam Comsky is primarily a linguist he has become more famous as a political commentator and his refusal to denounce the Khmer Rouge seriously undermines his reputation.” – Shatterface

    Chomsky’s defense of the ludicrous government explanation for the demolition of the WTC on 9/11/2001 likewise casts doubt upon his credibility, or at least his ability to think critically and weigh evidence.

    I like a lot of his other stuff, though. In particular, his analysis of the “they hate our freedoms” rhetoric as explanation for why the MidEast countries hate the US so much is brilliant:

    http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/20020126.htm

    ^ That’s from early 2002, and Chomsky clearly accepts the government’s theory about the terrorist attacks. One can give Chomsky a bit of a pass at this point, because a lot of the analysis and evidence that it was something else entirely had not come in, and most people were still a bit stunned over the event itself. However, Chomsky never updated his opinion as the information came in, which is inexcusable. But I digress – the content aside from the government’s party line about the “terrorist attacks” is extremely good.

    “It’s usually the victims who remember the history, not the perpetrators. So the use of the word ‘crusade’ in the Islamic world carries many strong memories and associations and Bush’s speechwriters hadn’t thought about it. So they withdrew the word ‘crusade’. That’s happened a couple of times already.

    The first operation against Afghanistan was called ‘Infinite Justice’ and they withdrew that when it was pointed out to them that the only ‘infinite justice’ is God’s justice, and they were being interpreted as regarding themselves as divinity. And they didn’t want to do that for obvious reasons, so they changed it to some other phrase. The phrase they did pick is interesting. The campaign is now called ‘Enduring Freedom’. Well, a number of comments about that…

    If you want to look at the kind of ‘freedom’ they have in mind, there’s an ample historical record of the kind of freedom they impose. The other point is, nobody seems to have noticed it but, the word ‘enduring’ is actually ambiguous. It can mean ‘lasting’ or it can mean ‘suffering from’. So, I’m enduring pain is another interpretation of ‘enduring’ and, in fact, if you think of the kind of freedom they impose and enduring freedom in the other sense, that is: ‘somehow living with the horrendous consequences of it,’ is not an inaccurate description.”

    You have to admit, that’s ^ a thing of beauty!! http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/200111–04.htm

  17. 17
    Blanche Quizno

    “I do think that the fact that Heidegger’s ideas led him into National Socialism (as is now being claimed despite Arendt and others arguing against) is reason to discount his philosophy at least somewhat though.”

    What passages, specifically?

    I have asked before – does his philosophy only ring true to antiSemites? Does his philosophy point otherwise neutral people toward antiSemitism?

    These are specific charges, and if the content can be shown in this way, then yes, those passages can be set aside. Actually, in philosophy, anyone is free to set any and all of it aside anytime s/he chooses – we all know that, don’t we?

    Can anyone provide excerpts here from Heidegger’s philosophy works – specifically – that betray his antiSemitism? And no, his private diaries don’t count. I’m talking about his body of work in the field of philosophy.

  18. 18
    doubtthat

    Chomsky’s defense of the ludicrous government explanation for the demolition of the WTC on 9/11/2001 likewise casts doubt upon his credibility, or at least his ability to think critically and weigh evidence.

    Well, never let it be said that we need to delve into history to find examples of people failing to critically evaluate subjects…

    Please say that I missed a joke or somehow couldn’t find the context to that.

  19. 19
    Blanche Quizno

    @ 6: Bruce Gee, Washington never procreated, but his young wife, the widow Martha, had two children whom they raised together. They also raised two of Martha’s grandchildren. When George married Martha, he inherited a significant estate (women could not own property by law), and he managed a large portion of it in her children’s interest. By all accounts, he cared deeply for these children; I think the claim that he “had no heirs” is specious. We have all seen examples of men who regard their wives’ children as their own.

    Back to Jefferson. Ugh. His misrepresentation as a leading abolitionist is only challenged by Wilberforce’s equally undeserved reputation in that regard.

    ” Influenced by the Haitian Revolution and an aborted rebellion in Virginia in 1800, Jefferson believed that American slaves’ deportation—whether to Africa or the West Indies—was an essential consequence of emancipation.” – that’s from a pro-Jefferson site, BTW http://www.monticello.org/site/plantation-and-slavery/thomas-jefferson-and-slavery In other words, that’s as positive as they can muster!!

    The Haitian Revolution was a complete game changer, and it illustrated the dangers slave-owning countries faced. At the time the Haitian Revolution began (1791), the number of slaves was approx. half a million, compared to some 32,000 whites and 28,000 free blacks/mulattos. So the ratio of slaves to free was approx. 10 to 1. In the movie, Django Unchained, the evil plantation lord Calvin Candie asks, “Why don’t they kill us?” This was a critically important concern in the slave states as well. Once the slave population got to a certain size, the whites would be outnumbered, no matter how superior their firepower. Jefferson’s plantation had around 200 slaves; Jefferson and his wife had 6 children, only two of whom survived to adulthood. So the ratio there was 50 to 1. You do the math.

    Remember, the evidence is that it was probably 1792 that Jefferson finally did the math and realized what a cash crop slave children were.

    In 1793, in the midst of Haiti’s slave revolution, the British invaded, attempting to claim the valuable colony for itself and put down the slave uprising that threatened the security of the nearby British colony of Jamaica. The Haitian slaves handed the British their asses and the British were forced to retreat. Imagine – a ragtag bunch of slaves besting the greatest military power on earth!

    So, against the backdrop of the Haitian Revolution, there was great fear about what would happen if black people gained any sort of power within society. Whites were afraid; they fully understood the atrocities of slavery and the prospects of righteous revenge. That is why freed slaves would have to be relocated, got rid of, sent a safe distance away where they could not return to wreak vengeance against their former oppressors. Wilberforce, likewise, was not in favor of granting freedom to slaves, so his reputation as an abolitionist is really quite the head-scratcher.

    “Some people involved in the anti-slavery campaign argued the only way to end the suffering was to make slavery itself illegal. However, Wilberforce disagreed, and argued that enslaved people were not ready to be granted their freedom. He pointed out in a pamphlet in 1807 that:

    ‘It would be wrong to emancipate (the slaves). To grant freedom to them immediately would be to insure not only their masters’ ruin, but their own. They must (first) be trained and educated for freedom’.” http://revealinghistories.org.uk/who-resisted-and-campaigned-for-abolition/people/william-wilberforce-and-abolition.html

    The Quakers had been fighting for the abolition of slavery since 1793, long before (Anglican) Wilberforce was persuaded to join the abolitionist cause (ca. 1789) by (fellow Anglican) Thomas Clarkson and present the abolition movement’s views in Parliament where Wilberforce was a member due to his wealth.

  20. 20
    Blanche Quizno

    @ 18: Doubtthat – “Well, never let it be said that we need to delve into history to find examples of people failing to critically evaluate subjects…

    Please say that I missed a joke or somehow couldn’t find the context to that.”

    RE: Chomsky and the 9/11 WTC demolition.

    Shatterface said that Chomsky’s failure to condemn the Khmer Rouge genocide campaign + tyranny undermined his credibility as a political commentator.

    I was agreeing in pointing out that Chomsky accepted the government’s laughable explanation for the demolition of the WTC on 9/11/2001; this likewise undermined his credibility as a political commentator (as this was an event with extraordinary political ramifications), but in spite of all that, Chomsky was still able to present cogent, insightful, USEFUL political commentary on other (or even related) topics.

    Again, I’m supporting my position that we shouldn’t be throwing babies out with bathwater, that people can produce both good and bad work, and that the fact that they produce some bad work does not NECESSARILY render their good work bad on the basis of that association or mean that their good work must now be ignored, as we can point to what is clearly and unequivocally bad work from them.

    Does that help?

  21. 21
    doubtthat

    I was agreeing in pointing out that Chomsky accepted the government’s laughable explanation for the demolition of the WTC on 9/11/2001

    Wow. Look, this is Ophelia’s blog. Having had these conversations frequently over the last decade or so, I know exactly how this is going to go. I will allow the blog’s proprietor to determine if this is what she wants to host.

    There are few things capable of undercutting a person’s claim to credibility more rapidly than advancing 9-11 conspiracy nonsense.

    Again, I’m not going into the blow by blow. I can tell you’ll be more than willing to run through the old tired conspiracy tropes, but wow. Wow. Really? 9-11 conspiracy theories? Oy.

  22. 22
    JohnM

    Actually, the matter of Jefferson and Kosciuszko’s will is more complicated. After Kosciuszko’s death, Jefferson asked to be removed as executor due to his age (77) and the complexity of the will. He recommended John Hartwell Cocke, a friend of Jefferson’s who opposed slavery. Unfortunately, Cocke also declined the bequest. As for the complexity of the will, it went to the Supreme Court 3 times. Kosciuszko had also made a total of 4 wills, 3 of them dated after the American one. Hell, the final SC decision on the will was in 1852, 35 years after Kosciuszko’s death. I suspect that Jefferson took one look at Kosciuszko’s will and thought “Sweet Jeebus, I am not getting anywhere near that. Life is too damn short” Or something to that effect.

    I agree that Jefferson did not live up to his ideals on many occasions, but I don’t think that the Kosciuszko will was one of those.

    Also, because I can’t help myself, I have to quote doubtthat @21: “Wow Really? 9-11 conspiracy theories? Oy.” Says it all really.

  23. 23
    quixote

    (There’s a smile-out-loud irony to Quizno’s point that we should examine arguments on their merits becoming tainted for doubtthat by the whiff of 9/11 conspiracies.)

  24. 24
    Blanche Quizno

    @ 22: ” I suspect that Jefferson took one look at Kosciuszko’s will and thought “Sweet Jeebus, I am not getting anywhere near that. Life is too damn short” Or something to that effect.”

    Jefferson helped draft that will O_O

    @ 23: quixote, we must always keep in mind that there are some subjects that are simply off-limits when it comes to the subject of critical examination.

  25. 25
    doubtthat

    Indeed. Or perhaps it’s the most direct illustration of an argument I’ve ever seen. Were there any confusion, we sure as hell got a clarifying example. I mean, Quizno’s original point was a good one, but I don’t know what to do with the rest.

  26. 26
    doubtthat

    @ 23: quixote, we must always keep in mind that there are some subjects that are simply off-limits when it comes to the subject of critical examination.

    I feel like Chewbacca staring at that big leg of meat on Endor. The trap, however, is a net weaved of my own lack of impulse control.

    The reader will have to accept my word that it is not for lack of critical thought that I treat 9-11 conspiracy theories with such disdain, and it is not a dearth of available argument that leads me to turn and walk away from such sanctimony.

  27. 27
    Pierce R. Butler

    Blanche Quizno @ # 16 – Chomsky spoke last year at the University of Florida, and local troofers tried to drag him into the 9/11 morass-of-their-own-making. His reply was typical Noam – polite, factual, and devastating.

    And here’s a good analysis of what Prof. Chomsky actually said about the Khmer Rouge, and why.

  28. 28
    Juan

    While we’re on the subject of Jefferson’s moral values, I’d recommend this essay by political scientist Corey Robin on Jefferson’s racial views:

    http://coreyrobin.com/2012/12/01/thomas-jefferson-american-fascist/

  29. 29
    Blanche Quizno

    @ 28: Juan – Wow! Astonishing and shocking! I’m wading through it (you, of course, realize what a quantity of information it is).

    1) Male orangutans prefer black women to female orangutans?? How could we possibly know, when orangutans are not native to Africa??

    2) Jefferson’s observation about blacks’ tendency to sleep – “like animals” – when not otherwise working shows a great and perhaps intentional ignorance of how hard slaves were typically worked. Since we now know that sleep deprivation is cumulative – an hour lost can only be made up by an extra hour slept – it’s obvious why a slave would sleep when he had the chance. Jefferson’s claim that the slaves suffered less than a white person in a similar situation would reminded of white people from the South during the Jim Crow era who describe how cheery and content all the black people were to work hard in the fields for little money. They HAD to appear cheery and content, or they might be murdered. They knew this. I know an elderly woman in Mississippi who insists that the schools were much better when they were segregated, for example.

    “Religion indeed has produced a Phyllis Whately; but it could not produce a poet. ”

    Phillis Wheatley, born in West Africa, was indeed a poetess, and a published one at that – even George Washington praised her work. That Thomas Jefferson is incapable of even acknowledging her accomplishments, when so many others in both Britain and America could easily do so, says a lot about him.

    “The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism.”

    Nice!

    “I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.”

    Whips, chains, involuntary servitude, and brutalization do have a tendency to produce that effect O_O

  30. 30
    Blanche Quizno

    @ 27: Pierce R. Butler – “And here’s a good analysis of what Prof. Chomsky actually said about the Khmer Rouge, and why.”

    This source agrees with yours: http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/2779086.html

    This one does as well: http://www.chomsky.info/onchomsky/1985—-.htm

    “Here is the story, as far as I can trace it, of Chomsky’s effort to “minimize” or “deny” the harvest of the Khmer Rouge. It will be seen that the phony “credibility” of the charge against him derives from his lack of gullibility about the American mass killings in Indochina (routinely euphemized or concealed by large sections of the domestic intelligentsia). From this arises the idea that Chomsky might have said such things; was the sort of person who could decline to criticize “the other side”; was a well-known political extremist. Couple this with the slothful ease of the accusation, the reluctance of certain authors to prove they are not unpatriotic dupes, and you have a scapegoat in the making. Dr. Arbuthnot was right. Nobody would believe that Chomsky advocated a massacre. But they might be brought to believe that he excused or overlooked one.”

    ^ That lengthy article is by Christopher Hitchens. Since I am much more familiar with the Hitch than I am with any of the Chomsky’s-a-jerk sources, I will go with this one if I have to choose one.

    At university the first time, I did a research project on Cambodia as part of a French studies class on the colonial empire, in early 1982. I used articles that had been written by activists on campus, attempting to raise awareness of the atrocities, using first-hand experiences (there was quite a bit of that going on – it was a large university). I also found a slim book, can’t remember the name, that attempted to justify the Khmer Rouge’s emptying of large cities on the basis that the power and water supplies and food transportation networks had failed, and that, if the cities weren’t emptied, they would become death traps. In my presentation for this senior class, I focused on this apologist line of thinking, simply because it was different and it presented a counterpoint to the demonization story we’d thus far received (however in dribs and drabs – it was slow to come out in all its bloody glory). After all, it’s important to hear both sides, if only to better appreciate what those who are presenting falsehoods are up to in promoting their falsehoods (*ahem*). I came to the conclusion that the apologist side was utterly despicable and bankrupt of any respect-worthy motive. To this day, I can’t imagine what that author had in mind in painting the Khmer Rouge as ultimately decent, responsible guys whose hands were tied and who had no other options. I can’t remember the author or the name of the book – as I said, this was back in early 1982, so it had to have been published before then, possibly rushed to publication as events were unfolding and before the true nature of the genocide had become obvious – who knows?

    “The eviction of the city dwellers was the first measure of territorial control adopted by the Khmer
    Rouge in order to build a pure socialist environment. Between two and three million people were
    expelled from the cities all over the country. The procedure was planned long in advance and
    the regime gave several reasons for its decision. Besides fearing a US bombing of the capital, the
    leadership pointed to the threat of starvation in the city, whose population swelled up due to fighting
    and bombing in the countryside during the preceding civil war. Although at least starvation was
    a real danger, it wasn’t the only reason to empty the cities. The rejection of foreign support, the
    export of large amounts of rice to China and the long-term strategy of expelling the residents of
    cities, all point towards yet another reason. Due to the lack of cadres and the splits inside the
    party, it was impossible for the Khmer Rouge to control populated centers.” – http://www2.hu-berlin.de/transcience/Vol3_Issue1_2012_40_52.pdf

    ^ This source affirms what I mentioned, the claim that it was necessary to empty the cities for the survival of the inhabitants.

    Ha ha ha.

    As for the 9/11 conspiracy theorists, let’s have a look at a few polls that have sought to discern how many Americans believe the government’s explanation that this was an Al-Qaeda terrorist attack:

    “When it comes to what they knew prior to September 11th, 2001, about possible terrorist attacks against the United States, do you think members of the Bush Administration are telling the truth, are mostly telling the truth but hiding something, or are they mostly lying?”

    May 2002 responses: 21% said “telling the truth”, 65% said they are “mostly telling the truth but hiding something”, 8% said they are “mostly lying”, 6% not sure.

    (May 2006) Some of the questions asked include the following:
    “Some people believe that the US government and its 9/11 Commission concealed or refused to investigate critical evidence that contradicts their official explanation of the September 11th attacks, saying there has been a cover-up. Others say that the 9/11 Commission was a bi-partisan group of honest and well-respected people and that there is no reason they would want to cover-up anything. Who are you more likely to agree with?”

    Responses: 48% No Cover-up / 42% Cover-up / 10% Not sure

    “World Trade Center Building 7 is the 47-story skyscraper that was not hit by any planes during the September 11th attacks, but still totally collapsed later the same day. This collapse was not investigated by the 9/11 Commission. Are you aware of this skyscraper’s collapse, and if so do you believe that the Commission should have also investigated it? Or do you believe that the Commission was right to only investigate the collapse of the buildings which were directly hit by airplanes?”

    Responses: 43% Not Aware / 38% Aware – should have investigated it / 14% Aware – right not to investigate it / 5% Not Sure

    Oct 2006 responses: 16% said “telling the truth”, 53% said they are “mostly telling the truth but hiding something”, 28% said they are “mostly lying”, 3% not sure.

    In September 2009, a National Obama Approval Poll, by Public Policy Polling, found that 27 percent of respondents who identified themselves as Liberals, and 10 percent as Conservatives, responded “yes” to the question, “Do you think President Bush intentionally allowed the 9/11 attacks to take place because he wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East?”

    A March 2010 poll conducted by the Angus Reid Public Opinion organization found that 15 percent of respondents found theories that the World Trade Center was brought down by a controlled demolition to be credible. Anywhere between 6 percent and 15 percent of respondents found credibility in claims that United Airlines Flight 93 was shot down, that no airplanes hit the Pentagon or the World Trade Center.

    Results summarized at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polls_about_9/11_conspiracy_theories

    Apparently there are quite a few people who are skeptical about the government’s explanation for what happened on 9/11. Just as there are about the official explanation for JFK’s murder:

    “Fifty years later, no less than 61% of Americans believe others besides Lee Harvey Oswald were involved in Kennedy’s murder, reports the Gallup Poll.

    This is the lowest percentage in nearly 50 years, Gallup notes, but remains a solid majority.” http://www.usatoday.com/story/theoval/2013/11/17/john-kennedy-assassination-conspiracy-theories-gallup/3618431/

    “Those who were adults in 1963 were almost as likely as younger Americans to say that Kennedy’s killing was a conspiracy involving multiple people – 55 percent, compared to 61 percent.” http://ap-gfkpoll.com/featured/our-latest-story-3

    How could people believe anything so obviously *STUPID*, right? I mean, if it’s a “conspiracy theory” that means it’s automatically wrong (no matter what the details) AND the person who believes it is crazy, right? And stupid. Let’s not forget THAT part.

  31. 31
    Blanche Quizno

    “The reader will have to accept my word that it is not for lack of critical thought that I treat 9-11 conspiracy theories with such disdain, and it is not a dearth of available argument that leads me to turn and walk away from such sanctimony.”

    It is important for each person to have the freedom and the access to information to make up his own mind to his own satisfaction.

    One of the key pieces of information for me was looking at videos of controlled demolitions on Youtube. And seeing pictures of buildings that had collapsed – like THIS one: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/ABPub/2004/07/23/2001986837.jpg

    And this one: http://www.zonaeuropa.com/20091231_03.jpg

    When buildings fall, they do not implode: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-RGmCqJJ26gE/UjVOqgTJ4HI/AAAAAAAAB9c/e9xfz8jcXEc/s400/KDCLrqCZYkX6.png

    Here is a sample of burning skyscrapers that never fell: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-8tEn6R9-5WM/UjU0pjgyeSI/AAAAAAAAB8E/zt4bU0Rlqa8/s1600/VeH00y2xm5sS.png

    Completely different – night and day. A building only implodes and falls *straight* down in a controlled demolition – and the taller the building, the more careful the demolition must be. When tall buildings collapse, they fall over, not down. And, in the wake of the 9/11 disaster, not a single change to any building code was made.

    But so what? Decide for yourself.

    If you REALLY want to address misguided thinking, perhaps consider that almost 3/4 of Americans believe in invisible, undetectable superbeings that we should all be very concerned about! There are far bigger fish to fry, in other words. That’s what *I* reserve my disdain for. But to each his own :)

  32. 32
    Ophelia Benson

    Oy.

  33. 33
    Blanche Quizno

    Yah, some days that’s all a person can say…

  1. 34
    Essays on Atheism and Intellect, plus Religion Commentaries | Evangelically Atheist

    […] Let’s not fall into the trap sometimes described as the “Myth of the Consistent Skeptic.” Albert Einstein was an huge and outspoken admirer of the Soviet Union’s government system, holding onto his positive view even as negative information poured in. [Read more] […]

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