I have a question that is off our normal arena of topics, but there is an important issue at stake. A tanker truck overturned on a section of an Oakland freeway yesterday and erupted into flames.
Flames shot 200 feet in the air and the heat was intense enough to melt part of the freeway and cause the collapse
What are highways made of? Steel and concrete.
Do the 9/11 conspiracy theorists believe the government is behind this collapse since fuel doesn't melt steel? One of the key "facts" mustered by this group of people is that the Twin Towers couldn't have been weakened by the burning jet fuel so they must have been brought down by a controlled demolition. Rosie O'Donnell went so far recently as to claim that steel doesn't melt. So how did the highway collapse yesterday?
When I was an elementaryschool teacher, one exercise in a textbook we used was having the students identify facts and opinions from a list of statements. As the saying goes, you're entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. Increasingly in our relativistic culture, I fear that many feel entitled to their own facts, too.
Part of what concerns me about the 9/11 conspiracy theorists, and the increasing plausibility they're given in mainstream discussions, is that abdication of epistemic responsibility. All of us consider information and form beliefs. Not only should we do this accurately, we have to do it well. We have to do it responsibly. We have to be responsible about the assessment of facts and information we use to form our beliefs. We have to be virtuous thinkers, not just accurate ones. And the 9/11 conspiracies are one of the public and egregious examples we have of people being irresponsible in their duties as thinkers.
Though these ideas are still somewhat fringe, they've gained a voice in the public square, partially because our relativistic culture doesn't like to call some idea bad. But this is a bad and wrong idea. There are bad and wrong ideas. Ideas, that aren't just wrong but display an egregious lack of responsibility.
I truly believe that if a culture is to maintain a cohesion among the members then some ideas have to be off the table, not tolerated in the public square. Part of being a human being is forming beliefs, and some of those are vital to the shared culture. Some of these, for example, are contained in our founding documents that express our values. This is one example, there are others if we think about them. Holocaust denying, for instance, is one that is generally rejected without consideration - and that's a good thing since the historical facts are so obvious. Another example is what Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins argue in their books against religion - religion is an irresponsible belief in the scientific age. Obviously, I think that is debatable.<>
Tolerance shouldn't make us irresponsible thinkers. I truly think some of the contentiousness in our culture these days derives from the inability for us to even agree on some facts because some have become irresponibile thinkers. It's something that concerns me personally. Not only do I often evaluate what I believe but how I've come to believe it and whether prejudices, culture, or emotions have influenced that way I've gathered and evaluated information. I do believe there are objective truths and that we can form true beliefs.>
There's a wide open scope for ideas and discussion in our public square. But we should always approach ideas responsibly.