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Conspiracy Analogy

Entry 532, on 2007-05-14 at 19:46:01 (Rating 3, News)

A common mechanism people use to support conspiracy theories, which otherwise don't have a lot going for them, is to use false analogies. At the best of times an analogy establishes tenuous support for the reality of a theory, but when the analogy itself is invalid it suggests that the supporters of the theory are resorting to desperate tactics.

I'm mentioning this in connection with conspiracy theories related to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A common analogy is with the Reichstag Fire which Hitler used to strengthen his political power before World War II. It was generally accepted that Hitler arranged for the fire to be started and then blamed the Communists, giving him an excuse to introduce new laws restricting freedoms. That must sound really familiar to conspiracy theorists who claim the US government coordinated or carried out the 9/11 attacks, then used them as an excuse to start the wars in the Middle East, and to introduce new restrictive laws at home.

But there's a problem. New research indicates that it really might have been the Communists who started the fire and that Hitler just took advantage of the situation to advance his own political ambitions. This sounds like a more likely analogy to me. I can certainly understand Bush using the situation to launch the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, and to introduce draconian new laws, in other words to be an opportunist. I really can't imagine how anyone would think he would have deliberately launched the attacks.

So maybe the analogy is useful after all, but not in the way the conspiracy theorist thought. I suppose that's the problem with using weak forms of evidence to support your cause.


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