After considering conspiracy theories as narratives, the adoption of which being infused into the believer’s sense of self and the world, it should prove helpful to further consider how abstract ideas go from being reified into becoming what people may then take for granted as ‘common sense’.
Reification is an important concept when understanding how different social systems perceive the world, themselves, and outsiders. Analogous to reification, and maybe more readily comprehensible, is the process of mythologizing.
Mythologizing, simply put, is to create myth.
Of course, not all things simply put, are simple.
Good news! If you are human, you have a natural talent to creation of myth. Why might this be good news? For the same reason that it can be deadly; we believe our myths!
A lovely Psychology Today article by Tad Waddington Ph.D. in 2009 extols the positive value of “mythologizing yourself” as a means of positive motivation. And, really, we all ought to be ‘the hero of our own stories’, right?
Now, for that other kind of myth. The one where you may not necessarily be the hero, but someone is definitely the villain.
September 11th, 2001 instantaneously became a mythological event. Before the end of the day, President George W. Bush went on National Television to manage and control what was to become the ‘official 9/11 mythology’ or, as conspiracy theorists call it, the ‘official story’.
How a myth becomes embedded into the psyche is not immediate but, rather, takes several steps happening non-simultaneously, but culminating in a general consensus (or rival consensus, in this case). By the end of the 4 1/2 minute address, President Bush had taken the first major steps in authoring that ‘official mythology’ by naming the perpetrators as terrorists, providing their actions as evil, thus legitimating forthcoming punitive actions. Bush punctuated this with a quote from Psalm 23 and by iterating “none of us will ever forget this day.”
Above, you will notice all of the major aspects of mythologizing are enacted in one simple speech. In their book, The Social Construction of Reality, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann describe the stages to mythologizing as: Naming, Legitimation, Mythmaking, Sedimentation, and Ritual.
To Illustrate each of these stages in greater detail, we can consider the mythology counter the ‘official story’; that of the 9/11 Truther Movement.
Presuming the Worst
Though I now see things differently, at the time of the September 11th attacks I was prepared to reject the official story with extreme prejudice.
Though I had not entirely formulated or adopted a counter-narrative, one was already forming in my mind as well as in the minds of an untold number of Americans. This can only be called the 9/11 Conspiracy Myth.
Berger and Luckmann, and various other social theorists agree, that naming (or ‘labeling’ in the case of Labeling Theory) is a crucial early step in creation of a myth. The label is a defamatory moniker (or ‘slur’) that simultaneously creates a ‘group’ and defines it. In our culture, labels are most openly discussed in high school; ‘jock’, ‘nerd’, ‘stoner’, ‘slut’, etc. all do the job of simultaneously defining and defaming. They have the added potential to define those outside of the label; “I’m not a stoner, because …” and “You can’t hang out with jocks if you aren’t one” may be restrictions that make sense to some in the context of the American high school experience. Labeling, of course, doesn’t stop when you leave high school (and it didn’t start then either). There is something inherent in the human condition that seems to beg for subdivision of humans into simply defined labels.
The 9/11 Conspiracy Myth doesn’t have one label for their suspected perpetrators, noting their wholesale rejection of the official story. Instead, several potential individuals and groups are named; from President George W. Bush, to his vice president or secretary of defense, to any combined group among the former, to the Bilderberg Group (often cited in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories), to the Illuminati (with its own variations; terrestrial, extraterrestrial, or Satanic). This multitude of potential conspirators leads for a messy and haphazard collection of potential myths; but conspiracy theorists are as adept at mythologizing as any ancient tribal chieftain. Their approach to the 9/11 Conspiracy Myth is to react to that official story and chip away at the dominant mythos. For the 9/11 Truther, the presumed guilty party or parties need only be referred to as ‘The Conspiracy.’
If the 9/11 Truth movement is (momentarily) holding back on naming their suspect, they placed the balance of their mental efforts on legitimation. Legitimation is the validation of an opinion, an accusation, or a conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theorizing is never about proving a suspicion, but raising those suspicions so that others may join in the suspicion. Any proper myth must be legitimated through some sort of hearing; a trial, tribunal, etc., and must be duly ‘sanctified’ to become ‘truth’ in the eyes of the people.
9/11 Truthers take the ‘sanctified’ hearing of the official story; the 9/11 Commission Report, and poke what they believe are rhetorical holes in its thousands of pages. This, to the Truther, delegitimates the official story; this, creating an anti-narrative of sorts. Further legitimation of the Truther movement stems from various attempts to show the prevalence of their belief in the populous; Zogby opinion polls, paid for by individuals and groups active in the 9/11 Truth Movement, showed various degrees of likelihood that the general public would disbelieve the official story. 9/11 Truthers paid for these surveys, in 2004, 2006, and 2007, and though the goal may have been to show the strength of the Truth Movement, it really showed greater acceptance of the 9/11 Commission results.
Myth-making is a process, distinct within mythologizing, in which the past is used to legitimize the myth. In labeling theory, in criminology, this would be the biographical information of a person; say they grew up in a home with a history of domestic violence or calls to the police, that person later gets arrested for assault, that individual is likely to be labeled a ‘violent offender’ and their ‘rough childhood’ used as a myth-making aspect of their story.
Since 9/11 Truthers have dwindled from a once optimistic 66% of the population (their numbers) to a meager 11% in 2013 (and even that comes with some caveats), the process of myth-making, like that of naming and legitimating, has fallen on a hard-core of conspiracists. People who believe that 9/11 was an ‘Inside Job’ come with a pre-conceived notion of whom these ‘insiders’ may be. Thus, myth-making is messy business for this group.
For Alex Jones, it’s Big Business and Big Government who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks in an effort to consolidate power, with the ultimate goal being total global domination; The New World Order. Jones relies on a mixture of History, Military History, speculation and appropriated innuendo (some of which came ready-made from anti-Masonic and anti-Semitics) to produce the major 9/11 conspiracy myth. This myth absorbs any and all other conspiracy theories in an effort that ultimately dwarfs 9/11 conspiracy theories in scope and in relevance.
For David Icke, formerly famous footballer and also formerly claiming to be Jesus Christ, the Illuminati is to blame. The Illuminati, of course, are a group of super-elites that control the world on behalf of the Annunaki; a shape-shifting reptile race from the planet Nibiru. David Icke would also like us to acknowledge that he ‘knew’ that 9/11 was an Inside Job within the week of the attacks. The Annunaki, whom some believe ‘seeded’ humanity (Icke among them), apparently need their control to be covert, though they were once well known to all ancient human civilizations.
Unfortunately, not every story of extreme 9/11 Truth trumpeting is as whimsical as that of David Icke. If you were, like myself, on internet chat rooms in the hours after the Twin Towers fell, you would have read various hyperbolic explanations with various suspected villains. Many of these anti-Semitic bigots posing as armchair detectives. They claimed that it was clear that ZOG (the Zionist Occupational Government, most well known from the hoax book, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion) were to blame. This was not myth-making, per se, but a continuation of a virulent strain of hate, made so through years of sedimentation.
Now this is your Truth.
By the time an idea, going through the process of becoming a myth, enters the stage of sedimentation, it ceases to be a ‘myth’ in the sense that we use it today. This myth is real. People believe the myth, their belief becomes a fact that can not be ignored. To them, the myth is Truth.
Once a myth is sedimented, it no longer needs to be said. It readily comes to mind, time makes believers, and oft heard phrases become aphorisms recanted. 9/11 did not become an ‘inside job’ to most people, rather the stronger myth was that “9/11 Changed Everything” and the just reaction of “Let’s Roll” led to “Coalition of the Willing” attacking the “Evildoers” (which, in turn, led to more short-lived myths such as Iraqi WMDs and “Mission Accomplished”). For those who did embrace the “Inside Job” narrative, it sedimented itself in the view of the other, everyone who did not believe, as ‘sheep’ who remain ignorant to the ‘Truth’ that they had so desperately sought (or, rather, promoted).
What sedimented for 9/11 Truthers was a belief in a corrupt and inhuman ‘Shadow Government’, the ‘powers that be’ (PTB) that commit ‘false flag’ operations or ‘PsyOps’ either to maintain fear among the ‘sheeple’ or to herd them from war to war, or take away their weapons so that they may systematically depopulate the planet … depending on who you ask. Just as a new language can change the way you see the world, seeing the world in a new way tends to come with a new vocabulary.
The last step in the mythologizing process, the ritual, reminds us of what we believe to be true. Anniversary celebrations, for instance, celebrate the date of an event. September 11th is a date of infamy as well as of eventual triumph in the American ethos. To those who believe that 9/11 was perpetrated by the government, they are forced to re-double the infamy and postpone the triumph.
As with most of the attempt at mythologizing, the 9/11 Truth Movement fails to maintain any ritual save for their continual rejection of all things of or relating to the ‘official story’. The upcoming fifteen year anniversary of the attacks will likely illustrate this point.
Instead, the ritual of the 9/11 Truther is really the ritual of the conspiracy theorist at large. When an event happens, any event, it must be immediately interpolated into ‘The Conspiracy’. When a mass shooting occurs, it will either be suspected or presumed to be a ‘false flag’. No legislation is to be trusted. When crime is on the news it is to keep the sheep fearful. When a lighter story spreads, it is proof that ‘they’ are hiding something, and want to keep their sheep docile.
In essence, paranoia is the ritual of the conspiracy theorist, reminding them to distrust, maintain constant vigilance, and to proselyte whenever possible. In the world of the conspiracy theorist, nothing lay outside ‘The Conspiracy’. For 9/11 Truthers, those that have yet to reject the notion that thousands of people were killed deliberately and tens of thousands of government workers helped to cover it up, they eventually come to the belief that ‘The Conspiracy’ is the only thing that is real and encompasses all.
To them, sad as it is, that is their ‘Truth’.
I want to thank James Aho for his continued correspondence and for the inspiration for this piece, his book; This Thing of Darkness, Sociology of the Enemy.
See Also: Osama bin Laden was a 9/11 Truther.