April 24, 2009

Avoiding Burnout - The "Big Tent"

"The 9/11 Truth Movement's Big Tent has functioned in a way that is antithetical to the process of science, as it does not recognize any process for invalidating theories." - Jim Hoffman

The big tent approach is one of the 9/11 truth movement's biggest pitfalls. This approach to activism is based on three basic premises: personal fallibility, the primacy of recruitment, and a disregard for the scientific method. In each case making people feel welcome in the movement is prioritized more highly than whether those people share core movement values, insights, and priorities.

Other social movement's such as the JFK assassination movement have been subject to the detrimental effects of this strategy and yet much of the 9/11 truth movement remains less than well informed about the present and potential problems caused by the adoption of this approach. There are even those who explicitly promote it, some of them knowing full well the detrimental effect it will have.

Many of us frustrated by the behavior of other activists and groups have dealt with those who passively or actively support the big tent strategy. Understanding a problem is the first step in dealing with it. So it's important for us to become familiar with why and how people justify their adherence to this approach.

"Everyone makes mistakes."

As 9/11 truth can take a significant psychological toll on us, we rely upon our movement peers not only for motivation but also for a certain level of emotional support. In the process we can develop feelings of affiliation and trust. No one likes to be criticized, and specifically not by people who we are turning to for a sense of shared purpose and optimism. For this reason it can be difficult to offer or accept constructive criticism.

And yet this movement requires critical thinking and a discerning approach to information and strategy. Progress is not achieved by advocating speculation or utilizing ineffective strategies. Everyone makes mistakes and so we should certainly be patient with those we trust, helping one another to develop a more nuanced understanding of the issues and more productive means of promoting our concerns.

Unfortunately, many are prone to limiting helpful critique in the interest of group solidarity. We might fear that our criticism will be viewed as disloyalty or cause a rift between people. We might feel that criticizing group leaders will undermine their authority. And yet without that criticism, factual and strategic errors will be repeated.

Our dedication to the movement must motivate us to speak up and make our concerns known. When we allow others to repeat mistakes we are participating in those mistakes. Respectful intervention is essential to movement progress.

"We need as many people as possible."

We all want the movement to grow. You can't have a movement without the people. And yet you also can't have a truth movement comprised of people who don't know what truth is, advocate concerns that greatly alienate others, or promote failing strategies. A great deal of unproductive behavior is tolerated because many believe that quantity is more important than quality when it comes to helping the movement grow.

The idea that we should have "civility & fraternal feeling towards all pro-truth voices" as Kevin Barrett has put it, is not practical or responsible. There are many reason for this, not the least of them being the fact that there are people trying to infiltrate and undermine the movement from within. When new people join our groups or discussion forums we should pay attention to their general level of sanity, their motivations, and the information they advocate. Without any sense of healthy motivations, practical strategies, and the boundary between fact and speculation we allow the movement to develop without any clear definition or boundary lines.

The idea here is not to purge the movement of those who disagree with us about specific facts or strategies. Those kinds of disagreements are healthy as they result in debate which tends to help the movement progress and adapt to changing circumstance and diverse audiences. But the movement has no need for bigots, extremists, or sociopaths. And only if we are paying attention to who we are working with will we be able to prevent these people from falsely or poorly representing the nature of our movement.

"Nothing can really be proven."

Whether due to ignorance or intentional disruption there are a number of people, websites, and groups in this movement that advocate speculation that is without logical merit or has been adequately disproven. And one of the primary methods used to maintain their inclusion in the movement is to blur the line between fact and speculation. As we can't prove that 9/11 was an inside job they suggest that anything unproven should be left on the table for public consideration.

This obscures an important fact. The primary basis for the movement's assertion of complicity or need for further investigation is very well founded documentary evidence. The movement also includes a lot of more ambiguous evidence that had not been effectively ruled out by some of the more flimsy aspects of the official story. But the assertion that we must continue to debate or worse yet promote speculation that has been effectively refuted by available facts is totally unacceptable.

The movement can't thrive without a definition. And central to the definition of this movement is an understanding and respect for empirical truth. The scientific method is key to the success of this movement as it is in our most logical reasoning that we are able to upend the official story and bypass the bias and skepticism of many of those who refute our claims. Central to the scientific method is attempting to disproves one's own hypotheses. That approach must inform movement strategy as it should be only the most well founded evidence that we put forward for public scrutiny.

I'll end as I began with a quote from Jim Hoffman.

"The fact that these values closely parallel the egalitarianism, tolerance of diversity, and coalition-building championed in populist and progressive social movements makes them difficult to criticize. However, unlike the application of these values to people in traditional social movements, the 9/11 Truth Movement's Big Tent applies them to ideas. Conflating the respect due people with the respect due ideas is a fundamental error at the heart of the Movement's failure to break into the mainstream thus far."

April 18, 2009

Wikipedia Fail - Overcoming Flagrant Bias

Since the release two weeks ago of a research paper revealing the presence of unspent thermitic material in four samples of dust collected from the collapse of the twin towers, a few of the public editors over at Wikipedia have been setting aside any objectivity they were attempting to maintain and have been very actively preventing the paper from being referenced in any way.

Cheers to Victronix for having been the movement's primary line of defense against Wikipedia editors who abuse the editing guidelines by allowing their partisan bias to directly dictate how they alter articles related to 9/11 truth. She's now been blocked from editing over this concern. You can find her thread covering this topic over on the TruthAction forum.

In summary, every time someone tries to post a link to the paper on the controlled demolition page, someone else deletes it. And the level of bias is clearly apparent when you look at the Wikipedia discussion area and see how these people are justifying their behavior. We find some real pearls of wisdom such as the following.

"There is no "hypothesis" that controlled demolition brought down the WTC. There are "conspiracy theories" that this occurred, but thats all."

This comment was made by someone recommending that the page on controlled demolition be renamed from "Controlled demolition hypothesis for the collapse of the World Trade Center" to "World Trade Center controlled demolition conspiracy theories."

This behavior is totally infuriating to those of us in the movement who struggle against mainstream denial and derision of even our most responsible skepticism toward the official account. The fact that people in positions that require a certain degree of objectivity such as scientists or journalists would not only violate that objectivity, but do so in a manner that suggests total disrespect for the logic of anyone holding the opposing view, is really surprising at times but always disappointing.

The anger and frustration we feel about that can be really draining. So it's important for us to figure out how not to let these people and their actions drag us down. Here are a couple of recommendations about things we can do to deal with this situation in a healthy way.

1) Contact the person and communicate nothing to them other than a list of facts and their sources. People with a heavy bias may not care about how they make you feel. Avoid any mention of your own assumptions or beliefs. Just hit them with facts they can't easily refute. Cognitive dissonance is a strong tactic to use against people who aren't easy to reach or reason with.

2) Contact the person and ask them a question. Insulting people gets you no where. Gathering information about these people helps the movement and makes you feel like you have the upper hand. Don't necessarily let them know you are a truther. Be friendly and calm and ask them to explain their reasoning in more detail. Get them to more explicitly reveal the basis and extent of their bias.

3) Whether you understand the root of their bias or not, keep in mind that people acting irrationally make themselves look bad. Certainly don't act irrationally in retaliation. Write down the most flagrant examples of their bias and share them with others. Spread the word that this person has undermined their own credibility. If you post this kind of thing to discussion forums, using their name in the title of your posts, it's possible with enough views that your posts will show up in the web search results for that person.

Ultimately, keep in mind that the social behavior you value such as honesty, logical reasoning, and sincere debate, are very important and that your frustration demonstrates a significant strength. Don't ever let irrational behavior allow you to question the importance of your values. It will certainly be frustrating. But know that people acting in such a self-contradictory manner understand somewhere deep down inside themselves that they aren't being honest.

(New usage of the word fail)

April 12, 2009

Ballot Initiative Reality Check

Since the NYC ballot initiative became a project that many are taking seriously, there have been a number of people in the movement, including myself, who have been expressing a number of concerns about the content of the initiative, some of those involved, and how it's being coordinated.

In brief summary, a central figure and "coordinator" until very recently was Les Jamieson, infamous for his bad judgment and uncooperative direction of ny911truth. The initiative unnecessarily specifies who the commissioners will be. The commissioners are generally supportive of 9/11 truth and likely to be perceived as having bias. One of the commissioners is Edgar Mitchell, a noted UFO enthusiast. It sets the annual budget at $10 million for a period of five years while stating that the work of the commission will not commence until funds required by the budget have been fully secured. It sets the salary for commissioners at $100,000 per year stating that they will only work part time and don't need to live locally. It provides that the commission will also pay themselves for all travel and lodging expenses in addition to their salary.

Many people, not including myself, think securing a new investigation is the ultimate goal of the movement. And in some relatively superficial ways this effort seems like our best chance yet. Many support the effort because of the involvement of reputable or respected movement figures, politicians, and family members. Some support the effort because it seems like the best thing we've got going right now. Some support it for reasons other than it's stated intention, such as increased publicity.

But how many of those people either haven't read the initiative, haven't heard of the concerns stated above, or uncritically support the effort for being a movement project? And why are many who are aware of these concerns ignoring them?

While there is something to be said for fighting a losing battle to demonstrate the strength of our principles, the problems we see so far with this effort could have been avoided. But as they weren't, does it make sense for us to support the effort as though the problems didn't exist? If these problems fundamentally undermine the potential of this effort, as I believe they do, shouldn't we be acknowledging that before more time, energy, and money are spent?

Unfortunately, in a movement about truth and free thought there are many who are subject to group think or the allure of the bandwagon. There is a very real temptation that most of us feel to support the work of others as much as we'd like them to support ours. And very often we feel that criticism will be met with something akin to questioning our allegiance to the movement. I've certainly had my allegiance questioned.

From my experience in the movement I have a lot reasonable assumptions about how this all might unfold. Most important among them is the very real possibility that as the problems begin to become more clear to people, that most will be too invested to jump off a sinking ship. And the result in that case might be a lot of frustration, infighting, and ultimately burnout for many highly invested movement participants. If you think this is the movement's purpose, think it's our best shot so far, put a lot of hope or energy into it, and then it falls apart due to preventable issues, how will you feel?

We might lose a lot of supporters if this goes sour. Or perhaps when they can't raise enough money it will just quietly be put to rest. Either way, as the idea holds some promise I consider it far better to start over with a more solid strategy and initiative than to work with inadequate tools to achieve what for many is one of our most important goals.

Please contact NYCCAN to express any concerns you might have.

April 5, 2009

Avoiding Burnout - Principle Before Association

Coming to terms with the likelihood that our government was in any way complicit in the attacks of 9/11 is a highly challenging paradigm shift to undergo. In the process many basic assumptions about our society are called into question and once we jump down that rabbit hole it's nearly impossible to get back out. You can't really unlearn the truth.

For this reason the 9/11 truth movement engages people on a profoundly deep psychological level. Our concern for the issue and the work we do to promote it feel very personal. At a certain point we may have a difficult time separating our sense of self from our concern for the truth. As a result, any sense of failure, setback, or roadblock can seem particularly upsetting. And the more upset we become, the more likely we are to distance ourselves from involvement in promoting the issue.

As burnout is both likely and detrimental to the movement, it is important for people to learn about ways to avoid it. There are a number of resources that discuss the issue (link to the right), but not many directly related to the 9/11 truth movement. For that reason I have started this blog on the assumption that directly addressing the issue is an important part of dealing with it.

My approach is radical honesty. Certainly appropriate for a 'truth movement.' I believe that one of the primary reasons why people become incapacitated by frustration is that we are all too prone to political correctness. We don't want to step on anyone's toes and the result can be that we don't end up expressing important feelings and thoughts. Others may share our concerns and yet many of us choose solidarity and politeness over expressing what we really believe.

Along those lines I have a number of suggestions that I will express in a series of posts in order to avoid one long post that people might be less likely to read.

Principle before association

This is more easily understood than it is practiced. Basically, my commitment to the truth is stronger than my commitment to any person, group, or even movement. That might seem counter-intuitive in some ways. We have to support the movement in order to have one. And yet the big question is what movement are we supporting. Do we support a movement rife with disinformation? And at what point is the apple just too rotten?

Like the frog sitting in the pot of ever hotter water until it dies, it is very difficult for most of us to break from those around us and acknowledge when some person or group is being counter-productive. We don't want to cry wolf and we don't want to be ostracized from our group. And yet it is exactly this lack of responding to something that troubles us that leads to frustration and burnout.

We need to speak up and be honest about how we feel and what we think.

To draw upon my own experience, I risked a certain amount of ridicule for having challenged the promotion of Steve Alten's "The Shell Game." I got an advanced copy, read it, and simply felt that it didn't express movement values. It had some movement facts included between chapters, but that seemed to me an afterthought meant to capitalize on the movement. As Alten and many of the movement's most prominent participants advocated promoting the book during the "Week of Truth," I continued to criticize the book and question the wisdom of pushing a book that seemed to suggest that the movement advocated false-flag hysteria.

Here's the point. It felt good! I really felt a sense of liberty and commitment to my values in going against the prevailing winds and sticking to my guns. If I hadn't I would have silently stewed in my frustration and felt a sense of pessimism. Expressing myself reinforced my commitment to valid information and productive strategy and made me feel more committed to the movement and it's values.

So next time someone advocates ineffective strategy or poorly founded speculation, speak up! I've found that if you do so in a respectful manner that you are likely to discover that others share your feelings. Some may not understand. There may be some negative consequences. But the core values that got us into this movement in the first place are more important than whether we rub some of our peers the wrong way on occasion.

More About This Blog

In the years I've participated in this movement I have met so many people who had at one point had a sincere interest in 9/11 truth but were turned off to the movement by infiltrators, debunkers, ineffective leaders, counter-productive strategies, partisan rhetoric, and the promotion of wild speculation. These people all really cared about this issue but simply did not feel that the movement was a productive use of their time and energy. Many of them still care. And many of those continuing to participate also have similar feelings of frustration and fatigue.

Burnout is a natural result of participation in social movements. In any pursuit that doesn't involve much direct confirmation of the result of one's effort, it is very likely that motivation will wax and wane. Group affiliation is important for this reason. We gain a great deal of motivation from those with whom we work for change. Sharing our frustrations is essential for maintaining group momentum and personal optimism.

But many of those concerned with 9/11 truth find themselves isolated to some degree. Some have no local group. Some have found their local group lacking in organization or rationality. Some have tried to participate only to find that their experience or motivation wasn't respected by others in the group. And some have been a part of a group that was being undermined by other participants.

With this blog I offer my very frank and uncompromising view of the problems facing the movement that many have encountered or challenged. It is likely I will be rubbing some people the wrong way, even some of those I respect a great deal. But the movement is more important than any one person or group participating. As one of the founders of TruthMove I have in the past been as candid as possible while also concerned with how I represent the group. This blog is personal and I do not intend to be politically correct or pull any punches.

In this way I hope to air out the deep frustrations of many people who want the truth but feel that the movement is not facing it's own truth. In the process I also hope to offer reasons for optimism and continued investment.

About The Author

My name is Julian. Back in 2003 I saw The Truth and Lies of 9/11, a video of a lecture by Mike Ruppert which he gave on the subject six weeks after 9/11. I couldn't have had a better introduction to the subject as he avoided discussing speculation and laid out a clear case for complicity using documentation to specify who had the means, motive, and opportunity to commit the crime.

I spent the next couple years reading about 9/11 and doing enough research to understand the contradictory theories for myself. In 2005 a colleague and I started TruthMove after leaving our local 9/11 truth group due to counter-productive leadership. Our organization is dedicated to informed consent, valid history, and independent journalism, and is therefore not exclusively focused on 9/11 truth. However, our concern for 9/11 has been very prominent in our action.

Since it's inception those involved in TruthMove have put a fair amount of effort into promoting the 9/11 truth movement and it's core facts. We created an educational website. We did regular street action all over the city with a large banner sign, handing out flyers that promoted the facts and our website. We helped organize the 9/11/05 march in NYC. We organized a general strike in 2007 that included 9/11 truth and was endorsed by Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore. All positive experiences.

But then our efforts in the movement began to become more internally responsive than externally promotional. As infiltrators, debunkers, bigots, and dupes began to overwhelm the movement we tried very hard to stem the tide. We published a disinformation page on our website. We exposed the distribution of hate literature by Les Jamieson, the director of our local 9/11 truth group. We helped expose the publication of a book on Holocaust denial by Eric Williams, at the time organizing a large movement conference. We challenged movement figures such as Kevin Barrett for promoting the 'big tent' strategy. We countered the partisanship and xenophobia of Alex Jones. We made an effort to prevent Steve Alten from profiting off the movement with "The Shell Game." And we published the 2008 Declaration of 9/11 truth Standards and Strategies.

Since then I have moved home to Los Angeles from New York City and begun to find new ways to promote 9/11 truth with a focus on both external promotion and internal critique. Without that balance I wouldn't be able to continue participating.