On 14 September 2006 I delivered a public lecture at the University of Guelph, entitled “Manufacturing Terror: 9/11 and the Toronto 17.” A sneering and dismissive assessment of the lecture, or at least of that part of it relating to the events of September 11, 2001, promptly appeared in the campus student newspaper, The Ontarion. Although the letter's author purported to be a member of the university community, no person of that name seems to have been attached to any academic or administrative unit of the University of Guelph; 'Dr. Dave Baxter' may then have been a pseudonym. My response appeared in the Letters column of the next issue of The Ontarion.
An ill-tempered diatribe by Dr. Dave Baxter which appeared among last week’s Letters to the Editor leaves one wondering whether its author is trying harder to expose himself as rude, as ignorant, or as just plain silly.
Dr. Baxter tells us that philosophers and historians, unlike the practitioners of such apparently despised fields “as computer science, engineering and […] English literature,” are “specifically trained to analyze the logical and rational basis of evidentiary events,” and are thus uniquely qualified to make sense of the events of September 11, 2001.
Baxter must have received his own intellectual formation in some other discipline—telepathy perhaps, or judicial astrology—since although he declares himself “sorry to have missed” my public lecture of September 14th, he is nonetheless able to describe its contents as “wildly irresponsible,” as “intellectual hogwash,” and as “anemic posturing.”
Baxter is confident that “no recognized philosopher or historian” can be found among 9/11 skeptics. I’m not going to descend with him into a contest of making idiotic lists of names: if he possessed any serious understanding of either of the disciplines he professes to admire, he would know that arguments from authority haven’t swung much weight among philosophers since the early seventeenth century at least, and that reputable historians have always settled their disputes not by citing big names, or for that matter by pasting cheap polemical labels on one another’s work, but rather through scrupulous critical analyses of the available evidence.
Dr. Baxter wonders what “actual substantive evidence” I might have to support my opinion that 9/11 was an inside job. I’m afraid his rudeness rather takes the edge off any desire I might otherwise have had to educate the man. If he really wants to know, he’ll have to keep an eye out for my next public lecture or essay on the subject. In the mean time, he’ll get much fuller satisfaction from the writings of Michel Chossudovsky, Paul Thompson, David Ray Griffin, Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed, Michael Ruppert, and Steven Jones which I recommended to my audience on September 14th.
Dr. Baxter might also want to cure himself of what could otherwise become a habit of making misleading appeals to authority. It really won’t do to shut people up by quoting (wholly out of context) the words of Ludwig Wittgenstein: “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.” Those of us who have read more than just the concluding sentence of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus might think his words in proposition 6.5 of that text more relevant: “If a question can be framed at all, it is also possible to answer it.”
The question of whether 9/11 was an instance of US government-organized false-flag terrorism has indeed been framed, and it has been answered as well. As I made abundantly clear to my audience on September 14th, I would like my own answer—and all of the others as well—to be treated not with uncritical credulity but with cautious skepticism. Many of the relevant facts—those relating, for example, to military exercises that disabled the US air defenses on 9/11, to the stated geopolitical motives of the governing elite, and to government cover-ups, disinformation, and destruction of evidence—are securely established and uncontroversial. Other issues, such as the causes of the collapses of three steel-frame skyscrapers in the World Trade Center, are still disputed—and although to my mind the testimonial, photographic, and materials-science evidence of planned demolition is unambiguous, a range of interpretations remains possible.
As Dr. Dave Baxter ought to know, these are issues that scholars and scientists who make any claim to intellectual integrity will seek to resolve through critical inquiry, scientific analysis and scrupulous debate, rather than through vacuous rhetoric, name-calling, and bullying.
Professor, School of English and Theatre Studies