NYT : Know Thy Self — Really

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Know Thy Self — Really

By Quassim Cassam | December 7, 2014

The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless.

Most people wonder at some point in their lives how well they know themselves. Self-knowledge seems a good thing to have, but hard to attain. To know yourself would be to know such things as your deepest thoughts, desires and emotions, your character traits, your values, what makes you happy and why you think and do the things you think and do. These are all examples of what might be called “substantial” self-knowledge, and there was a time when it would have been safe to assume that philosophy had plenty to say about the sources, extent and importance of self-knowledge in this sense.

Not any more. With few exceptions, philosophers of self-knowledge nowadays have other concerns. Here’s an example of the sort of thing philosophers worry about: suppose you are wearing socks and believe you are wearing socks. How do you know that that’s what you believe? Notice that the question isn’t: “How do you know you are wearing socks?” but rather “How do you know you believe you are wearing socks?” Knowledge of such beliefs is seen as a form of self-knowledge. Other popular examples of self-knowledge in the philosophical literature include knowing that you are in pain and knowing that you are thinking that water is wet. For many philosophers the challenge is explain how these types of self-knowledge are possible.

This is usually news to non-philosophers. Most certainly imagine that philosophy tries to answer the Big Questions, and “How do you know you believe you are wearing socks?” doesn’t sound much like one of them. If knowing that you believe you are wearing socks qualifies as self-knowledge at all — and even that isn’t obvious — it is self-knowledge of the most trivial kind. Non-philosophers find it hard to figure out why philosophers would be more interested in trivial than in substantial self-knowledge.

One common reaction to the focus on trivial self-knowledge is to ask, “Why on earth would you be interested in that?” — or, more pointedly, “Why on earth would anyone pay you to think about that?” Philosophers of self-knowledge aren’t deterred. It isn’t unusual for them to start their learned articles and books on self-knowledge by declaring that they aren’t going to be discussing substantial self-knowledge because that isn’t where the philosophical action is.

How can that be? It all depends on your starting point. For example, to know that you are wearing socks requires effort, even if it’s only the minimal effort of looking down at your feet. When you look down and see the socks on your feet you have evidence — the evidence of your senses — that you are wearing socks, and this illustrates what seems a general point about knowledge: knowledge is based on evidence, and our beliefs about the world around us can be wrong. Evidence can be misleading and conclusions from evidence unwarranted. Trivial self-knowledge seems different. On the face of it, you don’t need evidence to know that you believe you are wearing socks, and there is a strong presumption that your beliefs about your own beliefs and other states of mind aren’t mistaken. Trivial self-knowledge is direct (not based on evidence) and privileged (normally immune to error). Given these two background assumptions, it looks like there is something here that needs explaining: How is trivial self-knowledge, with all its peculiarities, possible?

From this perspective, trivial self-knowledge is philosophically interesting because it is special. “Special” in this context means special from the standpoint of epistemology or the philosophy of knowledge. Substantial self-knowledge is much less interesting from this point of view because it is like any other knowledge. You need evidence to know your own character and values, and your beliefs about your own character and values can be mistaken. For example, you think you are generous but your friends know you better. You think you are committed to racial equality but your behaviour suggests otherwise. Once you think of substantial self-knowledge as neither direct nor privileged why would you still regard it as philosophically interesting?

What is missing from this picture is any real sense of the human importance of self-knowledge. Self-knowledge matters to us as human beings, and the self-knowledge which matters to us as human beings is substantial rather than trivial self-knowledge. We assume that on the whole our lives go better with substantial self-knowledge than without it, and what is puzzling is how hard it can be to know ourselves in this sense.

The assumption that self-knowledge matters is controversial and philosophy might be expected to have something to say about the importance of self-knowledge, as well as its scope and extent. The interesting questions in this context include “Why is substantial self-knowledge hard to attain?” and “To what extent is substantial self-knowledge possible?”

Such questions are addressed by some philosophers — Eric Schwitzgebel, who teaches at the University of California, Riverside, comes to mind, and I often attempt to do so in my own work — but most have little to say about self-knowledge as a human concern. Self-knowledge in this sense has become an issue for psychologists and novelists rather than academic philosophers. By neglecting substantial self-knowledge philosophy is missing a trick. Questions about the sources, scope, and value of substantial self-knowledge are at least partly philosophical and philosophers of self-knowledge should be prepared to tackle them.

It wasn’t always the case that the philosophy of self-knowledge was so narrow in scope. The ancients certainly recognized the human importance of self-knowledge, and the injunction to “Know thyself” presumably wasn’t intended as the injunction to know that you are thinking that water is wet. So how and why did professional philosophy become so seemingly unconcerned with the questions about self-knowledge which non-philosophers find interesting?

The professionalization of the subject has made philosophers of self-knowledge far too comfortable with the idea that their job is to discover technical solutions to technical problems generated by background philosophical assumptions about the nature of knowledge and mind. They may insist that what is philosophically worthwhile can’t be decided by what non-philosophers think is worthwhile, and that it is of no consequence if their questions strike the uninitiated as odd. Philosophy has its own concerns, and all that matters is whether their concerns have a philosophical rationale. If it turns out that trivial self-knowledge isn’t special then that really would be a reason for downplaying its significance, but that is an entirely different matter.

This is just the kind of attitude that gives academic philosophy a bad name. Of course there are topics in philosophy where engaging with the concerns of the philosophically uninitiated wouldn’t be feasible but self-knowledge is not one of them. There has to come a point at which philosophy has to address wider concerns, and if self-knowledge is not the kind of thing which philosophers can think about in ways that resonate with the world at large then one fears for the future of the subject. It’s easy for professional philosophers to sneer at popular accounts of self-knowledge in self-help books, but philosophically curious readers of such books are entitled to ask what philosophy has to offer instead. The answer had better not be “Nothing.”

The challenge is to develop a philosophy of self-knowledge for humans, that is, a philosophy of self-knowledge that both engages with some of the questions about self-knowledge which human beings outside academia actually care about, and operates with a realistic picture of what real human beings are like. Few philosophers have risen to this challenge, but when they do they are likely to find that substantial self-knowledge is of greater philosophical interest than many of them suppose. In any event, the challenge of addressing a wider audience is one that academic philosophy can’t and shouldn’t try to duck indefinitely.

Quassim Cassam is professor of philosophy at the University of Warwick, UK. His most recent book is “Self-Knowledge for Humans.”

Cynthia McKinney: Dr. Peter Dale Scott writes about the ties that bind November 1963 and September 2001

Monday, October 13, 2014

[via email]

From Cynthia McKinney | October 13, 2014

I am proud to write that Dr. Peter Dale Scott is on my Dissertation Committee. What he has written here is extremely important, tying the tragedies of November 1963 to subsequent tragedies and actions of the U.S. Deep State: Iran/Contra, September 11, 2001 by naming names.

Here are two quotes to ponder:

"The point is that a very small group had access to a high-level secret network outside government review, in order to implement a program in opposition to government policy."


"The Pentagon official’s description of COG planners as a “secret government-in-waiting” under Clinton (which still included both Cheney and Rumsfeld) is very close to the standard definition of a cabal, as a group of persons secretly united to bring about a change or overthrow of government."

Read the entire lecture below or here with illustrations: http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/05/the-hidden-government-group-linking-jfk-watergate-iran-contra-and-911/#sthash.pYX3miMH.dpuf

The Hidden Government Group Linking JFK, Watergate, Iran-Contra and 9/11

By Peter Dale Scott on Oct 5, 2014

Peter Dale Scott is considered the father of “Deep Politics”— the study of hidden permanent institutions and interests whose influence on the political realm transcends the elected, appointed and career officials who come and go.

A Professor of English at Berkeley and a former Canadian diplomat, he is the author of several critically acclaimed books on the pivotal events of our country’s recent past, including Deep Politics and the Death of JFK ; Drugs, Oil, and War: The United States in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Indochina (War and Peace Library); The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America and American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan (War and Peace Library). He is also a poet, whose long work, Coming to Jakarta: A Poem about Terror, was hailed as “the most important political poem to appear in the English language in a very long time,” by Robert Hass, Poet Laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997.

Daniel Ellsberg said of his book Drugs, Oil and War, “It makes most academic and journalistic explanations of our past and current interventions read like government propaganda written for children.”

What follows is based on a recent Scott lecture entitled “The JFK Assassination and Other Deep Events”, and will be expanded on further in his next book, The American Deep State, due out in November.


For some time now, I have been analyzing American history in the light of what I have called structural deep events: events, like the JFK assassination, the Watergate break-in, Iran-Contra, or 9/11, which repeatedly involve law-breaking or violence, are mysterious to begin with, are embedded in ongoing covert processes, have political consequences that enlarge covert government, and are subsequently covered up by systematic falsifications in the mainstream media and internal government records.

The more I study these deep events, the more I see suggestive similarities between them, increasing the possibility that they are not unrelated external intrusions on American history, but parts of an endemic process, sharing to some degree or other a common source.

For example, one factor linking Dallas, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and 9/11, has been the involvement in all four deep events of personnel involved in America’s highest-level emergency planning, known since the 1950s as Continuity of Government (COG) planning, or more colloquially inside the Pentagon as “the Doomsday Project.” A few of these actors may have been located at the top, as overseers of the secret COG system. Others – including some I shall talk about today – were located further down in its secret communications network.

I see this planning group as one among many in what I have chosen to call the American deep state, along with agencies like the CIA and NSA, the private groups like Booz Allen Hamilton to which more than half of the US intelligence budget is outsourced, and finally the powerful banks and corporations whose views are well represented in the CIA and NSA. But if only one group among many, the COG planning group is also special, because of its control of and access to a communications channel, not under government control, that can reach deeply into the US social structure. I discuss these matters at some length in my next book, The American Deep State, due out in November.

COG planning was originally authorized by Truman and Eisenhower as planning for a response to a crippling atomic attack that had decapitated government. In consequence its planning group contemplated extreme measures, including what Alfonso Chardy in 1987 called “suspension of the Constitution.” And yet in Iran-Contra its asset of a secret communications network, developed for the catastrophe of decapitation, was used instead to evade an official embargo on arms sales to Iran that dated back to 1979. My question today is whether the network could have been similarly misused in November 1963.

The Iran-contra misuse has been well-documented. Oliver North supervised the sale of arms to Iran by using his resources as the National Security Council action officer for COG planning, under cover of a “National Program Office” that was overseen by then Vice-President George H. W. Bush. North and his superiors could thus use the COG emergency network, known then as Flashboard, for the arms sales to Iran that had to be concealed from other parts of the Washington bureaucracy as well as the public. So when North had to send emergency instructions for arms delivery to the US Embassy in Lisbon, instructions that directly contravened the embargo prohibiting such sales, he used the Flashboard network to avoid alerting the Ambassador and other unwitting personnel.

The documented example of Iran-Contra allows me to explain what I am saying about the users of the COG network, and also what I am not saying. To begin with, I am not saying that a single “Secret Team” has for decades been using the COG network to manipulate the US Government from outside it. There is no evidence to suggest that North’s actions in Iran-Contra were known to any of his superiors other than CIA chief William Casey and probably George Bush. The point is that a very small group had access to a high-level secret network outside government review, in order to implement a program in opposition to government policy. They succumbed to the temptation to use this secure network that had been designed for other purposes. I have argued elsewhere that this secure network was used again on 9/11, to implement key orders for which the 9/11 Commission could find no records. Whether it was also used for illicit purposes is not known.

It is certain that the COG emergency network program survived North’s demise, and continued to be secretly developed for decades, at a cost of billions, and overseen by a team including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. It is relevant that the two men’s presence on the committee spanned three administrations – those of Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton — even though at one point under Clinton neither man held a position inside the U.S. government. Such continuity was essential for a group so secret that few records existed of its activities. And on 9/11 COG plans were officially implemented for the first time, by Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, the two men who had planned them for so many years.

Whether or not they knew about Iran-Contra, Cheney and Rumsfeld were on the COG planning committee at the time of Iran-Contra. There is no such obvious link between COG planning and Watergate, but the involvement of COG personnel in Watergate is nonetheless striking. James McCord, one of the Watergate burglars, was a member of a small Air Force Reserve unit in Washington attached to the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP) that was assigned “to draw up lists of radicals and to develop contingency plans for censorship of the news media and U.S. mail in time of war.” His unit was part of the Wartime Information Security Program (WISP), which had responsibility for activating “contingency plans for imposing censorship on the press, the mails and all telecommunications (including government communications) [and] preventive detention of civilian ‘security risks,’ who would be placed in military ‘camps.’” In addition, John Dean, perhaps the central Watergate figure, had overseen secret COG activities when serving as the associate deputy attorney general.

In the case of the JFK assassination, I wish to focus on two men who functioned as part of the communications network of the Office of Emergency Planning (OEP), the agency renamed in 1968 as the Office of Emergency Preparedness (to which McCord was attached), and renamed again in 1982 as the National Program Office (for which Oliver North was the action officer).

These two men (there are others) are Winston Lawson, the Secret Service advance man who from the lead car of the motorcade was in charge of the Secret Service radio channels operating in the motorcade; and Jack Crichton, the army intelligence reserve officer who with Deputy Dallas Police Chief George Lumpkin selected the Russian interpreter for Marina Oswald’s first (and falsified) FBI interview.

Lawson has drawn the critical attention of JFK researchers, both for dubious actions he took before and during the assassination, and also for false statements he made after it (some of them under oath). For example, Lawson reported after the assassination that motorcycles were deployed on “the right and left flanks of the President’s car” (17 WH 605). On the morning of November 22, however, the orders had been changed (3 WH 244), so that the motorcycles rode instead, as Lawson himself testified to the Warren Commission, “just back of the President’s car” (4 WH 338; cf. 21 WH 768-70). Captain Lawrence of the Dallas Police testified that that the proposed side escorts were redeployed to the rear on Lawson’s own instructions (7 WH 580-81; cf. 18 WH 809, 21 WH 571). This would appear to have left the President more vulnerable to a possible crossfire.

Early on November 22, at Love Field, Lawson installed, in what would become the lead car, the base radio whose frequencies were used by all Secret Service agents on the motorcade. This radio channel, operated by the White House Communications Agency (WHCA), was used for some key decisions before and after the assassination, yet its records, unlike those of the Dallas Police Department (DPD) Channels One and Two, were never made available to the Warren Commission, or any subsequent investigation. The tape was not withheld because it was irrelevant; on the contrary, it contained very significant information.

The WHCA actually reports to this day on its website that the agency was “a key player in documenting the assassination of President Kennedy.” However it is not clear for whom this documentation was conducted, or why it was not made available to the Warren Commission, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, or the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB). It should have been.

For one thing, the WHCA tape, as Vincent Palamara has written, contains the “key” to the unresolved mystery of who, after the shooting, redirected the motorcade to Parkland hospital. The significance of this apparently straightforward command, about which there was much conflicting testimony, is heightened when we read repeated orders on the Dallas Police radio transcript to “cut all traffic for the ambulance going to Parkland code 3” (17 WH 395) – the ambulance in question having nothing to do with the president (whose shooting had not yet been announced on the DPD radio). In fact the ambulance had been dispatched about ten minutes before the assassination to pick someone from in front of the Texas School Book Depository (TSBD), who was wrongly suspected of having suffered an epileptic seizure.

Lawson later reported to the Secret Service that he heard on his radio “that we should proceed to the nearest hospital.” He wrote also that he “requested Chief Curry to have the hospital contacted,” and then that “Our Lead Car assisted the motorcycles in escorting the President’s vehicle to Parkland Hospital” (17 WH 632), cf. 21 WH 580). In other words, after hearing something on the WHCA radio, Lawson helped ensure that the President’s limousine would follow the route already set up by the motorcycles for the epileptic. (In his very detailed Warren Commission testimony, Lawson said nothing about the route having already been cleared. On the contrary he testified that “we had to do some stopping of cars and holding our hands out the windows and blowing the sirens and horns to get through” (4 WH 354).

The WHCA radio channel used by Lawson and others communicated almost directly to the WHCA base at Mount Weather in Virginia, the base facility of the COG network. From there, Secret Service communications were relayed to the White House, via the
batteries of communications equipment connecting Mount Weather with the White House and “Raven Rock” — the underground Pentagon sixty miles north of Washington — as well as with almost every US military unit stationed around the globe.
Jack Crichton, head of the 488th Army Intelligence Reserve unit of Dallas, was also part of this Mount Weather COG network. This was in his capacity as chief of intelligence for Dallas Civil Defense, which worked out of an underground Emergency Operating Center. As Russ Baker reports, “Because it was intended for ‘continuity of government’ operations during an attack, [the Center] was fully equipped with communications equipment.” In retrospect the Civil Defense Program is remembered derisively, for having advised schoolchildren, in the event of an atomic attack, to hide their heads under their desks.But in 1963 civil defense was one of the urgent responsibilities assigned to the Office of Emergency Planning, which is why Crichton, as much as Secret Service agent Lawson, could be in direct touch with the OEP’s emergency communications network at Mount Weather.

Jack Crichton is of interest because he, along with DPD Deputy Chief George Lumpkin of the 488th Army Intelligence Reserve unit, was responsible for choosing a Russian interpreter for Marina Oswald from the right-wing Russian community. This man was Ilya Mamantov, who translated for Marina Oswald at her first DPD interview on November 22. What she allegedly said in Russian at this interview was later used to bolster what I have called the “phase one” story, still promoted from some CIA sources, that Russia and/or Cuba were behind the assassination.

As summarized by the FBI, Mamantov’s account of Marina’s Russian testimony was as follows:
MARINA OSWALD advised that LEE HARVEY OSWALD owned a rifle which he used in Russia about two years ago. She observed what she presumed to be the same rifle in a blanket in the garage at [Ruth Paine’s residence]…. MARINA OSWALD stated that on November 22, she had been shown a rifle in the Dallas Police Department…. She stated that it was a dark color like the one that she had seen, but she did not recall the sight.
These specific details – that Marina said she had seen a rifle that was dark and scopeless – were confirmed in an affidavit (signed by Marina and Mamantov, 24 WH 219) that was taken by DPD officer B.L. Senkel (24 WH 249). They were confirmed again by Ruth Paine, who witnessed the Mamantov interview, (3 WH 82). They were confirmed again the next night in an interview of Marina by the Secret Service, translated by Mamantov’s close friend Peter Gregory. But a Secret Service transcript of the interview reveals that the source of these details was Gregory, not Marina:
(Q) This gun, was it a rifle or a pistol or just what kind of a gun? Can she answer that?

(A) It was a gun

Mr. Gregory asked: Can you describe it?

NOTE: Subject said: I cannot describe it because a rifle to me like all rifles.

Gregory translation: She said she cannot describe it. It was sort of a dark rifle just like any other common rifle…

Subject in Russian: It was a hump (or elevation) but I never saw through the scope….

Gregory translation: She says there was an elevation on the rifle but there was no scope – no telescope.
We have to conclude not just that Gregory had falsified Marina’s testimony (“a rifle to me like all rifles”); but so probably had his friend Mamantov, who later testified no less than seven times to the Warren Commission that Marina had used the word “dark” to describe the gun. There were others in Dallas who claimed that Oswald’s gun indeed had been scopeless, until Oswald had a scope installed on it by Dallas gunsmith Dial Ryder. The Warren Report elaborately refuted this corroborated claim, and concluded that “the authenticity of the repair tag” used to support it was “subject to grave doubts.” (WR 317).

We can see here, what the Warren Commission did not wish to see, signs of a conspiracy to misrepresent Marina’s testimony, and possibly to link Oswald’s gun to a dark and scopeless rifle he had in the Soviet Union. Our concerns that Mamantov misrepresented her lead us to concerns about why two Army Intelligence Reserve officers from the 488th unit (Jack Crichton and Deputy DPD Chief George Lumpkin) selected Mamantov as her interpreter. Our concerns are increased when we see that B.L. Senkel, the DPD officer who took Marina’s suspect affidavit, was the partner of F.P. Turner, who collected the dubious rifle repair tag (24 WH 328), and that both men spent most of November 22 with DPD Deputy Chief Lumpkin. For example, they were with Lumpkin in the pilot car of the motorcade when Lumpkin was communicating with Winston Lawson in the lead car behind them.

I conclude that when we look at the conduct of the two men we know to have been parts of the COG emergency communications network in Dallas, we see patterns of sinister behavior that also involved others, or what we may call conspiratorial behavior. These concatenated efforts to implicate Oswald in a phase-one conspiracy narrative lead me to propose a hypothesis for which I have neither evidence nor an alternative explanation: namely, that someone on the WHCA network may have been the source for the important unexplained description on the Dallas Police tapes of a suspect who had exactly the false height and weight (5 feet 10 inches, 165 pounds) recorded for Oswald in his FBI and CIA files.

Note that there are no other known sources ascribing this specific height and weight to Oswald. For example, when he was arrested and charged in Dallas that same day, Oswald was recorded as having a height of 5’9 ½ inches, and a weight of 131 pounds. The first reference to Oswald as 5’10”, 165 pounds, was that offered by Oswald’s mother Marguerite to FBI Agent Fain in May 1960, when Oswald himself was absent in Russia.

The DPD officer contributing the description on the Police Channel was Inspector Herbert Sawyer, who allegedly had heard it from someone outside the Texas School Book Depository (TSBD) whom he could not identify or describe. The Warren Report said categorically that his source was Howard Brennan (WR 5), and that on the evening of November 22, Brennan “identified Oswald as the person in the lineup who bore the closest resemblance to the man in the window but he said that he was unable to make a positive identification” (WR 145). But there are many reasons to doubt this, starting with conflicts in Brennan’s own testimony (as Anthony Summers reported in Conspiracy, pp. 109-10) . And Ian Griggs has made a strong case that Brennan never saw Oswald in a line-up that evening. (There are police records placing Oswald in three line-ups that day, and corroborating witness reports of them; but there is no evidence whatever that Brennan attended any of the three.)

There is another strong reason to doubt that the source was Brennan. Brennan testified later to the Warren Commission that he saw his suspect in a window of the Texas School Book Depository, “standing up and leaning against the left window sill.” Pressed to describe how much of the suspect he saw, Brennan answered, “I could see probably his whole body, from his hips up. But at the time that he was firing the gun, a possibility from his belt up” (3 WH 144).

The awkwardness of Brennan’s language draws attention to the fundamental problem about the description. It is hard to imagine anyone giving a full height and weight estimate from seeing someone who was only partially visible in a window. So there are intrinsic grounds for believing the description must have come from another source. And when we see that the same description is found in Oswald’s FBI and CIA files — and nowhere else – there are reasons to suspect the source was from government secret files.

We have seen that there was interaction in Dallas between the WHCA and DPD radio channels, thanks to the WHCA portable radio that Lawson had installed in the lead car of the presidential motorcade. This radio in turn was in contact by police radio with the pilot car ahead of it, carrying Dallas Police Department (DPD) Deputy Chief Lumpkin of the 488th Army Intelligence Reserve unit. At the same time, as noted above, it was in contact with the COG nerve center at Mount Weather, Virginia. And Mount Weather had the requisite secret communications to receive information from classified intelligence files, without other parts of the government being alerted.

Permit me at this moment an instructive digression. It is by now well established that Kennedy in 1963 was concerned enough by “the threat of far-right treason” that he urgently persuaded Hollywood director John Frankenheimer “to turn [the novel] Seven Days in May into a movie.” In this book, to quote Wikipedia, a
charismatic superior officer, Air Force General James Mattoon Scott, intend[s] to stage a coup d’état …. According to the plan, an undisclosed Army combat unit known as ECOMCON (Emergency COMmunications CONtrol) will seize control of the country’s telephone, radio, and television networks, while the conspiracy directs the military and its allies in Congress and the media from “Mount Thunder” (a continuity of government base based on Mount Weather).
It is no secret also that in 1963 Kennedy had aroused major right-wing dissatisfaction, largely because of signs of his increasing rapprochement with the Soviet Union. The plot of the book and movie reflects the concern of liberals at the time about generals like General Edwin Walker, who had resigned in 1961 after Kennedy criticized his political activities in the Army. (Walker had given his troops John Birch Society literature, along with the names of right-wing candidates to vote for.) We can assume however that Kennedy had no firm evidence of a Mount Weather conspiracy: if he had, it is unlikely his response would have just been to sponsor a fictionalized movie.

It is important at this stage to point out that, although COG elements like Mount Weather were considered part of the Pentagon, the COG “government in waiting” was at no time under military control. On the contrary, President Eisenhower had ensured that it was broadly based at the top, so its planners included some of the nation’s top corporate leaders, like Frank Stanton of CBS. By all accounts of COG leadership in the decades after Reagan took office in 1981, this so-called “shadow government” still included CEOs of private corporations, like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, as well as three former CIA directors: Richard Helms, James Schlesinger, and George Bush.

Alfonso Chardy wrote in 1987 that the “virtual parallel government” empowering North to run Iran-Contra had also developed “a secret contingency plan that called for suspension of the Constitution, turning control of the United States over to FEMA.” Subsequently North was questioned in the Iran-Contra Hearings about this charge, but was prevented by the Committee Chairman, Democratic Senator Inouye, from answering in a public session.

Later, investigating the powerful COG planning group, CNN called it “a hidden government [in the USA] about which you know nothing.” James Mann emphasized its hawkish continuity, unaffected by changes of presidency in the White House:
Cheney and Rumsfeld were, in a sense, a part of the permanent, though hidden, national security apparatus of the United States, inhabitants of a world in which Presidents come and go, but America always keeps on fighting.”
Going one step further, Andrew Cockburn quoted a Pentagon source to support a claim that a COG planning group under Clinton was now for the first time staffed “almost exclusively with Republican hawks.” In the words of his source, “You could say this was a secret government-in-waiting. The Clinton administration was extraordinarily inattentive, [they had] no idea what was going on.”

The Pentagon official’s description of COG planners as a “secret government-in-waiting” under Clinton (which still included both Cheney and Rumsfeld) is very close to the standard definition of a cabal, as a group of persons secretly united to bring about a change or overthrow of government. A very similar situation existed under Jimmy Carter, when some of those who would later figure in Iran-Contra (notably George H.W. Bush and Theodore Shackley) worked with chiefs of foreign intelligence services (the so-called Safari Club) “to start working with [former DCI Richard] Helms [then U.S. Ambassador to Iran] and his most trusted operatives outside of Congressional and even Agency purview.” This group began by backing guerrilla forces in Africa (notably UNITA of Jonas Savimbi in Angola), which they knew would not be backed by the CIA under William Colby or Stansfield Turner.

But some of these figures, notably Alexandre de Marenches of the French spy agency SDECE, became involved with Casey, Bush, Shackley, and others in a 1980 plot – the so-called Republican “October Surprise” – to prevent the reelection of Jimmy Carter. The essence of this plot was to frustrate Carter’s efforts to repatriate the hostages seized in the U.S. Tehran Embassy, by negotiating a Republican deal with the Iranians that would be more to their liking. (The hostages in fact were returned hours after Reagan took office in 1981.)

This Republican hostage plot in 1980 deserves to be counted as a fifth structural deep event in recent US history. Unquestionably the illicit contacts with Iran established by the October Surprise Group in 1980 became, as Alfonso Chardy wrote, the “genesis” of the Iran-Contra arms deals overseen by the COG/ Mount Weather planners in 1984-86.

In an important interview with journalist Robert Parry, the veteran CIA officer Miles Copeland claimed that a “CIA within the CIA” inspired the 1980 plot, having concluded by 1980 that Jimmy Carter (in Copeland’s words) “had to be removed from the presidency for the good of the country.” Copeland made it clear to Parry that he shared this view that Carter “represented a grave threat to the nation,” and former Mossad agent Ari Ben-Menashe told Parry that Copeland himself was in fact “the conceptual father” of the 1980 arms-for-hostages deal, and had “brokered [the] Republican cooperation with Israel.” And Copeland, together with his client Adnan Khashoggi whom he advised, went on with Shackley to help launch the 1984-85 Iranian arms deals as well.

However, just as Knebel in Seven Days may have overestimated the military component in the COG Mount Weather leadership, so Copeland may have dwelt too exclusively on the CIA component behind the October Surprise Group. In The Road to 9/11, I suggested that this CIA network overlapped with a so-called “Project Alpha,” working at the time for David Rockefeller and the Chase Manhattan Bank on Iran issues, which was chaired by the veteran establishment figure John J. McCloy.

I will conclude by again quoting James Mann’s dictum that the Mount Weather COG leadership constitutes a “permanent, though hidden, national security apparatus of the United States, … a world in which Presidents come and go, but America always keeps on fighting.” And I would like this audience to investigate whether elements of this enduring leadership, with its ever-changing mix of CIA veterans and civilian leaders, may have constituted “a secret government-in-waiting,” not just under Clinton in the 1990s, not just under Carter in 1980, but also under Kennedy in November 1963.


[1] Peter Dale Scott, The American Deep State: Wall Street, Big Oil, and the Attack on U.S. Democracy (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014 [forthcoming]). 1.

[2] For a partial list of anomalies between the JFK assassination and 9/11, see Peter Dale Scott, The War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11, and the Deep Politics of War (New York: Skyhorse, 2013), 341-96.

[3] Tim Shorrock, Spies for Hire (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), 6.

[4] Alfonso Chardy, “Reagan Aides and the Secret Government,” Miami Herald, July 5, 1987, http://bellaciao.org/en/article.php3?id_article=9877: “Some of President Reagan’s top advisers have operated a virtual parallel government outside the traditional Cabinet departments and agencies almost from the day Reagan took office, congressional investigators and administration officials have concluded.”

[5] Iran-Contra Committee Counsel Arthur Liman, questioning Oliver North, “had North repeat his testimony that the diversion was Casey’s idea” (Arthur Liman, Lawyer: a life of counsel and controversy [New York: Public Affairs, 1998], 341).

[6] James Bamford, A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the abuse of America’s intelligence agencies (New York: Doubleday, 2004), 72.

[7] Peter Dale Scott, The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 213-14, 219-29.

[8] Bamford, A Pretext for War, 71-81.

[9] Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, All the President’s Men (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974), 23.

[10] Jim Hougan, Secret Agenda (New York: Random House, 1984), 16. For more on WISP, see David Wise, The Politics of Lying: Government Deception, Secrecy, and Power (New York: Random House, 1973), 134-37.

[11] John Dean, Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush (New York: Little Brown, 2004), 120. In addition Howard Baker, in 1973 the ranking Republican member of the Senate Committee that investigated Watergate, was later part of the COG secret leadership (CNN Special Assignment, November 17, 1991).

[12] James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet (New York: Viking, 2004), 142.

[13] Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. 9, p.106 (or 9 WH 106) ; Scott, Deep Politics, 275-76; Russ Baker, Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces That Put It in the White House, and What Their Influence Means for America (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009), 119-22.

[14] “White House Communications Agency,” Signal Corps Regimental History, http://signal150.army.mil/white_house_communications_agency.html.

[15] In the 1990s the WHCA supplied statements to the ARRB concerning communications between Dallas and Washington on November 22 (NARA #172-10001-10002 to NARA #172-10000-10008). The Assassination Records Review Board also attempted to obtain from the WHCA the unedited original tapes of conversations from Air Force One on the return trip from Dallas, November 22, 1963. (Edited and condensed versions of these tapes had been available since the 1970s from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas.) The attempt was unsuccessful: “The Review Board’s repeated written and oral inquiries of the White House Communications Agency did not bear fruit. The WHCA could not produce any records that illuminated the provenance of the edited tapes.” See Assassinations Records Review Board: Final Report, chapter 6, Part 1, 116, http://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/review-board/report/chapter-06-part1.pdf.

[16] 17 WH 394-95, 23 WH 841; 17 WH 368, 395; Scott, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, 273-74, 278. The alleged epileptic walked away from the ambulance after it arrived at Highland (Warren Commission Document 1245, 6-10).

[17] Statement of Special Agent Winston E. Lawson [to Secret Service],” 17 WH 632; Scott, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, 278.

[18] Richard Pollock, “The Mysterious Mountain,” The Progressive, March, 1976; cf. “Mount Weather’s ‘Government-in-Waiting,’” http://www.serendipity.li/jsmill/mt_weather.htm.

[19] Russ Baker, Family of Secrets, 121.

[20] Dee Garrison , Bracing for Armageddon: Why Civil Defense Never Worked

(New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 46.

[21] Warren Commission Exhibit 1778, 23 WH 383-84.

[22] Commission Document 344 – SS Howard Tape Copy of 01 Dec 1963, p. 23.

[23] Lee Harvey Oswald fingerprint card, 17 WH 308. The heaviest Oswald actually weighed was 150 pounds, when he left the Marines in 1959 (19 WH 584, 595).

[24] FBI report by Special Agent Fain, dated May 12, 1960, 17 WH 706. In the same report Marguerite named Oswald’s father as “Edward Lee Oswald.” His actual name was Robert Edward Lee Oswald (WR 669-70).

[25] Testimony of Inspector Herbert Sawyer, 6 WH 321-22: “I remember that he was a white man and that he wasn’t young and he wasn’t old.” Cf. Dallas Police Channel Two Tape at 12:25 PM (23 WH 916).

[26] Ian Griggs, “Did Howard Leslie Brennan Really Attend an Identification Lineup?”


[27] Statement of Secret Service Winston Lawson, 17 WH 630: “I checked with Chief Curry as to location of Lead Car [at Love Field] and had WHCA portable radio put in and checked.”

[28] “The lead car was in radio contact with the pilot car by police radio, and with the Presidential limousine by Secret Service portable radios” (Pamela McElwain-Brown, “The Presidential Lincoln Continental SS-100-X,” Dealey Plaza Echo, Volume 3, Issue 2, 23, http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/viewer/showDoc.do?docId=16241&relPageId=27). Cf. Scott, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, 272-75 (Lumpkin).

[29] David Talbot, Brothers: the hidden history of the Kennedy years (New York: Free Press, 2007), 148.

[30] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Days_in_May.

[31] Jonathan M. Schoenwald, A time for choosing: the rise of modern American conservatism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), .

[32] Hope Yen, “Eisenhower Letters Reveal Doomsday Plan: Citizens Tapped to Take Over in Case of Attack,” AP, Deseret News, March 21, 2004, http://www.deseretnews.com/article/595050502/Eisenhower-letters-reveal-doomsday-plan.html?pg=all.

[33] CNN Special Assignment, November 17, 1991.

[34] Alfonso Chardy, “Reagan Aides and the Secret Government,” Miami Herald, July 5, 1987, http://bellaciao.org/en/article.php3?id_article=9877: “Some of President Reagan’s top advisers have operated a virtual parallel government outside the traditional Cabinet departments and agencies almost from the day Reagan took office, congressional investigators and administration officials have concluded.”

[35] Iran-Contra Committee Counsel Arthur Liman, questioning Oliver North, “had North repeat his testimony that the diversion was Casey’s idea” (Arthur Liman, Lawyer: a life of counsel and controversy [New York: Public Affairs, 1998], 341). Cf. The “October Surprise” allegations and the circumstances surrounding the release of the American hostages held in Iran: report of the Special Counsel to Senator Terry Sanford and Senator James M. Jeffords of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Volume 4, p. 33 (October Surprise Group).

[36] CNN Special Assignment, November 17, 1991.

[37] James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans, 145.

[38] Andrew Cockburn, Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy (New York: Scribner, 2007), 88.

[39] Joseph J. Trento, Prelude to terror: the rogue CIA and the legacy of America’s private intelligence network (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2005), 61.

[40] Piero Gleijeses, Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria and the struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, [2013]), 66-68; Elaine Windrich, “The Laboratory of Hate: The Role of Clandestine Radio in the Angolan War,” International Journal of Cultural Studies 3(2), 2000.

[41] Alfonso Chardy, “Reagan Aides and the Secret Government,” Miami Herald, July 5, 1987, http://bellaciao.org/en/article.php3?id_article=9877: “The group, led by campaign foreign policy adviser Richard Allen, was founded out of concern Carter might pull off an “October surprise” such as a last-minute deal for the release of the hostages before the Nov. 4 election. One of the group’s first acts was a meeting with a man claiming to represent Iran who offered to release the hostages to Reagan.

Allen — Reagan’s first national security adviser— and another campaign aide, Laurence Silberman, told The Herald in April of the meeting. they said McFarlane, then a Senate Armed Services Committee aide, arranged and attended it. McFarlane later became Reagan’s national security adviser and played a key role in the Iran-contra affair. Allen and Silberman said they rejected the offer to release the hostages to Reagan.” [The Iranian was Houshang Lavi, and after Lavi’s death Robert Parry confirmed from Lavi’s diary that the meeting did take place].

[42] Alfonso Chardy, “Reagan Aides and the Secret Government,” Miami Herald, July 5, 1987, http://bellaciao.org/en/article.php3?id_article=9877.

[43] “America’s False History Allows the Powerful to Commit Crimes Without Consequence,” Mark Karlin Interview of Robert Parry, January 15, 2013, Truthout Interview, http://www.truth-out.org/progressivepicks/item/13904-americas-false-history-allows-the-powerful-to-commit-crimes-without-consequence.

[44] Robert Parry, Trick or Treason, 175.

[45] Peter Dale Scott, The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America

(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 81-83, 88. A key figure was CIA veteran and Copeland friend Archibald Roosevelt, in 1980 a Carter foe and also employee of the Chase Manhattan Bank.

[46] Mann, Rise of the Vulcans, 145.

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"We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values." Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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CBN : What Was the FBI Doing with Known 9/11 Terrorist?

Monday, October 06, 2014

What Was the FBI Doing with Known 9/11 Terrorist?

October 6, 2014

Internal documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation released recently show there may have been more breakdowns and a rift among agencies protecting the nation from terror.

Judicial Watch obtained the documents under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the FBI.

"We thought something was up with the FBI and (Anwar) al-Awlaki - his ties to the 9/11 attack. We also had suspicions based on other reports that he was being used by the FBI or someone in our federal government as an asset. And the information has been astonishing," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said.

Fitton said documents show al Awlaki bought the airline tickets for the 9/11 terrorists and he was a spiritual advisor to some of the hijackers.

"The FBI was in email contact with al-Awlaki, refused to help the 9/11 Commission talk to him. Al-Awlaki was sending the FBI emails complaining about the press he was getting. Why is this guy talking to the FBI?" Fitton asked.

"My concern is the FBI has yet to be held accountable for withholding this information from the American people, answering questions - what exactly they were doing with this known terrorist," Fitton said.

Denver Post : After 9/11, stuck on terror watch lists

Saturday, August 16, 2014

After 9/11, stuck on terror watch lists

By The Denver Post Editorial Board | August 16, 2014

In the nearly 13 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it has become clear there is a new normal in the U.S. where security is concerned.

Show your driver's license. Take off your shoes. Don't even think about a bomb joke.

One might think this post-9/11 era has gone on long enough to allow authorities to remedy the deficiencies that have emerged in measures designed to keep citizens safe.

Unfortunately, that appears not to be the case with the government's secret terrorist watch list and no-fly list.

Recent lawsuits, including one filed last month by the American Civil Liberties Union, have shed more light on what appear to be unconstitutional practices.

Clearly it's time for that to change.

The ACLU lawsuit was filed on behalf of five people of Muslim faith who contend the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has illegally blocked them from becoming naturalized citizens or permanent residents without telling them why.

They've been "blacklisted," according to the ACLU, because of their suspected inclusion on the terrorist watch list, a designation they have no meaningful way to challenge.

The list has as many as 1 million names on it, the lawsuit said, and has broad parameters for inclusion. An individual need not even be suspected of taking part in unlawful activity or belong to a suspicious organization to make the list, the lawsuit said.

And getting off the list? Good luck.

Several government reviews in recent years document the lax practices in taking people off terrorist watchlists.

In a separate matter, a federal judge in Oregon ruled the Department of Homeland Security had to do a better job of satisfying the requirements of due process when it came to appeals of inclusion on the list.

The government must, the judge said, reveal the unclassified information supporting the listing. And even if the material is classified, people deserve to know the nature and extent of it.

That seems reasonable given the restrictions involved. Those on the lists report being prevented from traveling on commercial airlines, being routinely detained, or being subjected to additional screenings that sometimes causes them to miss their flights.

Balancing civil liberties and security is a high-stakes challenge. But clearly there are ways to do a better job of protecting — while honoring — the principles this nation was founded upon.

William Blum : The United States and torture

Monday, August 11, 2014

The United States and torture

by William Blum | August 11th, 2014

Two of the things that governments tend to cover-up or lie about the most are assassinations and torture, both of which are widely looked upon as exceedingly immoral and unlawful, even uncivilized. Since the end of the Second World War the United States has attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders and has led the world in torture; not only the torture performed directly by Americans upon foreigners, but providing torture equipment, torture manuals, lists of people to be tortured, and in-person guidance and encouragement by American instructors, particularly in Latin America.

Thus it is somewhat to the credit of President Obama that at his August 1 press conference he declared “We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.”

And he actually used the word “torture” at that moment, not “enhanced interrogation”, which has been the euphemism of preference the past decade, although two minutes later the president used “extraordinary interrogation techniques”. And “tortured some folks” makes me wince. The man is clearly uncomfortable with the subject.

But all this is minor. Much more important is the fact that for several years Mr. Obama’s supporters have credited him with having put an end to the practice of torture. And they simply have no right to make that claim.

Shortly after Obama’s first inauguration, both he and Leon Panetta, the new Director of the CIA, explicitly stated that “rendition” was not being ended. As the Los Angeles Times reported at the time: “Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.”

The English translation of “cooperate” is “torture”. Rendition is simply outsourcing torture. There was no other reason to take prisoners to Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, Somalia, Kosovo, or the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, to name some of the known torture centers frequented by the United States. Kosovo and Diego Garcia – both of which house large and very secretive American military bases – if not some of the other locations, may well still be open for torture business. The same for the Guantánamo Base in Cuba.

Moreover, the Executive Order referred to, number 13491, issued January 22, 2009, “Ensuring Lawful Interrogations”, leaves a major loophole. It states repeatedly that humane treatment, including the absence of torture, is applicable only to prisoners detained in an “armed conflict”. Thus, torture by Americans outside an environment of “armed conflict” is not explicitly prohibited. But what about torture within an environment of “counter-terrorism”?

The Executive Order required the CIA to use only the interrogation methods outlined in a revised Army Field Manual. However, using the Army Field Manual as a guide to prisoner treatment and interrogation still allows solitary confinement, perceptual or sensory deprivation, sensory overload, sleep deprivation, the induction of fear and hopelessness, mind-altering drugs, environmental manipulation such as temperature and noise, and stress positions.

After Panetta was questioned by a Senate panel, the New York Times wrote that he had “left open the possibility that the agency could seek permission to use interrogation methods more aggressive than the limited menu that President Obama authorized under new rules … Mr. Panetta also said the agency would continue the Bush administration practice of ‘rendition’ – picking terrorism suspects off the street and sending them to a third country. But he said the agency would refuse to deliver a suspect into the hands of a country known for torture or other actions ‘that violate our human values’.”

The last sentence is of course childishly absurd. The countries chosen to receive rendition prisoners were chosen precisely because they were willing and able to torture them.

No official in the Bush and Obama administrations has been punished in any way for torture or other war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and the other countries they waged illegal war against. And, it could be added, no American bankster has been punished for their indispensable role in the world-wide financial torture they inflicted upon us all beginning in 2008. What a marvelously forgiving land is America. This, however, does not apply to Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, or Chelsea Manning.

In the last days of the Bush White House, Michael Ratner, professor at Columbia Law School and former president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, pointed out:
The only way to prevent this from happening again is to make sure that those who were responsible for the torture program pay the price for it. I don’t see how we regain our moral stature by allowing those who were intimately involved in the torture programs to simply walk off the stage and lead lives where they are not held accountable.
I’d like at this point to once again remind my dear readers of the words of the “Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment”, which was drafted by the United Nations in 1984, came into force in 1987, and ratified by the United States in 1994. Article 2, section 2 of the Convention states: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Such marvelously clear, unequivocal, and principled language, to set a single standard for a world that makes it increasingly difficult for one to feel proud of humanity.

The Convention Against Torture has been and remains the supreme law of the land. It is a cornerstone of international law and a principle on a par with the prohibition against slavery and genocide.

“Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States.” – United States Attorney General Eric Holder, July 26, 2013

John Brennan, appointed by President Obama in January 2013 to be Director of the CIA, has defended “rendition” as an “absolutely vital tool”; and stated that torture had produced “life saving” intelligence.

Obama had nominated Brennan for the CIA position in 2008, but there was such an outcry in the human-rights community over Brennan’s apparent acceptance of torture, that Brennan withdrew his nomination. Barack Obama evidently learned nothing from this and appointed the man again in 2013.

During Cold War One, a common theme in the rhetoric was that the Soviets tortured people and detained them without cause, extracted phony confessions, and did the unspeakable to detainees who were helpless against the full, heartless weight of the Communist state. As much as any other evil, torture differentiated the bad guys, the Commies, from the good guys, the American people and their government. However imperfect the US system might be – we were all taught – it had civilized standards that the enemy rejected.

Louisville Courier-Journal : Obama’s breezy words for post-9/11 torture

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Obama’s breezy words for post-9/11 torture

By Leonard Pitts | August 6, 2014

“…but we tortured some folks.”

— President Barack Obama, Aug.1, 2014

OK, in the first place: “tortured some folks?” Really?

Was there not something annoyingly breezy in the president’s phrasing last week as he acknowledged the abuse of suspected terrorists in the wake of Sept. 11? Was there not something off-putting in the folksy familiarity of it?

“We tortured some folks.”

What’s next? “He raped a chick?” “They stabbed a dude?”

Granted, it’s a relatively minor point. But to whatever degree phrasing is a window into mindset, the president’s phrasing was jarring. It is, however, what he said next that we are gathered here to discuss.

Obama, speaking to reporters Friday, invoked the atmosphere after Sept. 11 to explain why the CIA, ahem, tortured some folks. He reminded us that we were all terrified more attacks were imminent and our national security people were under great pressure to prevent them. So while what they did was wrong, said Obama, “It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had.”

In other words, we were all scared spitless, so it’s … understandable if not precisely condonable, that the CIA behaved in ways that betrayed our national values. But the president is wrong.

In fairness to him, though, let’s stipulate a few things:

One: Obama has never wavered in calling the torture of suspected terrorists precisely what it was, nor in defining it as a betrayal of what America is supposed to stand for. He did so again last week. “We did some things that were contrary to our values,” he said.

Two: Those things did not happen on Obama’s watch. It was George W. Bush’s administration that rationalized and justified the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation.” Bush made this mess. Obama is just the guy with the push broom.

Three: Obama was trying to walk a political tightrope that was probably unwalkable. Anticipating declassification of a Senate report that is said to cast a harsh light on these tactics, he sought to signal disapproval of what the CIA did, yet not throw its personnel — who now, after all, work for him — under the proverbial bus. That wouldn’t be great for morale.

All that said, it was disappointing to hear the president invoke the frenzy of that era as a mitigating factor. By that logic, you could justify the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942, the McCarthy witch hunt of the 1950s, or dozens of other sins against freedom strewn like scars across the face of American history. All were born of the same broken rationale: We were scared, so we did things we should not have done.

The thinking seems to be that sometimes fear makes our values too heavy to uphold. Actually, it is our capacity for fear that makes them more critical to uphold. And it is disingenuous to pretend the hysteria of the 9/11 era was such that anyone might have done the same thing.

Not only is that not true, but it also insults the moral courage of people like Sen. John McCain and Obama himself who did stand up and say, emphatically and at political risk, that this was unworthy of us. So it’s not that it was impossible to speak reason, but that the torturers refused to hear it.

They followed orders instead.

The president opposes the idea of prosecuting them for that and he’s right. That would cast a pall over American intelligence gathering for generations forward.

But there is a lesson here that urgently needs learning, an accounting that ought not be ignored. With the best of intentions and the approval of a morally blinkered White House, the CIA vandalized American honor and all involved must be called on it. That isn’t sanctimony.

It’s patriotism.

Write to Pitts at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

WDTV [WV] : Obama's 'Torture' Comments Reopen 9/11 Debate

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Obama's 'Torture' Comments Reopen 9/11 Debate

from WDTV, serving north central West Virginia

Lauren McMillen | August 2, 2014

"In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks"

That's what President Obama had to say after recognizing that the U.S. may have went to far in torturing al-Queda detainees.

Since in office, Obama has taken a stand against the enhanced interrogation tactics that were put into place by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks. But some of you believe that the harsh conditions were the only solution.

"They shouldn't have bothered us to begin with then we wouldn't have been there to torture them. You're not going to resolve anything over there. It's been going on for the beginning of time," said Jim Feeda, visiting from Pennsylvania.

"They torture us, so we have to do what we can to get the information we need to get the job done," said Cliff Fox, Harrison County resident.

This all comes on the brink on a new Senate report that is expected to be released in the coming weeks. The nearly 7,000 page report will describe in detail the CIA's treatment of terrorist suspects.

Officials expect the document will reveal that actions, like water boarding, did not help us get any further.

"We did some things that were contrary to our values," said President Obama.

Others agree that these acts violated the principles of our country and what we stand for.

"I think torturing people is something we not ought to do. I think there are other techniques we can use to get the same information. I don't know if anyone has ever shown that using torture gets more and better information," said Joe Burrman, visiting from Maryland.

Obama's comments are likely to draw heavy criticism from some Republicans and former members of the Bush administration.

Quassim Cassam: Cranks, Conspiracies, and the Hidden Self

Friday, February 28, 2014

Cranks, Conspiracies, and the Hidden Self

transcribed by Winter Patriot in August of 2015

NOTE: "Cranks, Conspiracies, and the Hidden Self" was Professor Quassim Cassam's Mind Lecture for 2014, marking the end of his tenure as Senior Research Fellow of the Mind Association. It was presented at the University of Warwick, in Coventry, England, in February of 2014.

You can click here to listen to the lecture courtesy of the University.

The following transcript is not (yet) complete, but I have done my best to present Professor Cassam's ideas as he presented them.

I have added a few notes [in square brackets], mainly section headings and time stamps.


[0:00] [MODERATOR]

OK. Good evening, everyone. What an absolute pleasure it is for us to welcome back to the PPE [Philosophy, Politics, and Economics] Society Professor Quassim Cassam, who this evening will be giving a very special lecture.

This evening's lecture is the Mind lecture, bringing to a close Professor Cassam's tenure as Mind Senior Research Fellow. The title of the talk is "Cranks, Conspiracies, and the Hidden Self".

Professor Cassam has had a prolific career in Philosophy. Since 2009, he has been a professor here at Warwick, and from 2010 to 2012 was Head of Philosophy Department.

Like many of us here this evening, he originally studied PPE starting at Keble College, Oxford, before continuing on to do a B. Phil. and then a D. Phil. in Philosophy, which was supervised for the most part by Sir Peter Strawson.

He was a fellow and a lecturer at Oxford's Oriel and Wadham Colleges, spending 18 years there, and he has subsequently been a professor at UCL [University College London] , King's College, Cambridge, and from 2007 to 2008 was Cambridge's Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy, which is the senior professorship at the University.

From 2010 to 2011, he was also President of the Aristotelian Society.

With an interest in Kantian themes, in 1997 his first book, "Self and World," was published, in which he argued for the importance of bodily awareness for self-awareness.

In 2007, his second book, "The Possibility of Knowledge," was published which focused on how-possible questions in Philosophy, and in particular, how knowledge of particular kinds is possible, despite the apparent obstacles to such knowledge.

He now has two forthcoming books, "Berkeley's Puzzle," which was co-authored with John Campbell, and "Self-Knowledge for Humans."

So, without any further hesitation, you will please join me in offering a very warm round of applause to Professor Quassim Cassam.

[2:18] [APPLAUSE]


Ok well thanks very much for that introduction. Thanks also to Louis and the PPE Society for organizing this event so brilliantly. I also need to thank the Mind Association, whose Director is here today, for giving me a whole year in which to write a book on self-knowledge.

Paraphrasing the philosopher Barry Stroud, Mind made the book possible. All I had to do was to make it actual.

[3:01] Ok so what I want to do is to start off by telling you a story. Now as I tell you this story, it might not be apparent to you what its philosophical significance is. However what I want to suggest once I've told you this story that it's significant actually not just for philosophy but also for Psychology and for Economics.

So the ultimate target of this lecture will be a position in Philosophy which I call "Harvard Rationalism," a position in psychology which is often called "Situationism," and a particular version of Behavioural Economics.

I'll also have something positive to say, hopefully, but mainly I just want to rattle a few cages here, just make trouble for these views.

[Oliver and His Theory]

[3:54] Ok So here's the story. The story is about a fictional character who I'm going to call Oliver. Now Oliver spends a lot of time surfing the Internet and reading about the events in New York on September the 11th, 2001. Oliver indeed regards himself as something of an expert in the field of what he calls "9/11 Studies".

Now the thing about Oliver is that he has a theory about what actually happened on 9/11. And his theory is this: that the collapse of the Twin Towers on that day was not in fact caused by aircraft impacts and the resulting fires. Oliver thinks that the Twin Towers collapsed as a result of a controlled demolition. His theory is that government agents planted explosives in the building in advance, detonated those explosives just as the aircraft were approaching, and that's what resulted in the collapse of the Twin Towers.

[5:05] That's Oliver's theory.

Now, as many of you will be aware, Oliver's theory about what happened on 9/11 is actually not that unusual. There was a global opinion poll done in 2008, ten thousand respondents. And fewer than half of them believed that al-Q'aeda was responsible for the events on 9/11. Fewer than half of them believed that.

So he's not alone. Oliver's not alone. But there's one problem. The problem is that Oliver's beliefs about 9/11 are complete rubbish.

[5:48] Of course, aircraft impacts could, and indeed did, bring down the Twin Towers, and the events on 9/11 were the responsibility of al-Q'aeda. There's overwhelming evidence of that.

So a natural reaction to the case of Oliver would be to say, Well, so what? So what? He has a strange view, a conspiracy theory about what happened on that day.

His conspiracy theory happens to be shared by many people across the world. There are many Olivers -- depressingly many Olivers in the world. Perhaps there are even some in this room.


I mean, statistically, it seems quite likely that there are a few people here who believe Oliver's theory.

[Philosophical Significance]

So what's the philosophical significance of this phenomenon? That's my question.

Well, things start to get interesting, I think, when we ask the following question about Oliver. Why does Oliver believe what he believes about 9/11? Why does he believe it?

[7:03] Now, if you think, as Descartes thought, that we have privileged access to our own minds, then the best possible way of answering the question: "Why does Oliver believe these things?" is to ask Oliver. Who could possibly be better placed to explain why he believes these things than the subject himself?

So you ask Oliver, "Why do you believe this?" So this is how the conversation goes, ok.

As a philosopher, I'm afraid I can't resist using P's and Q's, ok.

And the relevance of this will become clear, but supposing Q is the proposition: "The collapse of the Twin Towers was caused by controlled demolition". That's Q.

And supposing P is the proposition: "Aircraft impact could not have brought down the Twin Towers, and eyewitnesses on the day heard explosions before the towers collapsed."

So you ask Oliver "Why do you believe that Q?"

[8:08] And he says, "Well, I believe that Q because I believe that P. I believe that aircraft impacts couldn't have caused the towers to collapse. That's why I believe that they were brought down by a controlled explosion. I believe that Q because I believe that P."

[8:27] Of course you can ask him further questions, "Well, why do you believe that P?" And he gives you reasons why he believes that P. Now the story that Oliver has, the explanation that Oliver has just given you of his beliefs, is what philosophers call a "rationalizing" explanation.

It's a rationalizing explanation in the sense that Oliver explains his beliefs by reference to his reasons. He represents himself as reasoning from a premise, P, to a conclusion, Q.

[9:03] And his reasoning is not obviously incompetent. His reasoning is not obviously incompetent. He takes P to provide evidence for Q.

Now of course, the problem with that is that most of us realize that he doesn't have any good reason to believe that P, right, but given that he believes that P, he infers that Q. So that's the kind of explanation that Oliver gives. He gives a rationalizing explanation for his beliefs.

[Is Oliver Irrational?]

[9:31] Now if that's right, then I think there's one temptation which we need to resist when we think about cases like Oliver. The temptation that we need to resist is to say, "Oliver is irrational."

Here's why I think we shouldn't say that. I mean, obviously a lot depends on what you take "rational" to mean. There's a kind of very broad, loose conception of "irrational" on which "irrational" just means something like "foolish" or "stupid".

[10:04] That's one reading of "irrational" so that's actually [...] it's something that Derek Parkin says: Foolish, stupid, and crazy.

Well, maybe Oliver's belief is irrational in that sense, but there's a much stricter, and I think, more useful notion of irrationality, on which Oliver's beliefs are not irrational.

So this stricter notion of irrationality is one that, for example, Scanlon defends, in his book, "What We Owe To Each Other".

So the basic idea is this:

[10:38] An attitude of yours is irrational, if and only if you hold it despite recognizing reasons -- good reasons -- for not holding it. Ok, so "irrational" in this strict sense means "contrary to your own reason".

[10:57] Ok, so that can apply not just to beliefs but to actions, intentions, and so on, So supposing you recognize that there are extremely powerful and compelling reasons for you not to smoke, but you still smoke. That might be a case of irrationality. But that's irrationality because it's a kind of inconsistency, right, it's a kind of inconsistency

[11:20] Now of course in that sense Oliver isn't irrational. It's not that Oliver believes things which by his own lights he doesn't have good reason to believe. He's certainly not irrational in that sense. There are in fact rational linkages between the various propositions that he believes. He believes that Q because he believes that P. He takes himself to have good reasons to believe that Q. And he believes that Q on the basis of those reasons.

[11:51] So he's not believing something in the face of his own reason. He's not believing something that is contrary to his own sense of what he has reason to believe. So in that sense of "irrational", Oliver is not irrational. He might be foolish, but he's not irrational. His belief might be foolish but it's not an irrational belief.

It's a false belief. Of course it's a false belief. But saying that a belief is false is not the same as saying that it's irrational. So what is going on with Oliver, in that case? How do we make sense of Oliver if not by saying that he's irrational?

[Intellectual Character]

[12:40] Well, supposing now the conversation continues, and you discover that Oliver not only believes that al-Q'aeda was not responsible for 9/11, he also believes that Lee Harvey Oswald was not solely responsible, or possibly responsible at all, for the assassination of President Kennedy. He believes that Princess Diana was killed by a hit squad hired by Prince Phillip. So he has a whole lot of conspiracy theories.

Then you talk to Oliver's friends, and you say, "Well, you know, what's this Oliver character like?" And they tell you a whole lot of stuff about Oliver.

[13:23] They tell you a whole lot of stuff about his character. They say things like "Well, he's a bit sloppy, he's quite gullible, he's careless in his thinking." Ok.

Now, of course, what Oliver believes about 9/11 starts to make some kind of sense. It makes sense because you can now see what Oliver believes about 9/11 as part of a pattern -- a pattern of beliefs or belief-formation that Oliver exemplifies. So one way of capturing this would be to introduce the notion of character. Of character.

Now of course when people talk about character, sometimes they mean "moral character", so they mean things like, you know, generosity and kindness, something like that. I'm not talking about character in that sense. I'm talking about what is sometimes called "intellectual character" or "epistemic character". So here's the suggestion:

[14:26] One way of making sense of cases like Oliver is to draw on this notion of intellectual character. So what do I mean by this?

By "intellectual character" I mean "dispositions to form beliefs and reason and enquire in particular ways".

Now intellectual character traits can be good or they can bad. So the distinction we need is the distinction between on the one hand, what I'm gonna call "epistemic virtues," and on the other hand, "epistemic vices." [...]

[15:04] So epistemic virtues would include open-mindedness, intellectual humility, tenacity, thoroughness, carefulness, fair-mindedness, determination, intellectual courage, and inquisitiveness.

[15:25] Epistemic vices would include things like negligence, idleness, cowardice, conformity, carelessness, rigidity, gullibility, prejudice, obtuseness, lack of thoroughness, and closed-mindedness.

[15:38] So the proposal is this, that at least in this particular case, and maybe in other cases too, it's genuinely illuminating to explain why Oliver believes what he believes about 9/11 in terms of his intellectual character, right, so crudely you might say: He believes these things because he's gullible. He believes these things because he's careless. He believes these things because he's intellectually negligent. Ok.

[Two Kinds of Explanation]

[16:09] Those are "character" explanations of his beliefs, Ok, and the point I want to make is this: Character explanations are not rationalizing explanations. They're not rationalizing explanations, so right so if you go back to the belief that Q, that the Twin Towers were brought down as a result of controlled demolition:

If the question is: "Why does Oliver believe that Q?" you now have two very different answers to that question. The rationalizing answer says: Oliver believes that Q because he believes that P, and because P supports Q. That's the rationalizing answer.

The non-rationalizing answer says: Oliver believes that Q, and indeed believes that P, because he's gullible, because of the kind of person that he is. He's that kind of person.

[17:05] That's a non-rationalizing explanation because, of course, being gullible is not a reason to believe anything, right. Being gullible explains why you believe what you believe, but it's not a reason for you to believe what you believe. Ok.

So you have these two kinds of explanation: character explanations, which are non-rationalizing, and rationalizing explanations. And the interesting thing about these two explanations is the following:

[17:32] The rationalizing explanation is, of course, the one that Oliver himself gives. Of course, of course Oliver will say, "I believe that Q because of other things I believe that support that belief."

The non-rationalizing explanation is not one that Oliver gives. It's one that we give, right, from the outside. It's a third-person explanation rather than a first-person explanation.

[Oliver's Self-Ignorance]

[17:59] And this brings me to the next point I want to make. The explanation of Oliver's beliefs in terms of Oliver's own character is not an explanation which Oliver himself could possibly accept.

I mean, think about it, right? You might say, "Oliver believes that Q because he's gullible." But Oliver is presumably not going to say, "I only believe that Q because I'm gullible."

Ok, so those of you who do philosophy will recognize it as a version of Moore's Paradox. This is a version of Moore's Paradox.

Ok, the thought is this: that with respect to the character determinants of his belief, Oliver is himself ignorant. Oliver doesn't realize that he's gullible. Oliver doesn't realize that he believes these things because he's gullible. Oliver doesn't realize that he's negligent, or careless. He doesn't realize that he believes these things because he's negligent, or careless.

Oliver is not going to think, "I only think these things because I'm useless."

[19:13] Oliver's just not gonna think that. He's not gonna think, "I only think these things because I'm negligent."

Ok, so in a certain sense, Oliver is self-ignorant. He's self-ignorant. He's self-ignorant in the sense that there is an answer to the question, "Why does he believe what he believes?" There's an answer to that question that he doesn't know.

[19:37] You might know he believes what he believes because he's gullible. He doesn't know that.

Now this is an example of a particular kind of self-ignorance. Ok, now when I talk about self-ignorance, let me just explain what I mean. Sometimes, indeed very often, when philosophers talk about self-knowledge, they mean knowledge of what you believe, knowledge of what you want, knowledge of what you hope, knowledge of what you fear.

Now I'm not suggesting that Oliver lacks self-knowledge in that sense. Oliver knows perfectly well what be believes about 9/11, right, I mean, Oliver knows perfectly well that he believes al-Q'aeda didn't do it. So he's not self-ignorant in that sense.

The self-ignorance which Oliver exemplifies is not ignorance of what he believes, but ignorance of why he believes what he believes, right. And it's a particular kind of explanation which Oliver doesn't know or accept, an explanation in terms of his character traits.

Now ignorance in this sense, self-ignorance in this sense, is a pervasive phenomenon, as those of you who've read any empirical psychology will know. So let me just give you a couple of other nice examples of self-ignorance.

[Empirical Examples of Self-Ignorance]

[20:59] So here's one example. The bystander effect. The bystander effect. So the bystander effect is this: people are increasingly less likely to help others in distress, as the number of bystanders increases. That's the bystander effect.

There are all these studies of people in a room, being played the sounds of what sounds like someone having an epileptic fit in the next room, right. And the studies show conclusively that the likelihood that you will go and help that person varies according to how many other people there are in the room with you, right. The more people there are in the room with you, the more bystanders, the less likely you are to go and help the person in the next room.

So that's an interesting phenomenon, right. Because if I'm trying to explain, "Why didn't she go and help?", I might say, "Well, she didn't go and help because actually there were all these other bystanders around." That's what explains why she didn't help.

But if I ask you, "Why didn't you help?" that's not the answer that you give. In these studies, everyone who was asked denied that the number of bystanders had any impact on their decision to help or not help. Right, so that's a form of self-ignorance. People are being influenced by something, in this case the number of bystanders, without realizing they're being influenced.

Here's another case:

[22:27] This is the famous pantyhose experiment done by Nesbitt and Wilson, several years ago. So in the pantyhose experiment, Nesbitt and Wilson went off to a shopping mall and asked people to assess the quality of items of clothing, right. So people were presented with four identical pairs of nylon stockings. Identical pairs of nylon stockings. And they were asked to say which one they thought was the best pair. Which one did they think was the best pair. So let me read to you what Nesbitt and Wilson say about this:

[23:04] "Subjects were asked to say which article of clothing was the best quality. And when they announced a choice, they were asked why they had chosen the article they had. In fact, there was a pronounced left-to-right position effect, such that the right-most object in the array was heavily over-chosen."

Don't forget, the stockings were identical.

[23:29] "For the stockings, the effect was quite large, with the right-most stockings being preferred over the left-most by a factor of almost 4 to 1. When asked about the reasons for their choices, no subject ever mentioned spontaneously the position of the article in the array. And when asked directly about the possible effect of the position of the article, virtually all subjects denied it, usually with a worried glance at the interviewer, suggesting that they felt that either they'd misunderstood the question, or were dealing with a madman."

Classic example, classic example of self-ignorance. Not knowing why you made the choice that you made, but you make up this story about the supposed unique qualities of the pair that you chose, even though the pair that you chose is absolutely identical to all the other pairs. The thing that was influencing you was the position. The position. But when asked, "Well, is that what you think was influencing you?" they all deny it.

[Self-Ignorance / Oliver Summary]

Now of course these cases of self-ignorance are slightly different from the case of self-ignorance I was discussing.

[24:43] What I've just told you about, in the pantyhose case and the bystander case, these are cases where your beliefs or your choices are being influenced by what you might call external factors of which you have no knowledge.

In the Oliver case, to the extent that his beliefs are being influenced by his character, it's not external factors but internal factors. Internal factors. Nevertheless, the basic phenomenon is strikingly similar. The basic phenomenon is self-ignorance.

[25:22] You make choices, you have beliefs, you have desires. You know what your choices are, you know what your beliefs are, you know what your desires are, but in a certain important sense you don't know why they are as they are. That's what I mean by self-ignorance.

[25:39] Ok so let me just sum up the three main features of the Oliver case, Ok, and then move on to what the significance is. [...]

The first feature of what I'm saying is that Oliver is certainly not irrational in the strict sense. He's not irrational in the strict sense.

Second feature: Oliver's beliefs about 9/11 are to a significant extent a reflection of his intellectual or epistemic character.

And thirdly, he knows what he believes, but in an important sense, he doesn't know why he believes what he believes.

[26:22] Now those claims strike me as obviously correct -- you should never say that in a philosophy lecture -- but they strike me as obviously correct, or, failing that, at least highly plausible.

[Re: Harvard Rationalism]

So why do I think that these claims cause problems for positions in Philosophy, Psychology, and in Economics? So let me now expand a little bit on that.

[26:48] So my philosophical target is a position which I call "Harvard Rationalism". It's Harvard Rationalism because it's a position made famous by a couple of people who are currently teaching at Harvard, someone called Richard Moran who published an extraordinarily influential, and indeed, I think, brilliant, book called "Authority and Estrangement," published in 2001, and Matthew Boyle, who's a younger person at Harvard, who's recently been publishing some great papers -- some great papers -- on this topic.

[27:23] The sense in which Harvard Rationalists are Rationalists is this: they think of us, they think of human subjects, as fundamentally in the space of reasons. They think of our beliefs and other attitudes as an expression of our reasons, as an expression of our rationality, right, so the basic idea that they have is that our beliefs and other attitudes are, on they whole, as they rationally should be -- a rather optimistic assumption, you might think.

Now there's a particular claim that Harvard Rationalists make which I want to focus on. And the particular claim they make is that reasoning, or what they sometimes call deliberation, is, for us, a fundamental source of self-knowledge. Reasoning, or deliberation, is a fundamental source of self-knowledge.

Ok now here's a quotation from Boyle that encapsulates that view, Ok so I'm going to read you this quotation and as I read it, I want you to think about Oliver, Ok.

Think about Oliver as I read this: [...]

[28:31] Boyle says,

"If I reason 'P, so Q,' this must normally put me in a position not merely to know that I believe that Q, but to know something about why I believe that Q, namely, because I believe that P and that P shows that Q. Successful deliberation normally gives us knowledge of what we believe and why we believe it."

That's the claim: Successful deliberation normally gives us knowledge of what we believe and why we believe it. So in the case in which you reason, "P, therefore Q," the thought is, that in that case, you know that you believe that Q because you believe that P, right, in the normal case.

[29:25] Now, of course, if you apply this to Oliver: Oliver reasons "P, so Q." Oliver reasons in exactly the way that Boyle is describing. Oliver is making just the kind of rational transition that Boyle characterizes.

But does that give Oliver knowledge of why be believes that Q?

Well, I'm not completely dismissing the force of rationalizing explanations. But there's a very important aspect of the Oliver case which is completely missing from the Harvard Rationalists' story.

What's missing from this is the influence of non-rational factors on Oliver's beliefs. In particular what's missing is any reference to the role of Oliver's character in determining what he believes, or, indeed, other internal or external factors.

[30:22] So the story you get from the Harvard Rationalists is the story of this perfect calculating machine, making rational transitions from one proposition to another, and thereby knowing why he thinks what he thinks, in terms of these rational transitions.

What completely goes missing from this is any reference to non-rational influences on belief formation. These Harvard Rationalists are in a way rather Cartesian, right. What they think is that the mind is in a certain sense transparent to yourself. They think that, insofar as you are able to engage in reasoning, you are thereby able to know why you think what you think.

[31:06] Ok, and cases like Oliver seem to put pressure, seem to put pressure on that view. Now of course you might say, "Oliver's just a freak, Oliver's just a kind of freak, hence, why should we, I mean Boyle says "normally" in his formulations.

It's not clear to me that that's right. It's not clear to me that that's right at all. It seems to me that actually a realistic account of human belief formation is going to be one that has to recognize the influence of a wide variety of non-rational influences on our beliefs.

Not just Bystander effects and positional effects but like character, for example, things like emotions. Think about role of the emotions, the influence of emotions on belief formation. Hoping, believing, fearing, are all tied, are all connected with one another, actually as Spinoza recognized.

So it seems to me that Harvard Rationalism is problematic at least in part because it misses out on these very important non-rational aspects of attitude formation.

[32:18] I mean historically, I think, among the great dead philosophers, I think the one who has, and this is based on my cursory knowledge of him, the one who has put the greatest emphasis on this was Nietzsche. I mean Nietzsche had a lot to say about the non-rational influences on our beliefs and desires, particular case of desires.

Ok, so that's the point I want to make about Oliver-type, Oliver-type cases, Ok what I hope to have persuaded you is that in those cases, and indeed in many other cases, there are all sorts of factors that are influencing our beliefs which go well beyond anything that a Harvard Rationalist can explain. You can't explain everything just in terms of reason.

[Re: a Position in Situationalism]

What about Situationism in Psychology? What's that?

[33:05] So Situationism: actually a good illustration of Situationism is the Bystander Effect. Situationists think the following: that if you want to explain why we behave in the ways that we behave, the best explanation will be one in terms of the situations in which we find ourselves. It's no good explaining our behaviour by reference to our character. That's Situationism.

Ok so Situationists would say things like this: If you're trying to explain why in a given situation you assisted someone in distress, whereas the person next to you didn't, the explanation is not in terms of some character trait that you have that your neighbour doesn't have. The best explanation is likely to be something much more prosaic: the number of bystanders who were present, for example.

Or there's the famous Milgram experiment, where people were conned into believing they were administering electric shocks to an unseen victim in the next room. So there was this device with buttons on it marked "100 volts", "150 volts", "extreme pain", "extremely dangerous", and then "XXX' at the top of the dial, right. And they were played sounds of someone apparently in excruciating pain as they went up, as they went up the dial.

So they were encouraged by the experimenter to go higher, to deliver greater and greater electric shocks to this unseen victim in agony in the next room. And in the Milgram experiment, basically everybody, I mean some very large proportion, I think 68 percent of subjects were willing to go all the way up to the top scale, right, in fact to the point where the screaming person in the next room fell completely silent.

[35:00] So Situationists are people who say, "Well why did all those people do that? Did they do that because of some character trait that they all had in common? Well, well no," right. The explanation that Situationists offer is that they behaved in these ways because of the situation that they found themselves in.

So the basic idea of Situationism is that explanations of action in terms of character are no good. Character is explanatorily redundant. It' s always the situation.

And from that, some Situationists have concluded, "There is no such thing as character." They think that the whole idea of character is just a myth. Ok so here's a clear statement of that thesis.[...] This is actually a philosopher, not a psychologist, but it's a philosopher who's very sympathetic to Situationism, so Gil Harmon, who's a professor at Princeton, says:

[35:58] "There is no reason to believe in character traits, as ordinarily conceived. We need to convince people to look at situational factors and stop trying to explain things in terms of character traits."

That's Situationism.

Now I think that Situationism has considerable force. It's a serious position, I think, in psychology, and many of the points that Situationists make are points that deserve to be taken extremely seriously.

However, when you think about something like Oliver, someone like Oliver, it's actually very hard to make sense of what's going on in Oliver-cases, without positing explanatory character traits.

So if you look at the list of Epistemic Vices, to say that there is literally no such thing as character would be to say that there is no such thing as negligence, or idleness, or gullibility; right, these things aren't real because they don't explain anything.

But that view now starts to -- I hope you'll agree -- starts to look ludicrous. It's very hard to make sense of what's going on in Oliver-type cases without supposing that he does have character traits, distinctive character traits, which do help to explain why he believes what he believes.

[37:29] So I think Situationists are right to this extent: they're right to be suspicious of blanket explanations of human actions in terms of moral character traits. I think that's right.

But when it comes to these sorts of rather fine-grained intellectual character traits, it's very hard to do without them when we try to explain what's going in cases like this. That's why I think the Oliver case, and similar cases, are a challenge for Situationists in Psychology.

Ok. Lastly I want to say something about Behavioural Economics. This is the PPE Society, so I feel I need to say something about Economics.

[Re: a Position in Behavioural Economics]

So what is Behavioural Economics? What is is?

Well I think I can no better than to quote two very distinguished Chicago economists, Levitt and List, in an article which they published in Science, three of four years ago. [...] So this is the Levitt and List characterization of Behavioural Economics.

[38:36] "The discipline of Economics is built on the shoulders of the mythical species Homo Economicus. Unlike his uncle, Homo Sapiens, Homo Economicus is unswervingly rational, completely selfish, and can effortlessly solve even the most difficult optimization problem.

This rational paradigm has served Economics well, providing a coherent framework for modeling human behaviour. However, a small but vocal movement has sought to dethrone Homo Economicus, replacing him with someone who acts more human.

This insurgent branch, commonly referred to as Behavioural Economics, argues that actual human behaviour deviates from the rational model in predictable ways. Incorporating these features into economic models, proponents argue, should improve our ability to explain observed behaviour."

Right, so the basic idea is this: that there's a contrast between this ideal, this mythical, this super-rational, super-selfish Homo Economicus and real human beings. Right, so if you're trying to figure out what's wrong with Economics, one thing that's wrong with it, on this view, is that it's historically focused, really, on Homo Economicus. It hasn't tried to explain human economic behaviour, bearing in mind all the respects in which Homo Sapiens are different from Homo Economicus.

[40:00] Now that seems to me to be a very powerful and intellectually respectable position in economics. I'm not especially competent to comment on it, but it seems to me to have quite a lot going for it. However, as some of you will be aware, there's a further, there's a further step which some Behavioural Economists have taken.

And that further step is to claim not just that human beings are not Homo Economicus but to claim that human beings are actually irrational. Ok so some of you will have come across what Amazon assures me is a best-seller by a Behavioural Economist called Dan Ariely.

The book is called "Predictably Irrational" and you can guess what the thesis of the book is. Humans are predictably irrational. And of course if you approach things from this kind of Ariely perspective, you might think, "Well, Oliver-cases are the perfect illustration of this. Perfect illustration of human irrationality." However, however, it seems to me that we shouldn't say that at all.

The respects in which Homo Economicus and Homo Sapiens are different from one another do not constitute respects in which humans are irrational. Not being Homo Economicus does not make you irrational, it just makes you not Homo Economicus.

And indeed when you read, when you read books like "Predictably Irrational," I mean, when I first read that, I thought, "Well, obviously the first thing I want to know is, "What does he mean by irrational?" right and that turned out to be a surprisingly difficult question to answer, despite reading the book fairly carefully, and in the end it turned out, it turns out that what people like Ariely really mean by "irrational" is actually "self-ignorant". That's actually what they mean.

[42:05] So the subtitle of "Predictably Irrational" is "The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions" and that's actually Ariely's thesis. His thesis is that in fact our decisions are shaped by and influenced by all sorts of factors of which we are unaware.

[42:22] Right so one of the examples that he gives is a subscription for "The Economist" right where you've got "Internet Only", a certain percentage, "Print" a certain percentage, and "Print and Internet" a certain price. Right and then it turns out that we were being influenced by one of these three choices in ways that we weren't aware of. But that doesn't make us irrational, right. Being self-ignorant does not make you irrational.

So it seems to me that these rather exaggerated populist versions of Behavioural Economics need to be resisted. They represent themselves as talking about irrationality but what they're actually talking about is self-ignorance.

Self-ignorance is a genuine and important phenomenon, but it's not the same phenomenon as irrationality.

[What Philosophy has to Learn from Behavioural Economics]

However I do think, I do think that Philosophy actually does have something very important to learn from Behavioural Economics, and I want to end by saying just what I think Philosophy has to learn from it.

One of the ideas that I explore in the book that I've just been writing is the following idea: that just as neo-Classical Economics has concentrated on Homo Economicus, Philosophy has in fact concentrated very much on what I call Homo Philosophicus.

Right so when Philosophers try to explain human knowledge, or some other phenomenon, they very rarely consider human beings as we actually are.

Rather, what they have in mind is an incredibly Epistemically well-behaved citizen.

Right so Homo Philosphicus is a model Epistemic citizen who only believes what he has reason to believe, when he encounters evidence against his beliefs, he abandons his beliefs, and so on.

[44:16] Right, well, we're not like that. We're not like that.

There's a large number of disparities between Homo Sapiens and Homo Philosophicus which correspond to the disparities between Homo Sapiens and Homo Economicus, and one of the things I try to do in the book is to look at these disparities and try to consider what their significance is for Philosophical accounts not just of self-knowledge, but Philosophical accounts of all sorts of other things.

So the basic idea is this: if you want to give a Philosophical account of self-knowledge, you need to make sure that the account that you give is not an account of self-knowledge for Homo Philosophicus, right, who can come to know his beliefs by engaging in rational deliberation.

It would be nice if that were true of us and no doubt it is true of us some of the time, but it's also not true of us a lot of the time.


So what the Philosophy of Self-Knowledge should be trying to do give an account of what I call "A Theory of Self-Knowledge for Humans."

And when you try to think about the human predicament, I think the thing that is striking is the very opposite of the thing that struck Descartes.

The starting point for Cartesian accounts of self-knowledge is the ease with which we get self-knowledge, almost the unavoidability of self-knowledge. That's the Cartesian view of self-knowledge.

On that view, self-ignorance is just not a problem. It's just not an issue. I mean self-ignorance is not an issue in the Cartesian tradition partly because, I guess, in that tradition, there isn't even the possibility of self-ignorance.

What I've been talking about in this lecture is the prevalence and importance and depth of particular forms of self-ignorance which require considerable work to overcome, and that's really what the Philosophy of Self-Knowledge for Humans should be focused on.

What it should be doing is recognizing that self-knowledge is for us a major and difficult cognitive achievement and it requires considerable cognitive effort to achieve it.

So we need to get away from this idea that important interesting self-knowledge is easy to get.

It isn't. It's hard. That's it.

[46:46] [APPLAUSE]

[Questions from the Audience]

[Maybe Oliver Doesn't Know what an Explanation Is]


Ok so Professor Cassam has agreed to take just a few questions. So who would like to go first?


Yeah, thank you for the talk. That was very interesting. One thing I'd like to quiz you a little more on is on the Oliver situation.

How much do we really need to refer to these kind of intellectual virtues or deficiencies as you refer to them? Could we not explain in terms of Oliver not having an understanding of what an explanation is and what constitutes an explanation, in the same way as if I'd watched a video about global warming denial, for instance, if I had no idea what an explanation is, I might believe it. It's got nothing to do with our ability or otherwise [unintelligible]


Ok well it's a very interesting question. I don't know if you've come across this but there's a book by the journalist David Aaronovich. The book is called "Voodoo Histories." It's a discussion of a whole range of conspiracy theories. Now one of the conspiracy theorists whom he discusses is a philosopher called Richard Popkin.

Now Popkin wrote an incredibly influential, and important, and indeed good book, on the history of philosophy. the history of philosophy since Descartes. Now one of Popkin's side interests was the assassination of JFK, right, so three or four years after the JFK assassination, Popkin published a book, the title of which is, "The Second Oswald."

[48:50] Right, so in that book Popkin defends the view that in fact Oswald wasn't the lone assassin of JFK. Or in fact I think he thinks that Oswald didn't fire the fatal bullets at all. In fact, there was someone physically similar to Oswald, the second Oswald, who was responsible.

Now, that's a ludicrous theory, right, about the JFK assassination. But if you were to say, "Why, Professor Popkin, do you believe these things?" or if we were trying to explain why he believes these things, I think it would be a bit of an ask to say, "Popkin doesn't really understand what an explanation is."

I mean, I mean, Popkin is not a stupid man, right. I mean, Popkin writes about all sorts of abstruse philosophical topics, indeed writes about topics like explanation, right, so saying that it's that kind of failure, that kind of failing, which explains what's going on, at least in his case, seems manifestly inadequate.

[49:53] Right so I'm not sug-- I'm not denying that there are, that there may indeed be, people whose defects can be explained in the way that you're suggesting. What I'm saying is that that can't be the whole story.

There are, as the Popkin case illustrates, other things going on in those cases.

[Obstacles to Self-Knowledge]


Yes I wanted to ask if you could talk about the nature of the difficulty that's involved in self-knowing. Because it seems to me from what you said there are two possible sources of difficulty. One is just the nature of character, that character is intrinsically difficult.

But then you connected character with the third-person perspective, so the other possible difficulty is coming to know ourselves as others know us. And I wonder if you could say a bit: Do you think they're connected in some way?

[50:52] Is character the kind of thing that we can only know in and through others? Or just if you could turn some light on the relation between those two.


So one distinction that I want to draw, just to fill out the story a bit is the distinction between what I call "trivial self-knowledge", right, knowing that you believe that you're wearing socks, a perfectly trivial piece of self-knowledge, versus what I call "substantial self-knowledge" which would include knowledge of such things as your character, perhaps knowledge of some of your emotions.

So the positive account of self-knowledge that I want to defend is that self-knowledge in those cases in inferential. And it's based on evidence, ok. It's based on evidence.

So when you think about why someone might fail to have self-knowledge, knowledge of his character in these cases, you actually have a range of explanations. Ok so one explanation would be a kind of motivational explanation, where you say, "Perhaps there are aspects of your character, as it were, you avert your eyes from, because they're embarrassing or distressing to you.

[52:02] Another explanation is that you don't have, you don't have sufficient evidence to draw those conclusions, right. Maybe you've never been put in a situation where certain aspects of your character are manifested.

Yet another explanation is that maybe you're self-ignorant in these cases because, although you have the right evidence, you draw the wrong conclusions from it. So these are all examples of particular kinds of obstacle or cognitive failing which might prevent you from coming to know why you are, coming to know what kind of person you are.

[still some work to be done here!]


[If Oliver was Giving a Lecture ...]


[1:02:12] It it at all worrying that if Oliver was giving a lecture, he could have given almost exactly the same lecture and accused you of the epistemic vices of being gullible and believing everything the government tells you and etc. and etc. and make almost exactly the same points as you do?


Well the answer is yes and no. It's not worrying in the sense that if Oliver were to do that, he would certainly be going in for the same style of explanation that I was going in for, right, and to that extent he would be right.

I mean to that extent he would be right and of course this is what's so threatening about threatening about these cases right that actually, I mean, for any of us, if you step back and ask yourself, "Well why do I fundamentally think that?" right, and somebody says, "Well, you know, there's all these non-epistemic explanations," and that's a sense that's a sense in which asking these questions about why you believe what you believe can be such an an undermining can be such an an undermining exercise.

[1:03:06] So insofar that Oliver runs the, does the same number on me, I don't have any objections, right, at least insofar as he's going in for that style of explanation. My objection is of course that he's wrong!

[One of the Things That's Actually Really Mysterious]


[1:03:19] [inaudible] ... [unintelligible] ... I mean you can't be a good mathematician without being rigorous ... [inaudible] ... [unintelligible] ... could require an addition ... [unintelligible] ... [inaudible] ...


[1:04:02] I think that's exactly right and I think that's a really really important point. I mean one of the things that's actually really mysterious about actual conspiracy theorists is that, as you say, many of them are highly educated, highly intelligent, highly competent individuals who don't display any of these epistemic vices in lots of the areas in which they live their lives, right, so so clearly someone who says, "Well, you know, he's gullible" or "He's obtuse" or "He's careless" is going to have to contend with the fact that he isn't, all the time, right.

So it might be that one's going to have to, even if one's going in for these character explanations, one's going to have to come up with a much more fine-grained explanation, in those terms. I mean, I don't myself have a developed theory of that to offer, beyond just making that concession. But it is very very instructive actually, reading more about people who have these belief systems. And actually, just saying, just saying blankly, "Well, they're gullible or stupid," is just not gonna cut it, right.

[Isn't There a Danger?]


Isn't there a danger in seeking to explain the views of people other than your own based on these epistemic virtues and vices in the sense that you might look at someone else's reading of the evidence and compare it to your own world view, find it deficient and therefore fail to actually engage with their arguments if you can write them off as "They're gullible" which is manifestly wrong.


[1:06:09] Well I think that not engaging with their arguments is not something that I'm recommending. I mean I think that actually, if you were if you were if I were if I was confronted with a real live Oliver, it wouldn't be enough just to say to him, "Well, you're gullible." right I mean clearly clearly you'd have to look have to try to draw his attention to the evidence, the very strong evidence that in fact it was al-Q'aeda that did it, and it was the fires and the aircraft impact that brought the towers down.

Now of course it might be I guess I guess what he's going to do is to run the same number on me that Colin was suggesting, saying "Well, you're the one who's gullible. Well you believe the 9/11 Commission Report but that's all part of the grand conspiracy." And in a way there's no answer to this, there's no, I mean, the only thing you can ever do with someone like that is to just continue the conversation up to the point where it seems useful to do so.

[1:07:07] But it would come a point when it's no longer useful to do so. And at that point, really, all you can do is to walk away. right and then you can say to someone else, "Well, look, I just gave up on that person because, you know, what do you do with someone like that?" right. and that of course is what we very often say about other people: "What do you do with someone like that?" But that's not a substitute for engaging with their wacky views, I mean it's actually quite important that people who go around spouting these things, that they're actually challenged.

[One Final Question]


I have a question. I was wondering about your response to the questions about real conspiracy theorists. [...] you might think that a Situationalist would be able to come in and say "They do have all these epistemic [vices], but you can explain in terms of their situation [...] you often get the feeling that they're trying to rationalize how their government could have gone to war in Iraq. Well, that was an evil thing to do, and our government was evil. Then everything makes more sense, in a way rather than an explanation [...]


[1:08:22] Yeah, I'm not sure that that's what Situationists mean by situations, right I mean what you're describing is the pursuit of a certain kind of rational intelligibility that these people are after, I mean I'm sympathetic to what you're saying to this extent: I think that Situationists are onto something very important. right I mean what they're onto is the idea that we are actually prone to try to explain things in terms of character when very often there's a better explanation in terms of situations.

To that extent I think they're right so this is certainly the famous fundamental attribution error of always trying to explain things in terms of character traits when very often the situation will explain. Just, uh, explain better.

But Situationists at least in the sort of Harmon mold then take the further step of saying there is no such thing as character. That further step is just unnecessary and just seems to me completely bizarre, right. I mean a sensible position in this area will be a position that combines the good insights of Situationism with the good insights of what I call Vice Epistemology in coming up with an explanation of what's going on.

I mean it's no more acceptable to dismiss the importance of situations than it is to say there's no such thing as character. Clearly they're both part of a part of a complete explanation.


Ok then Professor Cassam then it just remains to say that on behalf of the PPE Society and all of us here this has been an absolute pleasure, so thank you very much indeed.