8 Replies to “Podcast – The Shelling of Mainila”

  1. Looks like we’ve gone over broad on our construal of “false flag”.

    Given your definition, citing events, we might object that the “shelling” was not a false flag, because there was no event, conducted under a “false flag”. There was only the allegation of an event that, as I understand the point of no Russian deaths recorded, never occurred. Such allegations can be conspiratorial, but the notion of “false flag” is not that of mere false allegation–a lie–but an actual physical event involving observable harm, typically the destruction of property and often, human death and injury.

    The background worry is we don’t want to make our taxonomies more vague, but more exact, if we are to conduct a useful advance in our research into conspiracy and its theory. The “shelling” is not an archetypal false flag, it is only a typical, conspiratorially orchestrated political lie. That makes Sandyhook conspiracy theory is not a false flag CT, unless the actors–let’s pretend they worked for US government–actually executed the children. It is instead staged propaganda. We don’t want to say that the Stalin show trials were false flag events. They weren’t. They were theatre, staged, but not FF, because the events alleged to be caused by defendant x never happened, and then were falsely ascribed. On the construal in the offering here, any false testimony about others’ actions becomes a “false flag”.

    That’s clearly over broad.



    PS. Josh, “Orlando”. Notice Orland was a real event. Not a story of such.
    PPS. It’s Suomi, not “Finland”. So when you get attacked by them, you’ve been “su-owned”.

    1. I think that’s an unnecessarily restrictive definition of ‘false flag’; I define a false flag as:

      A false flag is an operation run by members of one political establishment designed to look like it was the actions of some other

      The worry I have with artificially restricting the definition is that we lose all sorts of interesting examples if we do so. Lots of purported events in war are called ‘false flags’, and whilst common usage is not always the best guide to ontology, I think in this case the intuition that a false flag is an action attributed to that of another actor roughly matches our concern. Note that ‘attributed’ allows that you might claim x occurred in order to justify y.

      As such, I certainly don’t think that means ‘any false testimony about others’ actions becomes a “false flag”.’ After all, giving false testimony about Mrs. Wilkins whereabouts is not an example of an operation run by members of one political establishment designed to look like it was the actions of some other. The definition lets in the right kind of examples whilst still excluding mere false testimony as counting.

  2. I don’t think false flag means “any false testimony about others” either; that’s my point. But your definition indicates it does, both the one given in the podcast, concerning events, and then, the new one above, referencing “operations” and “establishments”.

    The “political establishment” limitation seems suspect. This also makes matters more vague. What is that? For instance: Can’t I cooperate (“run”) with another family member to make it appear that my neighbor killed his daughter, in order to send him to jail and acquire his land? We’re very big land owners (etc.). Isn’t that a false flag? But it would stretch the usual understanding of “political establishment”. Or would it? Are we slipping into Coady’s “contrary to official stories” intuitions, where only officialdom can commit a false flag conspiracy (“political organization”), and any CT of such must refer to political organizations? For the moment, set that aside. Hmmm. No flag, not false flag?

    But let’s focus on the natural contention that “events” and “operations” involve real impacts, real acts that are then witnessed, reported and interpreted, not just the mere representation of such. This is not “artificially” restricting “false flag”. It seems, instead, to be correctly keeping our taxonomy in step with reality and its complexity. We need more terms here. The shelling example appears to fall under a species of mere propaganda, not an actual false flag operation. Artillery was never fired. We have to make distinctions when distinctions are due. Think chemistry.

    The immediate issue is what is “an operation”. Is it just two or more people cooperating to deceive others? This is not how “false flag” is used. Staged events are operations, but given the definition in your talk, and the new one you offer, there has to be more than claims and orchestrated mere deceptions. If we think there doesn’t, then we need to distinguish 2 (or more) types of “false flag” that are stunningly different–in one, many people are typically murdered, in another, there is a press conference, nothing more.

    The two differ in the way they produce evidence, and differ dramatically, not just morally, but in terms of our reliance on what sort of evidence. The slaughter of a village as a false flag preserves the presumption of witnessed evidence; as in the truth movement in South America, we can exhume the bodies. A staged event (a Sandyhook allegation for instance) with media cooperation needs none of that. These are radically different epistemic scenarios. We should distinguish them, not lump them together.

    So “false flag” as mere speech? Looks like a mistake. But if we want “operation” to require more than mere speech, we have a problem. Which means the shelling example is not a false flag, just a Soviet government media lie.

    So I suspect a false flag operation must be one, an operation, not merely the report of one that never occurred. It’s important to understand, as in my Stockholm paper, that we can make distinctions and are not restricted to an impoverished taxonomy. We don’t miss anything this way. we notice more. So there is no problem with diversifying distinctions, like “false testimony” verses “false flag operation”. The problem is when we don’t.

    I’m curious what this might do to the list of “false flags” you mention. Could you send it/post it?



    1. I guess the issue here is that your ‘natural’ contention (‘But let’s focus on the natural contention that “events” and “operations” involve real impacts, real acts that are then witnessed, reported and interpreted, not just the mere representation of such.’) isn’t something I think is natural at all. I think that has to be argued for, especially given how sophisticated and multi-varied the notion of ‘events’ are in the Philosophy of History and the Philosophy of Explanations.

      But I guess it’s all irrelevant; we noted in the episode there were no casualties. However, the shelling itself did occur. So there was a ‘real’ event (the shelling) which the Red Army then attributed falsely to the flag of another power.

  3. Glad no one died. But that’s not the issue.

    You write,

    “But I guess it’s all irrelevant; we noted in the episode there were no casualties. However, the shelling itself did occur. So there was a ‘real’ event (the shelling) which the Red Army then attributed falsely to the flag of another power.”

    So there was a shelling, but you didn’t mention it, just the absence of fatality records by the Russians?

    You suggest that “event” assertions are complicated. Assertions of “events” are epistemically difficult. But that’s not our issue, when we decide what we mean by FF. Do FF events require more than claims–in which case the only “event” is the claim of something which did not occur?

    Our account of the explanatory practice of identifying events is complicated? Fair enough. But for our purposes, not if you kick the dog. Or shells fall on your town. If we want to say there are no events unless we say, by some convoluted process, there are, for instance until we fit them into an approved narrative framework of our persuasion, that’s a non-starter, as well as self-refuting. The dog doesn’t need us to talk about the kick for it to have happened. So I know that’s not what you have in mind.

    Coady points out in his anthology Conspiracy Theories, the Philosophy Debate, that philosophers who discuss conspiracy theory are realists. Events happen or do not, or alternatively, facts exist, and it isn’t up to us. Again,

    “But I guess it’s all irrelevant; we noted in the episode there were no casualties. However, the shelling itself did occur.” The Russians shelled their own? That’s a false flag.

    If the Russians had just lied, would it have also been a false flag? No. Just a lie.
    Which relegates to mere disinformation. What’s politically powerful about FF events is there is empirically observable, often disastrous, physical facts: The event, if you like.

    In which case, if the shelling occurred–by the Russians, then attributed to the Fins–then I guess we agree, false flag events like these require actual attacks and so on, not just promulgating disinformation about such.



    1. So, just because one philosopher, Coady, says other philosophers of a particular discipline are x doesn’t mean they are x. Coady could be wrong about us all being realists, after all. So that’s just a non-starter as arguments go.

      But let’s pretend Coady has the ability to stipulate that we all have to be realists. What kind of realist? I mean, there are lots of different types, with lots of different commitments and associated metaphysical baggage.

      For example, let’s say I take it that Coady thinks we are explanatory realists (although I’m not sure we need be; I think you could be an explanatory irrealist and still do interesting work on why we should treat conspiracy theories seriously; Melley and Bratich have kind-of irrealist positions but produce laudable work). But being an explanatory realist about the connective tissue of explanatory arguments doesn’t commit us necessarily to other types of realism. You can be a realist about explanatory connections without necessarily being a realist about events, for example (i.e you can say explanations get their power from the assertion of connections between events without having to commit yourself to strong claims about events and their extensions).

      But really, our disagreement isn’t actually about the folk-realism you assert; it’s a definitional issue about what the term ‘false flag’ refers to. You have a stricter definition than I do. That’s fine, but I think such a definition is a tad too restrictive for the kind of analysis we are interested in.

  4. I think it is a tad required, if we are going to distinguish clearly different epistemic scenarios–mass murders verses and the evidence these generate in a population, verses the mere claim of such, as in no one died in NYC on 9/11, but we were told they did–and evaluate the epistemic nature and status of each. We are in this for the epistemology. So we need to diversify our taxonomy in epistemically different contexts, as these examples show. For the first reason; they involve very different evidential realities and claims, and so methods of evaluation. (On this point, Coady agrees, but that is of little matter either way.)

    We can easily diversify our classification, and we need to. Explain why we don’t, if you disagree.

    Yes, we agree, our disagreement is about definitions and our needs with such. Read my remarks, you’ll see nothing else. Go back to the Stockholm paper and you’ll see these issue in play. There is nothing to lose by calling different things different things, but much to gain.

  5. As I’ve said all along, I just don’t think we need to restrict the definition of what counts as a ‘false flag’ in the way you do, and I’ve yet to be convinced on the matter. It doesn’t actually affect the analysis; indeed, all it does is add unnecessary terminology to what should be a straight forward process.

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