These Worst of Deadening Times
9/11 begins with the personal — and especially with the direct human loss of individual lives — and expands outward from there to the broader ramifications for the world and its geopolitical landscape.
In the centre of that meaning, at the personal end of the spectrum, I find feelings about loss (of loved ones), about heroism (of those who rose to the occasion to help their fellow human beings), and about the nuances of human psychology which lead one being to seek the harm of another being, sometimes on a grand scale. As I move outward toward the broader ramifications for the world and its geopolitical landscape, however, it all becomes blurrier and hazier and rather more circumspect. I feel as if I can make observations about events apparently directly related to the attacks, but imbuing those with some sort of meaning, or ordering them with some sort of organising principles, or finding general rule-of-thumb heuristics to help them make sense, seems much more difficult.
I suppose that is why I feel the needle on my skeptic-o-meter wiggling when I hear someone — usually a politician — referring to the “post-9/11 world”. The phrase is typically used to distinguish what we do or believe now from what we did or believed before the event, and very often with a sort of rationalizing flavour to it — e.g., we’re doing this or that now because it is a “post-9/11 world”. We’re limiting civil liberties because we have to, in a “post-9/11 world”; or we’re stepping up our military interventions in other countries because we ought to, in a “post-9/11 world”; or we’re starting to set aside our own system of law and our own judiciary because it’s expedient to do so, in a “post-9/11 world”.
But it isn’t clear to me that we even share a single concept of the meaning of the phrase ‘post-9/11′, let alone share a concept of that meaning that could be used to rationalize or justify much of anything.
There seemed to be a lot of obligatoriness in the way we commemorated 9/11 yesterday. Very few bloggers chose to put up remembrances. Sally told me, in a comment on her blog, how hard pressed she was to find an image of the pain from the disaster that did not flash politics in your eye. Elsewhere, Dr. Deb Serani led a remembrance of lives unknown. Everyone, but me, said they were sad. I declared that I was angry.
With this new name for the occasion — Patriot’s Day — I wonder if we have finally reduced the horror to a bore?
I can’t say that other people don’t feel sad about the day. From my own struggles with mental illness, I have learned that there is no way to show other people the ache in your brain. That’s why we bipolars do things like run naked down streets, break computer keyboards over our knees (and our knees with them), or draw the outline of our veins using a razor blade — we want to show people something. But with the formalization of Nine Eleven by both the wRong and the Left — as stuffy national holiday or day of protest — we’ve drained the milestone of all that might have furthered our humanity and humanness.
It started right after the event itself when most people allowed themselves to see the catastrophe over and over again on their television screens. I think one of the things that singled me out from the rest of people — and consequently put me in a social void — was that after that first day, I didn’t see the repeats because I don’t have cable. Unseen, the repetition could not reduce me to a robot of few emotions. I could step away from the images and ask, using my peculiar educational history, what was happening on a whole. I remembered the times before the attacks when George W. Bush was rightly distrusted and I remember saying to others “Don’t give this man a blank check.” I used that exact phrase over and over again. What I meant was put strict limits on what was to be done and before any changes in the policy could be made, ask for responsible and reputable information. The emotions of those days caused people to say “We must do everything!” And that, I dare say, has led us to torture and a war in a desert that doesn’t want us. We needed to set limits and to honor the wise ones that had be set forth before.
The whole thing reminded me of a funeral director using pressure and a hard sell to get a poor widow to sign on the line even though an expensive funeral would in no way relieve her grief. (No study unfinanced by the funeral industry has ever drawn this conclusion.) I sat in the politics chat rooms, listened to people going crazy. No one took the time to just be sad. And a lot of people were calling me a traitor because I did not endorse extreme measures. I wanted this handled like a police investigation where the final object was the truth, the actual facts. Six years later, I am sad that that hasn’t been done, that Osama Bin Laden remains free to taunt us.
We should have just been sad. It is a disgrace that we’re just getting around to that now. I felt sad after Nine Eleven. People found the roof over their heads and the floor beneath their feet cascading into the firey breath of the morning. I felt sad when I heard about a news crew going to Israel and getting some Palestinian children to cheer by giving them candy. I felt sad for the dead and for the dead to come. What I felt was a complete loss of control over the destiny of my country, an inability to have my argument with the Mortician-in-Chief be heard. No, we do not need the stainless steel coffin, Sir. We need to concentrate on the family finances, make sure that the future is cared for.
Time is needed to be able to describe what went through my brain. Time to take in the professed sadness and the more profound disinterest in the day. I felt the first programmed — the words just too easy to say and not have to defend — and the second downright appalling. How could no one feel about Nine Eleven and the everything that came after, the supposed world that had been changed? I marked higher temperatures, another stolen election, and continued resistance to the idea that the nation and its media were in need of reform. Everything was set into place by the time Nine Eleven happened and the expected occurred: artificial lines were drawn between patriots and “the rest of us”. Any discussion of what to do that did not include all out war was registered as either fanatical or coddling terrorism.
I had read Franz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth. From this I knew that what the terrorists really wanted was a reaction, a big reaction like a war, that would draw in new recruits just as Israel’s occupation of the West Bank created new recruiting opportunities for suicide bombers. “We don’t want to be bin Laden’s ally,” I said. No matter how stridently I said this, I kept getting called “a friend of terrorists”.
Now with legacy of our histrionics being the eddies of conflict in Iraq and new frontiers for Al Qaeda, many people have just lost the energy to care.
The lack of feeling or the presence of sharply deligned, almost programmed feeling is the tragedy of Nine Eleven. Norman Mailer said in an interview that he thought the most appalling thing Hitler wreaked on the Jews was a lasting sense of religious zealotry that caused Jews to lose the dispassion for which they’d been known for as scholars, theologians, and philosophers. The greatest thing bin Laden has wreaked on us is a hole of indifference in which blind patriots can scream and be heard. When we don’t let our emotions inform — rather than enthrall — our thinking and our thinking question our emotions, we become slaves of ennui and lose the compassion that can carry us through these worst of deadening times.
Nine Eleven: it means that there’s a national emergency underway. Our skeptic-o-meters should be screaming. Loudly, finally.