Reflection, a decade later.

If we want to commemorate the event by expressing our hostility to the people who brought it about and the ideas they serve, let us today celebrate everything they hate: freedom, science, secularism, religious tolerance, and equality for women.

I hate to post anything about the 9/11 anniversary. My deepest conviction about the event is that, from the day it happened, we’ve talked about it far too much, unduly empowering the purveyors of politicized violence. (Just as we – and I’m looking hardest at you ABC, with your terminally stupid “America Held Hostage” – empowered the worst elements of the Iranian Revolution by making too big a fuss about the Embassy takeover. Jimmy Carter didn’t help by turning off the lights on the Christmas tree on the Mall.)

That said, if we want to commemorate the event by expressing our hostility to the people who brought it about and the ideas they serve, let us today celebrate everything they hate: freedom, reasoned discourse, science, secularism, religious tolerance, and equality for women, while renouncing bigotry and mindless cruelty.

Otherwise, the terrorists will have won.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

9 thoughts on “Reflection, a decade later.”

  1. I’ll see you and raise you. 9/11 worship reminds me of any number of dysfunctional political cultures, based on avenging some slight of the past. Northern Ireland, the Balkans, and the Middle East all come to mind. So do other places. America–or at least my America–is a country of the future, and celebrates its victories, rather than its defeats.

  2. Won’t be such a big deal next year on the 11th anniversary. Eleven is a prime number, after all, and (except for 5) we don’t give a damn about prime number anniversaries.

  3. I was present, in an official capacity (in my guise as meek, mild-mannered civil servant) at one of two 9/11 commemorations held in my city today. This one was on the state capitol steps and featured speakers from police, fire department and other emergency services personnel, as well as a couple of current and former office-holders (Republicans and a Democrat). I expected the worst–picking at the unhealed wounds, while making defiant noises–but found instead that the remarks were minor-key and modest, acknowledging the devotion to duty shewn by so many on that day. Yes, there was a strident off-coloratura performance of “God Bless America” but the rest of the program avoided obsessively reopening old hurts and waving the bloody shirt.

  4. It would be best if the planes running into skyscrapers be remembered for what it was. An incident in a long string of demonstrative, provocative acts that the “never forgive, never forget’ers” will hold onto forever. It goes along with all the marble in monuments that a particular flavor of weirdos ie statue admirers, try to make into places of worship, that they dream will remain forever etched in stone, and hopefully in our minds more or less to propagandize their unique view. Whether it was a false flag operation or not doesn’t matter because the “less than 50%” president went along with the “defense” establishment to adventurize Iraq and Afghanistan.

  5. From where I sit, it’s taken 10 years to get the atrocity framed correctly in the American public sphere, with realism, sobriety and outreach as well as grief and defiance. (In the private, the reaction I heard about was mostly heartbreakingly dignified.) Good. Welcome back America. I’m not joining Obama in claiming you are stronger and better; in fact you are in many ways weaker and scarred, and there’s dirt under your fingernails. You are possibly a little wiser.

  6. The attack was made worse by the way we responded to it.

    We declared “war” without asking “How many divisions does Al Qaeda have?” We put two major wars on the credit card rather than say, “Everything has changed, including the appropriateness of major tax cuts.” We became a nearly bankrupt security state. A national tragedy became an opportunity for wingnuts to score points and strike out against people they didn’t like (just ask Max Cleland). Sometimes (as in some forms of influenza) the host defenses to a viral attack do more harm than the virus itself.

    The great tragedy is this: we “reacted.” We can all think of times in our lives when our buttons were pushed and we “reacted” with our limbic system set on high and our higher cortical centers set on standby. Later our cerebral cortex kicks in and we regret our immediate reaction.

    The tendency to react seems to be almost encoded into the DNA of sentient beings. Credit goes to the Buddhists for making this a core part of their teachings about mindfulness. Christian tradition also has this capacity but it takes some effort to search out. Thomas Merton spent his last several years studying Zen, finding themes which resonated with those of monasticism. There are lessons from the Bible which could have helped us if we had been disposed to learn from them.

    When Moses was a young man, he saw an Egyptian striking a Hebrew slave and immediately reacted by killing the Egyptian. He was not ready to lead at that point. It was forty years later that he saw the burning bush which was not consumed by the fire. Now, in order to notice that a burning bush is not being consumed by the flames, you need to stand quietly and pay attention long enough to notice that the fire is not consuming the bush. You can’t recognize it immediately; it takes time and attentiveness to be aware that something special is happening. There is a reason that God did not send a flying pig to call Moses’ attention to the divine presence. It was necessary for the qualities of mindfulness to emerge before Moses could be entrusted to lead.

    We needed to respond like the mature Moses, to take the time to notice just which variety of Muslims had attacked us, and to notice that the flames of fanaticism had not consumed them all. We needed to notice with more precision what had occurred. Our political amygdala was triggered and led to a massive instant response before our cortex began to participate. We needed mindfulness and we had only visceral reactivity.

  7. Ditto on the Iranian hostage reference, but it wasn’t just ABC. I remember the venerable Walter Cronkite saying at the end of each evening news broadcast something like, “And that’s the way it is, this the xxxth day of captivity for American hostages in Iran.” It certainly didn’t help.

    Still, I’ve often wondered what the effect would have been if the evening news solemnly intoned, after September 11, “… on this, the xxxxth day of freedom for Osama bin Laden since the September 11 attack.” If they had started it early enough, would GWB have focused his efforts on Al Qaeda instead of the initiating the debacle in Iraq?

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