Elias presents ... a worm!    Thoughts on family, philosophy,
and technology


Tuesday, September 14, 2004

9/11 meaninglessness

I was thoroughly discouraged by 9/11 this year, because it's actual meaning is not just ignored, but is virtually unknown. Sure there were newspaper articles, etc., about how horrible the loss was. But I'm convinced that what most people perceived that morning, to their own amazement, was that civilization is not guaranteed, it can be destroyed, quickly and simply.

No one besides the political fringe believes this anymore. In fact, you can't say many believed it then, because few people conceptually identified the meaning of 9/11. It was a bundle of perceptions -- and perceptions fade. This explains why the polls about whether such-and-such a post-9/11 invasion was a good idea keep getting lower: whereas reasons wouldn't age, memories do.

The meaning was captured in a TV interview with a random New Yorker on the afternoon of 9/11, who said very simply (I remember it well): obviously New York will be blown up by an atomic bomb some day. People were so honest that day! And he was right -- and my point is that he is still right, we are no safer today.

The motivation (religious and political), the money, the mass lunacy exists in the world, so that achieving the flattening of Manhattan Island is a mere technological problem for civilization's enemies now. And it would only take one event like that, and I don't think we can fathom the tail-spin the world would go into. (Or maybe we can: the Athenians thought they were untouchable -- but one day during the Peloponnesian War they lost 20,000 men. I wonder how hard it was after that for an Athenian to deny that civilization isn't guaranteed.)

I say that this lesson is obvious, just as it was to that New Yorker three years ago, but I think most people now think it can't happen. Sure it's mathematically possible, they might say, but it just won't happen. Because if it could happen, that would mean we would have to do a very unpleasant thing to stay alive -- act ruthlessly selfish. Even kill a lot of people.

I believe this is the main reason that even the man who is seen as a war-monger by most of the world, President Bush, is actually taking virtually no action which could actually fix the problem (militant Islamicism): because the necessary self-assertion would be the exact opposite of the sacrificial, self-hating altruism that is heralded as the ethical standard by the religious right, the nihilistic left, and the "common sense" political center.


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