The problem with opening your pie-hole
on 9/11 is that it’s huge. Not your pie-hole, I mean, but the thing
itself. The event. The "terror attacks" as they are now,
somewhat oddly, known (as if Terror itself attacked us–not too
far from the truth). One is daunted not just the size of the towers
and the number of deaths, but by the brute historical and cultural
weight of it. It’s like the oft-discussed elephant surrounded by
blind men, each groping some small area of its surface. Every assessment
sounds parochial, tiny against a backdrop of possible perspectives.
Of course, this hasn’t stopped every dickhead with a website (hi)
from chiming in, but it has made virtually all of them sound…
Nevertheless, there is one aspect
of the events that has nagged me, that I haven’t heard discussed
After the initial shock and confusion,
my initial reaction surprised me a little. Watching the chaos, I
felt a visceral sense that we are in this together, all of us human
beings, bumping off each other, hurting each other, fucking up over
and over again, but still trying, still capable of caring for and
comforting each other. It’s like what you experience on psychedelic
drugs sometimes, the immediate, almost physical sense that we are
all part of one unfathomable whole; that however much ugliness exists
within it, the whole itself is beautiful beyond measure, and however
small we are in relation to it, we owe it our gratitude and our
most noble efforts. Basically, at that moment, I wanted to gather
everybody up and hug them.
As surprising as the universal love
I felt was the fact that, for a little while anyway, everybody seemed
to share it. Everyone, even news anchors, seemed, for a moment,
overwhelmed by the immensity of the tragedy and the call of forgiveness
and rebuilding. This strikes me as a largely untold story. Yes,
donations and volunteers flooded in to help the victims and their
families, but beyond the sympathy everyone felt for those immediately
affected was a strong undercurrent of universal fellow-feeling,
a sort of Christ-like, gather-my-wayward-children kind of feeling.
It’s gone now, of course–lasted
about a week–and nobody seems inclined to suggest that maybe it
would have been nice to hang onto it, maybe there’s something to
it. To do so, it seems, is childish, or naive. Most pundits would
rather flay themselves with whips than appear naive, so the dominant
tone of the one-year-later retrospectives is captured by the harumphing
Sullivan: "rage is the appropriate response." Many
commentators and columnists seem embarassed by and apologetic about
the love that had flooded them on that fateful day.
But I, for one, would like to pause
and ask why. Why, exactly, is it "appropriate" to respond
to violence with violence, rage with rage? Why are we under a moral
obligation to be as angry as the fanatics who attacked us? And why,
conversely, is any attempt to stem or even moderate that rage tarred
as pie-in-the-sky, or anti-American, or utopian?
Open a history book, take a look.
Does the hard-headed, eye-for-an-eye, real-politik approach look
like a winner? Do the myriad cycles of violence and retribution
that constitute history look "appropriate" for the future?
The alpha dogs, the "real men," the John Wayne types who
stand straight and shoulder the guns and fight the good fight…
what’s their track record? The track record of their type? Why do
they get to be called "realists," despite having led humanity
through muck and mud and death on an inconceivable scale? And why
is anyone who suggests that perhaps encouraging good things deserves
as much of our time and resources as fighting the bad things is
Maybe I’m missing something, but
it looks to me like the "appropriate" response of rage
has wrought untold sorrow and pain, across the world, throughout
history. It even looks, to get grandiose, that the response of rage
in the face of rage is the very _source_ of human suffering.
We claim to be a Christian nation, but Jesus was the most "naive"
of them all, was he not? What else could "love thine enemy"
mean, or "turn the other cheek"? The proponents of rage
and revenge are called grown-ups, and the idea of love in the face
of anger is considered immature. And so on and on it goes.