I remember 9/11 as a flash, an instantaneous moment. So most of my remembering is of before, of which I had lived a long time, and after, which I continue to live. The flash was at blinding brilliance in a televised statement by NY officials. The body language of one presenter was so panicked, I surmised a nuclear threat, the “suitcase nuke”. Later, it was disclosed there had been a hoax.
The period before, in the 90’s, and up until the day, resembled the Belle Époque, replete with the fruits of a serene, wealthy society in manifestations of cultural arts and pleasures, with scope much greater than the essential stories which in her book The White Album, Joan Didion says we tell ourselves in order to live.
After the flash, I groped desperately for those stories and, finding the cupboard bare, retreated briefly into myself as I contemplated the interconnectedness of all things. Philly commuter trains stopped running because they were controlled from NY. Still in shock, pronoun “I” became “we”; contrary to survivalist nuts, we are all in this together; the nation is our boat; if it sinks, we all go down together. As with COVID, the preoccupying question became “How do we survive this, pick up, and carry on?
So we ditched the fulsome beauty and expansive openness of our Belle Époque, hunkered down, ditched the frivolities, and carried on. The watchwords: avenge, detect, defend. In the dim afterlife of the Époque, targeting of ethnicities was notably absent. As the flash distanced. I speculated on how and when the demands of fighting terror, and inattention to domestic problems, would corrode the American moral viewpoint.
We lost innocence, openness, and the invulnerability of surrounding oceans. Guarding against terror, we lost the quality the Church of the SubGenius calls “slack”, the co-existence of inside the system with outside, the habitat of pranksters, creatives, and people who like to smell flowers. Now a joke can get you strip-searched.
It is popularly believed that 9/11 is somehow responsible for our current state of decay. In diversion of funds from infrastructure, this is undoubtedly true. As to the human cost, I am skeptical that it is the primary cause. For that, we must look elsewhere, beginning with Walter Lippmann’s proposal of how democracy works. Some of this appears in the previous article, Biden’s COVID Plan; Napkin Calculation #5, Total Mortality.