(Political Ideas Less than 100% Baked)
The Inevitable Reflection
It's Monday, September 9th 2002, and I am very very sad; very heavy in the heart. I see the country I call home heading in directions that I cannot follow, and I feel as if our leaders are using 3,000 ghosts to blackmail me into going along for the ride. Heavy 9-11 memorial coverage has begun in every media outlet, and although my original idea was to steer clear of commenting on this sort of thing, I've found the overall atmosphere too aggravating to stay mum.
I'm going to make a horrible admission of guilt, but I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. On September 11th 2001, when the towers had just fallen, when I was riding my bicycle down an empty 5th avenue wondering how I would make it home, there was a moment in which I felt a strange surge of hope for the future. I optimistically imagined that everyone had been evacuated, that there would be only a few casualties, and somewhere in my heart, thinking of everything represented by the twin towers I thought, "well, they had it coming."
Today even writing these words makes me nervous. They don't sound especially patriotic, and this is a time in which people have been told to watch what they say. I'm not kidding around here or trying to take a cheap shot at Ari Fletcher. There's fear in the air. I'm scared to talk to people, scared to speak to anyone other than my friends about the brewing war with Iraq because of what they might think about my lack of chauvinistic national pride. I'm scared to exercise my rights.
Before I get too far into that, let me try to clear my name. In spite of all its faults and shortcomings, I love this country. I love the idea of it far more than the reality, just as a child will love his perfect mother more than his annoying younger brother, but I nevertheless love them both. And as one of the great metaphysical pinnacles of the American Idea, I love New York City.
The World Trade Center embodied many of the marvelous characteristics of this nation and this city that make them both such wonderful, exciting places: enterprise, diversity, technology, devotion, a brash, dashing can-do attitude. These are the things that make this country sing and hum.
But as is to be expected of any great institution, the towers also embodied a lot of things I don't especially like: greed, excess, exploitation, hegemony, corruption. Shopping malls in the basement and board rooms on the top, the whole place pulsed with careless money and the stink it brings wherever it goes.
In the days following the attacks, in spite of the fear and uncertainty, I felt an encridible lightness. Not only was Something Happening, it seemed like it might even be Something Good. It seemed that the negative elements had been exorcised from my town, and most of the positives left intact.
Individuals were waking up to their gross material excess and rediscovering the virtue of charity. Packed onto subway cars, fearful of anthrax, New Yorkers were speaking to each other freely, reaching out across divides of race, class and culture. Communities were banding together for their own collective good, to survive, to grieve, to rebuild and to prosper again. I don't know what it was like elsewhere, places removed from the direct disruption, places where the President's message to keep on shopping was perhaps remotely practical, but here in New York City people were connecting in the face of adversity, and it was incredible.
All that changed very quickly when the focus became war. Though defense is necessary for any nation, war is very rarely in the interests of the people. As it became clear that war would be the outcome of these attacks the consensus became forced, the feeling of lighness evaporated, the sense of city-wide community broke down and in my perception the healing process was stalled.
From the beginning the frame was set: these attacks were an act of war despite the fact that no nation-state claimed responsibility. What should have been considered the most dreadful and heinous of criminal acts, what should have been the impetus for multilateral action in creating an international legal framework to deal with these threats, what should have been the chance to bring the world together in condemnation of violence and support for peace became an excuse to drop bombs on human beings.
And now I see this memorial coverage, the victimized families coming forward to tell and re-tell their stories, the pundants sounding off their views, the footage before deemed too shocking to air finding its way to light, and it makes me sick. Sick to remember, sick to relive, sick to witness such enormous pain, to empathize with the fear and loss, but even more sick because I feel manipulated through all of it. I sense the machinery working behind the scenes that brings these flickering ghosts to life in my living room and my guts turn sour. The feeling of manipulation grows, and despite my best efforts to resist it, catalyzing cynicism creeps in, turning my sickness to rage. I watch helpless as everything that I loathe about this country, this city and this situation parades in front of me, and I'm forced by sheer emotional arm twisting to endorse it with my silence.
I watch politicians inoculating the populace with war fever just in time for the election season. I watch trillion-dollar lawsuits spring to life like the demons of greed that they are. I watch victims avoid dealing with death and am dragged along into their pathos, numbed by the overwhelming sadness they continue to exude, and I want it all to stop. It's the year that everything changed and nothing has changed at all. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer and we'll jolly well have a real war again soon, plenty of coverage for the 6-o-clock news.
I can't help but think that a raw wound has a lot more use to those in power than a healed one, and while I don't believe that there's some vast conspiracy with malicious intent to keep the American people in a constant state of worry and fear, I do believe that's something the media does. I don't believe that Bush, Cheney and Co. are really evil people, but I do believe in the seductive power of subconscious desire, the human ability to rationalize. I certainly don't trust these people to do the right thing. They don't represent my interests or share my view of the world. They're not doing what I would do, and I don't believe in the end that they know better than me.
And that's where my bundle of sickness, sadness, fear, disgust, love and anger finally becomes unbearable. I feel alone with it. I adamantly disagree with every institution spouting the party line, every sentimental memorial broadcast, every mealy-mouthed patriotic speech. It's manipulative and it's disrespectful. On the other hand, I don't buy into the real paranoid whacko conspiracy theory bullshit either, so I'm basically on my own with my views. I don't see anyone with any real power saying anything I can really get behind, and that's almost enough to break me, the feeling that I am an island of rational dissent in a sea of insanity.
Except I know I'm not. I can't be. Statistically speaking, there must be others like me who feel similar to the way I do. I don't know if it's what you'd call a "silent majority" but I know a lot of other freethinking, intelligent, rational Americans are staying out of this for fear of sounding disloyal to their nation. If you're one of these, I encourage you to break your silence, expose your viewpoint, take the risk, because shutting your trap in the name of patriotism is no service to your country. We need trustworthy leaders with clear views, transparent motives and ethical opinions, but given the state of politics in this country that's not likely to happen any time soon. The best we can do is try with all our might to hold whoever we've got to that standard.
Update: someone I agree with: Susan Sontag's NYT Editorial.