Thursday, November 11, 2010

Seeking Perhaps To Make Oneself Unpopular

Dear unparticular people,

I understand that what I'm about to propose for your consideration isn't a cheerful thought, though I hope there may be hope to find in it. I think it is, fundamentally, informed by hope more than offering any novel hope.

At the core of this idea's uncheerfulness is, in some ways, the motivating event for much of the past decade's news, popular debate, geopolitical reheaval, and particularized insanities. I refer, of course, to the Massacre of New York and Washington which took place in 2001 on the 11th of September.* It is my thesis here that the New York and Washington Massacre should not actually have changed much of anything.

Of course, some clearly visible changes must be acknowledged, in order from solemn to mundane: a few thousand people were murdered by a conspiracy of a few dozen, and some committed suicide quite visibly; several thousand connected people thus became quite publically bereaved survivors within scant hours. The operation of several businesses was interrupted or ceased entirely; several buildings were destroyed or severely damaged. Four airplanes were deliberately crashed.

The population of NATO, and most of Christianity I expect, indeed a large part of the world generally, were rightly angered by this public violence; and a large part of the world became understandably --- despicably --- smug. But more than that, a large portion of the world, meeting both smug and angered parts of it, seems to have gone somewhat insane because of the public bloodshed. And because you all know what I mean by this, I shan't detail the insanity.

My reply, however, is to point at several important constants, such as all folk aspiring to sanity should madly seize on and infect their neighbors with as soon as possible, if I may have aught to say about it; in order of fundamental to corrolaries, more-or-less.

The Divine

God did not change, did not change sides, did not change His mind about anything at the persuasion of the New York and Washington Massacre, or of its conspirators, or of its witnesses. In the mystery of His grace, he has permitted it for the good of all and for each; and all who in it departed this life were received by him in to Purgatory or Heaven, or relegated to Hell, even as He found them, according to His unchanging justice and mercy.

The Good

Even as God Himself did not change (He Is, unchanging), so the natures of right and wrong, good and evil, justice and iniquity, have not changed. In other words, the principles by which we order our lives, our comings and goings, our labours urban and wars and farms, how we ought to treat our neighbors and our friends and our enemies and our prisoners; these have none of them changed. It is true that various particular of the people we know we must prudentially re-classify among friends and enemies, but that in itself is not a new phenomenon. The acts themselves demand just retribution, if any of the instrumental conspirators survive; but the weight of retribution should be tallied exactly as it always had been.

Our Safety in This World

On the 12th of September 2001, we were none of us in more danger from terrorists than we had been prior to the Massacre --- indeed, many of us were safer in general, being on solid ground rather than in a plane twenty miles up hoping the engines and the flight surfaces and all keep working right. But the co-dependence of airline passengers on a very small number of well-trained professionals for their safety, on eachothers' well-behavedness, our dependence on them not to fall on or fly through us, these are old facets of any sort of travel; planes have been hijacked, have flown into buildings, have carried away unhappy victims many times over.

Neither is the scope nor speed of destruction we saw any new thing. In World War II *, Dresden was deliberately flattened essentially overnight, the harbor district of Hiroshima was transformed from city to a sterile ruin in seconds; and the holy city of Nagasaki burned for a few hours, ignited all at once --- the longer because the bombadier missed in poor weather, and hit neighboring forest. Looking further back, whole cities have been snuffed out by the very convulsions of our Earth. Indeed, we continue to live, as some have put it, by geologic consent, which may be withdrawn without notice at any moment. Are we all to live differently, now that America has fresh intimate reminders of these facts?

Because so many of the important things didn't change with the Massacre, we should have hoped that with somewhat more attentive police and espionage we might all live a little safer, while largely carying on as usual. We might even have contained a concerted will to evil, and helped better the world thereby. But here we are, now; I shall beg the latest Holy Catholic Martyrs of Baghdad to pray for the conversion of their homeland and all that dwell there. I even hope that we may, all of us, reach a better and more vigorous sanity than we have let ourselves slump into since the particular decadences of the last fifty years.

Now, let's all read some Tolkien!*

For President Never

* I think I shall henceforth refuse to call this event "nine-eleven". Aniversaries are marvelous things, and Bin Laden has unfailingly defered to the Christian Calendar when plotting his nefarities; but numbers are for everything, and as Mark Shea exhorts us, Man's first office is to name all creatures in this world.

* This also might want a better name. For instance, it's not clear to me if WWI is over yet...

* OK, the link is more of me, not Tolkien; it points to and quotes some Tolkien. Blargh!


Enbrethiliel said...


Dev, my friend, I agree with you!

When I watched the twin towers collapse on the news, I felt enormous compassion for the people who died and suffered--and yes, some fear of what the rage and anguish of such a powerful nation would mean for the rest of the world.

I believe I would have felt the same way if I had been around to read about Hiroshima and Nagasaki when their own awful histories were still breaking news.

When I was in uni in New Zealand (from 2003 to 2005), I met an Israeli girl who was willing to discuss anything and everything--and who had an opinion on anything and everything. One night I happened to overhear some parts of a discussion of the attack on the WTC and the Pentagon. She said that her own first reaction was, "Welcome to the club, America!"

Which was not at all to diminish anyone's suffering or anguish, or to say that justice should not be carried out. I think she and I--and likely most people with a disinterested opinion (You're either with us or against us has got to be the most ridiculous quote that ever came out of this tragedy)--think that "9/11 exceptionalism" is a very narrow view of both history and the world.

Emotionally speaking, it's perfectly understandable. But it just doesn't hold up.

The same trepidation with which you pressed "Publish Blog" assails me now that my mouse is about to hover over "Post Comment".

Salome Ellen said...

From my point of view, I think there WAS a change -- in the understanding of many, many of us. That we ARE part of the world. That geographical isolation is no longer possible. That we can no longer feel safe when others are not. I think that in the long run this change will make a difference......

Belfry Bat said...

Oh, I agree with you there, Salome.

I remember from my last formal philosophy courses that in ethics there's an argument schema called reductio ad horendam that runs
(X justifies War Crimes) => (X is unethical)
which is named in immitation of the formal logic schema reductio ad absurdum
(X => Y and not-Y) => (not X).
Now, it's a funny thing that in math, you can formally deduce all propositions from that fragment (Y and not-Y) --- not that you can decide anything, because you also refute all propositions by the same argument.

There's a similar tendency in moral thinking for some people to follow (War Crimes justifies Whatever I Want); and where this really runs into trouble is that the fact of past War Crimes is not comparable with moral aprobation of War Crimes in principle; and that's the tendency I'm lamenting and writing against here.

[ For reference, the correct parallel schema would be
(Context C justifies War Crimes) => (Context C justifies Whatever You Want) ]

Lindsay said...

I agree with Ellen and with you. I agree that not much, if anything, has really changed at all, but I do think that our perception of it has. We've changed. We finally saw. We finally understood. However, I think we've taken that understanding and made a lot of mistakes. I don't think we took the knowledge and made the right decisions.

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