It's 9/11, so I guess I should blog about 9/11. I remember where I was on 9/11 -- in my 7th grade math class. One of the staff members walked into the room and turned the TV on, then just left.
I remember because, for weeks afterward, people kept telling me that I was going to remember where I was on 9/11. I tried not to, out of a natural impulse not to be controlled like that, but that only strengthened the impression.
I also remember how I felt about it, then. I remember not really caring, and not really understanding why it was a big deal.
Later, it started to sink in what this meant about the world. That happened after George W. Bush announced that we were going to war. At the time, as a child, I thought wars were a 'past' thing. I thought that, while there might be countries out there in the middle of the world who still fought with each other to resolve problems, this was America. We were advanced. We were special. We can't possibly still believe that war is a good way to solve problems. We're better than that.
I had thought that war was something that humanity was trying to get away from, trying to overcome. I think I had thought that we could forgive the world for that kind of attack, or at least that we could recognize that the answer to violence against us wasn't more violence.
I still believe that humanity, at its best, is capable of that sort of kindness and understanding. I still believe that humanity is basically capable of working towards the common good.
9/11 taught me that we're also still capable of terrible violence against each other. That day, and the subsequent months, seems to me to be a showcase of those qualities.
The towers of the World Trade Center were built with glass and steel, because it's cheaper than concrete, and shot into the sky like monolithic trophies of modernism and economy. They were as much emblems of the fetishization of 'market forces' and the abstract illusion of human achievement as they were accomplishments of the real pragmatism of technology and accomplishment.
The planes were piloted by religious extremists, acting out the darkest possible manifestation of the human capacity to circumvent reasoning.
The subsequent sense of community and shared tragedy was tainted by jingoism and xenophobia, and the subsequent war was tainted by empire building and fear mongering.
9/11 was bad. It was very, very bad. (I hope that's not a controversial claim.) And in a slow, infusing way, certainly not all at once, it's how I learned that there was evil in the world,* not just in books and movies.
I don't think about 9/11 when I think about doing the right thing, trying to be good, trying to be decent. But the knowledge about the world that seeped into my mind, through the culture of America, after 2001, taught me the importance of action.
Humanity doesn't take care of itself; humans have to take care of it.
*My use of the word evil in this sentence is poetic, and not meant to indicate a view on the metaphysical characteristics of right and wrong.