Friday, September 11, 2009

The Lesson Of 9/11

Image credit: National Park Service

It's September 11 again. In the eight years since the traumatic events of this day in 2001, we seem to have drifted into the most profound funk imaginable. If you want to know where we are today, I suggest you read Scarecrow:

I’m 65. I’ve lived through McCarthyism, racism and race riots, the civil rights movements, Berkeley in the 60’s, three assassinations, Nixon and Watergate. I helped kill some people in Vietnam and called in Medevacs for others, for no reason I can account for, and I’ve watched the American addiction to imperial adventures drag us into one quagmire after another. I lived and worked through the rise and neglect of environmentalism, Carter’s hapless energy wars and Reagan’s mindless wars against governance, science and rationality. I've watched the zealots of the nation's self-declared official religion become increasingly detached from reality and its humane commandments.

Slouching Away from 9/11

How we got here is a little harder to tell, at least for me. Certainly the fear and selfishness Scarecrow mentions are part of it. But I think it really comes down to our growing love of ignorance and stupidity. What we have done in the last few years, we mostly did because we were too badly informed to know what the right course of action was. Many let the government convince them, on the basis of mere assertion, that the Iraqis were responsible for the attacks, and that they were also stockpiling nuclear weapons. These assertions were all tragically false, as anyone who looked at the basis for them skeptically would have realized. Yet there were many people who were happy to believe, thanks to their abiding prejudices about Muslims and Arabs.

Not to be outdone, some people who were against the war and somehow recognized the mendacity behind it, came to believe in their own fallacy - that it was their own government that was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, not foreign religious fanatics. They, too, believed nonsense based on little more than assertion, because their predispositions led them to, and because their lack of critical thinking skills and knowledge left them without the tools to understand the absurdity of what they were being told.

The number of times I've been told by disciples of both these irrational beliefs that I need to open my eyes and see the truth, or that I'm willing dupe of whoever they were afraid of, are too numerous to mention. Look at these comments for some small idea. Arguing against mistaken ideas is pointless after a while. The people who still believe them won't change their minds, no matter how much evidence is presented. To this day, the WMD cult thinks that they were out there somewhere, and now they've been moved. Maybe they were moved to Syria, or the North Pole. "Truthers" beliefs have grown similarly wackier over time. Whether it's due to emotional investment in a belief, or just not wanting to admit they were wrong, most of these people will cling to their beliefs to the bitter end.

When we as a people can believe so easily and so willingly in nonsense, it's not hard to see that whenever we debate anything, whether it's war, or health care, or economic policy, that we can't help but get into the sort of nonsensical discussions we have. The best advice I can give to Americans is, when we are discussing matters of this importance, to try to check your assumptions at the door.

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