9-11 is a special day for me because it is my birthday, but it’s not so pleasant for everyone else. The events of 9-11-2001 produced tremendous cultural trauma, and its powerful effects are still reverberating. Such trauma happens from time to time and it often engenders worldwide change. There are plenty of examples.
In 1957 the then Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first man-made satellite into earth’s orbit. As it sped around the globe at 17,000 miles per hour it emitted short radio “beeps” that could be picked up on the ground below. While today such an event seems like nothing, at the time it shook America’s self-image. What had seemed to be an insurmountable lead by the U.S. in advanced technology suddenly evaporated, and anxiety replaced confidence in the American psyche. As it was, the cold war after WWII seemed dangerous, but with the launch of Sputnik space itself became threatening and Soviet rocket technology upped the ante. The U.S. and the Soviets accelerated the arms-race, the military-industrial complex came fully into its own, and the world felt less safe. Today, over 50 years later, we still are dealing with the threat of space-based nuclear weapons, but with the passage of time Sputnik seems quaint.
Looking back, I can now see that 9-11 foreshadowed our current economic instability and dramatically disclosed hard truths we have avoided: that the uncountable billions of dollars spent during the past 50 years for national security and intelligence was largely wasted; that life is not safe or predictable and that death often strikes without warning; that individuals willing to sacrifice their own lives while taking others’ are extremely difficult to stop; and that the world’s economy is built on a surprisingly weak and vulnerable foundation.
Alongside these revelations, 9-11 has left us a legacy of political bickering, and petty, indecisive leadership unable to mobilize itself or the public into crafting and implementing real and meaningful change. Real change requires admitting that old solutions and views suited to a world that no longer exists will not work anymore. The economy will not be rescued by average consumers; they don’t have any surplus money to spend. The wars will not be won by military might; humanitarian and educational efforts have greater long-term impact. Public safety in a democracy cannot be secured by sacrificing legal rights; reducing suffering and poverty decrease violence and crime. If our fantasies are not discarded and our wrong views are not set aside, we will continue to slide deeper into despair, confidence will be further eroded and society will degrade into a dark age.
Perhaps a moment tougher than 9-11 will shock us out of our stupor and habitual wrong-headed views and force us to act in true harmony and cooperation. In Hollywood that moment is portrayed as apocalyptic world-wide calamity: invasion by unpleasant aliens from outer space, dread diseases that threaten 99% of the population, the impact of an extinction-level asteroid, world-wide take over by flesh-eating zombies…you know the drill. Could happen, I suppose, but seems like a lousy way to pull together.
9-11 was the birth of a new world, but that is the actual truth about everyday. And you know how it is; there are good days and bad. Born on 9-11, I’m working on good.