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9/11 and Magical Thinking

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9/11 and Magical Thinking

I suggest this descent started in the early nineties. It lurks in dogmas like Hegelianism (counterposed to Marxist Dialiectics) and Intelligent Design, for example, but had been kept at bay by a relatively rational curriculum.

9/11 can be taken as one pivotal moment when one society had an opportunity to grow. Instead, psychologically first and then societally it imploded. Many of the problems the world is facing today are as a result of this.

The following article, in part, explains : [while internaional in scope it has a us-centric slant, but on the whole corrected by various comments]

The Decade of Magical Thinking

By Steve Almond

September 9th, 2011

A Rumpus Lamentation on What We Lost



"...Art complicates moral action, because we have to accept that other people matter, that their hardship and suffering, even their rage and sorrow, are, to some extent, our responsibility.

Propaganda has the opposite aim: it is intended to simplify moral action. People get to disregard the humanity of others. This makes them easier to ignore, deport, imprison, torture, enslave, and kill.


The story of 9/11, the grand fiction we constructed as a culture in the days and months and years afterward, ran something like this:

A band of religious psychopaths, acting without rational motive, murdered the innocence of a proud and blameless nation. Slowly, heroically, that brave nation dug out from the rubble and exacted revenge.

It was a story bled dry of doubt or nuance, a piece of propaganda. It divided the world along the fault-line of the zealot. America had been wronged and therefore could do no wrong.


At one point on this radio show, a TV producer discussed his decision to stop showing footage of the attacks. The host said she wanted to see those images; that she wanted to remember what had happened and how she’d felt. She was glad networks were going to re-broadcast that footage in the next few days. She added that didn’t want to see people jumping to their deaths, just the towers falling.


One of the novels I talked about on this radio show was Mao II by Don DeLillo. It envisions an age in which the novelist’s power to “alter the inner life of the culture” has been hijacked by terrorists whose “major work involves midair explosions and crumbled buildings.” Mao II was written in 1991.


If one of my relatives had died that day …

But, you see, none of them did. It felt fraudulent to me to appropriate the emotional life of those in mourning, to pretend those atrocities were something personal, to rhapsodize about national unity. What I felt was dread, a sense that my country was going to respond precisely as the terrorists intended: by becoming less human.

I visited a friend a week after the attacks, a good-hearted fellow who spent a lot of his time and money establishing a school for at-risk kids. He told me that he didn’t know exactly who’d done this to us, but that he wouldn’t mind seeing Uncle Sam drop a few hundred bombs on them. He looked down as he said this, because he knew, I think, that it was a shameful thing to say, that he was calling for other human beings to be killed, not because they had harmed him, or his family, but because they had harmed his sense of omnipotence.


The first line of the Iliad:

Sing, oh goddess, of the wrath of Peleus’ son Achilles and its devastation


There was so much talk back then about how much we were feeling. We had all these feelings. The histrionics of the daytime talk shows infiltrated prime time. A culture addicted to images of artificial violence had finally gotten a jolt the real stuff: the unscripted ruin, the blood relics. It was a snuff film writ large. People got off on it. Watching the coverage was a turn-on: the pornography of grief. There was a sense of hysterical indulgence to it all, a bullying narcissism.

Nobody stood up – in Congress, in the bright studios of our corporate media, in city hall – to make the obvious point that millions of people in other parts of the world live in a state of perpetual danger. And that the events of 9/11 might therefore require of us a greater empathy for those suffering elsewhere, might even nudge us toward a more serious consideration of our own imperial luxuries and abuses, and how these might relate to the deprivations suffered in less fortunate precincts.

That’s not what we talked about. No, we talked about our feelings. Americans were bloated with empathy in the weeks after 9/11. But something fatal was happening: as a nation, we were consenting to pursue vengeance over mercy. We were deciding – with the help of all that deeply feeling propaganda on our television sets – that the only human suffering that mattered was American.


The tragedy of 9/11, then, wasn’t that 2,977 people died. It was that 2,977 Americans died...."

""...There are some people, though, who can never quite accept this truth. They don’t have a strong enough sense of self to sustain the psychic injury. And thus, they resort to magical thinking, delusions of grandeur, angry projections, wild superstitions. They become, in this sense, more closely aligned with primitive cultures.

It is my belief that the enduring legacy of 9/11 resides in a permanent regression of the body politic, a narcissistic injury that we return to as a talisman of self-victimization, and which allows us to frame our sadistic urges as moral duties.

The attacks stunted our capacity to accept the awful truth of the world. This is most obvious in the ravings of demagogues. But in the end, the demagogues merely provide cover for our own quieter, more subtle abdications. ...""

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