Monday, September 11, 2017

Commemorating 9/11/2001: 2017 Edition

The news of late has focused on the succession of hurricanes that have battered our brothers and sisters in Florida and Texas.  We see once again the ability of Americans to rally together in times of crisis, revealing the depths of their compassion. 

But there is another crisis we face as a nation, and it is the most insidious sort of crisis because it moves among us without anyone being aware of it.  How shall I describe it?  At the risk of disturbing an atheistic or agnostic reader, I will call it a spiritual crisis.  And by "spiritual", I mean everything that is left over once we've discovered the limits of rationality.  Hence, "spiritual" takes in ethics.  I've tried, but remain unconvinced that rationality is enough to produce a meaningful ethical point of view.  Ethics is not built on rational argumentation.  It belongs to our emotional lives.  It is not a question of rationality to decide, with firmness and courage, to commit oneself to being an ardent patriot simply because of where we happened to be born.  It is not a matter of rationality to accept, with open eyes, the nature of the world in which we live.  The rational mind could just as easily settle on the conclusion, "there is nothing I, as an individual, can do" or "the world that the mainstream media shows us is accurate," or "I will set my fix my hopes and dreams on the next major consumer purchase on my list."  It is not rational, but it is ethical, to fight even when there is no chance of winning.  It is not rational, but it is ethical, to refuse the life that we have been offered in favor of a life that may remain beyond our reach. 

The events of 9/11 were a coordinated assault on the United States -- on our homeland, which had previously been far removed from experiencing the immediacy of war, as it was felt in Great Britain, France, and throughout Europe during World War II, or as it was felt in Vietnam or Iraq.  Our leaders cynically used 9/11 as a pretext for a more aggressive campaign of Oil Imperialism in the Middle East, and the ongoing civilian drone-strikes and bombings may slip from our awareness because they have become a routine, but I must remind you that whenever death is rained down on civilians, that too is terrorism.

From an ethical standpoint, we cannot -- as many have urged -- close our borders to Syrian and Iraqi refugees because we created the conflicts from which they are fleeing.  We have waged an economic war on Mexico ever since NAFTA, and must accept the consequences of that as well.  From an ethical standpoint, it is not enough to say "I did not vote for Mr. Trump."

In contemplating the ethical standpoint, I've thought about the opposite of an ethical standpoint, and a metaphor that comes to mind is addiction.  The alcoholic is surrounded by signs that her addiction is straining and destroying friendships, causing poor health, and undermining her economic self-sufficiency.  But it is possible for an alcoholic through the enormous power of addiction and denial to refuse to see these things.  What the alcoholic must learn, if she is to survive and perhaps prosper again some day, is this, "God grant me the serenity / to accept the things I cannot change; / courage to change the things I can; / and wisdom to know the difference."

Ethics requires courage and wisdom.  Courage and wisdom require us to boldly accept uncomfortable truths.  America did not deserve the horrors of 9/11.  But our leaders at the time were inattentive to the warning signs that intelligence agencies had been regularly relaying to the White House, and before that, inattentive to the predictable consequences of providing support to the Taliban (the ethical person knows that it is in the nature of a scorpion to sting).  Our leaders are a reflection of who we are as a people.  We have not learned to become better at choosing our leaders and as a result, what the future holds is more of the same: an avoidable loss of innocent American lives. 

What we have learned from the 2016 election is this: (1) the two-party system is a choice between two saloons, each of which only promises to aggravate our addiction to an unethical way of life, (2) campaign contributions are the false friends who buy us drinks, and (3) to choose to do nothing is to choose disaster.  In remembering 9/11, let us remember simply this: the needless loss of innocent American lives is something that we do not and cannot tolerate.  Serene in this knowledge, let us think carefully about how to avoid its repetition.  Let us make ethical choices.  

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