Just the other day I had a not too pleasant discussion with a friend about the state of the world today. Eventually, the exchange degenerated (as it is wont to do in Ann Arbor) on his part into the usual Bush bashing and the expression of his passionate belief that the only problem facing this country was the inherent fascism of the Bush Administration and the imminent implementation of a Christian theocracy in the US. He has been saying this for approximately 6 years now.
"Spare me the hysterics," I responded wearily as I have done many times before in similar situations.
"You know, Pat, you've really changed in a profound way," he said sadly. "Ever since 9/11 there has been no reasoning with you. I just can't talk to you anymore."
For about the millionth time since that day in 2001, it struck me forcibly that one of the more subtle consequences of that terrible event was the creation of two separate realities in which people could live. On The Sanity Squad's most recent podcast, Gagdad Bob mentioned something profound about 9/11 when he suggested that the events of that day didn't just change the course of the future, they changed the perception of the past.
It was the end of history, it was the beginning of history.... Didn't we -- all of us --want to believe that the end of the Cold War was, in Francis Fukayama's words, "the end of history"? That all the trials and tribulations; fears and anxieties of that post-world war time were finally over; and that the nuclear clock had stopped for good and that mankind was saved from itself?
For a few short years, many of us held tightly to that interpretation. But 9/11 made some of us realize that it was, in fact, the beginning of a new, ever-so-much-more frightening and dangerous time. A beginning where not only did the nuclear sword still hang poised above humanity's head, but where reason, logic, and reality itself were now simply theatrical constructs, and could no longer be used to solve disagreements or deal with problems.
Fukayama argued that history is directional and has an evolutionary endpoint; and that endpoint, and the culmination of those forces driving history, inevitably lead to a capitalist, liberal democracy. But Fukayama made one simple mistake.
He did not forsee that the enemies of freedom; the enemies of individualism and capitalism--as a last-ditch, desperate measure to prevent the "endpoint" from establishing any equilibrium in the world--would resort to the complete abandonment of reason and reality altogether. And, in retrospect, it appears that from a rational and realistic perspective, there was no other course open to them if they wanted to avoid complete historical capitulation and abandon their useless and destructive ideology. In order to stay alive, the enemies of human freedom--in all their various incarnations--had to abandon reason, truth, and reality, because they understood clearly that they simply could not make their case with those particular human tools.
For me, the profound and most unsettling impact of 9/11 was that I could now understand the previous decade in a context that had been rather obscured and hazy prior to that date; and that the implications of my new historical perspective were breathtakingly horrifying: the technologies of the modern world--both the good and the bad-- were now accessible to and would be used by 21st century savages whose only goals were death, destruction and enslavement.
History did indeed branch off into two parallel threads on that day. One half of the population of this country (and perhaps the world) have been living in one; and I am among the number existing in the other.
But, I have no doubt that it will come to pass that at most, only one of those two threads will ultimately be understood to actually represent objective reality. Another event of critical,and perhaps catastrophic, significance to humanity will eventually transpire that will clarify--one way or the other--which thread, if either, is true.
Though I do not think that my friend's take on current events has any validity whatsoever, I sincerely hope that my own is also incorrect; or that I am simply overreacting to the events of that day. Because my greatest fear is what might have to happen to finally wake people up.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all doing direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. - Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
[crossposted at The Sanity Squad]