Meditations on 9/11

Life is full of pain. Pain is how we know we are alive.
People living in in the wealthiest, most tolerant and modern social welfare
states still face challenges and strife. People become ill, are humiliated,
suffer setbacks, fall in and out of love. As Joyce shows in Ulysses, even the
humblest among us is in fact the hero of his or her own great quest.
Fifteen years ago today people went to work, went about
their lives, facing these private struggles when the world interrupted their
private struggles with a cataclysmic global one.
We saw wondrous heroism that day. We really did see the best
of humanity, not only in the air above Pennsylvania, and the Ground Zeros in
New York and DC – but also in far off Newfoundland. Humanity’s worst brings out
humanity’s best.
Fifteen years on, I hate the social pathologies across the
Middle East. These pathologies keep metastasizing into rage and madness. Middle
Eastern societies cannot provide the space for people to get on with their
lives. I worry that modernity – this wonderful enterprise that has brought
extraordinary wealth and opportunity to so many – is also undermining ancient
patterns of life, leading to more of the rage we saw on 9/11.
I am not a pacifist. Since Cain set upon Abel, there have
been dark places in the souls of individuals and in humanity’s collective soul.
We institute governments to protect us from this darkness. Part of that
protection is the authority to kill. Good governments deal in death judiciously
– inasmuch as they are able. Like physicians, they must strive to first do no
harm. I will defend the United States as the least bad great power in history
(something that must be graded on a steep curve), which for all of its mistakes
has also done great, great goods.

But push the politics and analysis aside. Seeing lives
snuffed out pointlessly and en masse, is a terrible, terrible things.

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