Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A few impolitic thoughts on a somber morning.

If you read this blog often—and especially if you Google some of my prior work for the Wall Street Journal, National Review, American Enterprise and elsewhere—you know my general feelings about America, 9/11 and the war on terror. I also served, for a time, as publisher of American Legion Magazine, the official voice of the American Legion, which is the nation's largest veterans' organization. I don't think anyone can question my bona fides as a patriot or an American.

But nations are composed of people. And I happen to believe in the unique value of every individual Self.* Which is why, as I watch these grim commemorations year after year—as I hear the so-called "9/11 Families" trumpet the singular nature of their grief anew, year after year—I can't help feeling that there's something wrong here.

In New York City, today's observance of the sixth anniversary of the attacks will be the first to take place somewhere other than Ground Zero itself. Citing the safety risks of having tens of thousands of attendees milling about amid the continuing work on the half-billion-dollar 9/11 memorial, Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided some months ago to move the event to nearby Zuccotti Park. As Bloomberg told CNN just this morning, "The place where we used to hold the ceremony is now a construction site." The plan sounded eminently reasonable—but little in the aftermath of 9/11 has been governed solely by reason. A coalition of families protested, threatening to boycott the official observance and hold one of their own as a renegade operation, if you will. A compromise ultimately got worked out—mourners will be allowed to visit Ground Zero during the ceremony—but not before family members spewed more of the strident rhetoric that has typified the families' conduct since the unprecedented horror of Sept. 11, 2001.

The public battle over the venue for today's observance was just the latest in the endless series of controversies that have engulfed the former site of the Twin Towers as perniciously as the inferno that once engulfed the actual buildings. Most recently, the 9/11 Families were upset over the presentation of victims' names on the eventual memorial. At every twist and turn, bereaved families have claimed the high moral ground, demanding to be heard. It is a precedent they set originally by seeking a more generous scale of federal compensation for the deaths of their loved ones.

My own inclination is to say what politicos like Mayor Bloomberg (a man with someday presidential ambitions) doubtless feel they cannot say: Enough already. Enough....

Though the 9/11 Families argue that it's unseemly to diminish their losses, I submit that it's just as unseemly to uphold these deaths as somehow more meaningful than all others. Even on 9/11 itself, the 2,979 documented victims of the terror attacks were not the only people to leave us: Thousands of other Americans died that day, including about four dozen victims of "more conventional" homicides** who were denied their customary acknowledgment due to the horrific events at the three terror sites. Dozens more died in tragic accidents. Indeed, on any given day, about 6,500 Americans die. Those lives are of no less consequence than the several thousand that ended all at once at Ground Zero. If 9/11 was a national tragedy of unprecedented scope, the magnitude of the personal tragedy was no worse for any given family than any other death. I would think that the grieving process actually was made easier in this case by the atmosphere of national mourning, whereby, in essence, all Americans attended each victim's funeral service.

One even suspects that, had a shocked and guilt-ridden Washington not rushed in to quell the pain—had more time been allowed to pass, such that we might assess matters with greater perspective—far less money would have been paid to these families, who ultimately received sums averaging $2.08 million. As the RAND Corporation noted in its analysis of federal largesse following 9/11, "The government response went far beyond that seen in most disasters." What was the rationale for that largesse other than hyper-emotionalism? As some asked back then—albeit mostly in whispers—why pay money to these families and not the families of those who perished, say, in Oklahoma City?

Who determines when a death is sufficiently tragic to warrant recompense from on-high?

Leaving sentimentality aside, and with the notable exception of first responders, most of those who died on 9/11 were not mythic figures or even heroes in any true sense of that overused word. They were simply victims, martyred in that instant when the paradigm of daily life in America changed forever. They were everyday citizens, hard-working and devoted to their families—just like you and me. And, like you and me, they had their flaws. Maybe they drank too much or told too many lies. Maybe they uttered an ethnic or racial slur now and then, among like-minded friends. If the law of averages applies, at least a few of them cheated on their taxes or their spouses.

The bottom line is that these were people, not gods or metaphors. They were glorious in their humanity...but no more so than the rest of us. They could be forgiven their human faults—perhaps even loved for them—but no more so than the rest of us. They are, therefore, no more entitled than any other American to have their names etched indelibly in the national consciousness. The private meaning of their lives was not elevated to hallowed status by the public nature of their deaths. Where, after all, is the monument to the loving husband and father murdered while working a second job delivering pizza? Where is his $2.08 million?

The 9/11 Families would do well to keep in mind: You make a life neither more valuable nor memorable by bullying others into valuing and remembering it.

* That is one reason why I am so contemptuous of self-help, as practiced in the U.S.: It perverts the very concept of "self" and "individuality."

** In making this assertion, I'm using the daily national average of 46 homicides here (5.6 per 1000 population). I did not research specifically how many murders occurred on Sept. 11, 2001.


RevRon's Rants said...

Good post, Steve. Of course, you realize that, should this post achieve widespread readership, you will be lambasted by those who live by the credo of emotional socialism, demanding that the rest of society share their pain - and compensate them for it.

While I fully empathize with those who lost loved ones as a direct result of the events of 9/11, I resent the fact that their suffering has been exploited, both by the media and by an opportunistic administration. But that's a topic for another post (and probably on another blog!)

I guess it's natural for a grief-stricken survivor to cling tightly to the collective embrace offered to them, but it has been perverted by the survivors' shift from acceptance of support to downright *demands* for that support - demands that we are all too willing to meet, apparently. This represents our collective sense of entitlement gone mad, IMHO.

I have served with true heroes, and as far as I'm concerned, being in the wrong place at the wrong time is not sufficient reason to bestow the title on anyone, no matter how deeply we mourn their loss.

Anonymous said...

You have a right to your feelings, but I think it shows terrible taste and judgment to write such things on the day itself. Most Americans will never forget 9/11, along with Kennedy Assassination it is something where everybody remembers "where he was" when it happened. 9/11 was and still is a tragedy of unprecedented magnitude and the bereaved families certainly deserve that much respect. You trample on their grief by writing this.

The Crack Emcee said...

I'm with you, Steve, that's why I started The Big Bang series with a quote about emotional blackmail - it sucks.

I'll remember 9-11 as long as I live, and I love my country, but this stuff gets to be too much:

I want fewer memorials and more celebrations.

Isn't that what "life" is supposed to be about?

Anonymous said...

Steve, it's a touchy subject but I agree with you we went overboard with 9-11. The country was in a state of shock, everybody felt we had to do something for these people. But many of them were pretty well off to begin with and you're right, what about other victims of other tragedies? Who looks out for them? Every death is tragic to their loved ones.

acd said...

You're absolutely right, Steve. These people don't deserve any more support (financial or otherwise) than anyone else who has lost a loved one. If people want to make personal donations to these families, that's fine, but no one except their life insurer owes them anything.

This topic also makes me wonder why the deceased are so exalted. Someone dies, and suddenly he's a saint. If people treated others like that when they were still alive, the world would be a much better place.

gregory said...

it is only ego, so stupid, and soooo self-centered, self aggrandizing, .... how many die on the road every year in america? how many have we killed with our fear and ego-based reactions in afghanistan (remember that?) and iraq? i am embarassed, the land of the fearful and the home of the monitored... why do we think we are so important, and forget the rest of the people on the planet... it was just an event in history, the only meaning it has is what we give it, nothing is intrinsic in it... and everything that has come from it, the deptartment of homeland security, the transportation safety authority, the entire fear-based apparatus, the buzzillions of dollars wasted on stupidity, all to keep that nationalistic ego propped up... let me stop, and just say, for the record, i am not a fan...

Steve Salerno said...

Fan or not, you make thoughtful points, Gregory...as have all who commented on this theme.

The Crack Emcee said...

Whoa, Steve - wait a minute. I'll keep this civil, but I was offended at Gregory's first mention of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Just because he doesn't understand the War On Terror - or refuses to - doesn't mean it's wrong or based on fear. The idea that we could, and should, reshape the Middle East - as we did Europe, which is now peaceful after centuries of war (something that's waved in our faces like Americans fighting and dying had nothing to do with it) isn't some empty, ego-filled, exercise and shouldn't be regarded as such:

Helping Middle Easterners to have representative government is ambitious and, yes, good. It may not be easy but few things in life are.

Personally, I despise the way people will throw the war up, at the slightest provocation, because they've been indoctrinated into the simple-minded "war is bad" ideology. I was forced to learn to fight in this nation's ghettos. Knowing how - and, more important, being willing to - is a good thing.

I don't know how Gregory thinks he got the luxury to spout those words without somebody dying for him - just as somebody's dying for the people of Afghanistan and Iraq to be free - but his lack of appreciation is galling.

Mary Anne said...

You got balls Steve to blog about 9/11. I think your blog and Gregory's views are actually held by A LOT of people, but most are too afraid to voice these views for fear of backlash. Anyone who makes a peep about 9/11 overload has been demonized or squashed.

Steve Salerno said...

Well, um, thanks, Mary Anne.

But see, from my POV, I can't even imagine how the 9/11 crowd aren't squeamish and uncomfortable about all this, by now. Who do THEY think THEY are? That's what gets me. Why isn't the mentality expressed in this blog the mainstream view?

The Crack Emcee said...

I'd say, Steve, that regular readers of SHAMblog are quite aware of why it's not mainstream: SHAM-thinking, new wage-thinking, cultish-thinking, and occult-thinking, are pretty all-pervasive in American society - including it's media. It's only on this 10th anniversary of Princess Diana's death that I see English writers starting to rail against it's infection of their country (The movie, The Queen was probably a help.). I see much more happening across the pond to counter this (like Richard Dawkins's Enemies of Reason documentary) than here.

I've seen very little, from Hollywood, to counter what's been happening to Americans. Probably because so many actors are Scientologists, Kabbalists, etc.. I saw our friend at the Truth about Human Potential Seminars blog just put something up today, about this very topic, but it also shows how skimpy the coverage has been.

It's really a tragedy.

The Crack Emcee said...

BTW - here's a link to both halves of the Dawkins doc:


Enjoy - it's superficial (compared to the depth we talk about) but it's not bad.

And the first shot of Dawkins looking into the camera, with some chanters, is hilarious.

RevRon's Rants said...

Methinks somebody needs more fiber in their diet - not to mention more world history classes in their college transcript. But I'll leave it at that, rather than allow myself to get sucked into a partisan pissing contest.

David Moisan said...

I'm writing this after 9/11 so I don't have to be accused of insensitivity. I have no bad feelings towards 9/11 survivors in general or particular, but I share Steve's concern for the gross--and damaging--sentimentality around this and other "tragic" events.

I was against monetary compensation from the start. I remember reading news accounts of Oklahoma City survivors trying to decide on a memorial. Even then, people were sentimental, "oh, those poor people!" But the survivors fought each other; one mother who might have lost one child was pitted against another mom who lost two, so that mom was "worse off" or "more deserving of pity".

I was horrified at this and had hoped the 9/11 survivors would not be led down a path to their worst instincts. Sadly, I was wrong.

Those 9/11 victims who were "worth something", executives and businesspeople seemed to get more than the anonymous busboy in Windows of the World, or the janitors.

I'm sure during World War II there had to have been some Gold Star Mothers for whom their status as mothers of dead servicement was the most important thing in their lives, more meaningful than anything they did when their sons were alive.

So it is with some 9/11 survivors. Remember, we're just hearing from those self-proclaimed to speak for the dead. There are no doubt 9/11 survivors not participating in the sentimental glurgefest.

To those 9/11 survivors on the news, exploiting their memories for publicity, I have only shame and deep embarrassment.

Steve Salerno said...

David, thank you for your thoughtful (and lyrical) comment. You make a very good point about how we're only hearing the loudest, angriest, most unreasonable voices. It's much the same with other movements: Once the demagogues move in, they become the label that is applied to the entire class of individuals--in many cases unfairly. For example, I have no doubt that the Rev. Sharpton does NOT speak for the great mass of hard-working, individually thinking people who just happen to have been born "black." (I put it in quotes because I'm generally skeptical of racial divisions as a whole. I've blogged on the subject a number of times.)

I also hate to make this into a classist thing, but I won't deny that one of the factors that has bothered me all along is that so many of those who (intentionally or not) ended up as the public face of the 9/11 Families were people of privilege already. I don't remember her name, but I literally cringed when I heard her explain on TV that, because her husband made a very nice salary working for Cantor-Fitzgerald--and the family was now deprived of that income by the events of 9/11--she had "a right" to expect compensation that ran well into seven figures. After all, without it, she and her children would be unable to sustain their life of leisure. (She didn't say the last part, but what other conclusion is there to be drawn?) This woman admitted that her husband carried high-dollar life insurance to begin with. But felt that was irrelevant.

I rememeber wanting to SCREAM into the TV, "Hey lady, stuff happens, you know?" A lot of people had big plans...before life got in the way. Very, very few of them have the option of turning to Uncle Sam and saying, "Make good on it...."

Anonymous said...

Like others I applaud your courage in commenting about this Steve. It's my first visit to your blog and I'm impressed not only by what you say but the others and their comments. What you say here needs saying and is long over due.

Mary Anne said...

Not that I am a fan of hers, but remember what happened to Ann Coulter last year? She said the widows of 9/11, I quote from her book GODLESS:THE CHURCH OF LIBERALISM, “as if the terrorist attacks happened only to them.”

Coulter took it from everyone, which may have been one of the reasons she put it in her book. Now her statements were a bit over the top, but she had some valid points about 9/11.

I don't think anyone wants to catch that fire, even six years later.

Lana said...

Good points, Steve. My birthday is 9/11 -- and, yeah, I took the terrorist attack kinda personally. But millions of people around the world were just as shocked and sickened by the very personal attack on life and liberty. Some say thousands today are still suffering from the trauma.

So I too have difficulty with the inordinate attention and financial assistance given to the families. I don't watch the news on 9/11 or attend any memorial services. It just doesn't seem to capture what truly matters to everyone.

Regarding valuing one person's life more than another's: I've had a similar reaction many times when watching or reading news stories about untimely deaths. In the same article, a person will be named, while another will be referenced in a secondary manner --such as Nicole Simpson and "her friend." Ron Goldman's name sometimes wasn't even used! That drove me crazy. And why not simply say Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman, or Ron Goldman and Nicole Simpson?

Steve Salerno said...

Exactly, Lana. I often feel that way when I read the obituaries. (I guess it tells you something about me that I even read the obits, but be that as it may...) Some people--whose lives took a glitzy turn, often through an accident of fate--get bold, fawning headlines and paragraph after paragraph. And others...just...die.

gregory said...

crack emcee is right, i don't understand the war on terror.... how do you have a war against a feeling ... and why would you blame someone else for your feelings... and even deeper, why are you terrified and what are you terrified of? ... for me it is a handy marketing term used to sell something that is quite unexamined and probably primarily serves the needs of officials to cover their ass, and to appear to be doing something... what that something is seems pretty ludicrous ... and while i am at it, what again is "al qaeda"? am i supposed to think it is a structured organization like general motors or even the mafia, with a location and headquarters and standard operating procedures, and "fight-able"? wasn't it the name for a database that had a bunch of unclassifiable organizations and loose cannons in it ... another marketing term now.... used like an brand in the war on an image... and the concept of freedom, it is different in different places, not something easily exported... enjoy

Steve Salerno said...

Gregory, if I may just step in here for a moment (not that CrackE needs my help, but)... There's no denying that you make excellent points about the slipperiness of the war on terror (and its very component parts) and the marketing coinages that were implemented to whip up public support. Fighting Al-Qaeda is not like fighting Hitler or the former USSR. In fact, it's not even as precise a mission as what we attempted in Viet Nam--and we saw how well that worked.

But...what, then?

This is why I've said on this blog, earlier, that the only real way to combat the terror threat is to take the sort of draconian approach that oncologists recommend as a last stand against virulent cancer: You have to be willing to kill a significant amount of surrounding "good" tissue. We don't have the stomach for that in the U.S., and even most Americans would argue against the "moral validity" of such an approach. This bodes very poorly for the future of American life as we know it, and particularly for our great American cities. Add to that the fact that our friend Putin--who's been off the radar screen for a while--is making noise again, too. Overall, a somber prognosis.

RevRon's Rants said...

Perhaps it would be significantly less somber if the US were to quit attempting to run the rest of the world on its own terms, while ignoring any input that doesn't fully support its own agenda. Fighting terrorism by killing all the terrorists (and would-be terrorists) is a lot like standing in the middle of an ant hill and stomping on ants. The more you kill, the angrier the rest get, and you end up getting bit, no matter how many you stomp.

The frequently spouted suggestion that we simply wipe out anyone who *might* be an enemy is patently stupid, as well as immoral. If we stoop to genocide as a means of implementing our concept of orderly government, what separates us from the very terrorists we claim to be fighting? Nothing but an empty ideological label.

All the chest pounding in the world will serve only to make us look more arrogant than we already do. It takes a hell of a lot more than macho "street cred" to sustain a civilized society, and more than a careless cowboy to gain the trust of the rest of the world. Without that trust, we stand completely alone. Standing alone, we are doomed, even if we're too stubborn to recognize it.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, I agree with you in principle. Everybody should make nice, and the U.S. should keep its imperialistic paws out of other nations' business. But still I ask--what do we do in a case where all it takes is a small group of disaffected rebels to destroy an entire American city? Poison the U.S. water supply? Whatever? I don't think that's being melodramatic. Not anymore. Or certainly not within 10 years.

As it happens, I'm finally getting around to reading the 9/11 Commission Report. I grant you, it was researched and ultimately written by diplomats--U.S. diplomats. So maybe it's "tilted." But at some point you gotta believe somebody, and if I put any credence at all in the Report's descriptions of Islam and the Qur'an and Sharia, basically you are with them or against them. And if you are against them, their God-given mission in life is to destroy you. This isn't about imperialism and it isn't about foreign aid and it certainly isn't about live-and-let-live. It's about a duty that they feel comes straight from God, especially in the Shia interpretation of same. What do we do about that?

RevRon's Rants said...

"But still I ask--what do we do in a case where all it takes is a small group of disaffected rebels to destroy an entire American city?"

Well, if you're the current administration, you invade their neighbors' country. I'm not suggesting a global koom-ba-yah party, Steve, but it would only seem to make sense to retaliate against the people who actually attacked us. Of course, that won't happen, because the Bush family has log-standing, close economic ties to the Saudi royal family (who have continually provided significant funding to the terrorists). Better to invade Iraq, which - until US occupation - had nothing to do with bin Laden or al Quaida. And if it takes some doctored intel to convince the country that we need to invade, the administration has proven itself up to that task.

There are tenets in Islam that demand violence be waged against "infidels," just as there are tenets in Christianity that demand the same treatment of "sinners." And there are throwbacks in both religions who ignore the central, pacific message in order to fulfill their own objectives. By using such a broad brush in our response to Muslims collectively, we provide the radical minority with great recruiting incentives that they wouldn't have if we took a more reasoned approach, thereby actually exacerbating the problem, rather than solving it.

And anyone who insists our intent is to instill democracy in the region has either ignored over a thousand years of history, lacks any comprehension of the Arab culture, or is cynically willing to harm this country for their own reasons. Perhaps a bit of all three.

The Muslim people want to live their lives, not to die. They want to be free from fear, just like we do. And they are being fed a load of fear-based propaganda, just as we are. If we're the civilized, noble nation we claim to be, we need to show them - through our actions, as well as our words - that we mean no harm to them, and have no desire to dilute or destroy their culture. Let them see that it is their own radical Imams who are raining destruction down on them, and they won't be quite so inclined to fear and hate us.

RevRon's Rants said...

One other point... If we were truly working toward keeping our country safe, we would be exercising some real control over our borders, rather than playing political hot potato with it. We don't even need any more laws... just to enforce the ones already on the books.

gregory said...

many ways of living in the global world... governments are as astute as corporations, or the red cross, others... they have a view of the world that results in certain outcomes, as example the "us vs. them" attitude, which of course REQUIRES a them for its validation... meeanwhile, business people happily go along with the varied systems in the world, and live quite nicely in every corner of the world ... terrorism is by and large a government problem, made and manufactured by the limited mindsets that government people too often have... it is not a problem for many other ways of living... and it gets far too much publicity... governments should basically be ignored except for what they do that is useful... enjoy

Steve Salerno said...

Ok, Gregory, I hear what you're saying, and it reminds me of what Ron often says. And I grant you both that you make a lot of sense, in principle. What I don't get is why people who share your mindset seem so determined to blame the U.S. for the current us-vs.-them-ism that infects the world and stymies any genuine attempt at that much-heralded global village. I realize that there's a lot of history here ("the ugly American," etc.), and that our bin Laden problem didn't start on 9/11. But if the guy implies in a video--as he did just last week--that the only way I can go on living is by converting to Islam...why is that MY fault?

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, you seem to forget that we *created* bin Laden. We trained him, and we winked and looked the other way when the Sauds funded his operations - after we no longer found him useful. Same with Saddam.

No, terrorism didn't start on 9/11. It actually took off when Eisenhower's CIA orchestrated the coup d 'etat that overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran and placed the Shah in power. Until then, the Muslims didn't give a hoot about the US... They were still focused upon their last occupiers, the British and the Belgians.

To claim we bear no responsibility for what is happening in the Middle East - and spreading throughout the world - is to lie to ourselves. And to think that we can solve the problem via the same means that created it is dangerous folly.

We have crossed a dangerous threshold now, and it will only get more dangerous if we continue doing what has failed for over a hundred years. We need to get out of Iraq, even if it means we sacrifice as a result of the diminished oil flow. We need to DEMONSTRATE to the Arab world that we are not bent on taking their resources and destroying their culture. There will still be pockets of terrorists, just as there are still murderers in this country. We control the criminals, but if we criminalize an entire culture, we do so at our own peril, and at the cost of any semblance of the nobility that our form of government is supposed to represent.

And this is certainly not a "liberal" stance, but one borne of common sense, and at least an attempt at understanding the history and sensibilities of the Arab world.

RevRon's Rants said...

Actually, Steve, we have been pretty successful in establishing an American-style democracy in the Middle East, albeit with our veneer of nonviolence stripped away. We're demanding that the different factions work together and achieve compromise on multiple points, just as we supposedly do in the West. Perhaps they are using our own political machinations as a model for their own efforts. Stripped of a workable infrastructure and government (for which we, of course, bear no responsibility), the Iraqis cast their votes with bullets.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, I feel that I keep arguing pragmatics and you keep arguing philosophy. You send me these fairly Utopian musings about a world in which we all live and let live, we respect the rights of other cultures to self-govern, etc. And I don't disagree with any of that! But I'm going to ask you to humor me for a moment by allowing me my premise in asking this question: Why do you do--what do YOU do, President Ron--when you're facing a situation where just a few dozen radical Islamists, who are not interested in peace at ANY price, have the capability to kill tens of thousands (if not several million) Americans? You know they're somewhere in Pakistan, but you don't know precisely where. You know that within six months, they're going to take out New York and L.A. (No jokes, please, about whether we'd be better off after that happened.) What do you do?

I realize that the question I pose has chilling, almost biblical overtones. Still, I'm asking it because I truly believe that regardless of any diplomatic progress we make between now and the time terrorists obtain WMDs, someone is going to have to answer that question for himself. Or perhaps herself.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve -
Since when is taking a common-sense approach to resolving a problem "utopian?" Like I said before, this isn't a koom-ba-ya party, where everybody kisses & hugs. But neither should we intentionally antagonize an entire culture - and, indeed, the rest of the world - by running roughshod over anyone who doesn't share our cultural sensibilities and priorities.

What President Rev would do (were such a ludicrous proposition ever come to pass) would be to extricate our forces from their position as targets in a civil war, moving some to Afghanistan & Pakistan to *support* those countries' efforts to root out terrorist cells. The vast majority would be redeployed - mostly at home - with many trained to serve in support roles to law enforcement's efforts to control our borders. Rather than stir up the ants halfway across the world, our objective would be to actually protect our nation.

My primary diplomatic objective would be to change our position in the world, from arrogant bully to respectful - but powerful - citizen. We can be an active participant without calling all the shots... Something that America must - and will - eventually learn. The only choice we have is in how many dollars - and bodies - we're willing to spend before relinquishing our sense of unbridled entitlement and authority.

Steve Salerno said...

Ok, Ron. I hope you're right, because we don't have the will to do what needs doing to protect America in such a scenario. Frankly, even I--zealot that I sometimes am--wouldn't pull the trigger in such a situation.

I do think they're gonna beat us in the end. And it's a damn shame, because there are so few of them, and so many of us. But as my father's oncologist once told us, it only takes a very few cells from a Grade 4 metastatic tumor to defeat the whole body.

gregory said...

one of the most profound "inventions" of the recent century was the concept of individual fulfillment ... to me this is the essence of what is called westernization, and is inevitable in the flow of time and change... the west is a few decades, or a century, ahead in this .... all of us are myopic, every culture, but it is the west as a resource consumer whose myopia seems the most virulent, (and whose lifestyle meme is also very virulent) causing almost nothing but disturbance wherever it has gone (ask the remnants of any aboriginal culture, if you can find them).. nothing is really wrong in any of this, it is the flow of time, it is probably leading somewhere, yet selfishness is still the rule, none of our "we's" extends much beyond our borders, we all think we are right... but perhaps the instant gratification desire of the west is a bit damaging to the world at large... and other cultures know it... it is really interesting to read Time magazine in asia... sophmore Yale frat boys earnestly lecturing the ancient wisdom-bearing cultures about how to live... arrogance and ego are disliked wherever we encounter them... and the world in this moment sees clearly, everywhere, the destruction values of ego, whether of religious or political or national ... we live in interesting times... don beck's spiral dynamics is a pretty good metaphor for individual differences in consciousness and outlooks, and could well be applied to nations... thanks for all the discussions, we should co-author a book called "how big is our 'we'" .... enjoy

gregory said...

as to the "pragmatic"... i dont think there are many plotters lurking in pakistan or afghanistan, no more at any rate than are lurking in checnya or columbia or dafur or wherever... yes there are bad people in this world, but it seems supremely self-destructive to be motivated by fears of what might happen that could be bad, rather than taking care of what it is that leads to good ...a president who was working all out to reduce drug demand, improve education, research, alternative energies, creating new technologies would be doing more to strengthen the country than hiring any amount of new mercenaries or over-fed transportation security goons ... we define ourselves by what we think our problems are, and if you are worried about the abstract possibility of "terrorism" rather than taking care of what needs to be done immediately in an economic world that is about to eat leave you behind, i suggest you are looking in the wrong direction ... thus speaks presidential candidate gregory... and it is amusing to me that this conversation is about to loop around and land precisely on the values implicit in the self help movement... that what you put your attention to is what grows in life... :)

Steve Salerno said...

So am I should be a "We" with Bin Laden?

I don't know how comprehensive/inclusive our "We" is supposed to be. I personally would be happy to extend my We as far as it can travel. But when someone is trying to kill me because HE defines me as not among HIS circle of We's...then what am I to do?

I find similarities here to the dialogue some years back when black leaders were seeking reparations, and even had major legislation in the works toward that end. I had been reaching out in fellowship my whole life--and yet suddenly now, I, Steve Salerno, born 1950 and having never owned so much as a single slave, was somehow a part of the "oppressor nation."

Sorry, fellas. Maybe there was a time when Ugly America took terrible advantage of the Third World; maybe we still do. But I wasn't a part of that initiative, at least not knowingly. And I dislike being held accountable for it.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, I think we *do* have the will. What is lacking is trust in the "powers that be." If we were attacked, citizen response would be clear and decisive. In the days immediately following 9/11, the collective will was clear. It was only when leadership's agenda began to appear questionable that our will faded - along with the good-will of the rest of the world.

I'm certainly no hero, but faced with a domestic threat, you'd better believe I'd be prepared to take up arms. And there are millions upon millions like me. But would I rush off to a war whose justification simply doesn't pass the smell test - or encourage my kids to do so? I think you can guess the answer.

Will "they" win? Only if we continue to serve their cause by turning the rest of the world against us, in my opinion.

gregory said...

metaphysically, excuse the term if you are not comfortable with it, you and osama are already a "we"... whatever he is as a concept is held by you in your mind, he could well be dead for all we know (the video was fake last week, say many sources)... he is in our world, our human family, he is us, inseparably (you may not buy that, ok, but for me i am very "osama"-like in some of my dealings in some directions) ... it is our idea of him, whoever he is, that is our bogeyman, the rest of it is concocted inferences and fear tactics that work on a surprisingly large amount of people (look at the increase in recent years in the number of americans who think iraq was responsible for 9/11, as example) ... and just as in our own family, when someone is threatening us or being rude, we have to embrace them in dialogue and love, you dont just thump your kid who is telling you he hates you, because you are bigger and know better... if we are bigger and know better than "osama" what can possibly be gained by thumping him, or all the people we have killed in afghanistan and iraq (it is a big number) that we justified in our pursuit of "justice"... aren't you even a little bit embarassed about all of this? i live abroad, so i am perhaps getting a biased view of things, but i was in america this summer, and america is not in any way shape or form at war... it is business as usual, sundays in the park, consume and create and enjoy and keep up with brittney and paris... talk about shams...

Steve Salerno said...

I think you will like my next post, Gregory. Or--if not exactly "like" it--it will get you riled up again. Existentially speaking, of course.

Anonymous said...

From the Crack Emcee, (minimally) edited with his permission:


Gregory, to focus on the name of a program (War on Terror) is petty and childish. I'm not trying to diss you - I've been there - but, you've got to understand, in a winner-take-all battle, you don't fight against yourself and, especially, not for something like the name.

You mention the amorphous nature of al Qaeda - that's their strength - and throwing our hands in the air, because of it, is a losing strategy and I don't aim to lose. Not to these guys. We fight them. We fight them wherever they are, and with a conviction that makes their belief in Allah seem shallow by comparison. We owe our soldiers that, and we owe ourselves that. You don't send your family, friends, and neighbors, to fight for you without them knowing - 100% - that their sacrifices aren't valued. (As someone who's served, I can tell you, your angst is nothing compared to theirs.) I'm not talking about "supporting the troops" but us actually being the troops: They're just on the front lines. We have to have the home front, just like in WWII.

Because the more you know, the easier it is to deal with things (Steve: Thanks, again, for SHAM) here's some recommended reading:

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright

The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future by Vali Nasr

Rev (Hey, Dude)

We deal with the world on our terms because our terms are fair. We are The New World. In 250+ years, we've unleashed a torrent of freedom that these civilizations that are 1000's of years old have never come close to considering. People die to come here "for a better life" and, if we falter, that light that shows what's possible in this world will flicker out, possibly forever. To me, that's worth dying for.

What we are doing isn't immoral. What separates us is what we fight and stand for: Freedom. I don't care if the rest of the world stands against us because I've seen the rest of the world and freedom isn't part of their DNA like it is ours - it's so much a part of us we take it for granted. And there's also something, called "respect", that no one else will give you - you've got to earn it - and you can't do that by being a pushover on the world stage. We've been betrayed by our allies - real politik sucks - but, through the Bush's steadfastness, we've also seen those governments (France and Germany's, especially) slowly come to their senses after assessing who their fates lie with, and finally get some spine. We were never "doomed": Like children, middle-class Americans wanted to be liked too much. So they bowed to loopy Eastern spirituality; aspired to a non-productive European way living - and denounced everything that made this country someplace that American blacks marched to claim as their home. THAT's why we're being challenged.

It's time for the '60s temper tantrums to end; for this generation's men to cut their hair and start acting like that's what they are, and for the values of the United States of America - our home - to be valued as OUR strength again.... We've gotten so mentally bent out of shape we let Mexicans march through our streets and think they can dictate to us how we're gonna do things - the nerve. (If we ever meet, I wanna see how far you let me run things in your house: I don't think very far.) This isn't stubbornness, man, it's reality, and when the time comes to fight for what's yours, you fight. [Screw] the "peace and love" stuff because, in the real world, the hippies were the only ones dumb enough to do enough drugs to buy into that nonsense in the first place.

We didn't just "invade" another country, Rev - America is capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time, and there was a clear U.N. battle, over Saddam, going on long before 9-11 happened. The U.N. has always pussied out and there was no longer any reason to continue to letting the Middle East's anti-American cheerleader off the leash with Osama out there. Plus, we promised the Iraqis, during the first Gulf War, that we were going to free them and didn't keep our word. (George Clooney made a movie with Ice Cube - Three Kings - that condemned our country for just that. Now, of course, that liberal backstabbing a-hole is getting poon for swinging back against us for honoring our word - that's why I'm learning to hate liberals: they don't care about *anything* as long as they can find a good-looking angle to bitch from.)

The Middle East was a violent mess long before our country was invented, so to suggest we're messing it up - or we can't fix it - is to ignore all the other stupid, violent, backwards countries we have fixed in our short history, like Europe itself, which suffered from war-as-summer-vacation, for centuries, before we got involved in it. (Now, of course, those backstabbers talk like they've always been cool and we're the violent barbarians. Bulls**t, and I've got the pictures of my father in the war - a man who suffered WWII nightmares for the rest of his life - to prove it.) And make no mistake: we have every right to tread this planet like anyone else. We found the oil and built every modern city in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia included. It's self-hating for anyone - especially Osama, with his talk of "holy cities" - to ever say we can't. On 9-11, one of Richard Clarke's biggest decisions was how do we get the Middle Easterners out of here, in case Americans wanted blood. What? The earth is a one-way street, only leading to America? Bulls**t. If people can come here then we can go where we want.) There's no way any American can say they care about anyone if they, also, deny us the right to go see, for ourselves, how our friends are living. For instance:

I've got friends in France and, while I know in America - under this government Gregory is so shamefully quick to want to diss and have ignored - I can start a new business tomorrow, I also know - because I've been there - my french friends are stuck in villages doing, pretty much, the same crap they'll always be doing with no chance for advancement. We hear about the good french food but we don't hear it's always the same food, every place you go, a diet so restrictive the Average American would go crazy. We hear about their Universal Healthcare but not what it's like to live under a 45% tax to have it (Work for a hundred and get $55.) or how lousy medical care is when you get out of Paris - 75% of France uses Homeopathy, for Christ's sake. Ooh, let's be like them! No thanks. I'd rather be here where I can afford, and have the freedom, to chose my own destiny; painful as those choices may be sometimes.

I hate to say it like this but, I'm 100% sure, you guys are swallowing lies. You live in paradise and you don't even know it. Your government is good and you tie it's hands. There are dark forces at work in the world and you root for them. There's no love out there, only jealousy and ambition to get what we are, and you think the world's ruthlessness makes us unfair - it doesn't. Culturally, we're the new kid on the block, naive and fresh-faced, surrounded by knarled-up conniving old men who have been picking each other's pockets since time began. Don't be a mark. Stand up for yourself. They wouldn't mess with us if you wouldn't let 'em.

And you know what? I'm ashamed I even have to say that. You don't have to explain to a german to stand up for Germany, or a frenchman to stand up for France. It's disgusting to have to convince Americans that standing up for their country - by not backing down from a fight - is in their interests. Everybody else knows that instinctively. It's truly sad what the '60s have done to this nation.

I can do nothing more but shake my head.

RevRon's Rants said...

Lewis, as I'd said before, it takes a hell of a lot more than chest-pounding to make a society function. To that, I would add flag-waving.

Sorry I can't join you in drinking the kool-aid, but our incursion in Iraq has nothing to do with anyone's freedom; not ours, and certainly not the Iraqis. If there is a "mark" in this debate, it is one who blindly accepts whatever is the administration's justification du jour for attacking another country, despite all previous justifications having been proven false.

You refer back to the initial Gulf War. I guess it doesn't matter to you that 2 weeks before Saddam invaded Kuwait, our own Secretary of State told him that the US had no interest in his "border dispute" with Kuwait. When he acted on our tacit "permission" to invade, we leveled our military might against him. Nice set-up there. But we're the "good guys," so it's OK, right?

If you'd be open to getting a better insight into the Arab mind, give "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" a read. And if you still insist upon clinging to the notion that our efforts in Iraq could meet with success, go back and read (or listen to) what Dick Cheney had to say in 1994 about the notion of invading Iraq - before he had any vested interest in such an incursion.

I don't know where (or if) you did serve, but I do know that the "gung-ho" guys I knew got over it real quick, once the reality of combat set in. Our guys want to get the job they're ordered to do done and come home. The ones who are really gung-ho are those who sit safely in their homes and offices, beating their chests and telling themselves that they are patriots. Put them - or their kids - in danger, and they're the first to demand that "something be done about" the situation.

I've never backed down from a fight, but thankfully, I've grown up enough to realize that fighting should always be a last resort. If necessary, I will fight. But I'm not stupid enough to go looking for (or striving to rationalize) an opportunity to do so. And I have little patience for those who do. I've seen them get too many people killed, and for nothing more important than to shore up their own self-image.

The Crack Emcee said...


Yes, that term, "metaphysically", bothers me: it means you're motivated by beliefs rather than logic, reason, or experience. In that way, I agree, you're like Osama. But, unlike you, he isn't just "threatening us or being rude" (nor is he a "kid") he's trying to, literally, kill us. How trying to stop that could be embarrassing, I don't know. Steve once put up a quote from a guy in business (I don't remember who) who said something like "there's nothing that can wreck an enterprise more than a highly motivated individual who's working in the wrong direction" and that's what a metaphysical thinker is: a person who's so wrapped up in their beliefs they'll destroy another, who's driven by hard-won experience. I think such people are dangerous, to us, and themselves.

You said you know you're "getting a biased view of things" - aren't you "embarrassed" you're accepting spin - and being spun?

Americans may not be in a full-on war mode, as I am and wish they were, but, some ways, that's fine: it's a free country and we want it to stay that way. While it's silly to act like nothing life-and-death-important is happening, this culture has always enjoyed it's frivolous side and, probably, always will. It's never wanted to fight a war - any war. That doesn't make it a sham but speaks to our essential naivety and goodness: we live and let live. Would you have felt better about the war if you visited and we were locked and loaded? I doubt it. Thinking "metaphysically", all your "connections" would lead back to the same dark rebellious place anyway: I know that way of thinking well and, unless your sensitivities are being pampered, it never leads to acceptance or maturity regarding others lives. It's a loopy my-way-or-the-highway form of "love" that would rather see America weakened through attack before the spell is broken - when it may be too late. Not just for us but for you as well: we're your line of defense too. If the sh-t goes down, here, you can bet we won't be running to your aid when your head is on the block. And why should we? You betrayed us.

Rev (nice touch, using my first name - and misspelling it - after I greeted you, so nicely):

What you call chest-pounding is a way of life outside of these borders: Canadians love Canada, the french love France, etc.. Only in post '60s America is it seen as wrong to love, and want to defend, your country and it's ideals. I'm an atheist - Bush is a born-again Christian - how you can assume I'm one who "blindly accepts whatever is the administration's justification du jour" is beyond me: I've been studying the Middle East conflicts since I went there during the Iranian Hostage Crisis.

You say "all previous justifications having been proven false" which, I'll assume, means WMD. Question: Since Saddam was telling the Iranians he had them so they wouldn't attack him, and with Iraq being a closed society, how were we to know otherwise but by going in? If he had them, and we hadn't, then the argument would have been that we failed for not going in. Like I said, in reference to George Clooney, that liberal argument always makes it a no-win situation for this country. That's shameful.

And we never gave Saddam "permission" to attack Kuwait - he assumed he had it - that was his mistake, not ours. (What happens when we ass-u-me?) I'm starting to get the impression that it's the hazards of real politik that bothers you most - to which I say, "Grow up, man". Hard-core politics is an nasty business. We only got involved in it during our creation - when the British and French were fighting over the world, including this real estate - so to think being actors on the world stage makes us "bad" is cynical and, yes, childish. One of the things I like about America is that, with only a few exceptions - slavery, and the Mexican American war come immediately to mind - we've always been the good guys. Everything we try may not pan out - Vietnam, for example - but our intentions (like fighting communism) were clearly "on the side of the angels".

Quoting Dick Cheney in 1994 is a perfect example of the childishness I'm talking about. You might as well reference Bush's "we don't do nation-building" quote too. Clinging to those statements, like a life raft for your rebellious perspective, shows a total lack of respect for the sweep of history: things change - and both men are presently, firmly, behind this effort. And, if you think they're so smart that you'll quote them now, why do oppose them when they don't agree with you? Childishness, and nothing more. I'll certainly never be caught quoting Hillary Clinton to bolster my arguments - that would make me a hypocrite.

In this forum, your questioning of my service speaks volumes. I did serve - USN, 1979-83 - and I just happened to have spent much of today hiking in the woods with a Marine. Then, we two veterans spent the rest of the day, giggling, while playing "squeaky toy" with his kid - not the image of "warriors" most have, by a long shot. I got kind of sad because my "metaphisical" thinker of a wife has deprived me of such joy. Now, why would I spill my guts, here, about my new wage divorce, etc., and lie about my service? I think it's "metaphysical" cynicism that drives you, my friend, not allowing you to trust anyone, or anything, anywhere. And, like I said, that makes you dangerous to the good my friend and I defend. "Squeaky toy" - it's just simple sweet fun to make a child smile - to two guys who want that, for everyone, and will die for it. As Devo said (I'm looking at the picture of you, posted by your bike:) "We're through being cool." We've, both, seen enough not to feel compelled to pose. Just two guys, happy to be two guys and happy. But make a wrong move and, once our eyes meet, and we agree you're a danger to that happiness, you're toast. None of that "last resort" nonsense involved. We KNOW the difference between right and wrong, and it's not up for debate. Same thing goes for me and my childhood friend, who's now a Sheriff. We're Men. Willing to hear you out. Willing to change our minds. Not willing to abandon our values.

You say "Our guys want to get the job they're ordered to do done and come home" but the argument in America, today, is to NOT let them finish it. (More hypocrisy.) It's like, the further people are from the battlefield, the less they'll back our guys up. And how anyone thinks - after living through the almost 20-year national malaise from the loss in Vietnam - that our lives will somehow be better if we lose this war (with everyone then looking at us as "losers" who can be pushed around) I don't know.

None of it makes any sense.

gregory said...

one cannot argue, or even discuss much, with those who hold polarized, well-established views, from whichever side of the question ... i can only offer that often the thinking that gets one into a situation is not the thinking that will get one out of it .... often something quite the opposite is needed... in the tao te ching, there is a verse suggesting it is the soft and pliant grass that when the wind blows, is pushed down, and then pops back up, while the rigid and stiff will break off ... and about metaphysics, it is only an exploration of the possibility that there might be something extending beyond logic and rationality ... this was a good discussion .... maybe another one could be, why do any of us on earth need an "other" or an enemy in order to feel that we are who we are ... enjoy... the next topic is pretty cool too

The Crack Emcee said...


I like that final question, and the way you set it up - though all that tao te ching nonsense leaves me cold - so here's another one for you:

Why, if there's no enemy, is all the criticism directed at us?

RevRon's Rants said...

"one cannot argue, or even discuss much, with those who hold polarized, well-established views, from whichever side of the question..."

Couldn't agree with you more, Gregory. As much as I enjoy a spirited discussion - especially with folks whose perspective differs from my own - it becomes tiresome when reasoned discussion deteriorates into chest-pounding attempts to one-up other participants. Unfortunately, such is frequently the case when one or both parties find themselves unable to clearly support their position.

When participants feel the need to bolster their position (or self-image) with chest-pounding and name-calling, an adult discussion ends, replaced by a schoolyard pissing contest. I finished grade school many years ago, and learned that fighting over an idea is an admission of defeat.

Steve Salerno said...

But I gotta ask you this, Ron: Stepping back from the fray for a moment, in all fairness, don't you consider yourself just as entrenched in your own ideological way of looking at things as you evidently think some others are?

Just askin'.

RevRon's Rants said...

There are some things I know from experience, and some I believe because they simply make sense. I don't claim to have all the answers, and am frequently shown to have missed a point completely. But neither do I have some deeply rooted need to diminish those with whom I disagree, as you should know by now. I'm comfortable enough with myself to disagree without having to allow that to deteriorate into disrespect.

The Crack Emcee said...


When you addressed me by my first name - which I never use - you weren't jabbing at me?

And isn't the position you, and Gregory, are now taking merely being evasive, rather than honest?

I understand I'm abrasive, but I'm not above reason. Our little rap discussion was very revealing about you: you don't like to admit things. Most of your arguments against it (guys playing music too loud, etc.) were against the culture of Hip-Hip - which I could probably agree with - but your comments regarding the music ("Rap") were just, as I said, prejudiced - because you couldn't have heard it all.

RevRon's Rants said...

I call Connie & Steve by their first names, but they don't seem to have a problem with it. Didn't know it was a sore spot with you.

Call me & my mindset whatever you wish, as doing so only serves to prove my point, as does your continued need to apply some dismissive label to those with differing viewpoints & tastes.

Keep it adult & reasoned, and I'll be glad to continue. But my life's too full to waste time on playground games, and it has been since I was about 13.

The Crack Emcee said...

No problem, "Rev":

My name isn't a sore spot, of course, but as I said, it just isn't used - all the men in my family have the same middle name and that's what we go by. I have one e-mail business account with my first name but, as far as I know, we've never directly exchanged e-mails. So, I must assume, at best, you were being presumptuous, and, at worse, snarky. Either way, not very mature.

As far as Rap (which I really don't want to deal with again but) I will say this:

Taste is no excuse for your position, as stated. I may not like all the work of John Coltrane, but there is a musical canon, so - no matter what I personally think - I must acknowledge his place in it. And, like Coltrane, Rap has proven itself, over and over again, in an extremely short period of history - not every artist, and not all the time - you're simply, stubbornly, wrong.

RevRon's Rants said...

"not very mature"
"simply, stubbornly wrong"

You continue to prove my point about the deterioration of dialog when one's argument is weak, "whatever you want to be called today." I wonder whether you even realize you're doing it, or you simply enjoy it. Doesn't matter to me... I'll leave the playground to you.

The Crack Emcee said...

I don't know what the deal is but I betcha there's some "spirituality" in that guy's background,...

RevRon's Rants said...

"... I betcha there's some "spirituality" in that guy's background,..."

Could be right... It helps me avoid getting a big chip on my shoulder and lashing out at anyone who disagrees with me. Funny how the anonymity of the Internet tends to bring that tendency out in some people.

Cosmic Connie said...

Regarding names: CMC, even though I know your full real name, I have to admit that I wasn't really cognizant myself of the name you normally prefer to be called. I know you sometimes sign emails "T" but I also know that you have posted under various names here on Steve's blog and on mine. So I think the Rev could be forgiven for using your first name (though admittedly he spelled it incorrectly, but that wasn't on purpose).

Besides, didn't you first introduce yourself as "Louis" to Steve? Here is how his April 11, 2007 post begins: "Early this week, a SHAMblog newbie, first-name Louis*, emailed me his account of the dissolution of his 20-year marriage and his overall descent into living nightmare."

In the footnote, Steve explained that "Louis" was your real first name.

So to call you Louis (even if misspelled) would not, I think, be an insult. In light of what I have learned just now -- regarding the name you are normally called -- perhaps Steve was doing this to further shield your identity back then. But I didn't know that then. I just knew you (or knew *of* you) as Louis at first.

Regarding the lamentable argument about rap, I think it was I, rather than The Rev, who made some remarks about people playing rap music too loudly. I agree with The Rev (and with you) that we don't need to get into that argument again, but as I recall, during that discussion The Rev was merely saying he doesn't like rap, based on the rap music he has heard over the years. NBD. He doesn't like some of the music I listen to either. And I don't particularly care for some of the music he likes. That doesn't make any of us wrong.

It disappoints me when these threads turn acrimonious -- especially when the acrimony (which I believe you initiated this time, CMC) is about something completely different than the original topic of the thread. And name-calling *really* distresses me -- particularly when the target is The Rev. He certainly doesn't need me to defend him; he is more than capable of defending himself. But I felt I needed to speak up.

I guess it's too late to ask, "Can't we all just get along?" :-(