Saturday, September 11, 2021

September 11 Memorial

Today is the 20th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I should say something about that. I have not posted anything about it since 2013 - this is strange, but I suppose I haven't posted much of anything here since 2013. I used to post every year about it - at least since 2006, fifth anniversary - but over time, there seemed to be less and less point. I said what I had to say - back in 2006, in fact, a long rant that, well - sounds right to this day... I could repeat it every year or - remember it, and let it go. Which is about what happened.

But 20 years: I have to say something. What? The event itself was horrifying, created a sense of fear and dread that lingered for quite a while. (A more concrete version of what it was like to grow up in the 70s and 80s under the fear of nuclear annihilation.) As for the day itself - I don't think I have written about my memories fo the day, here. Reading articles about false memories of 9/11 makes you think - how much do I remember wrong? The truth is, most of what I remember of the experience was banal. I was at work - I went to a meeting at 9AM. I think I remember someone saying that a plane hit the Trade Center tower before the meeting, but I don't think anyone seemed all that concerned. When I came out of the meeting, everything was different. Two planes hit - there was no doubt it was an attack - no one knew what was going to happen. I remember people watching news on their computers, a new trick in those days. And that's how we saw the towers fall: on a tiny QuickTime window.

They sent us home. I think I went into AOL when I got home and checked on a couple people I knew in NYC and the DC area - they were all right - so I turned off the news and watched Beavis and Butthead Do America. It seemed like a good time to watch it.

The next day I went back to work, though everyone was on edge. Sometime in the morning, the cops raided the Westin Hotel in Boston, a couple blocks from where I worked. People got paranoid and wanted to leave and I thought, where are we supposed to go? But I think later, most of the office just packed up and went home, not waiting for the company to close or the city to close or anything - we just weren't going to hang around. 

Not very interesting, in the end. But the day lived on in my head. Though I think it was the anthrax scare later that September that really set me off. But that might be a false memory. Walking home one day, beautiful perfect blue sky, thinking, holy shit we're all going to die! 

After that? Nostalgia about 9/12 doesn't impress me - partly because of the way we all abandoned our posts the next day, on a rumor; partly because it didn't take very long for everything to go to shit. Arguing over who was to blame, then what to do about it, ignorant things like "Freedom Fries", attacks on Moslems and anyone who looked like they might be middle eastern, increased surveillance across the board, the Patriot Act. We were divided immediately by 9/11, aAll right. Here we are, 20 years along. We have finally gotten out of Afghanistan - that's amazing ed the divisions were deeper and more aggressive, and are still there. 

We got into wars, which we could not win. We have just gotten out of Afghanistan after 20 years - a war that, at the time, made some sense (getting Al Qaeda and all) - but we didn't get Bin Laden, then we gimped that war to fight a very wrong war in Iraq and - well, we aren't the first Empire to fall apart over Afghanistan. 

And 9/11 has ruined us, politically. I mean, imagine a world where someone could say (however stupidly) that there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between the two parties - imagine that! It sounded shallowed and spoiled then - now, it's flat out mad. (Or flat out a lie; people still say it, but they are mad liars.) Whatever side you're on now, the political scene is much more fractured and dangerous than it was then. Conflicts are open and explicit, and more likely to be violent. Fascism is open and explicit and dreams of violence. We are disintegrating. And the world as a whole is just as bad: far less stable than in 2000 (when things were not ideal, don't get me wrong), but open fascism is on the rise all around the world, conflict and disintegration are taking place in areas that were basically stable in 2000. It has been a logn disaster for the world.

Which brings me to something strange to say about those times: the weird sense (but maybe not so weird) that that time - 2000-2001 - might have been the high point of human existence. How strange! But remember life as you lived it in 2000: there were bookstores! Records stores! video stores! more movie theaters! There were records to buy, movies to watch! It's easy to think that technology has been on an endless upward climb in those years - but wonderful as it can be, losing book stores, record stores, even video rental joints, is a cost. They make life more pleasant - there is no replacement for the joy of going into a bookstore or record store, browsing the shelves, looking at the objects as you decide what to buy.

But more than that - the technology was there in 2000. This choice between book stores and Amazon - in 2000, you had both. Amazon existed; Netflix existed. You could have everything - you could buy things cheap online if you wanted; you could rent movies through the mail, on a fantastic new medium, the DVD. At the same time, mind you, as you could go into a bookstore or record store or a video store and root through their stock. You could even watch movies and listen to music on your computer, even watch TV on your computer - even if the quality was not great, you could do it. All those things existed at the same time for a while. Could they have lasted forever? Is there a way to have Amazon and lots of bookstores? Streaming movies and Blockbusters? iPods and their descendents and HMV and TOwer records? I don't know. But we had them all in 2000-2001.

It's weird to think about, but that might have been it - as good as it was going to get. Maybe the end was coming one way or the other - even without 9/11, climate change was already well on its way, and that might end up swallowing all these other considerations - but things were still better than. For a middle class urban white guy, maybe - but go back to politics - it was better for a lot of people who weren't watching QuickTime videos and renting foreign DVDs and spending hundreds of dollars at a pop at Tower or HMV or Newbury Comix. 

And now? Every two days, as many people die in this country of COVID as died in the 9/11 attacks. This is months after a free, safe and effective vaccine was distributed, which stops most of those deaths. I wonder if we would have been smarter before 9/11 about something like that. We wouldn't have had people like Donald Trump who threw his political capital behind making the pandemic worse. I don't know.

We live in a very bad time.

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