I hear more than I’d like to

The great thing about absolute tragedies, on the scale of the one we suffered seven years ago today, is that they validate whatever story you’re telling at the time.

Take Hurricane Katrina. Katrina proved to the social conservatives that only a strict culture of law and order would prevent people from rioting in a power vacuum. It proved to the liberals that the federal government would not go out of its way to help the poor unless prodded. It proved to the libertarians that private responders could address an emergency far quicker than FEMA. Everybody can claim a success.

If another terrorist attack struck U.S. soil, on the scale of the razing of the World Trade Center, think of the discussions that would bloom. Liberals could claim that America’s adventures overseas radicalized a previously lukewarm segment of the Muslim population: in other words, America needs to stop what it’s doing. Conservatives could claim that talk of drawing down troop levels had emboldened terrorists: in other words, America’s not doing enough.

And then pundits on both sides would snarl at each other, in one of those great debates that’s only interesting because neither side uses the same definitions, and the louder side would win. The louder side always wins. Democracy is not a war of ideas; it’s a war of volume. Civil rights were always a good idea, but they didn’t happen until people started marching.

Any event that both sides can claim as validation invalidates both sides. Any tragedy that lends meaning to two opposing narratives has no meaning. It’s the inkblot that we project our fantasies on. Political “philosophies” (such as they are) are cobbled together with glue and twine over generations of contradiction. Trying to shoehorn four thousand deaths into one philosophy or another makes no sense. We can’t make the real world conform to our theories; we must do the opposite.

September 11, 2001 doesn’t mean that America needs to be stronger or America needs to use its strength less or that Muslims are crazy or that Americans are crazier. It means our grip on life always gives when we least expect it. You can’t pick a convenient time, place or manner in which to die. So quit lying to everyone, stop wasting time, and experience.

And for the devil’s sake, get off the Internet.

Update: McCain, Obama put politics aside to mark Sept. 11 (AP)

If you find that headline hilarious, we can talk politics.


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