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9/11

Last night, watching the news come in from Paris, I once again experienced what I have come to call “That 9/11 Feeling.” This allowed me to spend some time dissecting the sensation.

The two principal spiritual aspects (or psychological, depending on how one likes to describe these things) are:

-a sense of distant horror. It’s akin to standing on a beach, watching a boat sink offshore, hearing the hands screaming and being unable to do anything. However, there is a difference in that one is witnessing human evil. It’s different from receiving news of a great natural disaster. There’s the pervasive awareness that this abomination is being performed voluntarily, by one’s fellow humans.

-a sense of foreboding history. Dave Barry once wrote of the Kennedy assassination: “we were getting our first strong dose of the craziness, the sense of events whirling out of control, that was going to be with us, stronger and stronger, through the rest of the Sixties.” When these events happen, it is both a shock and completely expected. The political and social forces that we know slide unseen beneath the crust of society burst forth, like a volcanic eruption. Rage coalesces into blood. And we can’t know where it’s going, but it doesn’t seem anywhere good. The pistons have exploded out of the engine; the plane is spiraling down.

Physically, the “9/11 feeling” creates a dry, empty sensation at the back of throat, similar to what I’ve felt when my children are very sick. It’s accompanied by a need to move around, but a difficulty in doing so, and an urge to talk, whether in person or online, to say anything, even gibberish.

Three occasions so far, I have felt this: on 9/11 itself, during the Boston Marathon Bombing, and now. I do not look forward to further opportunities to explore the feeling.

I would like to formally retract, this 9/11 morning, this post I wrote on my old blog. Not the part about what the day was like; that’s fine. What I mean is my subsequent analysis that 9/11 didn’t mean that much. That’s ridiculous, the worst kind of contrarian nonsense. I like to think the reason I couldn’t come up with anything better than the truly puerile conclusion of the post is because I didn’t really believe, in my heart of hearts, what I was saying.

What I now think about 9/11 is that it was, of course, the beginning of the era. The 90s were an indian summer for the world, a time of peace and prosperity between the end of the Cold War and the new century.

(I speak in general here. It doesn’t work if you’re, say, Rwandan).

9/11 revealed that The System of the World had quietly changed. In the 20th century, you had to watch out for nation states. They had vast armies, fueled by the power to tax and draft, war machines backed by bureaucracies, flanked by diplomats who argued their causes in vast and serious venues like the U.N.. In the 21st century, the danger has become anyone with a box cutter, a cause, and the knowledge of how to twist the complexities of postindustrial society against itself.

In William Gibson’s Neuromancer, there’s a scene where a corporate office is raided. The attackers (our protagonists) use various stimuli to induce a psychotic break in the employees, causing a riot, in order to steal something in the chaos. The attack is done with the aid of a group of mercenary hackers, and blamed on religious terrorists. Blood coats the lobby floor, but it’s nothing personal. The dead were just in the way.

Is this our time, when for any reason we can find ourselves caught up in the machinations of people acting in a sovereign fashion, for their own aims, unaccountable to any law or value, completely regardless of civilian lives?

Recently I’ve taken up the bad habit of watching too many 9/11 videos on Youtube.

This one, rare footage of the first plane hitting, gives us the sound of the future arriving Express.

This, with running, and screaming, and the ominous loss of feed.

But I keep coming back to this one, to the venomous clouds, skyscraper tall, billowing out to engulf the world.