Flight to quality

It’s been ten years since that date in September offered by assholes as a stand-in for the sort of mindset that represented a principled (albeit flawed) nation that wasn’t, at least affirmatively, richly deserving of the title “World’s Biggest Asshole Nation.” We’re that now, of course. Regular readers know that this blog, which sprang into existence itself a week after the events of 9-11, when I personally witnessed events from 100 yards North of the WTC, is almost wholly devoted to “September 10th Thinking.” My coverage of matters GTMO (that includes my dozens of exclusive interviews with lawyers, soldiers, detainees, journalists, activists and other relevant players as well as assisting an attorney for detainees) is a part of that “September 10th thinking”… but by no means all of it. This WaPo editorial is the kind of Establishment Horseshit that pretty much sums up why we have gone from a nation in pretty good shape (economically, militarily/diplomatically and so forth) to one that is now, quite literally, in its death-throes (to anyone who’s paying attention).
I have no idea if I’m even going to post tomorrow– my 9-11 posts over the years have spanned the emotions, from the angry to the sentimental to the downright maudlin… occasionally noting the ultimate heroes (naturally unsung)… people like Rick Rescorla or Richie Pearlman, civilians who gave their lives saving others. But at ten years on… I’ve just about had it. And yet, the bloody shirt is still waved… and the emotional manipulation still has resonance.
This Sept. 11th date (best known previously as the date of the coup in Chile that removed elected President Salvator Allende in 1973) has now become a national chest-thumping exercise used by the Establishment to keep the populace emotionally off balance, and actually incapable of soberly assessing facts (starting, of course, with the dubious “official story” itself– that OBL and company concocted this all by themselves from caves in one of the poorest countries in the world without any governmental help save perhaps the Afghan Taliban)… and that the response to a terrorist assault brought about as a response to our military presence just about everywhere… was to double down and increase that very same military presence!
It seems obvious that we’ve “lost something” somewhere along the line. I suppose it falls to me to tell you what that is. I keep saying that “the truth” is like a solar eclipse– you can only see it indirectly, as staring at it will cause blindness. And so “the truth” is in some sense hinted at in the famous book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, where author Robert Pirsig’s focus comes back to one word: quality.
Quality. Quality. America was once about that: we were about being the best…. the gold standard in a legal system devoted to “fairness.” A top flight educational infrastructure that out consistently put the best-educated students in the world. A top flight industrial sector that was a world beater. An agricultural sector that could feed the world. A military and diplomatic apparatus that was both feared and respected.
Alas, somewhere along the line, things became about “quantity.” As virtually everything in the prior paragraph devolved to a parody of itself (including our mighty military which now finds itself being bogged down everywhere by rag-tag irregulars and a minivan of al Qaeda second stringers), we note that terms of everything are now expressed in “quantity”. This, of course, is the super-size nation: the food is not nutritious and not particularly appealing, but by God is it cheap and is there a lot of it! And so while huge portions of the world face starvation, our nation is going to collapse from the inability to pay for the health problems largely caused by obesity. Because we eat– just as we consume everything else, including an insane portion of the world’s natural resources– to fill an unfillable void in our soul, thinking that “more” is the answer… when it’s actually the problem! We fill the body because the spirit is empty.
As intimated above, “I was there”. Actually, I was here (“here” being my home in Brooklyn and my work place in Manhattan, respectively a mile downwind and a hundred yards from, the WTC site), but that perspective is also relevant. I mean to take you back to the New York of the latter 2/3 of September and early part of October, 2001. I had actually lost my job as a law firm associate, because the office was in 100 Church Street, in the heart of “the frozen zone.” New Yorkers were desperate to help each other in some way… be it giving blood (the Red Cross turned people away… there was no capacity to even draw and store that much blood!), going to firehouses with little gifts and tributes, or candlelight vigils (I recall one on behalf of the local Arab Community, perhaps the only one I went to, as they of all people needed reassurance of their welcome standing in the community.) And people were nice to each other– everyone on Earth, it seemed, had nothing but good-wishes for the people of New York and Washington, D.C. Indeed, it took a full month before I even observed someone behaving in a crazed way on the NYC Subway (an event marked with a muted laughter, and in my case, I mouthed the words “Thank God”… because I was glad something of normality was coming back.)
But the gestalt of the moment persisted– even as the anthrax scare resumed the nation’s fear level, and the sober realization that a war would be launched in Afghanistan.
But then George W. Bush committed what to me might be the greatest of his numerous crimes against humanity– possibly worse than the genocide, the torture, the mockery of what we used to think of as our Constitutional principles. That, of course, is when he told us that what we could best do to serve our nation was… to go shopping. (Technically, he said to “go about your normal economic activity”, but for my purposes, the sentiment is the same.) Whether Bush told the American people to eat cake, or brioche, the point was that he did not encourage Americans to look to their best selves– which have nothing to do with “the economy” and everything to do with family, with community, with their very souls— and he did say to look crassly to how we can keep running the machine pumping out almighty bucks. Because while Bush committed numerous crimes against the human body… this one was a crime against the human spirit– a spirit that after the dormancy of the Me-Decade, the Ra-Ra Reagan Greed-is-Good Years and the Internet Bubble, was finally unleashed in the form of a national outpouring of the lightbulb realization that there are things far more important to the sustenance of the human soul than money and what it can buy.
The message was promptly lost. Our national wake-up call was given, and we hung up, and then the alarm went off and we hit the snooze button. America’s imperfect but nonetheless abiding sense of fairness is what enabled us to become the world’s wealthy nation… but that’s been flushed now, and we are watching as the wealth leeches away with it. We all know “something is dramatically wrong.” But my college classmate President Barack Obama has not shown even remotely that he understands the human spirit… like Bush, he too has continued the overt crimes against humanity (albeit changing their nomenclature and rhetorical tone, while maintaining the bombings, extraordinary renditions, and the legal posture that includes “state secrets,” abandonment of habeas corpus and war criminals beyond accountability). But like Bush, he seems to think that the answer to every question is an economic or material one.
And now, we continue to ask the same question even as we hit Peak Oil, Global Warming, droughts. tsunamis, hurricanes and other crazy effects resulting from hundreds of years of industrializing where we didn’t have the connection to human spirit to realize that we were not merely consuming the life-sustaining ability of the planet itself, but our very souls… and we will have to face these crises at a time when the world’s economy is in the doldrums thanks to the crazy financial machinations of the last decade or two that have made a few richer than anyone in the history of the universe, while most people are no better off, if not actually worse off, than they were decades ago. And there are more of us with less water and arable land (and other crises hitting at the same time that I haven’t even mentioned.)
We have an opportunity, of course, to come out of this with our heads, and hopefully, our loved ones… but probably not with most of our “stuff,” and certainly not with our vaunted lifestyles. We can take a flight to… quality. The sentiment and feelings immediately after Sept. 11, 2001: community, solidarity, a need to contribute, not out of “altruism,” but because it was an internal need OF OUR OWN SOULS. Every “ism” and ideology has failed us, and we know it, from capitalism to democracy to you name it. We know it. And, individually and collectively, we have a choice: we can devote our lives to the betterment of our own souls, to our families, to our communities, to our SMALL N NATION (not the patriotic chest-thumping simulacrum that our politicians and media provide for us)… or we can devote our existences to the cult of quantity. Our physical survival is probably dependent on us focusing on our spirit rather than our physical well-being. I do fear this realization is lost to us, and the powerful will convince the powerless that their interests are in being played against each other, and not in seeking the advancement of our better selves (let alone in challenging the powerful). But as my friend Candace always reminds me, Hope Dies Last. And that’s what I got.
This has been… “Flight to quality.”