Monday, September 12, 2011

9/11 Disconnection

I've been going back and forth for nearly 48 hours over whether to write this.

That usually means I shouldn't.

But I was ready to drive home from work today and the sky opened up. A smarter person would use this valuable quiet office time to catch up on work, but I've had a pretty productive day and I don't think I'm going to.

Because something's bothering me.

I didn't realize how much really until I was thinking over a dream I had yesterday. In my dream someone was telling me how cold I was, a charge I've heard before though rarely from my own mind.

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 really didn't resonate with me. I'm a little weirded out, partially because I follow a lot of awesome and spiritual people on twitter. All of yesterday, my twitter feed and my facebook feed were an ever-pumping heart of emotion. Sadness, even despondency, at the loss, anger at the Bush administration, it was all there and vital and real.

I watched it all unmoved.

I retweeted something at some point about how we should watch porn to prove the terrorists didn't win. Over dinner, theCSO pointed out that they did win. I countered that they hadn't gotten exactly what they wanted to the degree that they wanted, but yeah, he has a point. Malcolm Gladwell argues in one of his books that the amount of time we spend on TSA related delays adds up to 14 lifetimes a year.
I don't take Malcolm Gladwell as fact, but that's at least truthy.

Even still, what's 14 lives? Seriously. 14 people will easily have died in the amount of time it takes you to read this blog post. Does it really matter if they choke on hamburgers or suffer kidney failure or die in a terrorist attack?

It isn't that national events don't effect me. A good look at my blog archive reveals a woman who kinda whacked out when Hurricane Katrina beat up the City of
New Orleans and the government left her for dead. Ok, that's not what happened, but that's still how it feels years later.

9-11 doesn't have that resonance for me. And I'm not sure why because the two events have a lot in common. I've never lived in New York like I did in New Orleans, but I like New York and strongly associate it with Mary-who-Dances. I do view both events as essentially natural disasters. I don't know that either disaster could have been prevented but strongly suspect not. I do know that both could have been handled a lot better in the aftermath.

Maybe it is just that I feel like America cared about 9-11 and I still have a sense of betrayal, just or no,* about New Orleans.

After Hurricane Katrina, one of my coworkers said "I hear there are people in New Orleans who are shooting at the cops."

I said something flip about them likely being the same crackheads who are always shooting at the cops, the only difference was that now the narrative was being used to let us think that the victims deserved what they got.

Ok, I don't think I put it that well at the time but it is what I meant and I think that might be part of what's bothering me. The huge line between mostly rich white people (like me) being unquestionably heroes and mostly poor black people (not like me) being looters and ungrateful and spendthrifts and everything else that was lobbied at them. (You think no 9/11 survivor got a boob job with some of the money? I suspect someone did, though I don't know. But we know for certain that a Katrina victim spent government aid money on one. The media made rather a big point of it.)

I love my friends and I'm sure a lot of the stuff that has been written about 9/11 is moving and awesome and helpful to the people for whom this crisis is still a real wound that is deeply felt. But the only thing I've read on the topic that has really meant anything to me was Laura Miller's essay Why we haven't seen a great 9-11 novel because she says what I've trying to articulate to myself for some time**:

a firefighter who dies trying to pull people from a garden-variety house fire in Queens is no less brave or heroic. The civilians who perish in that fire or in a six-car pileup caused by black ice on an interstate or in a boat caught in a sudden storm or in a massacre by a gun-toting maniac in an IHOP are just as dead and just as fiercely mourned by their friends and family as those who died on 9/11.

Miller goes on to say that 9/11 was a tragedy made to be a media spectacle, made to force us to look on a real-live Micheal Bay movie. Once you're past that, the deaths don't fundamentally differ from any other deaths, the heroism no different from any other heroism. And like for the rest of life, there is no easy narrative that perfectly suits what we've always thought politically, despite many people's desire to create one.

So, that's where I am on 9-11. And I know nobody was sitting on the edge of their seat going "but what does CHALICECHICK think about 9-11?" but I guess part of me needed to see someone other than Laura Miller be the cold one who doesn't quite get it.


EDIT: I got a very kind and smart email from a nice person who pointed out that I am friended with a whole lot of ministers who were trying to reach out and care for those around them, something that it wasn't as much my job to do. That's an excellent point and one that should have been obvious to me, but wasn't.

*Yes, I'm aware that I'm the one who relentlessly pushes FBI statistics on crime in border towns and doesn't care how people *FEEL* about the crime rate due to immigration in the face of the fact that Arizona cities have comparitively low crime rates. The difference here is that I'm not trying to legislate my arguably irrational and unsupported-by-fact feelings. Arizonans did.

**To clarify, I recall being as upset as anybody else in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.


kimc said...

I was feeling the same way on 9/11, until someone on the radio said something about Flight 93 and "Let's roll." and I burst into tears.
9/11 was a trauma for all of us. Maybe more for some.
And you're right that firefighters and cops and so on, are everyday heroes. But the passengers on Flight 93 didn't sign up to be heroes, let alone to give their lives in an act of heroism.

PG said...

I agree with you and Laura Miller that the deaths themselves are not different in terms of the human cost to the deceased and to his loved ones, nor the level of heroism displayed by the emergency responders. However, I disagree that 9/11 was similar to Hurricane Katrina. You literally cannot prevent a hurricane; all you can do is be ready to mitigate its effects (through good engineering, evacuation, etc.). You CAN prevent acts of terrorism, and the U.S. has done so with several such planned acts.

I think the lack of compassion for people affected by Katrina was really horrible, and does not say nice things about American culture. Contrast with how Indians react to natural disasters: they're seen as qualitatively different from terrorist acts like the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, and the Indian government has arguably put more effort into preventing terrorist attacks than into mitigating the effects of natural disasters. But the people who suffer because of earthquakes and tsunamis are not typically regarded as getting some moral just deserts, even though they're generally among the poorer class of Indians and arguably their "choice" to live in crappy housing has a lot to do with their mortality rates when natural disasters strike.