During the last 14 years, since 9/11/2001, the United States has fallen victim to several forces that threaten the premises and future of the country. Among them are:
- Fear. Fear, like gratitude, is an unlimited resource; no matter how much we have, there is always more to be had. When one fear is handled, there is always something else to fear; whenever you are grateful to someone, there is someone else to be thanked. Neither is ever exhausted. One, fear, can be immobilizing – even terrorizing at its worst – and thoughtful analysis leading to intelligent solutions is impossible or at best, impaired. Quick responses take the place of close examination of the content of the fear and old solutions can be imposed inaptly on dissimilar situations.
- “Systemic” solutions to “one-off” events. There is a difference between something horrific that has the potential to be repeated and something that is as unlikely today as it was the day before it once happened. Passing a law to control absolutely, for law-abiders, the chance of a repeat is a “fool’s errand.” Passing a law to control against and set norms for acceptable behavior in settings capable of significant repetition is wise and useful. The task of determining the difference between the “fool’s errand” and the wise and useful law requires calm analysis, it is not always obvious.
- Increasingly the individual protections afforded us from prohibited actions by our government are being interpreted to meet government’s desire for “convenience” in the performance of its duties. The premise of the Fourth Amendment is that the government must cross a high threshold of argument or evidence to search or seize anything you have. The modern premise is almost the reverse; you must show why it shouldn’t search and seize your things. We are not quite there yet but the current direction is clear. A warrant from a secret court that reports to the executive branch’s Justice Department is altogether different from having a warrant from a court that is part of the Judicial branch even if it makes life easier for the government. Make no mistake, changes in how our rights are protected in threatening times is essential (or at least worth serious consideration of specific proposals for change) and we would be foolish to assume that the threats we now recognize are different from those we thought on 9/10/2001. But our hasty response is now the law, with few changes, and some of those hastily made, and, after 14 years it will be hard to make even the most intelligent changes.
- Our fundamental understanding of the world has been dramatically stretched. Companies all of us would have identified as “American” in 2001 are now so thoroughly global that they respond to interests and authorities worldwide. They are unable to function as strictly American.
- Our communications capabilities, even for ordinary people like most bloggers, have been made worldwide. (I can remember when it was important to get off the phone as quickly as possible when making a long-distance call; a 600-mile long-distance call could dramatically affect the family phone bill. Business was conducted on long-distance quickly and the call was over. Now, social media, cell technology, etc. permits the most voluble people to enjoy themselves without worry of “busting” the family budget.)
- We are manipulated by government, industry, media opinion (this last often endowing its own employees of no notable accomplishment in the field under discussion with the status of “experts”), intense advertising exposure, political organizations whose auspices are as undefined, and others too numerous to mention. The notion that we are able to gain correct, if limited, information about the topics important to the concerned public is defied, not by limited information but by a surfeit of information. A simple search engine query will produce more results, even allowing for duplicates, will overwhelm one.
One’s heart would be stone, or that of an outright enemy, not to feel sympathy for the families who lost people on 9/11 or who found themselves at home with people so irrevocably changed by their experience that day that nothing since has seemed “normal” as they had previously understood that to mean.
But we have all been changed; much of what we understood to be “true” is no longer true. Not all the new is bad, even from the perspective of an old guy like me, but what is to come should learn especially from our recent past.
My ideal reader would give that some thought and engage with me; I’m old enough to learn.