Saturday, 10 September 2011

Ten Years After September 11th

As is natural, through the repeated exercise of recall, my memory of first seeing it on TV is still fairly clear. I just went blank.

Hitchens has the best lines in his Slate column, of which this is one:
"...10 years ago in Manhattan and Washington and Shanksville, Pa., there was a direct confrontation with the totalitarian idea, expressed in its most vicious and unvarnished form."
Nobody at the Taipei Times wrote anything, which is understandable given that it is ten years on now and it doesn't directly concern Taiwan, but they did run a Jonathan Freedland piece from the Guardian today to mark the date.
"On post-Sept. 11 logic, the shredding of civil liberties... was almost inevitable, for surely such freedoms had to take second place to the supreme threat... More serious has been the unleashing of a rampant Islamophobia — intense in Europe, recently lethal in Norway and rising in the US. That too is all but inevitable once Islamism is deemed the greatest peril faced by the human race."
There are three points there with which I disagree. The first is with Freedland's choice of "inevitable" to describe the clampdown on civil liberties; whilst I understand the sense in which that description might be commonly accepted, I do not think it ranges beyond the compass of the term "predictable" except in so far as it carries a stronger emotional charge.

This objection may seem pedantic, but it alludes to the substantial disagreement I have with people like Freedland: that the clampdown on civil liberties was freely chosen by those in government at the time rather than compelled by some mysterious historical force reflects the broader, and more profound disagreement as to whether human beings have free will or whether our actions are causally determined by some constellation of genetic and environmental influences. As Shakespeare's Cassius remarks to Brutus in act one, scene two (Julius Caesar):
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings."
The follow-through to this point of disagreement however, is that the encroachment upon civil liberties after September 11th was predictable because the U.S. government has been permitted to expand its powers to incorporate more aspects of American society on the premise of enforced social engineering. The default adoption of this premise has been drilled into people for decades now, especially through the Universities wherein much of the edifice of the social sciences was built on the claim that human choices are causally determined in a sense comparable to the physical sciences.

The second point on which I disagree with Freedland is his remark on "Islamophobia". It is not that the opponents of Islamic Fascism are afraid of it, as implied by the term "phobia", but that they despise it. That the Left so enthusiastically took up this use of "phobia" as a suffix may be explained by the Left's long established habit of evading criticism by the insinuation that people who disagree with them are mentally ill. People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones: what is the constant impulse to demand other people be forced to act in accord with one's own preferences (in business, in education, in healthcare, in leisure and on and on...) if not an expression of a deeply sociopathic mindset?

I despise Islamic Fascism, but unlike Freedland's supposition, I do not consider it "the greatest peril faced by the human race". Was the expression of Islamic Fascism on September 11th 2001 a most vicious and unvarnished expression of evil? Yes. Yet the "peril" that Freedland supposes we attribute to it though, has its measure. A nuclear, theocratic Iran is not something I want to see, but it is still possible to face that challenge and act to prevent it from arising or perhaps even to deal with it if it does arise. What I take to be the greater, long-term peril is the continuous expansion of State powers in the modern democracies along with the continuous erosion of some of the traditions and cultural and psychological supports necessary for a political economy founded on the freedom of the individual.

Later... Mark Steyn:
"...when all the fancypants money-no-object federal acronyms comprehensively failed — CIA, FBI, FAA, INS — the only bit of government that worked was the low-level unglamorous municipal government represented by the Fire Department of New York. When they arrived at the World Trade Center the air was thick with falling bodies..."

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