We Didn’t Learn Our Lesson

I can’t be thankful enough that I was fired from my job at the law firm at the 1 World Trade Center in 1999. If I hadn’t done the very bad thing I did that got me fired, I would have been at work that morning of 9/11, and I would have been dead today. I wouldn’t have had the chance to even throw myself from the building; it would have been instantaneous.

Despite that, and despite the people I personally knew who died, I never let it eat at me and make me a bitter, hateful person who generalizes an entire people, nation or religion. The only regret I have is not being able to do any more to fight against those who took advantage of what happened on 9/11 and used it for hatred and division.

And then there is this, from Robin Hanson’s “Forget 9/11”:

In the decade since 9/11 over half a billion people have died worldwide. A great many choices could have delayed such deaths, including personal choices to smoke less or exercise more, and collective choices like allowing more immigration. And cryonics mighthave saved most of them.

Yet, to show solidarity with these three thousand victims, we have pissed away three trillion dollars, and trashed long-standing legal principles. And now we’ll waste a day remembering them, instead of thinking seriously about how to save billions of others. I would rather we just forgot 9/11.

Do I sound insensitive? If so, good — 9/11 deaths were less than one part in a hundred thousand of deaths since then, and don’t deserve to be sensed much more than that fraction. If your feelings say otherwise, that just shows how full fricking far your mind has gone.

A commenter there quoted Adam Smith from The Theory of Moral Sentiments:

If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.

Honestly, I can’t disagree with this. If it’s horrible that we’ve allowed those who committed the heinous crimes against 3000 people and the US on 9/11 to make us hate a group of people, it’s even worse that we’ve allowed ourselves to trash the very principles that made us who we are; dismiss the greater atrocities that have occurred both at the hands of others, poverty and our own hands; and forget our place in this world as the only superpower. If we expect our super heroes – Batman, Superman – to save us, we should expect to do it ourselves in their absence. Instead, we whine, like little shits, hurt from a fall, and take a bat to our own selves, over and over again.


In a Google+ post by Dan Gillmor pretty much reflecting what I wrote above, Russel Nelson wrote:

We should forget. Terrorism is successful (and has succeeded on us) because it plays off the human brain’s inability to comprehend very small risks of very bad things. The more we remind ourselves of these risks, the more terrorism harms us. Politicians remind us because it gets them the power they crave. The media reminds us because it gets them the attention they crave.

What we need to forget is the fear. We weren’t any safer before 9/11 than we were after 9/11 – we were simply reminded that we’re not exceptional. The biggest blows the terrorists made were to those who died and their friends and families and to our ego.

The damage that came after was self-inflicted.


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