Note: This piece was written as an invitation to Mosaic: A Magazine of Arts, Sciences & Everything in Between, which evolved into this website. The links below have been updated to make sense within the Potluck context.
This website contains thoughts about the disasters at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon — thoughts you are not likely to find elsewhere. Thoughts that are crucial to understanding why these disasters happened — and to ensuring that events like these can never happen again. Thoughts that push past what seem like reasons for ultimate pessimism to give us justification for total optimism.
Are they religious thoughts? No — and so they could appeal to multiple religions as well as the non-religious.
Are they political thoughts? No — and so they could appeal equally across the political spectrum.
They are thoughts on the very nature of our civilization. Having studied this subject for nearly a decade, receiving a master’s degree in the process, I can say with confidence: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were not attacks on civilization — they were attacks within civilization.
The seemingly pessimistic: The most spectacular cities have their slums. The most advanced products have their waste by-products — not to mention their potential misuses (all too clear in the recent case of airplanes). And civilizations, for all the good they bring, have their wars, their genocides, their massive inequities, their famines, their plagues — and their terrorists. In civilization, it cannot be any other way. And in the greatest civilization to have ever existed on this planet — our present global civilization — the disasters will also be the greatest possible. Understand our civilization, and attacks like those of September 11, shocking as they may have been, are all too imaginable.
Now, the optimism: Learn about the nature of societies, about how they work (meaning both how they function and how they succeed), and you will know that things don’t have to be the way they are. That, believe it or not, there is at least one way for people to live that is even better than civilization. Learn about how societies change, and you will know that turning our world into something better will be much easier than you ever imagined — if only you know what to do.
Many think that the choice at hand is between defending our way of life or giving into cowardly madmen. In fact, our choice is between clinging to a way of life that generates disasters and madmen or pursuing another way entirely. A way that can provide us with the things we so desperately want and need — security, community, happiness, fulfillment and freedom. Things at which it is all too clear that civilization continues to fail us.
It is a way that can create a world in which the events of September 11 would be literally unthinkable. Literally impossible.
When will we learn how to prevent these disasters? When will we truly learn from these disasters? The answer is simple: some of us already have, and you can, too — whenever you’re ready.
I implore you to learn more for yourself — and to pass this invitation on to everyone you know. Give them the opportunity to decide for themselves — to learn for themselves. This is how it works. One person at a time.
Find value in these ideas, and you may find yourself saving the world — and forever improving your own life as an individual at the same time.
Reject these ideas, and at least you’ll have had the chance to consider them for yourself — to make an informed choice.
But reject the opportunity for yourself, or deny the opportunity to others, and, for the rest of your life, each time another disaster strikes — from those greater even than the events of September 11 all the way down to personal crises about fulfillment in your own life — you will wonder about the chance you had to set a different course. For yourself and for humanity.
Make no mistake: I am not saying that you are somehow wrong or stupid or misguided. I’ve just been lucky enough to have been exposed to some incredibly worthwhile ideas that are simply quite unlike most that float around our society. I’m just trying to share them. Take them or leave them. It’s totally up to you.
The September 11 attacks rocked our world. But if they didn’t, something else would have. And if we don’t learn from them, our world will continue to rock — until the bough finally breaks.