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Saman Mohammadi wrote an excellent - and important - article in these pages, which you can see here:
What follows is addressed to Saman and was originally intended as a comment. However, it's been a while since I commented and there have been a few changes, so my response was way, way too long. Thus, I thought I'd submit it as a piece in its own right. To the extent that I also bring more attention to Saman's original article, I think that's worthwhile for its own value, whatever else one may or may not take from my own humble piece.
I commend you [Saman] for an insightful and very well written piece. I'm fascinated (and appalled) by the effects generated by the 9/11 myth. I've never before come across the idea of ritual events in a social/political context. It may take me a little while to come to terms with that use of ritual in conjunction with my own views of ritual and it's benefits and harms to us. But the concept of myth I can certainly identify with very, very strongly.
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I think it's important to define 'myth', which of course is impossible within the context of a comment. But perhaps I can mention one or two attributes of myth for this discussion. Perhaps to many people, myth is just another word for 'fiction'. In that sense, if you tell someone 9/11 is a myth,, they'll think you're out of your mind. To some extent, I think you too, in a much more subtle fashion, are making that same mistake - i.e., confusing myth with fiction - but I'll come to that later. The point of myth is that it doesn't really matter if it's fiction or not. The value of a myth is to provide a simple, very concrete and literal manifestation of very abstract concepts and processes. If I say I am fearful of and frustrated by Procrusean beds, it's not because I'm afraid that some guy named Procrustes is going to invite me in for tea when I'm in the woods and then proceed to cut off my feet. But the imagery of that helps me understand what I'm fearful of and frustrated by in regard to, say, modern medicine. Modern medicine is trying to force the territory to fit the map and that is precisely the same process as Procrustes engaged in with his bed - and the result, albeit not in a directly literal sense, is exactly the same, but not literally the same, on many contemporary patients.
Someone once said that fiction is the art of using lies to tell the truth and that politics is the art of using the truth to tell lies. Myth is often our best roadmap to the truth - not for the literal minded, perhaps, but the literal minded are less concerned with truth usually than in how to build cars. The point here is that it is of absolutely no concern if some guy named Theseus actually ever came across some guy named Procrustes and spent a night in his bed. Sure, it matters to a handful of travellors at that time, but not to the rest of us. Unfortunately, while myth may be one of the stronger tools we have to grasp dynamic and difficult to quantify processes, it is also one of the stronger tools at the disposal of the propagandist and his political masters. It is the latter function that you have expounded upon, but I would contend that the former function is our only means of grasping exactly how we are being manipulated. To make a massive leap here for the sake of space, this is why I disagree with Day's reference to Freud and reality principles. The only way to grasp reality is through poetic or metaphoric views of reality. Part of the problem of our era is the reduction of the human mind to left brain literal thinking. Our left brain is our repository of GIGO. Our education systems have reduced our minds to left brain rationality and that is one reason we are so easily subject to the deceptions of propaganda.
I ran into a lot of trouble on one message board early last year by saying that 9/11 was a myth. Someone - a would be activist, ironically - went apeshit because he knew someone who died that day, in one of those buildings. The thing is, when I said "9/11 is a myth", it was shorthand for "9/11 has been imbued with qualities that have turned it into something of mythic proportions and significance" - which is pretty much what you are saying. I took it for granted that no one could be stupid enough to think I was stupid enough to suggest that 9/11 didn't happen. And while I still think that, I think the alienated, disassociated modern individual is perfectly capable of getting lost in a literalistic word constructed reality at the same time as having sufficient common sense to avoid walking into the furniture. It's a kind of double think. If we didn't have that capacity, our modern narcissistic mind would probably have led many of us into autism by now.
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Back in 2002 and early 2003, I argued that we should have ignored 9/11. I didn't literally mean that we should pretend it didn't happen. I simply meant that things take care of themselves and that we shouldn't be creating new departments like Homeland Security and ridiculous and incredibly dangerous laws like The Patriot Act. When a cop is shot, police rise above their petty bureaucratic turf wars and focus their attention on catching the culprit. But they don't go about rewriting the book on how to police in a society. This was half of what I meant by ignoring it. The other half was that the rest of us, who have nothing to do with policing this world, should go about our business and in a more literal sense ignore it. We ignore the tens of thousands of sufferers of iatrogenic disease on a regular basis; we ignore the tens of thousands of road accident fatalities.
A couple of years ago, when Mos Def tried to argue (on Bill Maher's show) that terrorism was a myth, Christopher Hitchens tore into him. I felt sorry for Def - he was outgunned and he had no friends on that stage. He didn't know how to defend his comment. But the reality was - and is - that he was right. And of course, no one heard him.
This turned out to be much too long, so I'm going to briefly wind it up. I wished to quibble with you on a couple of things. Firstly however, as an aside and in regard to the phrase "or trace the origins and growth of the Machiavellian neoconservative movement" that appeared in your very first paragraph, I'll recommend having a look at Adam Curtis's "The Power of Nightmares", a three hour documentary made in 2004 that is available in its entirety on the internet, such as at video.google.com.
Secondly, I would like to take issue, without elaboration, on your description of people in point four of Day's six purposes of ritual. You wrote, "People who identify with the hijacked, privately owned U.S. government, whether they are Republicans or Democrats, are angry at the people who criticize and expose the government's crimes and false narratives." And you made reference in that paragraph to "mindless people". It's not that I think you are wrong per se about people who get angry at peripheral viewpoints. My quibble is in your over simplified and unsympathetic characterization of people. You and I too will get angry at certain kinds of threatening viewpoints in our lives. My point is only that if you wish to reach such people, you must find ways to identify with them and to sympathize with them. If you take a Hobbesian approach to people, you cannot make any headway, but can only continue and increase polarization and alienation. These mindless people are not so different from you or I or any other reader here.
Lastly and most importantly, I think you have tied the falseness of the data surrounding what actually happened on 9/11 with the concept of 9/11 as myth. In this sense, you have played right into your enemy's hands, if I may momentarily characterize opponents to your view as the enemy for purposes of clarity. The reality is that regardless of whether 9/11 happened exactly as the official story says it happened or if that explanation is an utter and blatantly transparent falsehood is irrelevant to the point of the creation of a myth. Indeed, if you are able to convey the mythology that has grown around the event, it might become much, much easier to convince others that events could not have happened as they have been officially recounted as having happened. This last point was why I earlier mentioned that you were making a mistake around the concept of myth in this case that ran counter to your own purposes.