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September 11, 2008

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Message Mickey Z.
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Edited version of a talk I gave in NYC on September 11, 2008, with preface, prologue, preamble, and postscript:

Preface: In 1853, several pairs of the previously unknown European house sparrow were set free inside Brooklyn’s Green-wood Cemetery. By picking the hayseeds out of horse droppings from the carts used for funerals, these tiny birds flourished and are today one of the continent’s most ubiquitous creatures. In other words: When all they feed you is horseshit, it’s up to you to pick out the hayseeds that enable you to not only survive, but to thrive.

Prologue: In the 1999 film Run, Lola, Run, the female protagonist is magically given three chances to cope with a tricky situation. Like having a reset button on a video game or computer, if Lola screws up, she gets to go back and start from the beginning.

Many people imply that unless a critic expounds a specific strategy for change, his/her assessment is worthless or, at the very least, too negative. This somewhat understandable reaction misses the essential role critical analysis plays in a society where problems—and their causes—are so cleverly disguised. When discussing the future, the first step is often an identification and demystification of the past and present.

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In order for us to hit the reset button, we must collectively agree that we got it wrong the first time.

Preamble: “How many other countries give you the right to write what you just wrote?” This was one of the many responses I got to a recent article of mine. Let’s put aside the unintentional tongue twister and the question’s obvious answer: plenty of other countries would give me the right to write what I just wrote.

The larger issue, as I see it, is how we each choose to evaluate our freedom. Is freedom just a matter of bigger cages and longer chains? Is it merely a commodity sold to the highest bidder? Must the majority of us sit by and drool while freedom fries on the grill of capitalist greed?

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Freedom, according to Rosa Luxemburg, is “always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.” To merely have more freedom than, say, a woman living under Taliban repression is not the same as being free. But it is the same as settling for less subjugation instead of demanding more liberty. The “it could always be worse” excuse is no way to judge the quality or quantity of anything.

Begin: It was September 14, 2001. The F-16s were no longer circling overhead. But there were people on my block holding candles, waving flags, and singing the National Anthem as an SUV cruised by with the words “Nuke ’em” soaped onto its rear window. These people were all craving normalcy. Even with the severity of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, the ultimate goal at the end of the day was always normalcy.

Despite the lingering fear, sorrow, doubt, and anger, we waited breathlessly for the authorities to pronounce: “Don’t worry. Things were bad but now, we’ve gotten everything back to normal.”

What is normal in our country and on our planet? What type of society have we humans cultivated as we sit arrogantly atop the intellectual food chain?
The New York Stock Exchange was shut down by the attacks, but once things returned to normal, Wall Street went back to making decisions that impacted horrendously upon the large majority of the globe while the top one percent of Americans carried on owning wealth equal to the bottom 95 percent. That’s normal.

The SUV owner I just mentioned might have wiped the soap off his window and driven onto the island of Manhattan where, once again, cars had free reign. The toxic haze caused by the two towers collapsing was now replaced by the normal toxic haze induced by America’s automobile culture.

Those I heard singing songs of patriotism could return to stepping over homeless people to go buy products made in sweatshops. That’s normal.

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Contemplating normal reminds me of something Charles Bukowski wrote: “As we go on with our lives, we tend to forget that the jails and the hospitals and the madhouses and the graveyards are packed.”

Normal means each month, 100,000 Americans lose their health insurance…while, each minute, one million of our tax dollars is spent on war.

Normal means 15 million animals are slaughtered each day although up to 14 times as many people could be fed by using the same land currently reserved for livestock grazing.

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