It’s been 16 years and the fear of a terrorist attack seems irrational. We lose more Americans to gun violence in a month. To heart disease, to car accidents, to any number of maladies, yet we don’t have the same reaction? Why? Well, to put it mildly, intent matters. Gun violence is often ambiguous (and/or distant for most Americans). Heart disease, car accidents, industrial accidents – each are random occurrences of bad luck. Someone drove a stake into the heart of the country – that’s not the same. Imagine if cancer woke you up in the middle of the night and told you it wanted everything you ever were to burn before manifesting itself in your body. We’d have been screening for cancer at the airport, too.
I’m not going to give my 9/11 story because everyone does that (it’s our generation’s “JFK moment” where everyone knows what they were doing – most of us on the west coast were waking up). I will tell you that living on the opposite side of the country produced a much different set of emotions. I can remember taking my dad to the airport a few weeks after and seeing the insane military presence at the airport. I can remember going to the beach and seeing warships in the distance. I can remember the deep sense that something big had happened but – not having any real connection to the city of New York – I did not feel how powerful an event this really was.
I think that is in effect what the Truther movement really is. It’s emotional distance. Imagine if a member of your family was tragically killed and you went around telling their spouse the government did it when, in fact, we caught the killer with a shit-ton of evidence that could not have been planted. The killer also confessed to doing it. But you reminded the widow that the real killer was still out there and there’s no way that dude that confessed and is spending life in prison is the guy. You could further cheapen the memory of their death by saying it was all a cover-up so the police could increase their annual budget. If it were your dead spouse, how long would you stomach that? Would it torment you? Or would you just think someone is off their god damn rocker? I think a lot of people struggle with advancing their emotions and really predicting how they’d react.
My connection to 9/11 did not manifest itself as truly disheartening until I started listening to podcasts (I’m sure I’ve written this in the last few years each year). Neil deGrasse Tyson does one called StarTalk (now a terrible television show) and on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 he did a retrospective. He interviewed Seth McFarlane (who was late for a flight – the one I believe that crashed into the Pentagon), and he talked about the events that unfolded. He was also live-blogging the event as it happened as he washome that day to vote in some local primary and he lives close to downtown Manhattan. I was actually in a relationship at that time and was trying to talk about it because of a harrowing detail – Neil was filming debris falling from the tower when he suddenly realized it was people and not debris. He immediately stopped filming.
Today I actually want to address the truthers because there is a deep cost to not believing that 9/11 happened or that what happened was planned or an “inside job.” I was one of them – by the way. I watched Loose Change and didn’t keep my skeptical spectacles on. It took a healthy dose of science – base-line science, not some demonstration by an expert looking to fast-forward your mind to the part where it unfucks itself.
I took a chemistry class. Learned some physics. Learned some math. Learned about the scientific method. Learned about some basic engineering such as bridge building and pivot points. When you work in sporting goods retail and you lift heavy objects a lot, you start to realize how effective lifting makes your life easier or harder. Moving treadmills (and refrigerators) is an absolute breeze once you develop the proper techniques to get leverage over your load. You also learn about your body as a sort of dolly and the effects of carrying something heavy like weight sets. Did you know that, on average, for every foot you hold something away from your back, you add an additional ten pounds of force onto your back? So if you have a 20 pound weight, do the math. It doesn’t take long to realize that in that lever system, you’re taught to keep your back straight and hold the weight close to your body for a reason.
This is all to say that engineering dynamics are not terribly complicated but immediately become complicated when you compromise a building’s structure. Bin Laden had actually tried to take the Trade Center out once before (don’t remember? Do. Your. Research). He had the same plan, he just didn’t pack enough explosives. He parked a van near one of the corners and blew out an entire side of the base of the building. 9/11 was a much bigger force and that’s the critical piece here. Who cares about jet fuel and beams. The explosion itself provided force to shift the load above the explosion. The explosion provided enough heat to start to break down the integrity of the beams. The sophistication of the plan is what should scare us – because of its elegant simplicity. It didn’t require a controlled demolition or bomb on board the plane. It required a heavy, explosive object moving at a few hundred miles per hour to hit sufficiently low enough on the structure to bring it down.
I won’t provide evidence because one of the hallmarks of trutherism is a known psychological condition – “confirmation bias.” In effect, it means that you have already identified what is true and what is not and will only acknowledge that which confirms your previously-hold assumptions of reality and reject those that challenge it. It’s actually a useful system from an evolutionary perspective. Its one of the reasons most humans are at least somewhat resistant to change (even if they claim they are not). Confirmation bias ensures that your brain does not panic and become consumed with a chaotic, unorganized worldview. The trouble is – your brain really, really sucks at coming to conclusions. Science allows us to rise above these biases and by putting our hypotheses in public, we have people that can objectively examine the evidence and blast your confirmation bias to bits. Even so, truthers have no incentive to examine their own bias and so continue destroying peoples’ lives. Don’t believe me? Ask families of children that died at Sandy Hook – having people troll them and tell them they are fake and didn’t lose their children. Not sure how long I could last under those circumstances.
As I have grown politically and philosophically, I have been able to take the lessons from 9/11 to heart and I’ve also learned how much of a black mark it is on the US Intelligence Community. It’s effectively the picture they see before their work day starts and after it ends. It’s the motivational poster on the wall. It’s what keeps them awake at night and forces them to check and re-check their sources. The mantra “Never again” echoing through the hallways. 9/11 mattered and they got it wrong. There are many reasons we haven’t had a follow-up in magnitude to 9/11 but a huge portion of the credit should go to the US Intelligence Community and the well-spring of anti-violence organizations that have sprung up in the wake of that disaster studying large-scale human violence. The lessons to be gleaned include taking the Truthers claims and letting them fester. Because as I pointed out to someone the other day – what is more terrifying? That 9/11 was an inside job purposefully created (or allowed) to advance some political agenda or that our government was so inept that they couldn’t stop a substantial terrorist attack if they wanted to? I submit that far more chaos ensues with the second option and so there is no real effort to kill the conspiracy theory. It makes the government seem rather big and bad and they’re frankly okay with that. To he honest – so am I. If stupid crazy people think our government is so badass that it can control the weather, your mind, and blow up its own people willy-nilly, then it keeps them predictably in line. That’s the good. The bad that we take with it? A whole lot of good people have to put up with unnecessary grief. Such is the trade-off of running nations.
I will end with this. 9/11 has made us a better country. There’s no need to make heartfelt speeches about the “brave sacrifices” of our various emergency personnel. Partially because we’re kind of full of shit on that front as 9/11 first responders have had to fight tooth-and-nail for any healthcare coverage addressing the various injuries from jumping into the fire to save people. If there’s a “truther” role we need, its to wake up to that fact – that your politicians and to a lesser extent your corporations – are paying lip-service to the men and women that deserve our attention and our legislation. You see a lovely commercial during the football game about how hard it is to be a firefighter or a police officer and you don’t see that after the commercial ends, they have families to return to and – if they’re lucky – they return to their families barely alive and requiring lifelong medical attention. Your concern for those people shouldn’t end after 30 seconds of emotion (encouraging you to buy Coke products). It should follow you into the voting booth, to the phone while you call your local state representative. Giving a shit is hard – virtue-signaling that you give a shit is easy. We watch politicians do it every day.
But the world we now live in is because of 9/11. Yes, we lost a few privacies and in the long run I am beginning to think some of them are actually worth the sacrifice despite any memes from Benjamin Franklin. But we have gained an impossible thing – a remarkably secure country (from foreign guerilla insurgents) against impossible odds given our size and the plurality of our population. In many ways, Truthers are proof of our safety. It’s been 16 years since our government supposedly did anything so dramatic as to kill thousands of its own citizens.
Read that last sentence. If you don’t laugh at the absolute ridiculousness of it, you’re taking yourself too seriously.