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(10/2/01 4:16 pm)
World Trade Center Bombing
For what they're worth, here are some things that occurred to me. It's hard to know which way things will go, and anything one says now may turn out to be radically off-base, but that's all the more reason to talk things through. Anyway,

1. What was the WTC attack? The murder of thousands of innocents under horrible circumstances, obviously. But what else?

Was it an attack on America, a complex historical unity of a particular land and people, by men who want to destroy it? On a policy of intervention in the Arab and Muslim world? On a growing worldwide system of markets and managers that is building a universal society reconstituted on purely this-worldly and economic principles? Which of those things are worth defending with a tenacity equal to that those on the other side are likely to show?

War is policy carried on by other means. That means that first and foremost we should think through where we want to end up, and then be realistic about possibilities and consequences.

2. The "they hate us and will always hate us just because we're us" theory doesn't explain the attack. There are lots of people closer to home for them to hate and murder. Why go so far? The terrorists did what they did for its political effect. They don't seem stupid. What sort of political effect are they aiming at? What would the political effect be of an American attempt to wipe out terrorism in the Muslim world? The Israelis are still living with it. The Russians couldn't do much about it in Afghanistan. Are we that much smarter, more capable and more determined than they were?

3. It seems significant somehow that both the buildings attacked - the twin towers and the Pentagon - were abstract geometrical forms. The people who worked there and died so horribly were of course not abstract symbols. That is what the missing person posters you see all over New York and especially near Ground Zero drive home. The symbolism of the attack is nonetheless relevant to its meaning and to the right response.

The WTC stood for one world organized through and through in accordance with rational economic principles in which particularities of place and culture don't matter. If it had stood for something as humble as voluntary exchange among peoples in a world fundamentally organized on diverse principles it wouldn't have looked as it did. It was meant to be inhuman and overwhelming and to abolish particularity - from outside it you couldn't even identify the separate floors that turn a structure into a place human beings can inhabit.

Up close I found the towers somewhat frightening. It was impossible to take them in as a place for human beings to use. The WTC wasn't a symbol of free enterprise or freedom at all in any human sense but rather of a blend of capital and transnational bureaucracy - the Port of New York Authority isn't actually transnational but it has some of the same qualities.

4. The universal order for which the WTC stood involves bringing the rest of the world in line with the program. That means foreign interventions and the abolition of culture and its replacement by pop culture and the therapeutic custodial state. It therefore means the Western decadence that annoys Muslims and even other people, not to mention the enforced passivity that made it possible for men with box cutters to turn a 767 into a flying bomb and the nearly open borders that made it easy for them to organize and carry out the project. All these things of course mean centralization, and complex systems of communication and control, which create targets. So maybe this event dramatically brings out weaknesses in the project.

5. Suppose what the attack shows is that a universal complex centralized technocratic system will in the end require pervasive controls on everything everywhere to defend it from threats that arise? That it can exist only in a sort of universal clean room? There were already things in the world around us, PC and other attempts to reconstitute the soul for example, that suggested something of the sort. Do the proposals for homeland security suggest the same?

6. One possible outcome is a much more decentralized social order like that of the Middle Ages or traditional Middle East based on local strongholds and walled communities with loose connections to each other. Anything bigger would be too much a target, while anything smaller wouldn't be able to stabilize everyday life. It seems possible that we will be fighting a war to avoid such an outcome. Is that something to support?

It seems our intent is not limited to punishing the particular men responsible for the attack. What beyond that will we be aiming at? Will we be fighting for empire? If so, will that be good? Is it likely we will succeed?

Jim Kalb and

William Wleklinski
Registered User
(10/7/01 8:55 pm)
Re: World Trade Center Bombing
I agree with the journalist William Pfaff who has written that Sept. 11 was not an attack on Western Civilization or Freedom or Democracy, however much the attackers may disapprove of these abstractions. It was an attack on the United States, although I'm confident the terrorists have no delusions about being able to literally distroy the USA. As you put it, it was done for its political effect, and in my view, because of a longtime "policy of intervention in the Arab and Muslim world." The terrorists are attempting to show that we will pay a price in blood and treasure for persisting in policies which make for the Gulf War and our garantorship of Israel's security and well-being.

Your speculation in Point 6 ("decentralized social order like that of the Middle Ages") is just too hard for me to imagine as a possible outcome, given modern communications and transportation, just as the fighting of an American Civil War in the contemporary setting would be hard to imagine. But perhaps this just suggests the limits of my imagination.

I would hope that our purpose be limited to "punishing the particular men responsible for the attack" and I wouldn't support a general war against something called "terrorism," but clearly many mainline conservative journalists think otherwise.

As always, your thoughts are well stated and worth reading.


(10/8/01 5:00 am)
Re: World Trade Center Bombing
I would say it was basically an attack on the United States as an alien political actor intervening in the Arab and Muslim world in the name of an anti-Islamic universalism. The "alien intervention" part is the most important part of the discription.

As to decentralization, social order is very flexible and whatever works eventually comes to the top. The question I think is whether a single all-inclusive all-pervasive society that rejects all particular religious and cultural traditions and so is based wholly on economics, bureaucratic management and therapy is possible. If not then it's smaller groups that successfully establish boundaries against the outside world that will thrive and prevail. The general nature of those smaller groups would then be determined by what boundaries are necessary, and the world order would be whatever results from their dealings with each other. You could imagine a world composed of various Hasidic groups, Jehovah's Witnesses, independent fundamentalist congregations in gated communities, the Amish, etc. Modern communications and transportation would not cause such a world to coalesce into a political unity. The traditional Middle Eastern city with its walled quarters provides an image of how things might work.

It had often seemed to me that the nature of man as a social and therefore cultured and particularistic animal made that outcome likely. If boundaries are necessary in the long run, then technological conditions that break them down will be countered by cultural conditions that maintain them. The 9/11 attacks add another reason - worldwide administered order would be difficult to maintain because it offers too many physical targets to people who reject it and is too easy to disrupt.

Jim Kalb and

Edited by: JimKalb  at: 10/8/01 5:03:33 am
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