"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." -- Bertrand Russell

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Obligatory 9/11 Post

On this day, 10 years after the attack on the twin towers, there are a few things that are worth keeping in mind. First and foremost, is that those who suffered personal losses that day have my passionate sympathies. I didn't lose anyone that day, and would not be so arrogant to think that whatever feelings I have about it are even within an inch of the agony of those who did lose someone. Nonetheless, they have my sincere sympathies. If I were religious, I would be praying for them.

I do remember that day firmly. I was in 9th grade Earth Science class. I don't remember the name of the teacher, or many of the kids in the class. But I do remember the principal coming onto the loudspeaker and announcing to the school that our country had been attacked. I remember the assembly that we had, and how one of my friends somehow knew a spectacular amount about Middle Eastern politics (at least for a 9th grader in the pre-9/11 era.) I remember that most of my teachers didn't put the TV on in their classrooms; I don't think they really understood what was happening. The last period of the day, my English teacher did put the TV on, even though we didn't get cable in that room. We watched fuzzy, distorted images of a smoking building.

That day was game changing in international politics. One of the things that has changed spectacularly is how we regard safety. I travel often, and have more than once had the uncomfortable experience of going through security at various airports. In complaining about these security measures, one motto that one often hears is: "To protect freedom, sometimes you have to give up some freedoms". Alternatively, people say things like, "freedom isn't free".

When people say things like that, it makes me wonder if they would stab their own children's eyes out to protect them from seeing psychologically damaging images, or if they would kill loved ones to protect them from being murdered.

Let's be clear here -- people say that they love freedoms, and want to protect those freedoms. But you don't protect or preserve x by partially destroying x; that's absurd. To protect freedoms, you don't take them away yourself. To live under an authoritarian regime of your own society's creation is just as bad as to live under an authoritarian regime created by your enemies (note that I'm not saying that we currently live under an authoritarian regime; I'm simply taking the attitude I'm referring to to its most extreme implications.)

The most charitable thing that can be said here is that people are not actually concerned about protecting freedoms, even when they say they are. They're actually concerned about ensuring the safety of their friends and family, even if it means giving up freedoms. They'd rather live in a police state where they are actually protected than to live in an uncertain, unsafe world where they are constantly vulnerable.

Personally, I'd rather give up some degree of safety if it meant the preservation of the freedoms and civil liberties that we cherish as a people. By giving up those freedoms and civil liberties, we're eating away at our own culture on a level that terrorists never could. We're throwing away the things that our country's soldiers have fought and died for, that make us proud to call ourselves Americans. We're throwing the proud heritage of the first country, in the history of the world, to have called for a pluralism of ideas and the establishment of a secular nation-state. And it would be tragic if we destroyed our own country while trying to protect it from those who would wish to destroy it. Let's not make their job easier for them by destroying it ourselves.

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