That day was warmer than this one, but pretty, with lots of sunshine. What a day for millions of people to face a brand new view of the world. A whole self-indulgent nation reeled at the belated realization that troubles in far parts of the globe could mean much more to them than fluctuating prices at the gas pump.
It was more unreal than any drug experience or any hangover the day after a drug experience. It was weirder than The Twilight Zone. We had to wonder not only what our attackers might have in mind next, but how the emotional reaction of the attacked nation might cause a violent sickness far more extensive than the loss of lives, buildings, and airplanes. Those were horribly bad enough. But the political and religious aspects of the attacks brought them out of the daily reality of living and dying and injected them with all sorts of energy from immense, immeasurable concepts.
The physical threat can't be measured the way an opposing nation in a conventional war can be measured. From very early in the response, the rhetoric of war and the desire to strike a counter-blow -- as if this had ever been a clean, simple, stand-up fight -- complicated what should, then and now, be conducted as a massive, international criminal investigation. And because the conflict involves ideas without borders, it also should be considered as a group therapy session of unprecedented magnitude.
No one was ready to listen to such a measured response back then. Maybe more people are now. Let's hope, because we have enough other problems to sort out rather urgently as well. Even if you accept that the present conflict might well reduce the human population to a level which will reduce our environmental impact to sustainable levels, do you really want to let that option play out?
I hoped, decades ago as I came into adulthood, that we could just ease off the throttle a little and let humanity settle gently into those sustainable rhythms. Apparently, not many people agreed with me. So here we are. We still might do it. It still sounds better to me. But either way, problem solved.
Feelings are more important than things. Things or the lack of them can produce feelings, but the reaction, the feelings, the ideas, the philosophies are what get people to act. One deprived, disenchanted person might simply try working harder or longer, or moving to a new place. Another will join the revolution or the jihad. The mere description of their original circumstances might sound substantially identical. Their interpretation guides them into different actions. Unfortunately, our industrial approach to war-making has given a lot more leverage to those who would act destructively. They need not be in the majority. The negotiator is in the room with the bomber and the hostages.