Posted by: Harold Knight | 09/12/2010

The “Addiction to Belief” –some thoughts on 9/12/10

(In which I write about my personal understanding of 9/11.)


That—nothing—is what anyone can say that has not been said about September 11, 2001. Perhaps much needs yet to be said that can’t be said—or the saying of which would be futile.

"The hegemon enters into a process of gradual decline"

"The hegemon enters into a process of gradual decline"

On 9/11 I was preparing to go to the university when my partner called to say I should turn on the TV because a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I did so just in time to see the second plane crash into the South Tower.

The South Tower collapsed. I have a haunting visual memory of the day: the newscaster (I don’t remember who) was seated in front of a window. Behind him the burning towers were visible. He had his back to the window giving impromptu commentary, and the millions of people watching saw the collapse of the South Tower before he did. Someone in the studio told him to turn around.

Until the South Tower collapsed, the horror was “up there.”  We knew people had died, others were in great danger. But the horror was five football fields up and several city blocks away from the TV cameras. The horror was not harming anyone we could actually see. Then the Tower fell, and a news anchor “reporting” the news, did not see the horror falling out of the sky down to street level where it affected tens of thousands of people. His back to the facts unnerved me that day, and does still.

My feelings about those events, are so confused, so confusing, I’ve never been able to write about them. This is the first time I’ve tried. Some of my feelings are unequivocal—horror, grief, pain, loss. Perhaps anger, but I don’t know. That anger would be too complicated to ponder.

I feel gratitude. Gratitude that so many citizens, both professionals and average citizens, did so much so quickly to help others and each other. Gratitude that chroniclers of the event had no trouble finding stories of heroism and kindness, more stories than we can ever know or tell.

I also have a nagging discomfort . It does not lessen my feelings of grief and pain and loss. But it is part of the mix. It is discomfort at the reactions (short and long term) of Americans to 9/11. Discomfort, for example, when I hear a friend talk even yet about seeing two Arab Muslim men with whom he worked (at a Dallas airport) dancing for joy that morning, this in public view at the airport! I doubt it.

I have been for nine years discomforted by our government’s reaction to 9/11. I don’t need to spell out the obvious: two “wars,” more destabilization of the entire Middle East, and the demonization of Arabs—Muslim and Christian—and all other Muslims. The government’s reaction has resulted in the conviction of American citizens on charges relating to “terrorism” in unfair trials—trials based on lies, deceit, and the perversion of nearly every principle of American jurisprudence.

Even more discomforting is the bizarre “Addiction to Belief” that has burgeoned in this country (1). I do not mean to say that the bizarre destructive clinging to belief in absurdities that is rampant in this country is a direct result of the tragedy of September 11, 2001. I sense, however, a strain expressing feeling and thought that began (perhaps) near that time and has steadily gained in volume until it is now a deafening roar (2).

Lt. Colonel Terry Lakin exemplifies the addiction (3). He is being court-martialed for refusing his orders to deploy with his Reserve Unit to Afghanistan

because [he]shares . . . . the belief that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen. Neither Lakin [nor] thousands of other “birthers” can put forth any evidence, documentation, or data that withstands the test of scrutiny. They just, well, believe it. . . .(4)

This unprincipled belief (unprincipled because it continues in spite of overwhelming evidence otherwise, including courts’ rulings that it has no merit) is still rampant in the country. As is the belief (of 20% of the population) that President Obama is a Muslim.

Those beliefs parallel bizarrely the belief that a proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York is somehow inappropriate, if not evil. Even the “liberals” who support the Mosque are forced to kowtow to the “belief addicts.” Writers in support of the mosque demean it saying it won’t be a mosque, but a “community center.” Its leaders are the “good kind” of Muslims—Sufis whose understanding of Islam is spiritual and not “Islamist.” Hardly anyone besides Mayor Bloomberg says it should be built because it is right and it is a right (5).

If I seem to be headed toward saying my discomfort about reactions to 9/11 is centered in the apparent hatred and fear of Muslims, that’s not quite it. I think Americans are discomforted to the cores of their beings over seemingly uncontrollable forces—the economy, immigration, two wars—two endless military involvements far from home—oil blowouts, and the continued (perceived) threat of terrorism. Muslims are an easy target for discomfort.

Fear leads to “addiction to belief”—the world will end in 2012, the President is not a natural-born citizen, Dick Cheney’s minions blew up the World Trade Center, and on and on. In the climate of fear, these beliefs have flourished. Muslims are a presumed cause we can see for these disasters. The terrors of the world might seem manageable when they are five football fields up in the air, but when they come down to a level we can see and feel, we need someone to blame.

I’m not a historian. I’m a musician whose specialty is music for organ. And I’m a would-be writer who has more knowledge how to write about ideas than I have ideas to write about. I can only repeat the cliché that politics and mass beliefs perhaps get wacky and mean-spirited in times of stress, in times of national uncertainty.

The events of 9/11 did, in fact, signal that the world had changed. But those events were the result, perhaps, rather than the cause of the change. The power of our country had, it might be argued, been in decline since the end of the Viet Nam era. We were in a recession at the time of the tragedy, and our economy has gradually declined since then. I’m unqualified to write about the processes of globalization and outsourcing and the other seismic shifts in our economy. It seems, however, self evident that a

. . .condition for capitalist profit is that there be some kind of relative global order. . . Ensuring the relatively stable situation. . . is the task of a hegemonic power [the US] strong enough to impose it on the world-wide system as a whole. . . the [US has had] on occasion to exercise its military power to maintain order. . (6)

Shanghai - the new world order?

Shanghai - the new world order?

The change in the world we saw on 9/11 had already begun. The United States was no longer in a position to impose our will on the world because, “The hegemon enters into a process of gradual decline relative to the rising powers. The decline may be slow, but it is nonetheless essentially irreversible” (7).

The events of 9/11 were a horrifying and tragic indication that the United States was already in decline. The terror of that decline has, since that day, led Americans to more strident and vocal “addiction to belief,” beliefs that, regardless of their illogic, attempt to explain the unfathomable. Belief is necessary with one’s back to real events.
(1) Trent, Brian. “America’s addiction to belief.” The Humanist July-Aug. 2010: 10+.
(2) I do not intend to use the logical fallacy of Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc (after this, therefore because of this—or because B takes place after A, A must be the cause of B). I cannot say the “addiction to belief” is the direct result of 9/11. I do believe, however, that the fanciful beliefs rampant in the country are born of a time of fear and uncertainty—and of a resulting general increase in Xenophobia and racism in the country.
(3) Montopoli, Brian. “Ármy Birther Terry Lakin Faces Court Martial.” CBS News. April 15, 2010. Web. 11 Sep. 2010.
(4) Trent, ibid.
(5) Ghani, Aisha. “Liberal Defenders of ‘Mosque’ Get it Wrong.” RD Magazine. August 24, 2010. Web. 10 Sep. 2010.
(6) Wallerstein, Immanuel. “Structural Crises.” New Left Review 62 (Mar Apr 2010), 134-135.
(7) Idem.


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