This is the only post about 9/11. I promise.
So by now you might already suspect that I’m wearing a hat made of tinfoil and about to tell you that ‘That’s just what they want. They want you to think I am a paranoid freak.’
Perhaps it will placate your fears if I tell you that this post is really about mindfulness. That means the art of simply being aware of the present moment and what is unfolding within us at each moment without judging it. And context, which mindfulness leads towards like the river leads to the sea.
Now put the tinfoil hats back on because only with mindfulness can we even begin to inoculate ourselves from the tampering with our subconscious that has become the art form of the modern state. I’m not just talking about propaganda here, but the infinite and varied, the subtle and often very unsubtle ways that governments and media sustain a Faustian pact with its people. “We’ll help you maintain the illusion of democracy and human rights, and therefore the conceit of a safe and certain world to which you are adding value through your labour and into which you can proudly raise your children; as long as you don’t question too closely the reality”.
It’s a pact we make every time we consume a mass produced product from an international corporation. There’s the illusion of choice; the slight of hand that makes consuming something made in the millions appear to confirm our individuality. And through purchasing a particular product we find comfort in belonging to a certain economic or social group without the commitment or solidarity a true sense of belonging engenders.
So our brains are well programmed at eating shit and tasting wholesomeness, just to enable us to swallow. And when we gag on the lies that underpin our society it’s often labelled a mental health issue. That we have this gag reflex at all is surely a sign that there is a basic sanity which we can imagine, even if we have never experienced it.
Watching the trial of psychopathic killer Anders Breivik I recognised how his cold logic has an internal consistency which without context could be a form of sanity. And don’t we do the same every day in small ways? When we stand back and notice the basic insanity of the prevailing operating paradigm of our modern world isn’t there a desperate willingness to forsake context in order to continue the pretence of sanity? For how long will people stop buying prawns from Asda now they know they are processed by slaves? Well, they’re not labelled fair trade are they, so that’s OK.
We might chastise our sorry conscience for not doing more, but the brain’s function is to create a cohesive picture of reality in which to live – a master story, if you like. We do the same as Breivik. We incorporate atrocities committed in our name into a structure of logic around which we can comfortably manoeuvre and balance our sense of morality and normality in order to function. Justification is ALWAYS after the act and we are either busy justifying to ourselves our place in the world, or escaping from it through the ubiquitous drugs both chemical and electronic.
A perfect and significant example of this mass self-delusion is what happened on the 11th of September 2001. Having been standing on the top of World Trade Centre 1 in June of 2001 I had a pretty good notion of how big these structures were. So when I witnessed their collapse on the TV screen three months later, which on the small screen could not give an adequate impression of their vast scale, it just looked wrong. Like a seven foot quarterback falling dead from someone blowing smoke in their eyes.
The perpetrators are acutely aware of the neurological loopholes in the human brain of which they can take advantage. The brain links the most easily available, not the most probable cause to an effect – i.e. the jets striking the towers. This is a cognitive illusion created by what economist Daniel Kahneman calls System 1 – the fast intuitive automatic processes of the subconscious mind, outpacing System 2, the reasoning slow thinking mind. This System 2 operates in the more recently evolved parts of the brain which seek to find the ‘why’ of invisible causes. This faculty is what makes us human and which has led to our supremacy on the planet by leading us to develop science, technology and advanced language processing to communicate the ‘why’ of everything.
As Naomi Wolf has written, shock and awe suppresses or disables System 2, so for those who were most aware of the size of WTO and who were present to their destruction, System 1 would have naturally taken over and constructed the most available cause, a cause that became more and more available as the media fed us the master story over the following hours and days and months and years.
Primo Levi reported that in Auschwitz the prevailing attitude of those who sought to retain their humanity was not horror but curiosity. The Why? of System 2 was struggling to contextualise the horror. This project continued for survivors like Levi after the war, and he eventually took his own life perhaps because in the end such a task was too enormous in a post-modernist world.
The ‘Why’ of 9/11 is a continuing project with scientists, pilots, architects and engineers as well as whistleblowers from the security apparatus of America fighting for the truth of what really happen, or at least making clear that the Bush administration and all governments since have lied to everyone. That it is framed as a marginal and insignificant project – at best an academic exercise at worst the preserve of lunatic conspiracy theory fringe, indicates how successful a pschy-ops operation it was and continues to be. And this is what convinces me that the oppressors at the moment have the winning hand and why governments everywhere realise that they can writing the script as long as it has enough gripping drama to seduce us from participating in any other way but vicariously.
This is politics as soap opera and while the literati in previous times would have led the charge of outrage and uproar, now they dither in the maze of post-modernism, where everything is just a theory. It is simply not good enough to label the ashes of 9/11 a site of critical discourse. The truth here is too important.
The other factor that gives governemnts the upper hand is the scale of the lie. What would it mean to integrate a new reality into our master story about 9/11? Would we care to recognise ourselves as a people kept dumb and under the control of a morally corrupt global corporate oligarchy that is bent on destroying civil liberties, the environment and anything that stands between them and the power to produce a short term profit. Or would we prefer to continue to believe in ourselves as free agents in a world governed for the most part by institutions, companies and governments who have our interests at heart? Of course the convenient, comfortable most available conclusion is the latter, in particular because it demands nothing from us but our freedom and, for our own personal sanity, a safe distance from stopping a moment and letting ourselves be pulled towards context.
RD Laing showed that our belief in the infallibility of our parents, tragically so when they are abusive, is what leads to insanity, and writ large the same chemistry constructs our society. Only in society we can all concur to be insane together and dance our way into oblivion rather than risk being the ones consigned to the various caricatures of the outsider and eliminated or ridiculed.
We simply can’t imagine that such a large amount of people could conceive and execute such an evil plan as to kill thousands of their own people in order justify killing hundreds of thousands more and enslaving billions. Ironically, it is empathy thanks to our mirror neurones that sustains this self-delusion. Our ability to believe that two 111 story buildings can collapse into their own footprint at free fall speed 45 minutes after they are hit by a planes, and a 42 story building (WTO 7) can collapse 7 hours later by itself, just because it is in the vicinity of those building is the same flight of fantasy, the same suspension of disbelief that requires us to believe that we might win the lottery when there is a 14 million to 1 chance that we will.
Our brain thinks of such large numbers in abstract forms, it cannot actually grasp the size of this number, or the scale of these building. But then someone has to win the lottery, and that someone could be me…and I see people who look just like me winning…mirror neurones…so I can feel how it could be. By the same token, I cannot conceive of so many people being so evil and corrupt as to commit such crimes or want to enslave people just for money and power…it just sounds too much like fiction…some crazy conspiracy theory…or something from history!
Perhaps it would be useful to deconstruct the psychology that would make it possible for a large amount of people to be part of such a heinous crime. Psychologist Dan Ariely has found that the flexibility in our ethical room to manoeuvre…the extent to which we are willing to be dishonest, is related to how much we think we can get away with it both in society and in our own conscience. Now imagine a triangle at the base of which minor corruption, incompetence and self-service is culturally acceptable in order to achieve the goals of the organisation. Those in the management layer above can justify to themselves a larger area of acceptable infringement of conventional mores. The higher you go up the triangle the more flexible the morality. Until at the very top the masters can move in whichever direction they want without disturbing their conscience. Power in such structures is denoted by an inversely proportionate formula between your capacity for wrongdoing and accountability. Under such circumstances those with a conscience are whittled out by default because reporting misdoings up the line of management leads not to correction but to threats or eventual expulsion to the whistleblower, precisely because they are not the right material to work in the organisation. See Sibel Edmonds book Classified Woman for a vivid description of how this works.
I took the Staten Island Ferry in 2001. And as the distance from the dock increased the scale of the twin towers became awesomely clearer. Likewise, when you orient towards context the scale of our society’s insanity and the lie that allows it to survive can be overwhelming.