Saturday, September 10, 2011
This is not Our Day
On September 11 2001, there were many individual acts of unambiguous courage, a primal virtue. As the instigators had no reasonable end to rationalize their means, the moral calculus was very simple that day. Everyone dying stoically or risking death to save others was a courageous person, and other than the terrorists all those who died were innocent victims.
I knew one person who died that day, Brit Oliver Bennett, a real mensch, but as I worked at Moody's and took the daily stop at the World Trade Center to get to work, when I see the documentaries it really makes me tear up thinking about the horrible ending to people so 'close' to me.
Physical courage is admirable, but in modern society it simply isn't as important as it was when philosophy developed 2500 years ago. Intellectual courage, the readiness to risk humiliation, is much harder, precisely because it is more ambiguous. Only with the virtue of hindsight of generations do we see intellectually courageous stands for what they were, what distinguishes the Churchills from the Maos, the Galileos from the Lysenkos. It is courage combined with prudence, not mere zealotry.
Having something terrible happen to you generates instant sympathy. Our culture has moved from from celebrating accomplishment (Eisenhower) to suffering (McCain), where suffering has been expanded to include the indignity of growing up a non-asian minority. Thus, Obama's rather cushy Hawaiian life was transformed in his autobiography into something subtly oppressive because his biological father was African.
I think it's fine to remember that many people were virtuous on that day, but statistically it occurs among millions of people who get up day after day, without complaining, and suffer indignities and physical inconvenience doing a job they are overqualified for, primarily to provide for their families. Let's not make random victimization the new template for heroes and holidays.