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.


Mike Kenny said...

it's interesting, you point out that we have " moved from from celebrating accomplishment (Eisenhower) to suffering (McCain)..."

i suppose we'll get more of what we reward, so more ostentacious suffering than accomplishment, until some limit is reached.

i guess that does make sense--was there anything like goth kids in the 1950s? i suppose we could look to the romantic era, to the doomed, suffering hero, for a similar celebration of suffering...and also i suppose a pessimism about progress--basically an collection of achievement i suppose (i think of frankenstein).

i guess also christianity is sort of a celebration of suffering over achievement, so the roots go deep.

i guess a lot of achievement is attained through suffering, so i could see maybe suffering being seen as a sign of achievement, and people maybe disconnected the two--'hey, so-and-so is suffering, so he must be making getting something interesting done.' it makes sense when someone is working hard on a business or an invention or something, but it doesn't make sense when someone is doing drugs and suffering from self-inflicted damage.

in a weird way, too, i could see suffering without an obvious point being seen as selfless, whereas suffering to achieve as being seen as selfish.

J said...

Today is September 10 - the World Suicide Prevention Day. Today is not our day, neither.

JoshK said...

To be fair to McCain, he also had a certain heroism in that he chose to stay in Vietnam as long as the other men were there.

Ted K said...

I assume you're NOT referring to the firemen who went up into the twin towers, or you would be even more of a narcissistic bastard than I think you are, which is saying QUITE a lot.

Or maybe it just highly annoys you to think, somehow, emphasizing the often untold daily heroism of firemen and municipal workers might be used as a moral argument to "redistribute income" to fireman, policeman, and other city workers and away from former credit agency workers who write $60 books on Alpha???

Somehow, if it was YOUR daughter or YOUR immediate relatives, why do I not have the smallest particle of doubt you would have been center stage with a huge blog piece on our unsung skyscraper heroes???

Ted K said...

I might also add, although it's neither here nor there as to the utter asininity and isolated view of this post, one of the MANY points of President (I know it would kill you to use that prefix to his name) Obama's book was more to bring out the fact he had an ABSENTEE father, not the fact that his father was African. Having your biological Dad absent from your life is not something to be waved aside as nothing, no matter how "cushy" your life is.

It's also worth pointing out, because of President Obama's skin-color, it would have been moot to change his family name in order to hide his ethnicity, as CERTAIN groups have been infamous of doing.