March 17, 2003

The falcon cannot hear the falconer

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
-- William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming"

I'm not inclined to indulge in "apocalypse now" pronouncements. To be frank, I generally take apocalyptic speculation and millenarian vision as signs of a weak, or at least an undisciplined mind. Or, to be more fair, I guess I would say that what makes poetry should not make policy.

But at the moment I have such a feeling of dread and apprehension in the pit of my stomach. I fear that something is about to change, and I greatly fear the change will be not for the better but for the worse. I think Timothy Burke pretty much sums it up in a piece called "Crazy Taxi," where he writes that

"It is like being a passenger in a car driven too quickly and erratically by someone who won’t listen to anyone else in the car. Even when you want to get to the same destination as the driver, you can’t help but feel that there’s a way to go there which doesn’t carry the same risk of flying through the guardrails and off a cliff."

Well, I live in NYC and I was here on 9/11. And for a brief moment, I felt the fear. Don't quite know how to explain it, but if you were in NYC on September 11, 2001, you will know exactly what I mean. I was home with my 2-month old son, my husband had gone to work in midtown Manhattan. And I could not contact my husband (the phone lines were all screw-y) and for a good half hour (maybe longer) the media were reporting that there were four more airplanes unaccounted for (yes, this has been all but forgotten, but for at least a short time, the media were mistakenly reporting that 4 more hijacked airplanes were somewhere in the skies and people here were wondering: What's next? the Empire State Building? the Trump tower?). And my neighbor across the street was standing in the doorway yelling, "I always knew this would happen" (really? well, why the heck didn't you warn us?). And for this brief moment, I felt the fear.

Let me note that I do not consider myself a victim of the attack. I was not harmed, nor were any of my family or friends.

But for me, something did change on 9/11, and not of course for the better. A vast image did trouble my sight, yes, and I caught a glimpse of some horror that I simply had not imagined could ever be visited upon us.

To move away from the imagery of rough beasts slouching toward Bethlehem and the like, I suppose 9/11 shocked me into a realization that we were still living in history. Like all good liberals, I had always rather scoffed at Fukayama's "end of history" thesis, and I still reject many of his underlying assumptions not to mention some of his fundamental concerns. And yet. The attack of 9/11 made me wonder: had I indeed assumed that we were living at the "end of history," that is to say, in a safe corner of the world where we (you and me, me and mine) were no longer vulnerable to the great cataclysms and catastrophes of history? Not that I had ever believed we were living in the best of all possible worlds, where all problems had been solved and all conflict had been resolved. But rather, that I had assumed the problems we faced could be addressed within a framework of liberal democracy that I had probably tended to take somewhat for granted. This assumption has been shaken, to say the least.

Anyway, what I now fear (for us, in this corner of the world) isn't really in the order of something grand and apocalyptic (the armageddon, the second coming, the end of the world and so on). What I fear is something on a scale that is both smaller and more insidious: a "normalization," if that is the term, of terrorist attacks as one of the unfortunate but unavoidable risks involved in just being in the world (which world? well, our post 9/11 world). That is, I no longer feel quite safe, and I can no longer go about my business with the false sense of security that whatever messes are happening elsewhere in the world, we in this part of the world will not have to suffer the consequences.

And this is all quite selfish, I know. Here I am not even addressing the impact of war on Iraqi citizens, which is in fact one of the major grounds for my opposition to the war. Here I am being selfish and wondering what it all might mean for me and mine in our corner of the world. I am thinking about that tiny little prickle of fear that I sometimes experience now as I board the subway. I try not to give into it, I don't want to cower in fear as I take the subway. The odds are still very small, I am sure. And yet I now realize, we in this city all realize since 9/11, that we are a possible target. And there is little question in my mind that war with Iraq will make us that much more vulnerable.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at March 17, 2003 04:25 PM