Yesterday was September 11, 2011: the tenth anniversary of the infamous attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. My daughter and I plopped on the couch to watch ten-year-old news coverage of ‘911’. This was one of those finest hours when the news media documented its own integrity and delivered a classic apologia for their in-depth coverage. That’s fine, except that this finest hour came without a mea culpa for all their bone-headed mistakes and groundless dissemination of fear. My father would have had a lot to write about this phenomenon of media attempting to pin hindsight to their desperate and lurching foresight. Oddly, I didn’t see much hindsight framing the desperate fear and hatred that we Americans always want to believe is beneath us, but which we prove again and again is stuck to our shoes like gum.
I am Christian. If you poll other Christians you’ll find that half believe humans are inherently evil; half believe they mostly serve themselves; and half believe they naturally serve each other. We Christians may be no better at estimating human proclivities than we are at estimating the sums of simple fractions. But that’s a moot point when you recall the evil all we Christians have perpetrated on each other in the name of a God we have in common.
Imagine recess in sixth grade on the playground of Saint Almost Elementary School for Boys. Imagine also the traditional choosing of sides for dodge ball. Two of the boys, twin brothers named Bub and Bob, are especially smart, fast, big, friendly, and strong. Of course Bub and Bob are always the first picks for each team. If you have Bub or Bob on your side, you cannot lose. Even if the two popular brothers simply watch the game while leaning against the schoolyard fence, the winning team will glorify one of them for their victory. Neither Bub nor Bob cares much for bragging rights—nor for condemnations for loosing—and neither team would realize if Bub or Bob switched places. If there were enough boys on the field to form three teams, either Bub or Bob would certainly be the exclusive captain of each. This is why the boys at Saint Almost Elementary School almost universally choose philosophy as their first major subject in college. Years ago, one boy did go on to become a civil engineer; but his career ended abruptly after he designed a bridge with three large arches, but specified only enough concrete for two. Neither Bub nor Bob were nearby to take the blame.
To the real world: I’m not certain what point to make of the evil that all we Christians have swung like righteous swords through the necks of all those who seemed to be catalyzed by lesser gods, and who would otherwise have righteously swung their swords through our own necks. Hindsight rarely improves foresight, publicly. Accurate and meaningful foresight—wisdom—is often not what we want. There is no good reason for news media to tell us what we don’t care to hear, and what advertisers don’t care to subsidize. Democracy might be at the root of our principles, but capitalism is at the root of our habits.
My father wrote a short poem that sums up wisdom’s precarious place in all our institutions. This might be one reason he drank cheap scotch.
Epigram For Bedlam
All men are foolish
As all are brothers;
The wise ones know it
And tell the others:
Who take the wise ones
And hang them up
-John P Sisk
Sept. 12, 2011