Let the Post 9/11 World be Over

Joe Wilson is a child of 9/11. When he shouted “Liar” in that crowded theater … the joint session of the House and Senate being addressed by President Obama … he did so as a proud white southern man angry at his country for electing a black liberal president in this time of crisis, that crisis being the the ongoing threat of attack by non-Christian foreign extremists, the ongoing threat of attack on our free market system by an Arab-loving Harvard lawyer name Hussein, the ongoing threat of attack on our most reliable form of protection from attack foreign OR domestic (our privately owned firearms) by liberals who would take our hard earned, inherited, and stolen money and use it to feed the spawn of other men. Other men who are mostly black or immigrants or whatever. And Teh Gayz. Don’t forget Teh Gayz.

His anger is part of a press-validated internally well organized subculture assembled from long kindred parts. Racism, white pride, working class fear and resentment, hatred of education buttressed by studied ignorance, fear of cuckoldry, Christian fundamentalism and xenophobia are among the ingredients in the right wing’s larder. From these ingredients McCarthy mixed up the communist scare. Nixon mixed up the so called silent majority’s hatred of the hippies and yippies. Regan mixed up Kadafi (while ignoring Saddam) and Bush and Bush mixed up Saddam, and together they created a cuisine of Disdain For All that is Arab. And all of these cultural casseroles1 have a single most common ingredient. The Velveeta of vindication. The mushroom soup of misanthropy. The Tuna Helper of of Right Wing Hatred. That stable ingredient is, of course fear.

This has always been true, but the construction of the post 9/11 world was special. This was not a thousand chefs in a thousand diners working on a thousand menus fed daily in the sociocultural background to the libertarian and right wings of the populous. Rather, this was a single pot to make a single dish … a Guinness Record size serving … that would bubble and boil and never run out no matter how much was dished up and that would define conservative politics for all time. There was no one ingredient in this dish, other than the fear, that makes it special. The post 9/11 conservative ideology is the same as the pre 9/11 conservative ideology. And the focusing effect of 9/11 is not iconic of it, either. The fact that 9/11 is the moment of production, or perhaps the kitchen in which this hot dish2 was served up is no more important to the post 9/11 conservative trope than the baking sheet is to the plate of cookies. Yeah, we get that there must have been a baking sheet and an oven and so on, but right now we are eating the cookie and how they got here is not so important.

The very first thing that happened when the planes hit was the overwhelming sense of wide-eyed gawking dread and the widespread feeling of not knowing how to feel. That first thing, dread, makes sense but please don’t forget the awful unknowing numbness that most felt but few mention today in their reminiscence. This was a powerful sense of “What do I do now? What am I supposed to think now? What does this mean?” waiting for an answer. And that answer was quickly provided, over just a couple of days after the impact while the event was still very much going on, by the press and by the authorities that we elect or hire to run things for us.

“The world will never be the same again” we were told. “We now live in the Post 9/11 world. The Pre 9/11 world is over.”

But what did that mean? Well, the void that most Americans felt was the biggest and most coherent vessel for fear and loathing to exist since World War II, and into it the conservative establishment poured all the usual ingredients, with a ten fold helping of fear.

And thus cooked up the Post 9/11 world in which we lived unquestionably for the next six years.

When the Dixie Chicks were tarred and feathered because they, a country rock band, criticized President Bush, we knew the process was complete and dinner was served. Country Rock and NASCAR were the hymns and holy water of the New Right. This was a Right that combined the paranoia of the Libertarians with the self interest of the traditional Republicans with the anti-intellectualism of the conservative wing of the working class and the all-powerful petit priesthood of mostly Caucasoid heternormative socially (somewhat) liberal and fiscally (highly) conservative “middle” class.

NASCAR is a toy version of driving. It is not real driving, but the ultimate video game … so real you can get killed but still, boys with their toys. The modal modern libertarian is an older white guy living in part on public assistance and demanding that you stay off his lawn unless you come bearing gifts, and as such, he must deny reality in a fundamental way just to avoid implosion from the irony. Traditional Republicans are a people without a history or valid power base to which they can any longer refer … having been the anti-racism party and the erudite educated party for so long, they must now sport a pretend ideology. The anti-intellectual working class is happy to live in a world made by science and technology but can not comfortably acknowledge, or even ‘believe in,’ the brain power required to build and maintain that world. They fear education and enlightenment and thus live inside an opaque artificial bubble. The schizophrenic upper middle class, economically occupying new territory above real “middle” class but below rich, live off an income stream based primarily on bubbles which they fear the bursting of, and since they recycle (usually) and send the three month old clothing that is now too old to wear off to the veterans, they shun any inconvenient truths without a wisp of self doubt.

Ignorance and milquetoast. This is the character of the post 9/11 society.

When you pour a cup of detergent into the laundry, you do not smile from ear to ear and shout to the world about how well it will remove the stains, and lean over to look wide eyed through a glass-sided washing machine so you can see the lovely blue and white powder swirl around and dissolve, creating tiny little stain-eating humanoids that will make your clothes bright and white. No. You just pour the stuff in the washing machine and turn it on. There are people on TV to do the smiling and shouting and singing and dancing about how great the laundry soap is.

The strum and draw of the AstroTurfers at town hall meetings, the histrionics of Rush Limbaugh, and the shout of “Liar” in the crowded auditorium is the Madison Avenue arm of the process. It is the flamboyant TV chef showing you how easy it is to be a right winger, how good your just desserts will taste when you finally extract them from the liberal establishment. The new cuisine of American political culture is served at an over the top dinner show with surrealistically bright (red, white and blue) colors and if you ask the wrong question of your waitress, who looks strangely like an intermorph of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, you will be removed to the Dixie Chick Room (which is somewhere in Canada).


What Obama meant when he said “Change” during the campaign was not something new. What he meant was something old, though certainly updated and done in new ways where appropriate. What he really meant, conscious of this meaning or not, was to clear the table of that 9/11 casserole that inappropriately dominates the social and political realm today. The casserole is starting to stink. Well, actually, it always stunk.

I drove Julia to school this morning. At one point we drove, on a crowded highway, beneath an overpass. I had always thought that if I was leading a terrorist group, I wouldn’t try to take over airplanes or office buildings or government centers, or even nuke plants. I’d take over the overpasses during rush hour. Anyway, this thought returned to my mind as I looked up at the overpass and saw two wide eyed, grinning-too-much squeaky-clean youngsters waving American Flags at us.

“Oh, look at that,” I said.

“Yeah, it’s 9/11,” Julia explained.

So. A teachable moment, perhaps, has come along. For what it’s worth, the blog post you are reading now was half written and waiting for my return.

“So, what do you think that means, those guys on the bridge? What does it mean?”

“It means two kids got the suckiest volunteer job ever,” was the 14 year old’s reply.

“Yeah, obviously. But what do you think it means to THEM, what do you think they’re thinking?”

“They’re thinking all kinds of bad thoughts, I suspect,” was the reply.

“OK, what do you think would happen if instead of American Flags they were flying an Arab Flag,” not specifying what I meant by ‘Arab flag’ because I didn’t really know or think it would matter.

“They would be instantly arrested and thrown in jail for life for being all Araby and stuff.”

Right. Time to throw out the hot dish.


1Casserole is a widely used word for “hot dish.”

2Hot dish is a Midwestern word for “casserole.”


  1. #1 Horace Fudpucker
    September 11, 2009

    “…electing a black liberal president….” When did that happen?

  2. #2 Liz
    September 11, 2009

    Horace: Which moniker do you think is wrong, pray tell.

  3. #3 John F
    September 11, 2009

    I, for one, think flag-frying should be protected as free expression.

  4. #4 Dave
    September 11, 2009

    Yeah John, think about all those people making flags for a living; what better way to keep them in employment than occasionally burn off the excess?

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    September 11, 2009

    Oh, come on, guys, this is serious!!!

    (Like I’ve never made a typo before. Jeesh)

  6. #6 Alex Palazzo micro
    September 11, 2009

    The saddest part about all that is that Al Qaeda and American right-wing extremists both share one thing in common. They hate the idea of Liberal America (and I do mean “idea” as they have no clue what it means to live in a truly pluralistic, secular and respectful society.)

    Remember that it was NYC that was attacked and not some bastion of red America.

  7. #7 dean
    September 11, 2009

    “I’d take over the overpasses during rush hour.”
    Or simply hijack, or boobytrap a large gas tanker; you’re correct, anyplace where large groups of people are in tight areas with no easy exit would do.

  8. #8 VolcanoMan
    September 11, 2009

    Do you think Greg, being the anthropologist-y type of guy, that we have some relic neural circuitry from our xenophobic primate ancestors that kicks in when things seem to be changing too fast, when the uncertain future becomes too different from the exaggerated utopian world of our parents? Additionally, we all create a specious storybook memory of our safe, happy childhood, remembering the good and forgetting the bad (if we knew and understood the bad at all when we were young); the world we know today seems more vastly uncertain than that of our youth, than it actually is. I have read of a study (probably right here on ScienceBlogs) that showed how the “American Right” has different concerns and much greater fear than moderates and liberals; is this perhaps the culture of the Right exploiting those ancient survival mechanisms, where any tribe that wasn’t yours was an enemy, competing for your resources?

    Assuming this is true (one study does not a truth make), why are some of us less affected by the fear machine, and how can we defeat cultural conservatism in favour of a pluralistic, global society? Clearly, we’ve come to a point in our intellectual and social development where empathy and cooperation, on a global scale, could be a viable conscious choice (if people wanted it). How do we sell this worldview, and how do we implement it?

    Oh yeah, while you’re at it, what’s the meaning of life? 😉

  9. #9 Stephanie Z
    September 11, 2009

    Hear, hear! I am so tired of living in a world circumscribed by some unimaginative idiot’s idea of safety, which is really nothing more than another version of “perform the right rituals to appease the right gods and I will be blessed above all others.” It hasn’t worked yet, and it never will.

  10. #10 noel
    September 11, 2009

    The ironies of the conservatives astound: poor and middle class whites aid the wealthiest corporate thieves; ignorant racists think they are superior to anyone; “christians” are for torture; secessionists think they’re patriots; the Dixie Chicks are driven off the radio for saying they are embarrassed by the former president, while it is acceptable to call the current one any name you can think of; they call those who defend the constitution traitors while they support unconstitutional federal abuses of power, treaty violations, and torture; in spite of all that, they call themselves patriotic.

  11. #11 (((Billy))) The Atheist
    September 11, 2009

    I still find it remarkable that I, as an educated progressive liberal atheist, am not even considered an American by the flag-waving, America-can-do-no-wrong right wing. The idea that liberal = unAmerican is a central belief to the right, both pre and post 9/11. Never mind that I volunteered and served in the US Army. Never mind that I am part of the fire militia and serve at 0 to 3 forest fires (or hurricanes, terrorist attacks and other disasters) a year (in addition to my regular job). Never mind that I spent three weeks in New York City after the attacks (and have still not recovered between the ears). None of that service matters a whit. I’m still an America-hater.

    The attacks on September 11, 2001, allowed the black and white, us versus them, with us or against us crusader mentality to come out of the dark and into the lime light. And many Americans loved it. And do not want to let go of it. And relish the divisiveness.

    I know that many in the extreme right served in various capacities. Did they view it, though, as service? or as a stepping stone to what they wanted? I would guess that, for many, it is the latter. Why else would service (by thousands like me) be denigrated to such an extent?

    I, too, would like to see us move on. A friend and I were talking this morning and we realized that, 8 years later, we still don’t know how to react. And we won’t until the absurdity of the right passes.

  12. #12 NewEnglandBob
    September 11, 2009

    So much is so wrong about the situations you describe, Greg.

    The right wing fails to see the actual enemy – that enemy is fanaticism. The right wing goes about protesting the perceived enemy by using the same fucking tactics of fanaticism. How hopeless and clueless they are! They fight dogma with more dogma and intolerance with more intolerance. Pathetic and useless!

    VolcanoMan: The meaning of life is what you (the individual) make it. If you need to ask, you do not understand.

  13. #13 chris
    September 11, 2009

    I still can’t decide onthe appropriate reaction to actions like Joe Wilson’s, which is really just one instance of the general attitude of many on the right. Do we aggressively respond and call it what it is, or do we, as the President and Speaker Pelosi seem inclined to do, simply accept the apology and move on.

    In other words, do we call out an ignorant, lying rac-baiter for what he is, and do it publicly, fighting fire with fire (and ridicule and derision), or do we model the bahavior we’d like to see in all-turn the other cheek, as it were?

    I’m really conflicted.

  14. #14 VolcanoMan
    September 11, 2009

    NewEnglandBob: Actually, I have the same concept of the meaning of life as you. I added the question at the end as a kind of joke (note the emoticon…), given that the two previous questions are possibly the ones whose answers will define the future of our species. Anyway, haven’t you seen the Monty Python movie “The Meaning of Life”? Jeez!

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    September 11, 2009

    All the important philosophy is found in Monty Python.

  16. #16 Azkyroth
    September 11, 2009

    In other words, do we call out an ignorant, lying rac-baiter for what he is, and do it publicly, fighting fire with fire (and ridicule and derision), or do we model the bahavior we’d like to see in all-turn the other cheek, as it were?

    Why do you want to see everyone “turn the other cheek” to this sort of behavior?

  17. #17 Wyatt
    September 11, 2009

    The only reason to turn the other cheek is to reload.

  18. #18 D. C. Sessions
    September 11, 2009

    Like I’ve never made a typo before. Jeesh

    Greg, if you use a cooking metaphor don’t be surprised if we run with it. You could have pretended it was intentional.

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    September 11, 2009

    I thought about that. I was going to add a weber to the overpass. You would have believed it because it could happen!

  20. #20 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    September 11, 2009

    The Post 9/11 world also ruined baseball. The 7th inning stretch now has the “Patriotic Songs” inserted instead of Take Me Out to the Ballgame (or added on.) I haven’t been to game at the Dome this year, so I don’t know if they still pollute our ears with Lee Greenwood.

    I also think taht all of a sudden after 9/11 people started giving a shit whether or not someone was wearing a flag lapel pin, and if not had to be a terrorist or something.

    It didn’t take long for the liberal-bashing to begin, either. Within 4 dayds someone had already blamed Jimmy Carter because he had cut the military budget 24 years before (George HW Bush 41 had cut far deeper, but that didn’t matter.)

  21. #21 BAllanJ
    September 11, 2009

    Excellent rant, Greg. I’d say “amen” except for that atheist thing… so… 2 thumbs up!

  22. #22 Anne Gilbert
    September 11, 2009

    Wow! What an excellent essay. Congratulations on saying it all so well, Greg!

  23. #23 Nathan Myers
    September 11, 2009

    Today is the day to remind ourselves of Americans’ mass cowardice in response to a poke, in 2001, by a raggedy band of desert thugs. Is it the most shameful episode in U.S. history? You would need to know a lot of history to decide. In living memory, we have Katrina, but we didn’t allow ourselves to be lied into a war over Katrina.

  24. #24 Liz
    September 11, 2009

    “…we didn’t allow ourselves to be lied into a war over Katrina.”

    Speak softly when you say things like that.

  25. #25 Stephanie Z
    September 11, 2009

    Liz, why? I don’t necessarily disagree with you, given what happened in Lousiana, but I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

  26. #26 Burt
    September 11, 2009

    Well reasoned post, Greg

    The 9/11 attack was an attempt by a group of misguided idealists who believe(d) that the end justifies the means. (By idealists, I mean their ideal of a unified world presumably under Wahabism/Sharia and many are willing to die for that ideal – which according to their system of logic which doesn’t comport with OUR western logic (obviously) is quite rational.) They attacked symbols which, to them represent a threat to their ideal. So they attack the USA and symbolically the World (Trade Ctr.) which is seen in their opinion as a corrupting influence despite their attempts at isolation and insulation of their adherents from the evils of modernity, along with psychological, if not physical hegemony and imperialism.

    How is a group with such a differing belief system to be reconciled with ours? How the US and the few countries that were hoodwinked, bullied or bribed (in kind or outright cash in the form of foreign aid) to join the effort responded, was to employ a vengeful, overwhelming tit for tat retribution to the “abettors of terrorism” and adopt an equivalent to the “terrorist’s” (one nation’s religious freedom fighters are another’s terrorists) “the ends justifies any means” canard. Ends, no matter how noble the intent, are perverted if achieved thru ignoble means (the war in Afghanistan was not a “Noble” attempt to liberate the “oppressed females” of the Taliban who only asserted their (Afghanistan’s) sovereign status (what if some other country demanded that we hand over anyone granted asylum here? Many of our “friends” won’t extradite certain parties – but we don’t attack them.) It was for revenge, punishment and petulance much like an out of control parent (lack of imagination) or teacher with a willful child. “If you don’t hand over the perpetrators, you’ll get a beating, or the whole class will be punished until someone turns in the guilty party – If you do hand them over, we’ll overlook your religion’s “quaint misogynistic predilections” and magnanimously allow you to conduct your business as usual (after all Freedom of Religion is sacred in the US.) It doesn’t sound like nobility was 1st and foremost on that agenda.

    What’s needed is the recognition that this “violent acting-out” is symptomatic of a perception of powerlessness by the perpetrators/perpetuators on both sides. The G.W. Bush administration perceived that it was powerless to stop terrorism so they acted out inappropriately. They believed that any means to their perceived end was warranted including: Unconstitutional unilateral invasion of privacy (to protect your safety), disseminating patently false information, fear mongering, and the BIG LIE so that the majority in this country believe that an almost totally secular dictator (with absolutely NO linkage) was in league with the 9/11 religious zealots, and are “willing to pay any price” for revenge or protection from the evil doer and his “virtual WMDs.”

    This was/is a war over ideas and beliefs (as are all wars) and needs to be countered with ideas and diplomacy. Ideas start and enable wars and they are the only way to prevent or “morally” end them. Ideas of peaceful co-existence and way to peacefully liberate people from poverty and ignorance will go a lot farther to ending conflict than applied “Old Testament – God is on our side” vengeance and war. John Lennon and Yoko Ono said “War is over – if you want it.” Do we want it?

    President Obama doesn’t seem to unless we win via violence and more killing on both sides, I am saddened that such an apparently brilliant thinker believes that this is a war of necessity.

  27. #27 D. C. Sessions
    September 11, 2009

    Or simply hijack, or boobytrap a large gas tanker; you’re correct, anyplace where large groups of people are in tight areas with no easy exit would do.

    One of your best bets would be the queues leading up to departure security at a busy airport. Thanks to our security theatre, thousands of people get backed up approaching them, packed in shoulder to shoulder over large areas.

    One backpack or roller bag loaded with HE and shrapnel would take out thousands. Since the areas are all non-smoking, a fuel-air explosive in a backpack or roller bag would get an order of magnitude more explosive yield, very likely brining down much of the structure. With the same number of attackers as participated eight years ago, they could kill at least four times as many people — and do it at widely separated locations, again bringing US travel to a halt.

    Best of all, the reflexive crackdown by authorities would do vastly more damage to civil liberties than even 9/11/01 did.

  28. #28 llewelly
    September 12, 2009

    Perspective: Coal power plants kill 30,000 Americans every year. That’s a 9/11 every 32 days.
    Perspective: Vehicular accidents kill 36,000 Americans every year. That’s a 9/11 every 27 days.
    Perspective: About 36,000 death each year are directly associated with influenza. There are other factors involved in these deaths, so it’s not fair to say this is also a 9/11 every 27 days – but it’s a danger on a similar scale.

    That is to say, America’s reaction to 9/11 was grossly out of proportion, and incredibly stupid.

  29. #29 Nathan Myers
    September 12, 2009

    llewelly: And tobacco executive still wander around loose.

  30. #30 Taniwha
    September 13, 2009

    Looking from the outside it is amazing to me that the wingnut-faction still doesn’t comprehend three things that seem self-evident to many people living outside of the american illusion.

    1. Communism as an ideology is dead.
    2. American style captialism (=anything that “makes money” is good) is mortally wounded.
    3. Bush has permanently discredited America in the eyes of the world. There’s no going back on that one. Before Bush the prevailing world view of America was that it is a great power … and a great power for the good of mankind. Bush changed that. The world now sees the US as a power for evil, desperately clinging to the illusion of omnipotence in a final attempt to avoid the realization that the course of future history will increasingly and inevitably be determined outside of the US.

    For the majority of citizens of this planet, the “American Dream” is a nightmare that is almost entirely based on a insane view of “freedom” that is so totally devoid of reality that it defies rational explanation, and the gun-toting proponents of the freedom to kill other people with impunity seem to be bent on the final destruction of US society.

    Many people doubt that the US can be saved from its own arrogant stupidity and many people have the impression that nobody in the US has really understood that the US President is only the president of the US … and not the world. Or that US law is only US law … and not the law of all countries on the planet … and that US aspirations to riches at the cost of the environment and to the detriment of all people outside the US is offensive in the eyes of the majority or citizens of this planet … and that the US propensity to violate the human rights of the vast majority of the people on this planet is not a friendly act.

    It is not hard to understand why many americans feel fear and trepidation when they travel or live outside of their country. They have every reason to be afraid.

    That’s what happened when Bush lied to the world and destroyed American credibility in such an obvious and easily understood way. But do you understand that when you have been caught lying … you will never be believed again .. and that when your moralizing self-righteousness and arrogance has been exposed for the hypocrytical fraud that it has always been … that you have lost the moral high ground and become just another in the long list of warring tribes.

    In the eyes of many, Bush was no better than Saddam or Adolf or Pol Pot. Just more dangerous.

    History will move on and the next great power will not be America and the next dominant cultural-political power will neither be (primitive-)communist nor (primitive-)capitalist.

    Will the wingnuts ever understand the extent to which they are cultivating the seeds of their own destruction ?

    Maybe 911 will be seen as the beginning of the end of american dominance.

    And many people in the world will see that as a very good thing.

  31. #31 other Greg
    September 13, 2009

    @16 : “Why do you want to see everyone “turn the other cheek” to this sort of behavior?”

    It is a way of showing strength and confidence.