Ten Years, Zero Progress

It’s been 10 years since 9/11 – but have we really made any progress, and is there any hope that we ever will?

Ten years ago on this day, everyone in the whole United States – and, to a somewhat lesser degree, the rest of the world – all came together because of a terrible tragedy. We were all united on that day.

Fast forward 10 years, and you can see that very nearly all of that solidarity has gone right down the drain. If anything, we’ve become even more isolated and fragmented than we were before.

The most recent example (that I can think of) is the dreadfully childish bickering and last-minute compromise regarding the “raising the national debt limit” issue. With the threat of the entire country defaulting on its national debt looming, the best we could do was bicker and argue and refuse to do the obviously necessary thing until we were assured that our particular special interest group was not adversely affected by whatever solution was put forward. This is hardly the “united we stand” mentality that sprung up immediately after the events of 9/11.

Instead of a strong stance of “what’s best for the country as a whole,” we’ve fallen back on greedy individual power grabs – along the lines of “give me what I want, and screw everyone else.”

Instead of a strong, bold stance for freedom and liberty in the face of terrible adversity, we’ve instead become afraid of our own shadow, giving up any fundamental rights and spending any amount of money, so long as it’s “for security” (which has almost universally been “for a false sense of security”).

On this tenth anniversary of the events of 9/11/2001, I can’t help but look back at the past 10 years and think that we could have done better – we should have done better.

We can build memorials, give speeches, and make “remembering” videos all we like, but it is how we act that will truly be remembered.

I hope everyone can take this tenth anniversary to stop for a moment and reflect on how we’ve changed in these past 10 years, and to remember what it really meant to be united – to put aside differences in the face of the greater good – and consider what a powerful thing that is.

There will be a lot of appeals to patriotism and national pride today, and if that means anything to you, please take a moment to really consider the meaning behind the phrase “united we stand, divided we fall.”

9/11 is ten years behind us now – it’s time to stop being afraid, stop fighting amongst ourselves, stand strong, make the hard (but necessary) choices, and move forward into the future as a truly United States of America.

Trust No One

In the post 9/11 America, you are presumed guilty until… well, you’re pretty much always presumed guilty.

There have been a lot of changes since 9/11 – but what’s surprising is that all of these changes were made by us, and not by terrorists. As a society, we’ve devolved to an absurdly unhealthy level of paranoia, where anyone and everyone is out to get us. Everyone is a suspect, a “potential terrorist,” and no one (well, very, very, very few people) are ever fully “proven” innocent and trusted completely.

This video gives a good overview of what I’m talking about.

Suspect America from CIR on Vimeo.

If you don’t believe me, grab a DSLR camera and go take some photos of trains (if you like trains), or maybe a big, beautiful bridge near you, or something else like that, and see how far you get.

It’s sad to think that we’ve done this entirely to ourselves – all because of our irrational fear.

As we approach the 10 year anniversary of the events of 9/11, I really do think it’s time to put the brakes on this sort of thing, to scale it way back, and remember that we don’t need to always be afraid, and that even if people are out to “get us,” they’re not the bogey men, and they aren’t going to pop out of our closets at night and blow up every bridge, airport, [insert movie-plot infrastructure target here] in the country all at once… and that it follows from this that we don’t need to have security guards checking the IDs of every hipster photographer or tourist who takes a picture from off the beaten path, or anyone who aims a camera lens at an airport, and so on and so forth.

It takes willpower though to do all this – and I’m afraid all our national willpower has been sucked up by other things (wars, failing economies, etc.).

Many years from now, this time period may be looked back upon as the self-inflicted Great Failure of American society… but maybe, just maybe, we can change things.

We’ll see.

Protecting Them, Not You

The last 10 years have seen many laws enacted in the name of security, but they are meant to protect the lawmakers, not you.

There is a disturbing trend in politics and lawmaking that has developed over the last 10 years – one which I think everyone really needs to take a long, hard look at.

Over the last 10 years there’s been a lot of noise made over “security” and “protecting” and the like. But if you look more closely at what has actually been done, you’ll see that largely the laws, policies, wars, agencies, etc., that have been put into place are not actually here to protect you.

Instead, these things which have been done in the name of “security” actually have a quite different aim – they are designed explicitly to protect the people who came up with the law/policy/etc., not the “people” at large. Instead, you are simply meant to feel secure, without actually being secure.

I like to call this sort of thing “CYA syndrome,” or “cover your ass syndrome.” Because that’s really all it is.

Let’s take a look at some of the many, many things that have been done in the last 10 years:

Creation of the Department of Homeland Security

  • Supposed to: unify departments to increase information sharing so important information about legitimate threats are not missed
  • Actually: creates a huge bureaucratic monstrosity that is less responsive than the previous individual agencies.

War in Iraq

  • Supposed to: remove a highly dangerous dictator and get rid of a hiding place for terrorists
  • Actually: removed a not-quite-as-dangerous dictator and created more hiding places for terrorists (and inspired many more people to become terrorists because of resentment)

REAL ID Act

  • Supposed to: unify ID requirements across the country and make it impossible for anyone (not just terrorists) to get a fake ID, thus stopping them from ever being able to get on a plane, into a government building, etc.
  • Actually: unified ID requirements across some of the country, at huge cost to the states themselves, made the whole process much, much more annoying and difficult for the 99.999% of normal people, did not stop people from getting on planes with nefarious intentions.

Increased Airport Security

  • Supposed to: prevent another 9/11
  • Actually: hassles the traveling public via scope creep (always adding more restrictions based on the last failed attempt, even if it had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11)

All of these things are not so much to achieve a goal in and of themselves (if they even can), but rather to give those in power something to point to in case everything goes wrong. “We did this,” they’ll say, “so you can’t blame me.” Or, alternatively, before anything has gone wrong, those in power can point at these things and say “see? I’m tough, I’m doing things.” This is related to something called the “politician’s fallacy,” which says:

  1. Something must be done.
  2. This is something.
  3. Therefore, we must do it.

This of course results in poorly thought out solutions for urgent problems – sound familiar?

But there’s no incentive to properly think out solutions for these kinds of problems. Fast answers and swift action are all that matter in our short-attention-span world; nevermind that they are often wrong or contrary to our long-term success.

What is particularly infuriating about this is that nobody* seems to realize that this is going on.

As we come up on the anniversary of 9/11, I hope that everyone will step back and take a good, long, hard look at what’s been going on these past years – because we’re way past due for one. We’ve had the wool pulled over our eyes for far too long.

* Well, a sufficient majority, anyway.

Bin Laden’s Dead – Now What?

Now that Osama Bin Laden is dead, what do we do next?

When I woke up this morning, I heard the news that Osama Bin Laden was killed. My immediate reaction?

“Great – will I be able to bring more than 3 oz. of liquid or gel on a plane now though?”

When you think about it, the litany of insane security regulations we’ve adopted since 9/11 are sort of Bin Laden’s legacy – being forced to take your shoes off at the airport, being x-rayed before you can visit the Statue of Liberty, etc. But now that he’s dead, only his legacy will live on… and that just doesn’t seem right to me.

Given all the hate and rage we directed at this guy, why are we letting the things that constitute his legacy live on, even after we’ve killed him? I kind of imagine him laughing at us from beyond the grave as we continue to shuffle the elderly, children, etc., through body-scanning machines after making them wait in line for an hour just to pass onto a plane. Or as we continue to arrest/harassĀ  photographers. Or any of a dozen other crazy things we do, all in the name of “making us safer from terrorists.”

And that brings me to another point. Bin Laden’s death brought me absolutely no satisfaction, because I had stopped considering him a threat years and years ago. Instead, given the media circus that is naturally going to follow this event, I feel sort of like a bully who’s bragging now about finally being able to punch out that kid we didn’t like. I mean, effectively, we killed this guy for one reason: revenge. And that doesn’t make us look (or feel) very noble or enlightened, as we claim to be.

This is further complicated by the fact that it took nearly 10 years to find this guy. This length of time just diminishes the effect of his death. If it had been a year later, or 3 years, or even 5 years, it would not have been as bad… but 10 years later? Even though we killed him in the end, he did manage to elude us for 10 years. It kind of makes it into a hollow victory, in a way.

In a way, I think that the death of Bin Laden is going to be just a minor footnote in history – although the media will undoubtedly blow it out of proportion and make it out to be the most major victory against terrorism ever (they have started blowing their trumpets already). The real victory will be when I don’t have to take my shoes off at the airport anymore, or when every federal building, no matter how small, has armed guards and you have to go through a security screening just to enter.

As I said on Twitter shortly after I heard the news:

Killing somebody is relatively easy. But reversing years of fear-induced public policy? Now *that's* hard. #binladenisdead
@ksurvell
Keithius

Now that Bin Laden is dead, we should be screaming for a reduction in our over-zealous security policy. If we make the death of Bin Laden out to be a big deal, then naturally this means we can relax our security. On the other hand, if we largely ignore this, then our security will stay the way it is, because the “enemy” is not someone we can kill, since it’s just an idea. And that’s what “perpetual war” is all about… but that’s a topic for another day.

Once we repeal some (or all!) of the stupid security laws we’ve enacted since 9/11, then we’ll have something to celebrate about. When we stop being afraid of our own shadow and every “suspicious” person, then we’ll be able to say “we won.”

I’ll keep my fingers crossed.