Slaney asked me if I would write something for her college students on the anniversary of September 11th. So… here it is. Please know it is aimed at people who were seven or eight years old in 2001. And this wouldn’t be important if we weren’t friends, but we are, so please note that I think this is the thing I’ve had the most difficulty writing maybe ever, so… you know. Anyway.
Let’s say you’re babysitting your two little cousins. One of them hits the other one. So you say “Jaden! What are you doing?” and Jaden’s like “Bella took my toy!” and so you’re like “It doesn’t matter, you don’t hit people, ever. You’re on timeout!” and then Jaden’s like “Aw, phooey!” or whatever it is the kids are saying these days.
By asking Jaden what he was doing, are you excusing his action? By trying to get to the root cause of the hitting are you taking Jaden’s side? Are you a Jaden apologist? Why do you hate Bella? Are you saying that every boy has a right to hit his sister and maybe he was even justified in doing so?
I can’t prove it, but I’ll argue that the number of Actual Evil People in the world is vanishingly small. Part of the reason this is (likely to be) the case is that there is (likely) no such thing as Actual Evil. Listen, I’m as close to agreeing with Platonic philosophy as I can be without literally sitting in a cave with my back to the fire, and even I don’t think there’s Actual Evil in the universe.
Osama Bin Laden was a mass-murdering fuckhead, and I’m personally glad that he isn’t alive anymore. But he wasn’t evil in the way that, like, Skeletor is evil. He wasn’t steepling his fingers and cackling just because. He didn’t wake up one Tuesday and go “Hey, you know what would be fun?”
He killed a lot of people. But it wasn’t Just Evil and it wasn’t for kicks; he did it for a reason, and figuring out what that reason is is not excusing what he did, because what he did has no excuse, because killing people who don’t want to be killed is Wrong (I warned you about the Platonism thing). And for more than a decade now, I have been told by people in power that trying to figure out the reasons why he attacked makes me a terrorist sympathizer. People who say this are moral fucking simpletons, and this is coming from a Platonist, so you know it’s pretty extreme.
Look: imagine if Saudi Arabia had military bases all over the USA. Or imagine if Saudi Arabia were here dictating how we dig up our oil. That would be weird, and that would be upsetting, and so I imagine it is just as weird and upsetting in reverse for people in Saudi Arabia. So bin Laden saw military incursion into his home country. He decided to attack the Pentagon.
And the USA, with aid and diplomacy and the bully pulpit that comes with the loudest microphones, supports Israel in pretty much everything they do. This may have upset bin Laden at least partially because Israel has done some pretty heinous shit to Muslims. Which is not to say that he wasn’t an anti-Semitic shithead, because he was, but it’s not like when he said that Israel has committed atrocities against Muslims that he was totally wrong (again, please please please remember: it’s not OK for Jaden to hit Bella, even if she really did take his toy. Plainly: please don’t run airplanes into buildings. Ever. For any reason. Thanks.), and the US government has remained supportive even in light of those atrocities. He decided to attack the Capitol, or the White House, and it didn’t work, because the people on that flight traded their lives for the lives of others. (In the history of the world, there has rarely been such a clear act of heroism; we should learn their names, we should build of them statues.)
And bin Laden thought that the USA’s trade policies have disenfranchised and put into de facto slavery a significant portion of the world’s population, which is not only not wrong but completely factually accurate. He decided to attack the World Trade Center.
He turned commercial airliners into missiles and sent them at the centers of our military, diplomatic, and economic might. He had a reason.
But no, he does not get my sympathy. I’m glad he’s dead. Fuck that guy.
You put Jaden into timeout because it’s not OK to hit your sister. But it’s also not nice to take somebody else’s toy without asking, so you put Bella into timeout too. She’s going to think this is unfair; aren’t you blaming her for getting hit?
But you’re not. You just want her to be a better person, regardless of who hits her.
I know how hard this can be to think about. Or to talk about. Or even to think about talking about. It’s all so complicated and fraught: a well of sadness and anger and I can never touch the bottom no matter how deep I dive.
It’s a Tuesday in September. There has never been a lovelier morning, clear and beautiful and perfect. Squint skyward and listen: you can hardly believe how lucky you are to be alive.