About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
That said, here are three reasons to be weary of public commemorations, including but not limited to yesterday's. First, they easily turn into tools for shameless politicians to further twist the public's perception of reality to their advantage. Witness what Bushy boy said yesterday, still defending his insane attack on Iraq, connecting it to the war on terror, and expressly stating that this is going to be a long-lasting clash of civilizations – just what the fear mongering Republicans need to stay in office for another century or so.
Second, commemorations of tragedies are much more appropriate as private events, for the families and friends of those who perished. I really don't see how making a worldwide spectacle of someone's grief on CNN (or, worse, Fox) helps anybody, or in fact can be construed as a sign of respect for the victims and their beloved ones.
Third, and perhaps more importantly, the chief reason to have public commemorations of such events, it seems to me, ought to be so that we as a society can learn from what happened and change our views and behaviors accordingly. This, unfortunately, rarely happens, and it is certainly not the case for the 9/11 attacks. Still too many people in this country see the “post-9/11” world in black and white, us-vs-them Bushian terms. Too many among us still don't understand the long, complex, and tortuous history of international relations (and exploitation) that led from the fall of the Ottoman empire through British colonialism to American imperialism, and finally to the attacks on the twin towers. Too many people in this country still see 9/11 as a rallying cry for more “patriotic” nonsense and religious bigotry, which of course will simply perpetuate the cycle of violence and cultural division that has brought us to this point to begin with.
The American philosopher George Santayana famously said that “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Less famous, but equally true, is the observation by another philosopher, the German Friedrich Hegel, who said that “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” It's not that history is a bad teacher, it's that we are awful students.