ambivalent imbroglio home

« 2nd Practice LSAT | Main | Math Class for Poets »

September 14, 2002

Forbidden Thoughts

Looking back a bit at the big anniversary: It looks like Salon stirred up some controversy by publishing Forbidden Thoughts about 9-11. Some say it was in poor taste, while others say it's a relief to finally read honest, human, and widely varied responses to the events of a year ago. You might guess I side with the latter group. As a teacher I try to promote critical thinking [1] and the high emotional rhetoric and romantic simplifications that have filled the media since 9-11 have often made critical thought difficult to conduct or maintain. So stuff like this Salon piece—which is way outside the media mainstream—provides something of a system-shocker that helps remind people to examine the dominant discourse for flaws, holes, omissions, representative accuracy.

For the dominant discourse, the AP is often a good source. For example, last week the AP reported that:

The president's speech [to the U.N.] completed the steady expansion of his war on terrorism, first launched after the Sept. 11 attacks against alleged mastermind Osama bin Laden, to a campaign to remove what he has called "tyrants" such as Saddam.

One of the "forbidden thoughts" covered in Salon's article said:

"I had a thought, when it first happened -- the kind of conspiracy thoughts that liberal college students have who studied poli sci and read too much about Nicaragua or Colombia -- that maybe the Americans let it happen so that they could use it as a tool to get serious in Iraq. Then the buildings fell and all the liberal poli sci hippie stuff drained out of my body and for the first time ever I felt, kill them all."

The prescience of such a reaction is eerie. Of course, there's no way of knowing whether this person actually thought the above on 9-11-01, or whether subsequent events have revised her memories of her first thoughts, Still, since I heard about the same sort of "first reaction" from many different sources long before anyone started talking seriously about a new or reinvigorated war against Iraq, I tend to think the above is probably a fairly genuine response. If so, this seems to be someone whose critical judgment proved to be uncannily—and disturbingly—accurate.

Anyway, for more in the vein of "forbidden thoughts," see also the stories from readers, and the discussion on Scott Rosenberg's blog. And while we're talking forbidden thoughts, check out this column from Ted Rall: "If You Have Dignity, the Terrorists have Won.".

All of the above links discuss 9-11 with irreverence, to say the least. For a bit of balance, check out The Dead and the Guilty, a thoughtful account of precisely why the best memorial we (you and me, Americans and citizens of the world) can offer to those who died on 9-11 has very little to do with the kind of thing that filled the media on that day [via Joe Conason]. Historian Simon Schama writes:

Apparently, the dead are owed another war. But they are not. What they are owed is a good, stand-up, bruising row over the fate of America; just who determines it and for what end?

Does the fact that we don't really seem to be having this "bruising row" mean that such arguments have become "forbidden thoughts," too?

[1] The "critical thought" I'm speaking of here does not necessarily take sides (i.e., is not necessarily oppositional), but instead asks of any text (news report, story, event, etc.): what is this text trying to accomplish? Why was it created? Who constructed it and what were his/her motives or biases? What does this text assume or take for granted? What do those assumptions imply? What are the logical conclusions of the argument made by this text? etc...

Posted September 14, 2002 02:34 PM | general politics

about   ∞     ∞   archives   ∞   links   ∞   rss
This template highly modified from The Style Monkey.