“What I learned: Sept 11th 2001 - Sept 11th 2016”
As dictated into text in 10 min, by Peter Joseph
On September 11th 2001, I woke up a bit late for work. Living in Brooklyn, I hopped the train to midtown to humor my job as an artistic director for a team of corporate media video editors. Blasting some flavor of polymetric Nordic death metal in my headphones, a morning ritual to assist my burgeoning caffeine habit, I bounced along my subway transfers, never noticing why the train kept starting and stopping more than usual. By the time I reached midtown, it was about 9:15 and rather than run to my job, now 15 min late, I decided, as usual, food was more of a priority. So, I popped into my fav bagel shop and noticed something was off. Finally removing my headphones, I inquired as to the strange mass behavior I was feeling. My buddy behind the counter, someone I had seen almost everyday for 2 years, looked at me and said coldly “You have had your headphone on. Two planes. Each crashed into the twin towers.”
Walking back outside, the temperament of things changed dramatically as my perception opened. The vast rush hour masses had a tension I will never forget. Something that can only be felt not described. Entering the office was equally as strange. My co-worker and friend Scott (who coincidentally ended up being the “man on the street” for Culture In Decline over a decade later) was in rare form. He said to me “Dude! They just hit the pentagon! There is no other symbolic strike that could ever show such an act of war!” This was true. His father also worked at the Pentagon so there was a deeper meaning to that observation. Luckily his father wasn’t harmed.
Being dismissed from work early, Scott and another co-worker and I went to his apartment. By that time, the city was almost a ghost town. After phone calls with family, we all sat back and watched the news as the vast majority did. And my memory of that experience alone was surreal. While I admit the stress of the circumstance brought out the whisky, the nature of the news that day was overwhelming. I think we watched those planes enter those towers 500 times in a few hours. Over and Over. The news was just a loop, in effect. It was like a kind of cult or religious programming - endless repetition of images to be associated. Explosions, collapsing towers, bin Laden, Islam, various “terrorist” b-roll highlighting the Middle East; peppered with the incredible suffering and heart break of the families and victims of the event. To me - and to the nation at large - these images would never be separated again. It was an emotionally induced trauma; a sociological effect comparable to mass PTSD.
As the years went by, my basic sense of religious contempt was only inflamed. I was perfectly happy to believe that a set of extremists, praising their invisible man in the sky, conjured up a plan to harm the “evil empire”. I really didn’t give it a 2nd thought until about 5 years later when I saw footage of World Trade Center 7. Since I had never heard of WTC7 until 2006, it baffled the intuition that a nearly 50 story building, located a city block away from the twin towers, could quite suddenly collapse into its own footprint at free fall speed. Having always enjoyed physics and math in school, nothing about this was right, especially the corroborating testimony of people who were inside WTC7 who experienced pre-weakening explosions first hand. Even the official NIST report never explained how the collapse occurred, despite its closed black-box model that magically made it all work in a computer. And from that moment, the flood gates opened with not a few discrepancies regarding the Official Story - but hundreds.
But! I’m not here to explore the vast evidence that links 9/11 to internal corruption and collusion within the United States Government. Yes, we could talk about the weeks of extreme high temperatures coming from under collapsed WTC1, WTC2 and WTC7 that could be seen via thermal imagery from satellite — temperatures that were simply impossible on their own, corroborated by the numerous fire department eye witnesses that describe pools of liquid or molten steel in the basements. Yes, we could talk about the multi-corroborated testimony from various workers in the sub-basements of WTC1 and WTC2 who experienced mass explosions there — moments before the planes even hit the top of the towers; the same explosions that blew out the windows of the building lobbies on the first floor. Yes, we could talk about NORAD and the FAA and the numerous war games going on the same day, some of which involved planes being flown into buildings, causing apparent confusion as fighter jets were scrambled in the complete wrong direction. A failure of commercial interception that has never happened in US history.
Yes, we could talk about how most of the hijackers had been under FBA surveillance for years, with two of them actually living with an FBI informant. Yes, we could talk about the 100+ warnings sent from all over the world that an attack on US soil, possibly the WTC, was looming while the Bush admin looked the other way. The words “it will be spectacular” was used months before by the CIA. Yes, we could talk about how it took over a year and with perpetual pressure from the victims' families to have any investigation at all - resulting in perhaps one of the most underfunded inquiries to date; only to produce the 911 Commission (Omission) Report where, today, the heads admit their efforts were stifled at every turn and the report is heavily whitewashed. And Yes - we could also talk about how the events of 9/11 have set course for criminal Western military invasions and imperialism with systemic chain reactions that continue to throw a net of hegemonic oppression, death and destruction over the planet - including the creation of what has now become real, true terrorism in the form of IS and so on.
Yes — We could talk about alot of things.
But I’m not.
Instead, I am going to use this 15th anniversary of 9/11 to talk about the most important thing I learned from the event and that is the power of social psychology. To whatever degree you disagree with the Official US Conspiracy Theory, you will find that the discussion is long closed and the stamp of religious sanctity has made the event untouchable. It is now a codified religious myth and there are severe consequences to those who dare express an alternative position. “Heretic” is perhaps the best term for it.
It is an unfortunate evolutionary fact that human beings are prone to seeking acceptance into their community or group rather than suffer the isolation and ostracism that comes with taking an unpopular position. This is compounded by the need to uphold a reputation, something also related to gaining income in this society. People will justify all sorts of things to maintain an image to secure income, even if it means suppressing their beliefs. I can’t tell you how many friends who were outspoken in demanding a real, independent investigation of 9/11 lost their jobs and were alienated from friends and family. Some were sent into massive depressions with dark results.
The herd mentality has a powerful effect in terms of what is called “social identity theory”. Social identity theory points out that we are ultimately defined by the people around us, particularly the groups we identify with. In this, deviation from the group consensus is destabilizing. In the 1950s, a study asking a group of people to make simple decisions about visual images, such as which line on a screen was the longest of a set. However, all but one test subject was in on the study. These other participants were fakes, planted to purposely agree on the wrong answer and encourage the test subject to go along with their group decision about the correct match. The controlled study proved a strong effect of peer pressure, with over 75 percent of the participants in the total of 12 repeated tests conforming at least once. This is in contrast to the control group (no pressure to conform) where less than 1 percent conformed. This propensity to favor group loyalty, bypassing critical, independent thought is widespread and it works on the personal level or the mass social level.
Neurobiologist Vasily Klucharev writes that “the deviation of individual opinion from the group behavior (opinions) is interpreted by the nervous system as behavioral error or ’reward prediction error’, which starts the process of behavior change, based on the dopaminergic mechanism of reinforcement learning.” In other words, our very brains are somewhat trapped between rational thinking and impulsive counter reactions that seek to prefer in-group conclusions. We experience pain otherwise. These lower brain reactions can make us vulnerable to numerous thoughtless behaviors triggered by brain chemistry, and in addition make us susceptible to external manipulation. Our emotions can literally “change our mind” when the pressure is high enough, given the power of the subconscious mind.
The point being, since 9/11 the power of this gravitation toward group identity/inclusion has been made strongly apparent. Today, I’m hard pressed to find any average person willing to have a rational conversation on the countless problems with the US governments story of 9/11. The emotional dissonance is simply to hard for them, especially since the barometer of the zeitgeist - the mainstream media - has condemned any such discussion with vast pejoratives, derision and mockery. This is no different in phenomenology than the group gravitations in presidential elections, as we see the masses fall victim to today. The undertone of wanting to be on the “winning” side of such a contest, quickly pulls people in due to these same propensities for social inclusion.
So, as much as we like to think humanity has critical freewill to make proper decisions if properly informed, the truth is we have a sociological group inclusion problem. And this problem fights logic, reason and critical thought. I wish I had a simple answer to resolve it, particularly with respect to the dire need for a social revolution. But until a kind of grand galvanization is created - one focused and consistent in its targets and methods, we cannot expect much change given this looming sociological imposition. The tipping point can only occur through critical mass; A mass large enough to attract enough people to override this fatal evolutionary flaw. I am convinced that this basic irrational propensity, compounded by our social system, is exactly what stops what should be a natural, progressive move into improved social affairs by humanity.
That is the most important thing I learned from 9/11 and it has changed the way I engage the world as an activist. That said, I will conclude by making one other observation.
While the problem of the “bandwagon” is bad enough, 9/11 fundamentally promotes “in-group” and “out-group” bigotry. This annual ritual we have to remind ourselves of how "we" were “attacked” does nothing but inflame the irrational. People say to me “don’t you feel for the families of 9/11?” I say yes- but no more than the 1 poor child who dies every 5 seconds from poverty and inequality. And this annual event isn’t about the families or victims anyway. It is about American exceptionalism.
My sympathy is not driven by this illusion of group identity we have fostered in the US or the Western world in general. There are no exceptions. It is a miserably immature reality that just because the event was molded by malice and was executed in a spectacularly criminal, Hollywood film-like way, that the citizens of the United States now blindly recite their religious catch phrase of “we will never forget”. The very phrase is draped in vindictive-ness and elitism.
And this applies to all nations or groups that hold up their “personal atrocities” as some reminder of their plight or current exceptionalism.
On that level, I want nothing more than to forget.