Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Ruminations 88: Reflections on the Events of 9-11-2001 and the Start of the "New Era"

The acts of 11 September 2001 have had a profound effect in the United States, and through the profundity of that effect, on the course of global events. "Nothing has been the same since" has become a catechism but one perhaps whose meaning has been lost to cliche.  Still, one well might mark 7.49 am on 11 September, 2001 (the time that American Airlines Flight 11 departed Boston's Logan Airport) as the start of the 21st century.  Not that the century started without warning. There had been at least a third of a century or more of warnings (to states) and as long a period of practice and refinement of violent intervention by those elements of non-state organizations (in Europe, the United States and elsewhere) as the exuberance of liberation before 1968 was turned to the organization of instability through violence which itself became thereafter the warm up for our new era of terror governance. And the irony, of course, was underlined by the ease with which the participants in both exuberance and organization could move from one side of the equation to the other, from disaffected violence to positions of high trust and power within the system itself. This was not merely a western melodrama: whatever nurturing the example of the developed world, the de-colonized and developing world also awoke to the possibilities of multi-trajectory liberation. That is they were waking to the the possibilities of detaching liberation from the national aspiration of their elders and attaching it more vigorously to technologies that made dependence on the machinery of states for the exercise of violent power less necessary).   

And so one tends to mourn the foundations of the global order in which our political communities find themselves. For that it is necessary to return to the original act of (unwilling) and profoundly barbaric (in the sense of its positive indifference to the core taboos that hold our civilization together) sacrifice to measure the distance between what had been and what is now required.  In this way it is possible to understand that what there is to say (what must be said) after 18 years can be reduced to (deeply felt) ritual expressions of grief, of loss, of determination through ceremonies both humble and elaborate (and for those on the other side of the conflict of the opposite). It is especially in this sense that the events of that day has reshaped the (with variations) the political and societal cultures of the United States (though the depth and expression of those changes remain hotly contested--but contested within the structures of those events that thrust us out of the stable post World War II order and into a new era populated by private states and governmentalized non-state entities, and in which old values have been defended or reshaped by the circumstances which forged them in new (and as yet not fully developed) forms. 

At the foundation of this new era is the signature character of the events that announced its birth--control of violence in ways that more fully realized the tactical ambitions of their forerunners--the Senderos, the Brigate Rosse, the Baader-Meinhof, the early PLO, and others who tend to be forgotten as the deadbeat parents of the children who produced  the 11 September events. What separates these old groups from their children was the sensibilities of globalization and its fundamental erosion of borders as a political and cultural phenomenon. The old groups were attached to contests for control in a way that appears quite reactionary from this side of the new era.  Their institutional "grandchildren do not necessary want or need to capture the state.

But that is the stuff of academic debate--and of the necessary abstractions fabricated to explain the world in ways that agree with the visions of those with the power to craft this to their liking. To commemorate this day and to remember those individuals sacrificed it may also be fitting to consider the word that itself serve as the signifier of the age that emerged after the morning of 11 September--that word is terror. Through a semiotics of its germinal moment that one might add some clarity of meaning to the world that begins to form out of the rubble of the destruction of 11 September (the sign of our age) into its new era of terror (its signifier) to produce the foundations for the interpretation of the world now around us.

The words we attach to the events that mark the passing of an age are among their most important markers. They suggest the underlying psychology of that transition, as well as the baseline from which its outlooks and principles will be derived.  Usually the words used to build a new era take as their starting point words already in transition from the passing age.  From 11 September the global community entered a collective age of terror, of alarm and of panic.  It is useful to dig beneath these words for hints about the foundations we have begun to construct on the backs of these words; to these words serve as objects, as signifiers as as the lens through which we can interpret the new era.   

Terror is an ancient word with which has acquired meaning to suit the times. But it has never lost its most ancient understanding--the Latin terrorem; to frighten. But that word in turn derives from the physical demonstration of fright--a trembling, a paralysis--from PIE root *tres- "to tremble." But the term embraces more than to frighten, also to cause fear, dread, alarm.  Aaaah, but consider the last of these terms, for it moves us from a reaction to action that itself proceeds from the experience of fright or dread. There is a telling intersection between the experience of terror and its manifestation as alarm.  But consider the etymology of alarm.  This is both a manifestation of terror as well as its response--deriving from 
late 14c., "a call to arms in the face of danger or an enemy," from Old French alarme (14c.), from Italian all'arme "to arms!" (literally "to the arms"); a contraction of phrase alle arme. Alle is itself a contraction of a "to" (from Latin ad; see ad-) + le, from Latin illas, fem. accusative plural of ille "the" (see le); with arme, from Latin arma "weapons" (including armor), literally "tools, implements (of war)"" (here)
To experience terror is to tremble, to feel dread (all as a cultural matter for my purposes here).  But it also suggests at its core a response--alarm.  Terror is alarm, but it also produces alarm.  Alarm suggests not just an internal state (of being frightened or terrorized) but also suggests the plausibility of a response--one that necessarily matches terror with its own modalities.  And indeed, the "new era" inaugurated by terror has responded with alarm--a call to arms, the arming itself, and the construction of the  institutions of alarm.  

It is in this sense that the alarm that springs from terror also suggests a consequential action. Alarm thus also carries with it the sense of warning--a cry or other action that raises the alarm, the call to arms, to response. A response, of course, to that which causes fright--to terror. This warming is necessary in the face of the overwhelming fright suggested by terror, one which produces a momentary trembling and paralysis and then alarm. 

This relation between terror and alarm now shapes the global order. It shapes the constitutional order of the United States.  And it increasingly shapes the way that institutions now understand and respond to the world.  There is always terror, but that terror will produce alarm. The world as we know it now is built on both.   Yet this is not a "reign of terror" in the French revolutionary sense. New Era terror does not recognize reign in either of its two senses--as a noun (kingdom or dominion), nor as a verb (the exercise of power over a dominion).  The morning of 11 September did not mark the beginning of a reign, but rather of an age--"extended form of Latin aetatem (nominative aetas), "period of life, age, lifetime, years," from aevum "lifetime, eternity, age," from PIE root *aiw- "vital force, life; long life, eternity."" (HERE).

The question for this age, then, is to identify terror, and then to raise the alarm and call to arms. The structures of global governance evidence this basic defensive model in many respects.  Terror has become the way in which society comes to understand those actions that undermine its sense of itself, its safety, it cohesion.  In the United States it has been deployed in the the way that "war" had been deployed in an earlier era to combat social, political or economic ills.  Though the echo is still there--the United States lead a "war on terror" the way Americans once led a "war on drugs" and a "war on poverty." But "war" has itself changed; the liberation movements of the last half of the 20th century brought that point home--as did the PLO, the Brigate Rosse and their ilk. Wars on terror now require the tools and techniques of multi generational warfare of a response to counter an attack, rather than to combat a societal ill.  Terror "attacks"--indeed it is not uncommon to hear the coupling of terror with attack--that is to see as an amalgam of the new age an intertwining of fright with assault. A terror attack--the baseline manifestation of our fear--then suggests a battle with the object of frightening. And frightening is meant to  

For against this effort of terror attack, the entire body of society must be organized, and the social order adjusted. This is part because terror also begets panic--and panic is a poison to the social and economic order.  If terror produces panic, then the response to terror embraces not merely a call to arms but also an obligation to maintain order.  And it is here that the old orders for social stability-a constitution,a  rule of law culture,, an open texture to social interactions undergoes a necessary response. Society moves from a fundamental contradiction of inclusion, to the fundamental contradiction of the production of stability in an environment of social instability that is produced by panic  which is an object of terror.The modern face of the global order--and the internal reordering of both liberal democratic and Marxist-Leninist states, is based in this new era on the axis of terror-alarm.

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