I am writing this without a draft. This day has been always the peak of some deep dilemma for me since 2001. As an academic scientist with multiple backgrounds, my role was to observe a phenomenon against the best models for prediction and policy making. As a person, it was the final loss of any innocence – an innocence many of us, in the Ivory Tower, preserve by hiding inside it. After 9/11, there is no hiding anymore.
Today, my dilemma takes the following form: the past years allowed us to gather more and more evidence for the innateness of human behavior that is incompatible with Civilization and democracy: band behavior, group thinking. We have data from molecular endocrinology, from ethology, from the tiny part of the social sciences that remains scientific and from the neurosciences. There is something bad about our Paleolithic brain that needs to be repressed (and was) in order to have culture, and art, and democracy. There is something inherently, “naturally” really bad about us and Freud had written about it. Yes, early childhood education is where we should provide the means for the expression of children’s full “human potential”. But that human potential is a product of our ability to quench their darkness and mold the dark mud that is handed to us into beauty and creativity.
Otherwise, what we have is the two towers. Otherwise, what we have is people who can think no farther than Islam – or Gotham City, or Starling City, or Harlem, or Devil’s Kitchen. Their band, their folks.
But on 9/11/01, a huge number of folks went the opposite way. Dunbar’s number was run over by a higher sense of duty towards the abstract, towards the millions that were worth their sacrifice. Towards the billions that weren’t even born to parents from all parts of the world. Suddenly, New York was Paris, Tokyo, Beijing and Mesopotamia. First responders responded to an unpredictable “impulse to altruism” (and altruism towards their non-kin). They sacrificed their lives for the lives of “the other” – no race or group allegiance.
The “loss of innocence” is the loss of the comfort of a good model. Of something that gives us the warm satisfaction of understanding and explaining away apparent contradiction. It is scrubbing our noses in the paradoxical feces on the carpet of social interactions.
And for 16 years I’ve been swinging between darkness and light.
Yesterday, I finally received the green light from Red Rock Fitness OKC for my project with PTSD and suicide risk veterans. It’s really the last thing I want to leave as a legacy (and it involves lifting as a tool). If it works, it’s a template to respond with compassion beyond Dunbar’s number. Beyond the concrete suffering person in our arms. Beyond the known dead. And towards a transcendent belief that it is worth reaching out to damaged people because there is good in humans.
Please let my hypothesis be right. Please, let my last swing be towards joining the first responders of 9/11, who did it because it was the right thing to do.
By Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Preston Keres – http://www.jtfgtmo.southcom.mil/wire/WirePDF/v5/TheWire-v5-i11-10Sep04.pdfhttp://www.navy.mil/view_image.asp?id=1466, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4203440