That anyone who needs Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War, Sept. 11 or any other natural or man-made disaster to give his or her life meaning immediately drop everything and please God start living a life that has meaning regardless of how many tens of thousands of people are dying in front of you on CNN.
Late 1990s America was aesthetically unsatisfying to a lot of intellectual types, including intellectual types who write about politics. They yearned for a more heroic age, found the disaster of 9/11 exhilarating, and hoped that the rise of al-Qaeda would provide the fodder for its creation. A sober view of the war on terrorism leads, however, to the conclusion that while counterterrorism is an important item on the policy agenda, it’s not much of a grand drama. Indeed, it’s kind of boring. I think it’s interesting, which is why it’s one of the things I write about, but I also liked writing about Social Security, possibly the boringest thing ever. Instead of accepting that, though, we got the Iraq War which was well-suited to a big picture narrative about a world-historical clash.
I had an acquaintance who, in the days after Sept. 11, would remark to me that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Flight 93 and the Pentagon had given her life “so much more meaning.” I would hear this over and over: It’s made me go back to church. It’s made me love my family more. It’s made me value my life. Okay, I guess whatever gets you there, but that’s kind of, no, not kind of, that’s very, very sick.
Honestly. Could there be any greater proof of what a sick, self-obssessed, fucked-up country we are than looking to a disaster as personal validation? Aesthetically unsatisfying? Isn’t it an awful lot of pressure to put on Iraq, to satisfy our Byronian thirst for beauty and grandeur? Isn’t it about time, instead of indulging their narcissism, somebody just told these idiots who need stuff blowing up to feel good to go get a life of their own already?
I mean it. Get a friend. A dog. A family. A job. A new job. A hobby. A fucking goldfish. A book club. Knit something. Politics aside, life’s too short for it, too short to feel you’re living through others, too short to feel you need the next big bang to make it to lunchtime sober.
There’s a sort of pathetic need Matt’s identifying here, the same need Amanda over at Pandagon so elegantly classified as “Please don’t take my Jesus away.” Please don’t take my clash of civilizations away, because it makes my days interesting. Please don’t take away my war, because it gives me something to feel good about. And that’s what’s really important, after all.
Feeling important. Aesthetically satisfied. Personally fulfilled.
It’s really quite unfair. It’s an awful lot of pressure to put on Baghdad and New Orleans, to give our lives meaning.
When you get right down to it, I think they’ve got enough to deal with already.