GIVEN it’s slightly get-on-with-it-already tone, the families of 9/11 victims understandably are said to disdain the word “closure”. But surely, bin Laden’s death must mean the end of something, right? Right?
It probably won’t mean the end of conflict in Afghanistan, and it can’t end the pain of the families who lost loved ones on American airplanes on 9/11, or on English buses on 7/7, or on Spanish trains on 3/11, or in the countless other murders by the sexually and religiously perverse (how often these two deficiencies coexist) actors of Osama bin Laden’s network. But if not closure here, then where?
In an odd twist, it brings closure to me. I turned 18 years old two days before 9/11. In my third week of college in San Luis Obispo, I was awoken to the television, where I watched the towers fall. I went to math class, where I learned nothing that day. Angry, juvenile, and confused, we took paint to our buddy’s hatchback with scrawls reading “Fuck Bin Laden” and “U-S-A”, and paraded up and down highway 101, relishing in the honks and thumbs-ups from our fellow motorists on the way.
Before September 11th, I was an anxious undergraduate art student, insecure in my choice of majors, and unsure of my desire/capacity to actually make art for a living. I still am. What changed on 9/11 was my confidence in my understanding of the world around me. Why were these people going to such great lengths to attack us? Why are my library books suddenly the curiosity of the Homeland Security Department? Why is the President now talking about waging war on Iraq? Suddenly, it seemed, I didn’t know anything.
I vowed to change that. I switched my major to political science, transferred to San Francisco State University, and secured every internship and volunteer position I could. Canvassing the streets of the Bay Area, I raised $20,000 to defeat George W. Bush in 2004. I graduated with honors, and spoke at my graduation ceremony. During this time, for the first time in my life, I produced very little art.
After unspeakably frustrating months, and then years, trying secure the low-pay work that greets undergraduates, I got a job as a political consultant for a business group on a cause I believed in. I was later promoted, only to watch the campaign collapse two months later. Nearly 10 years have passed since 9/11, and nearly 5 since I graduated college. I have little to show for it other than hundreds of hours of fruitless arguments and a blip on my resume. I am faced with the disconcerting possibility that the whole political enterprise was a perfect waste of time, that in an unforeseen way, the terrorists won.
But then again, no. I’ve learned things, important things. Like the difference between journalism and hack literature, and how cosmopolitan values are superior to tribal ones. I learned about how the phrase “conspiracy theory” libels the noble and scientific word “theory”, and that one should view the intentions of “the people” to be just as suspect as those of “the elite”. And then this crucial lesson: I learned to distinguish western values worthy of the heap, like racism, imperialism, consumerism, from those worthy of our most tender affection, like free inquiry, free speech, free religion, and women’s rights.
“I never wished a man dead, but I’ve read some obituaries with great pleasure” wrote Mark Twain. In a way, Osama bin Laden’s death brings a pleasurable close to my interest in politics. I’ve learned all that I’m reasonably sure I will ever know about human nature, motivation, and morality. I’m left largely where I started: a revived desire to make art, and unsure as to how to pay for it. The irony is that my newer opinion, that the best society is one of individuals seeking to maximize their talent dividends while leaving alone those who have the decency to leave others alone, is essentially a conservative one. As it happens, such a place would be maximally capable of bringing us the finality of the terrorists losing.