Something I wrote a few years ago:

The Magical Powers of a New Shirt: on The West Wing, 9/11, language, and violence



We are staying home today, and we will not turn on the radio, the tv, or the ringers on our phones. It was a crime against humanity, not against some culturally contingent economic theory. Security derives from universal liberty. I am free only so long as everyone else enjoys the same freedom. I live in a country of drooling morons who have forgotten this. (Liberty is expensive, and is often not worth the trouble: people don’t seem to value it. Let’s take it all away and see if anyone misses it. Frogs in a pot of water, the heat rising very slowly.) The only moral or social code I would want to see imposed on all humanity would be the one that allows me to pursue my own quiet life and grants all others the same liberty. Do what you will, but harm none; the rest is bureaucracy. (I know, I know: I am caught in one intractable contradiction after another.)

I wake enraged, and retire in despair. I didn’t know the state of queasy disappointment could be compounded so, and sustained: weeks have turned to months, months stretching to years. Criminals, liars, fools. I bite my tongue; I can think of nothing to say but invective. If I do speak, it will be with a blade unsheathed, burning cold, indifferent to whom it may cut. I can only save myself if others wish to drown.

The casual brutality with which we handle each other: how did we fall into such habits? how deep does our fear run, and what exactly are we all so afraid of? There is, after all, no deity to fear, and the natural universe is lifeless, insensate, wholly incapable of malice. There is only us.

Are we really so pathetic that we are scared of ourselves? Perhaps. I know that my own fear of humans runs deep; there is very little difference between my subway companions and the unstable berserker in repose in the corner over there. Their differences are a matter of degree, not kind. New York didn’t teach me that: the Minneapolis highways did; the playground; the backyard.

I cannot measure how deeply I have been betrayed. I didn’t need help learning how not to trust but I have now learned that lesson again, again, again. Trust, like attention, is precious currency, not to be paid out lightly.

This new day is crisp, blue; leaves once green are now sage and dry in the breeze.