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Twin Towers

I read in today’s Globe that a grade school teacher observed that teaching about 9/11 is like teaching about the civil war. The kids in her class didn’t experience 9/11 so for them 9/11 is history. Is it becoming history — in that negative way that Henry Ford evoked when he said “History is bunk” —   for us? Are we going to forget?

Have we already forgotten that none of   the issues related to 9/11 have been resolved? As a nation we still don’t know what hit us or why. We have fought and still fight wars without satisfaction and without settling anything. We’ve apparently learned little.

The terrorists knocked down two symbols of American financial might. Recently some of the greatest financial firms were knocked down by their own stupidity. 

I think these events are related. And unfortunately the destruction of financial institutions is out of the terrorist play book

That our financial system is structurally  unfair and leaves many people disenfranchised and without hope is difficult to refute. The American middle class and above has been living in a dream world, disconnected from the realities of life for most people around the globe. The death and destruction of 9/11 could have awakened us to that reality. But it did not. The unfair economics of greed is still our way of doing business. The cruelty of structural violence and structural prejudice that crushes millions of people every day is unfelt by most of us living comfortable lives in the States.

Paul Farmer is one American who has fought structural prejudice for all of his professional life. He does this in Haiti and right here at home. We need more Paul Farmers and fewer chicken hawks who want to send unmanned drones to kill enemies and let the collateral damage fall where it may.

We have a volunteer army that relieves most of our children of sacrifice. Is this sensible given our situation? Or is military power any kind of solution at all? The last 60 years of our history tends to teach us that it is not.  Perhaps instead of sending armies into places under distress we should be sending Doctors and agricultural and economic experts. Or volunteers like  Joyce Tannian  who learned from 9/11 that service to humankind would make her happy. She founded Water is Life Kenya and spends most of her time helping the people of Kenya live better lives by helping them have water; something both precious and scarce in Kenya. Before she decided to serve in this way, Joyce lived in Manhattan and on 9/11 learned a lesson — about what is important in life — well.

May God bless Paul and Joyce and may their numbers increase!

If our nation and people started to use  power to help the helpless in the world instead of  constantly trying to impose our will or “protect our interests around the world” — goals that reenforce structural violence against people —  we might find that we would be loved by the same people who now hate or distrust us. Sounds like a dream? I think it is our only way forward. The military solutions of the last 60 years have not produced good results. Isn’t time to try something new?

In any case let’s not forget 9/11 — not until we learn what Paul knew along and what 9/11 taught Joyce.


No Choice

A street scene during an election year. We do have choices, don’t we?

The new movie about the life of Bob Dylan — “I’m not here” — has gotten raves. Dylan is played by 6 actors including a 14 year old black actor, Ricard Gere and Cate Blanchett. The movie apparently shows Dylan as a nonexistent shape shifter who changes as soon as his persona becomes intelligible.

Yep — that’s our Bob.

Would that we could learn from his life performance. Would that the rest of humanity could be like Bob, Norman Mailer (currently stirring things up in heaven) and Muhammad Ali who said something like “I don’t have to be like all you people want me to be — I can be whoever I want to be.” He said that after he became the Champ.

But we can’t be like that. We are stuck in the structure of society and economics. We must be who we are supposed to be because we got to live out our lives that way somehow (a little Dylan derivative text).

This is called structural prejudice by sociologists and other learned types. I’m going to delve into it and try to understand what that means and what if anything an individual can do about it.

Bigotry is pretty close to dead. It’s still alive but very subtle and not at all PC. The force that keeps people down is the force of the weight of the years and traditions that impel us to behave in ways that are counter to our better nature.

We are so damn smug and self centered. We are sure that we are God or no-god’s chosen bunch. Each ethnic group tends to feel this way — at least the ones I have experience with. We middle class types put real estate values above almost everything for god’s sake but do we do it because we can’t help it? Maybe, yet we must help.

Last Sunday Reverend Cindy challenged the congregation at First Parish Church to do something about racial inequity in Westford. Blacks earn 40% less than whites she said and there are only 62 whites in Westford. She asked two questions: “How can that be?” and “What are you going to do about it?”

Her suggestion was to give away 10% of our earnings. That might work — certainly if everyone did it it would help even things our.

But it got me thinking (thanks Cindy!) What is really wrong? I think it has to do with were we find ourselves today and our inability to reinvent ourselves. That’s what we need to do — reinvent ourselves – each and everyone of us.

Traditions are good unless they aren’t. We should question our traditional values all the time. Like Emerson taught. Face life each day and question our motives and what we feel we must do. Reinvent ourselves as often as possible.

I think this is what Henry Ford meant when he said “History is bunk!” Yeah, we need to learn from history but as soon as we feel it dictates our actions and thoughts we need to forget it and move on.

Just like Bob Dylan did/does.

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