AND THE JOKE IS ON US

For the first few years of the "post-9/11 world" – to embrace the terminology of our previous President – every hack comedian in the country survived on a steady diet of jokes in the format: "If we __________, then the terrorists win/have already won!" Like all memes, the joke was funny the first time with diminishing returns thereafter until it reached Annoying status. By now even the hackiest of hack comedians won't use such a dated cultural reference.

The joke worked, to the extent that it did, on a number of levels. It ridiculed people who used this phrase in earnest. It mocked the seriousness with which some Americans treat the most banal parts of our lives ("If we cancel college football, then we've let the terrorists win!") And it amuses Americans, at least subconsciously, to think of "losing" a war, let alone a war against a bunch of people living in caves.

However, our hubris relies heavily on the pre-9/11 mindset of which President Bush spoke so regularly. What is defeat? To us, defeat is what we inflicted upon the Nazis and the Japs in World War II. Countries are devastated, governments toppled, and societies radically restructured. Down with Emperor Hirohito, up with a figurehead monarchy in a constitutional democracy. Even the terrorists themselves, smack-talk inspired by the need for religious justifications aside, would not claim that they could inflict this on the United States. Yes, they could blow up some airplanes and buildings, maybe killing a few thousand people. But toppling the government? Installing sharia law? Converting us to Islam? Even bin Laden would roll his eyes and say "You must be high" to any such suggestions.

Of course that was not their goal. Unlike Americans, Islamic terrorists do not relate everything back to World War II. They see themselves not as an opposing army but as the Joker to our rule-based Batman. They are interested mostly in causing chaos, in destabilizing tenuously stable economies and societies through fear, panic, and a small number of well-timed and -executed actions. They thought we needed a better class of criminal than the Soviet boogeyman that was so hard to sell after 1991. And they gave it to us. [/Batman analogies]

In that context, why talk, or even joke, about the terrorists winning? It is abundantly clear that they have already won. Charles Johnson, current right-wing apostate and creator of Little Green Footballs, was once described by a mutual acquaintance as a nice, normal individual driven completely and overwhelmingly insane by 9/11. His mind became a disorganized morass of fear, poorly conceived ideas for violent revenge, and cultural/ethnic hatred toward Muslims. Mr. Johnson does not deserve singling out, though, because that description applies to America as a whole for the last nine years.

They won. Nineteen people plus a loose network of associates who helped them execute their stunningly simple plan at a total cost of about $400,000 (per the 9-11 Commission) gave up their lives to kill a few thousand innocent civilians and in the process drove an entire nation insane. How can we look at America circa 9/11/2010 and attempt to argue that they did not accomplish their goal? America is a neurotic basketcase dog-paddling in its own toxic vomit of xenophobia, proto-fascist politics, and an alarmingly large social divide. We pursued an utterly pointless war at the cost of over a trillion dollars, thus bankrupting (not to mention demoralizing) the nation and setting us at one another's throats even more violently as we fight over the scraps of a once-mighty economy in the shadow of an external threat that is, for the most part, in our heads.

That is the lesson to learn from 9/11. We are particularly bad at learning lessons from tragedies and bad decisions, which is why so many of us believe we lost the Vietnam War because we didn't stay the course. Today the lesson we seem to have learned from 9/11 is that Muslims are bad or that to fight this threat we have to wipe our ass with the Constitution and start operating by Jack Bauer rules. The lesson we do not learn is that "terrorism" is about instilling terror, as the name implies, leading to social, economic, and political disorder in the target nation. As we stand today with a wrecked economy, an intensely divided society, and a political system that has nearly ceased to function altogether there can be no doubt that the terrorists won. They won because we let them win. They wanted us to go completely fucking insane and we were more than happy to oblige.

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35 Responses to “AND THE JOKE IS ON US”

  1. Plane Crazy Says:

    Tell it like it is. I have some bat-shit insane relatives, including my father, who have collectively surrendered to the terrorists by doing precisely what you talk about. As a result, I have just stopped all attempts at talking anything related to politics or current events (outside the weather) with them. But this rant I am going to send. Righteous. (as we used to say way back when the main enemies were commies and hippies)

  2. Jude Says:

    Yeah, they got what they wanted, but they didn't do the heavy lifting in wrecking the economy. The housing bubble had zilch to do with 9/11 and everything to do with 60 years of encouraging home ownership at all cost. Yeah, the money we threw/are throwing away in Iraq and Afghanistan isn't good, but those wars have been put on the national credit card, and we haven't seen that bill come due.

    Yet.

  3. Michael Says:

    Whenever I try to argue this line of reasoning I just get the standard "OMG why do you hate America so much?"

  4. Bette Noir Says:

    Well said!! Unfortunately, I'm afraid the inmates are running the asylum now . . . might be time for a change of venue.

  5. Bugboy Says:

    Haven't we always been insane? This is just the latest boogeyman. After witnessing Murdock, et. al., in action lately, I'm starting to think the ruling class is attempting to engineer society here, just like the ruling class has the peasants paralized in the Islamic world. We are all terrorists now.

  6. Hazy Davy Says:

    .

  7. heydave Says:

    I think 9-11 was more of a facilitator for a trend lurking below the surface. Our worst angels, silent or speaking softly behind the empty ennui of consumerism and repressed assholiness, finally found an excuse to come out screaming. You're too lenient regarding what was already there. Yeah, its fucking Monday.

  8. HoosierPoli Says:

    Terrorism is, and will always be, a law enforcement issue. We're not dealing with guerrillas in Delaware. Planes and bombs and really awesome sniper rifles aren't going to beat religious crazies operating in plain daylight all over the Muslim world. If are OK breaking all sorts of international law (yes, we are), we should limit that to just arresting people wherever we want, whenever we want.

  9. waldo Says:

    I'm starting to think the ruling class is attempting to engineer society here,…

    Murdoch (and the clique he fronts for) have been doing just that for fifty years. His media has incessantly attacked and derided democratic institutions, unions and anyone who protested the wars he promotes in every country he deems worthy of having its life blood sucked. The denigration of societal values and the promotion of the inane using good-looking amoral puppets and moral-less propagandist bullies is his modus operandi, and yes, he does want to destroy the middle class. Hysteria is the pond his sharks swim in.
    'Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state….Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the U.S. media….The more you can increase fear of drugs and crime, welfare mothers, immigrants and aliens, the more you control all the people. ' ~ Chomsky.
    And sorry, but 9/11 was just too convenient, too fabulously fortuitous for Murdoch and the neocons to have been the work of just "Nineteen people plus a loose network of associates who helped them execute their stunningly simple plan".

  10. Jon Says:

    I don't think this isn't anything people have been thinking and saying since the first Patriot act was passed.

    So what do we do about it?

  11. anotherbozo Says:

    Jon is right. Ed articulates what many of us thought we were intelligent enough to argue, if only we had the time.

    We can't do anything about it until more people agree with us, regrettably. A few more, anyway.

  12. Edward Says:

    I think its pretty ironic that the main victims of the anti-terrorism laws have been Americans. Aren't there about 500,000 people on the no-fly list? How much have these laws inconvenienced al Queda? It reminds me of a scene in Young Frankenstein where a blind man tries to light a cigar for the monster and sets his finger on fire.

    I think the Republicans have used these laws to go after their political enemies.

  13. The Man, The Myth Says:

    Edward – in regards to the "no-fly list" – I remember hearing that Senator Ted Kennedy was on the list! Holy cow! If he couldn't get his name off it then how can anyone?

    The rest of the posts and Ed's commentary are awesome.

  14. John Says:

    Some men just want to watch the world burn.

    The fact is that the War on Terrorâ„¢ has always been a ludicrous concept. You cannot destroy an idea. People have tried, over and over and over again throughout history — and they have failed, each and every time. You cannot ever destroy the desire to inflict harm on a nation that is seen as meddling in places where it doesn't belong, forcing western values and culture on a people that do not want it. No amount of bombing, no amount of drone strikes, no amount of mishandled nation-building abroad will eliminate that desire. And believing that cutting off the head will kill the snake is foolish, because the people that do these things are not snakes, they are starfish. Cutting off an arm only serves to grow two separate starfish in different places.

    What nobody wants to admit is that there is no military solution to this problem. We can't bomb our way to victory. There is no nation to defeat. Americans like to externalize the civilian casualties of our military actions — whoops, shit happens. Some even have the gall to complain that we have rules of engagement designed to lessen civilian casualties — "We keep hamstringing our troops!"

    What these idiots don't get is that civilian casualties matter. What they don't get is that over there, it's not just random brown people dying. It's husbands, and brothers, and sons, and fathers, and mothers, and daughters, and aunts, and cousins.

    And what they don't get is that, while we're busy rationalizing and dismissing those deaths as "whoops, shit happens"? The families left behind are getting pissed right the fuck off. Pissed off enough to consider that, hey — maybe these imperialist scum really *are* as bad as Al Qaeda make them out to be. Maybe they really *do* just want to blow us all to hell with absolutely no regard to human life that isn't theirs.

    And maybe it *is* up to us to do something about it.

    One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. What Americans need to understand is that this is not a situation we can just bomb our way out of, because this is not an enemy that can be defeated by conventional warfare. It is not an enemy who's will or resolve you can break, it is not an enemy who's economy you can ruin to the point of forcing them to give up. These are individual people, loosely organized, who believe they have nothing left to lose.

    The only way to get out is to either stop giving them reasons to do it, or to stop wasting time, money, and lives using tactics that do not work and start focusing on actual defense.

    And we've been doing an unfathomably awful job of the former.

  15. Monkey Business Says:

    What we see now is the end result of a determined effort by the military industrial complex to keep us in a state of permanent conflict. There were the Nazis, the fascists, and the Japanese. Then the Communists, and through them came Korea, Vietnam, and Ronald Reagan. After them, there was peacekeeping in Africa and Europe. Finally, we have terrorism. We're no longer fighting nations with armies and infrastructure. We're fighting ideas, and you simply cannot beat an idea. You can fight it, but so long as a single person carries that idea with them and believes it, it will never die.

  16. Bugboy Says:

    It isn't simply about the military industrial complex…this all starts to smell like the game middle eastern dictatorships/monarchies have played for decades, scaring their populace into line with horror stories of us infidel Americans, meanwhile taking our oil money. The media is government controlled in those countries so you have no bad press about the government. Their military-industrial complex is the petroleum-royalty complex. It is a political reality: If you make the boogeyman someone else, your oppressive totalitarian state doesn't look so bad. We know the middle eastern countries, particularly the oil rich ones, have been masterful at deflecting local criticizm this way. So if it works for them, I think Murdock, et. al. thinks it will work for us. Why we are gobbling up this garbage as a society is the real question.

  17. Matt Says:

    My highly cynical take:

    I think that the tools of control and persuasion brandished by the powerful over the populace have been perfected enough that we have reached a social tipping point. We are teetering on the edge of a point of no return. Enough has been learned about how to tap into the basest elements of human nature and cognition to completely short-circuit rationality and empathy. The only defense against these tools is a robust combination of education, introspection, and humility. The problem is, the spreading of these defenses is time-consuming, costly, and perpetually undermined by these same patriarchal sociopaths.

    I have relatives who have been lured into this nadir of humanity and now froth in lust over some re-imagined (yet truly antithetical) vision of America: "We should just kill everyone in Guantanamo because they are all terrorists who hate us" they say. Short of running the entire Fox News Corp through an industrial distiller, it's hard to imagine how one could produce such concentrated hypocritical ignorance.

    I think there is a lot of truth to the statement that you cannot reason someone out of a position they did not reason themselves into. However, where does that leave us when more and more people are being emotionally lured into such positions and fewer and fewer people are even capable of reasoning? I mean, in all seriousness, where do we go from here?

  18. Matt Says:

    As a quick follow-up, Ed's description of the LGF guy is another prime example of this trend. If I recall correctly, he did somewhat distance himself from the crazies. But to the extent that he can even be considered a deserter of this social hypnosis, I still think the recruitment rate equals if not (more likely) exceeds the desertion rate.

  19. PDQ Says:

    @Monkey Business: "We're fighting ideas, and you simply cannot beat an idea. You can fight it, but so long as a single person carries that idea with them and believes it, it will never die."

    I agree, but you can certainly erode support for their ideas/ideals. You can offer a better alternative that improves the lives of those living (in this case) amongst the terrorists, leaving an increasingly small and marginalized fringe element. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to give the Afghanis or the Iraqis a better life so they have no reason to side with us. We keep killing them off and destroying their surroundings, their homes and businesses, etc.

  20. Ben Says:

    I am beginning to see that pursuing a controlled failure approach may be a better option than fighting the tides of ignorance. Speed up the process of decline and dehumanization while planning a proper exit strategy in parallel may be a better option if you want people to wake up and see what they've been doing. Going slowly and fighting them up to this point – providing reasoned answers to the question of "what's in our/my best interest" has not been fruitful.

    Give people what they want. Give them systemic failure and paranoia and in the long term, when they do recieve a wake up call and see how far out of whack their morals are, they will concentrate their efforts on proper systemic improvement.

    So hell… join the Tea Party, eliminate government, give people the chaos they want so they can see that not only have they then become their own terrorists, but that they cannot pursue self-interested strategies for the long haul.

    Don't think of it as a liberal loss, think of it as a planning to revisit concepts of rationalism, intelligence and social justice in about 10-15 years.

  21. acer Says:

    @Matt,
    Most brilliant of all is the "If you question this, you're letting the enemy walk all over you" clause. It sounds dumb, but as a hypnotic command it's devestating.

  22. acer Says:

    @Ben:
    What you wrote reminded me of "I hope he fails," and I was going to give you shit for that. But then I tried to imagine any other plausable scenario that would make Teatard Nation wake the fuck up, and I couldn't. I guess we have to hope for the best and stock up on blankets.

  23. beergoggles Says:

    I think you're wrong. It just shifted the bogeyman-de-jour from gays to muslims. America has always been "a neurotic basketcase dog-paddling in its own toxic vomit of xenophobia, proto-fascist politics, and an alarmingly large social divide" as you summarized.

    Do you think Americans didn't go out in droves to vote in constitutional amendments to ban gays from marrying? Then they turned around and started picking on mexicans and started passing 'papers please' laws. Go back further and we had even more draconian laws against irish and italian immigrants. Back even further and catholics weren't even allowed to practice in certain cities.

    America has always been sociopathic. It just took the latest display for you to wake up and see it.

  24. Batocchio Says:

    We are particularly bad at learning lessons from tragedies and bad decisions…

    Yes, exactly. What's frustrating is that we do have people who aren't bad at it, but we have far too many scoundrels, idiots and pants-crappers who are in power.

  25. Joe Blow Says:

    "They are interested mostly in causing chaos, in destabilizing tenuously stable economies and societies through fear, panic, and a small number of well-timed and -executed actions"

    err NO. respectfully NO. that is a load of crap. they are intersted in kicking us out of their holy sites in Saudi Arabia and ending our unlimited support for Isreal.

    The USA supports Isreal, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, etc.. .. fundie islamists HATE them.

    all of them all the time. we have troops in SA.

    I think the problem is that we kill them and blowup their shit…

    not that we can buy 12 kinds of toilet paper.

  26. ladiesbane Says:

    We are not fighting "ideas", and we are not fighting a war. People who attack civilians, who are not trained or equipped to fight back, are murderers. A small group of thugs who threaten/intimidate civilians are called gangs. I don't care if you hate the IRS or think Waco was Janet Reno's War or think women who show bare faces are whores; your ideas are your own. But behavior is another matter. If you squeeze a shopowner, blow up a building full of people, or sell crack on the street, that's another matter.

    — As are illegal wars, as are guerilla wars, as is the nutbar ex who used to break into my house and trash it just to prove I couldn't keep him out. (The police said, "Yeeahhh, that sucks.") How one deals with it is everything. What is the right way to deal with someone who will fuck with you ceaselessly for pleasure or spite?

    We haven't eradicated street gangs or biker gangs — we're not going to eliminate al-Qaeda. And of course you can't eliminate an idea. But you don't see a lot of Zoroastrians in the papers these days, and the Whig party doesn't have the devoted following it once did. Offer something better, and they change. Ignore them, and they evaporate. Feed their freak-nut zealotry, and it's All You Can Eat.

    But I do suspect that if Timothy McVeigh were around today, he'd be at Tea Party protests. I'm glad he didn't live to see 9/11.

  27. smchris Says:

    If I hadn't dropped out of Facebook because I was so tired of my friends blathering their fear of Muslims and hatred for liberal non-second-amendment constitution lovers, I'd have sent them a link to this. Which is to say that you've nailed it.

  28. c u n d gulag Says:

    Yeah, we had a chance after 9/11 to take a long, hard look at ourselves and our society, and take some corrective action – like going green, and not supporting repressive regimes all around the world, as we have since WWII.
    The world was with us, and against the terrorits. But, the conservative mind can't accept something like that. It must always think it is in the minority and under attack, so it lashes out.
    So, instead of maybe learning a few lessons, we had "Little Boots" who saw this as an opportunity to prove that his dick was bigger and harder than his Daddy's, told Americans that their contribution was to go shopping as we bombed the shit out of a few countries just to keep in practice, and invade them to secure mineral and oil rights. Then he failed even at what we do best by staying too long. We do WAR well, not occupation.
    I will give "Litttle Boots" some credit. He tried to keep the anti-Mulim crazy factions under control.
    Yup. We lost. They won. Is there such a thing as a 4th World Nation, 'cause that's where we're headed economically. And if I'm the rest of the world, I scared shitless. Because no 4th World Nation should ever be allowed a 1st rate military.

  29. goatboyslim Says:

    What amazes me is how completely people with nothing to fear have internalized the 9/11 attacks as threats to themselves. Right after 9/11, I heard a woman from Freedom Maine saying she was certain that Osama was on his way to her town because of the name"If he hates freedom so much, won't he want to attack Freedom?" If Osama had spent a little extra money, and set off small bombs in each of the 50 states, we would have suspended the Constitution, and Bush would have been leader for life.

  30. Matt Says:

    @beergoggles

    I agree that the US has always been sociopathic. Undoubtedly more so than today, at least from the outside. Things partly just seem worse now due to availability of information and media fixation.

    My point was more that we stand at a crucial socio-scientific fork that reflects a qualitative shift in these phenomena. I think our scientific understanding of innate human tendencies (e.g. in-group/out-group biases, cognitive dissonance, Dunning-Kruger, etc) has reached a point where those who wish to exploit them for nefarious purposes will be too effective to counter. Certainly, this same understanding could be used to better society starting at an individual level (e.g. by understanding how people can manipulate you and commandeer your mind to their cause). Many people understand this, but ultimately it is much easier to lull people to a state of mindless conformity than it is to rationally arm them against such tactics.

    I think in the past, these same social convulsions were borne primarily out of localized ignorance. Those with wicked motives only had access to propaganda techniques of limited effectiveness and scope. Today, though, techniques are far more insidious and powerful, and they can utilized on a global scale in real time. The naked human, even naturally intelligent, cannot avoid succumbing to them. And once won over, they are trapped in a carefully constructed closed-loop built on a priori dismissal of counter-ideas (see Ed's "if x, they win" or FNC's "everything else is tainted with liberal bias" or religious faith's insistence on overlooking any aspect of reality that runs counter to it). And even if you can coax someone back to a state of reality-based thinking, you've lost five more in the interim.

    So, in essence, I'm not willing to fully dismiss the current craziness as simply the most recent manifestation of "the same."