David Foster Wallace and the 'monstrous thought experiment' of 9/11

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Michael Kruse highlights the thoughts of one of my favorite authors, the late David Foster Wallace, who had the courage to wonder:

Are some things still worth dying for? Is the American idea one such thing? Are you up for a thought experiment? What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”? In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?

In still other words, what if we chose to accept the fact that every few years, despite all reasonable precautions, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of ghastly terrorist attack that a democratic republic cannot 100-percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting?

Is this thought experiment monstrous?

Wallace’s thought experiment is monstrous, but I would be lying if I, in my fiercest anti-statism, have not argued that this nation would have been better off had it just walked by the ‘exploding storefront’ (as Terry Gilliam defined casual terrorism in his landmark film “Brazil”) rather than go through what the U.S. has gone through these past eleven years.

Osama bin Laden, men with box-cutters and $500,000 in operational expenses forever changed this country — and for the worse.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.