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May 21, 2014

Stop With all the 9/11 Museum Hypersensitivity

I've been bothered by this for a long time. I understand that the 9/11 site is the place where 3000 people were murdered.

However, I've been very annoyed at the demands that the 9/11 site not be used for anything dirty like Commerce or Ordinary Human Activities.

The 9/11 site is not a graveyard. A graveyard is a consecrated site, pregnant with metaphysical weight.

The 9/11 site is a murder scene -- a mass-murder scene, to be sure, but we do not insist that murder scenes be used for no other purpose but to commemorate the dead.

If we did, we would have virtually no land remaining for ordinary human purposes.

The various 9/11 pressure groups have fought various plans to use the land of the site for ordinary productive human purposes.

I understand their push to use the land for little other purpose but to commemorate those who were lost and to preserve the Rights of the Dead, but I think it's occasionally important to speak up for the Prerogatives of the Living, too.

Part of this is that I just don't see Commerce as many people do, as something dirty and sinful and somehow disrespectful of the dead. I see commerce as, itself, a rather holy thing.

Perhaps "holy" overstates it. But I do believe that commerce is a good thing-- the voluntary transaction of one good for another, in an exchange that both parties believe will increase their happiness, if only by a tiny quantum -- and so I do not believe that such activity is disrespectful of the dead.

It is not disrespectful of the dead that the living should go on doing the thing that living beings do.

I am not bothered that the 9/11 museum has a gift shop. Every museum has a gift shop -- the Gettysburg Museum has a gift shop.

So too does the Holocaust Museum.

It is not strange nor disrespectful that someone visiting a site should wish to bring back a souvenir from that site. Or to purchase a gift for a loved one there, so that the loved one could have some totem of the visit.

The 9/11 souvenirs are not disrespectful -- it mostly seems to be NYPD and NYFD t-shirts and the like. These souvenirs are cheap and kitschy, like virtually all other souvenirs. The other types of souvenirs are overpriced coffee-table books and overpriced models and maps.

It is the same everywhere.

And now the newest outrage is that human beings, who are capable of both respecting the dead and then getting on with the ordinary business of living their lives, drank liquor at the site.

Let's talk about this.

Here are some of the other things people will be doing at One World Trade Center (aka "Freedom Tower"):

They will be going to the bathroom quite a lot, as people do.

They will be watching tv. Sometimes they will watch R-rated and even X-rated movies.

They will smoke pot, or even do a harder form of narcotic.

They will spend many, many hours of their lives not even thinking about the dead of 9/11 at all.

They will have sex, including deviant sex, and including extramarital sex.

Think of it -- extramarital sex happening right on the site of the 9/11 mass murder!

Okay, now let's think about something else:

What the hell does anyone expect visitors to the 9/11 site to do?

What does one expect of people working in, or living in, the 9/11 area to do?

To serve as Monks charged with Honoring the Dead on the nation's behalf 24 hours of every day?

People have a couple of bad tendencies.

People tend to expect other people to do things that they would never themselves do.

People insist on laying greater duties of care, respect, and sensitivity on other people than they are willing to demand of themselves.

It's very easy to do. Which is why people do it. It is terribly, terribly easy to demand the Highest Level of Sensitivity possible from other people, and go into I Would Never Do That mode.

Well, most people would do that. Including the people most furiously claiming they never would do anything like that.

This is a working building, for God's sake, not a monastery.

And even in monasteries, monks frequently did things for their own pleasure and comfort.

This is called "living."

We do not personally demand of ourselves that we sit over holy books speaking prayers for the dead with every single moment of our non-work/non-sleep/non-family-raising time. We permit ourselves, every now and again, some time simply to enjoy ourselves.

This may include drinking, it may include sex, it may include a raft of blow-off activities which are not technically taboos but which certainly cannot be said to be "honoring the dead" (such as wasting time playing World of Warcraft).

Incidentally -- I don't want to deeply delve into this topic, as it's a bit rude, but I think it must be asked, in a vague way, in order to illustrate this idea of people burdening others with burdens they would never shoulder themselves -- but can it really be that the families of those killed have renounced, themselves, all worldly pleasures in the thirteen years since 9/11?

Of course not.

But then, people would rather jawbone other people into Respecting the Dead by living like monks rather than live like monks themselves.

If the goal is to increase Solemn Respect for the Dead, it doesn't matter who works so hard on behalf of Solemn Respect for the Dead. If you can pressure other people into providing this service, you can ignore providing it yourself.

This is annoying. This is what is annoying about Climate Crusader Al Gore as he pressures and cajoles people into making Carbon Sacrifices he is completely unwilling to make himself.

But so long as he is pressuring other people to make those sacrifices, he counts himself in the Black in the Sacrifice-Making accounting ledgers.

The standard guide for conduct should be the flip-side of the Golden Rule: If you're not yourself willing to engage in the abstemious behavior you propagandize for, you should stop propagandizing for it, or at least have some modesty in your propagandizing.

Stop being so outraged that other people are interested in living a relatively burden-free life, just the same as you are.

That the living should go on living as living beings do is no affront to the dead. Life is not all drudgery and toil and solemnity and grave expressions. Life is occasionally laughter and meeting other living beings and talking and engaging in the bad-but-enjoyable habits of conviviality, such as knocking back a drink or three.

And life is sometimes buying a NYPD t-shirt for your brother who couldn't make the trip, because you want to include him, if in a minor way, in your personal pilgrimage to the 9/11 site.

Enough with all the unending, constant outrage about how everyone else in the world isn't Doing Quite Enough Serious Work and Serious Solemnizing for the Dead.

We show the dead respect by showing them respect -- not by taking on the dourness of the dead ourselves.

The Wake: It occurs to me that a wake might have an important psychological function in demarcating the point at which most people (extended family, casual friends) are free to drop the external signifiers of mourning and get back to living life in a normal, ordinary, not-terribly-solemn way.

I don't know how we could ever have this sort of psychological marker for 9/11. But it has been thirteen years. We have not condemned this billion-dollar property for use as the world's most expensive gravesite, and it's time to stop pretending we made that decision.

We didn't. We do not expect people to treat the world at large as a gravesite, speaking in hushed tones, heads bent reverentially downwards. We expect people to treat actual gravesites with such solemn dignities, but not the world at large.

I just don't know what the plan is here: Will we have a new outrage each week as each visitor or resident engages in some bad behavior?

Will we have, next week, as story about a man who chewed tobacco at the 9/11 site and irreverently spat it into an empty Coke can he was using as a spittoon?

How about the first person to shout an angry profanity at the site?

How about the first angry drivers honking his horn at the perimeter of the site?

Is this going to be a new Media-Sensitivity Complex cottage industry, or what?

Update: A lot of commenters are insisting this took place at the Remains Repository.

I think this is bullsh*t. Hyped-up, tabloid Outragey Scandal bullsh*t.

Here's what the NY Post says, emphasis mine:

The museum’s cocktail hour took place near the “remains repository,” where 8,000 unidentified body parts are being stored.

That's a bullsh*t sentence. Yes, it took place near there, not in there.

Every place in the tower is near the remains repository, and very near to where someone actually died.

By the way, where they died seems more hallowed to me then where their remains fell to.

Again, I have no problem with Graveyard Rules of Behavior-- when I'm in the actual graveyard (and, frankly, when there are other people around, because my actual interest is in showing respect to the living, not in showing respect to stone signifiers and piles of dirt).

When I'm not in the graveyard, I'm not abiding by these rules.

This is what bothers me: People are creating not just an unending period of mourning, but an undefined bubble of solemnity.

I have no problem if there's a specific site holding the remains of the dead I'm required to behave with Graveyard-Like Solemnity in.

The problem is people are getting outraged because Perfectly Ordinary Human Behavior is taking place vaguely near the site of solemnity.

Sorry, I'm a Bright Line Rules kind of guy. I do not respect blurry rules. I think blurry rules are usually created and then enforced for corrupt purposes (chiefly, to inflict painful double standards on other people).

Per my own Bright Line Rules, inside the Remains Repository requires Graveyard Rules, and, outside the Remains Repository does not.

I'm also a bit perplexed at what people are objecting to here -- apparently they drank cocktails at a launch party.

Is this scandalous? Or are people just imagining that a drunken orgy must have broken out, with sex near human remains and perhaps some Dead Body Selfies, because these people are Not Like Us and therefore can be safely imagined to be engaged in all sorts of horrific debauch?

I personally don't assume that. I think these formal network-y black tie cocktail parties are usually attended for professional reasons, not for hedonistic pleasure.

They tend to be the sorts of things people leave early.

On the other hand, I'm also sure that among these Tony Attendees were multiple people having affairs, and who might have met their Cheat there, or perhaps texted their Cheat from the party to let 'er know they'd be by 'round 11.

But... I don't get the outrage. Yes, these are human beings. They misbehave constantly.

I don't get this idea that we're going to create an ill-defined Sphere of Untainted Morality and Solemnity whose boundaries are created by whoever's writing the current tabloidy hype article.


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posted by Ace at 05:30 PM

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