It was inevitable that the events of last September 11 would provoke different and contrasting reactions. But as much as the causes can be discussed and the responsibility for the events fastidiously weighed, one would expect that the indiscriminate violence that crashed down on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania would have horrified everyone. At least, here in the west, where no one can claim to be immune to the humanitarianism with which our entire culture is saturated.
This is not the case. There are those who took delight in the news of the collapse of the Twin Towers, symbol of American economic power, and the partial destruction of the Pentagon, symbol of American military power, not caring about the general context of the events. The corpse of the enemy always gives off a pleasant odor, so an old proverb claims. We would even agree, if it were not that the aroma of American business people and military personnel who were killed was thoroughly smothered by a smell utterly unpleasant to our noses, that of all the other victims: the airline passengers and personnel, subordinates who worked in the towers for clerks to dishwashers, visitors and tourists present in the buildings, firemen who ran up to help, curious passersby who found themselves in the neighborhood at the moment of the collapse… The numerical disproportion between the former and the latter is so obvious that we ask ourselves who could ever have a nose that manages to take pleasure in such a faint perfume while at the same time ignoring the heavy fetor. We have been able to find no one except casuists, crypto-nazis and aesthetes.
As we know, the first are those who believe in the logic that the end justifies the means. In order to cause what they consider Good to triumph, they don’t hesitate to justify what they deem to be Evil. Just like the terrorist Bush. It matters little then, if, immersed to the chin in Evil, accustomed to "necessary compromise", they end up losing their way and are no longer able to tell the difference. Slaughterers in good faith, in their eyes, torture lacerates but liberates, war annihilates but pacifies, terrorism standardizes but subverts. It is enough to present such a practice with a certain oratorical skill: minimizing its effects, keeping silent about its consequences, vindicating its inevitability. The inquisitors describe the torture that they inflict on their prisoners as "tools of persuasion", while the generals dissolve the piles of corpses with which they build their careers into "collateral damage". Who knows what words these casuists will use to anesthetize the civilian deaths of September 11: "accidents along the way"?
But one can fall still further into degradation. One could, in fact, try to deny the indiscriminate character of these attacks. This is what the crypto-nazis do, evidently believing more deeply in the representative system than the voters and those they elect do, holding all Americans responsible for the operations carried out by their government. Since the concept of class responsibility seems much too difficult to define in a world in which every distinction seems to be fading away, and besides is terribly out of fashion, they prefer to opt for a more up-to-date ethnic-genetic responsibility since it is as easy to explain as a railway timetable. By means of this short-cut, the crypto-nazis overcome the contradictions between liberatory ends and oppressive means in a way that casuists were unable to. For them there really are no sad but unavoidable necessities; to exterminate a reactionary race is right. The road to genocide is open.
Finally, the aesthetes. Since they are all artists are something derived from this, aesthetes have no ideas to spread, no values to put into practice, no aspirations to realize. They only have eyes to fill with images, ears to load with sounds and mouths to stuff with witty remarks. And the stronger the images are, the louder the sounds, the more extreme the remarks are, the happier they are. Meaning is nothing; effect is everything. They have an illustrious precursor, Laurent Tailhade, the French writer who, in 1894, first threw out the statement beau geste, saluting Vaillant’s attack against the Cabinet with the immortal words: "What do the victims matter when the gesture is beautiful?" A year later, Tailhade, who frequented anarchist circles in order to break the boredom of his bourgeois life, lost an eye due to the explosion of a bomb in the exclusive restaurant where he was dining. Here, the aesthetes should consider the strange tricks played by fate, the next time they take a plane perhaps to direct a concert, perhaps to take a vacation on some pleasant Mediterranean island.
Our considerations do not arise only from the savagery that characterized these attacks, but also from the motivations that determined them. It seems clear to us that those who tried to grind the arrogance of American power to powder were not so much its enemies as its rivals, its competitors. This is why we have no reason to rejoice in either what happened or in why.
We would have to lose all hope in social transformation in order to consider anyone who does not think as we do as enemies to be slaughtered. We would have to be reduced to powerlessness in order to approve of those who, no matter what they’ve done, are on the other side of the barricades. We would have to have no self-esteem in order to feel gratified by the reprobation of others. We would have to renounce all love for life in order to unconditionally approve of death, thus transforming utopia into nihilism, hatred into rancor, generosity into sacrifice, social subversion into terrorism.
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