10 September 2021


The most striking thing about the past twenty years is how little has changed. Think for a moment of what, of any substantive significance, exists today that did not exist twenty years ago, and you will soon conclude the answer is not much. It is an atypical time of stasis, where not much has changed culturally, politically, socially, or technologically.*  Contrast this with almost any other twenty year period that comes to mind, i.e. 1940-1960 and clearly change was far more extensive. Or 1920-1940, or 1900-1920, and on and on. In each instance there are clearly substantial cultural, technological, and social changes that simply have not been equivalently replicated over the past two decades. 

Thus the present moment is atypical compared to the relatively recent past. This may or may not be attributable to the event, but things seem oddly frozen since September 11, 2001. As if to cruelly bookend this phenomenon, the Afghanistan disaster indicates we are now closer to the conditions on September 10 of that year, as much of what transpired has been completely reversed.  

But what has changed during this period is us. We are that much older. Thus, someone young and starting out twenty years ago is now approaching middle age, with the course of their life largely set. Someone just born back then is now fully grown. Much of what characterizes our lives happens over a twenty year period. We are young and then not so young, almost suddenly; for even though we know, objectively that we are going to age, it still comes upon us unexpectedly.  

So we have aged, yet the times seem frozen, which is the opposite of what has usually characterized human experience, where the times change but we remain the same. So most of the problems that were with us then are still with us now, and the stasis that grips us has only become more rigid. Yet nothing stays the same and sooner or later there is going to be a breakpoint. 

What has been lost during this time is a certain faith in progress- that things will always get better, that now seems faded. Yet tragedy has always been a major part of human experience that has perhaps been unnaturally masked in modern times. Things are better, things are worse, there are good times and bad times, and always will be, even though the present seems oddly frozen in place. But sometimes tragedy comes in a different sort of magnitude that overwhelms everything else. That is the legacy of September 11, 2001, now made even worse on its twentieth anniversary as we have so terribly deprived of catharsis due to avoidable recent events. Yet there may be hope, as people have finally had enough and the intolerable present finally reaches a breaking point that ultimately ends the stasis of the times. 

*To be sure the Internet is more widely utilized and woven into the fabric of our lives, and the now giant companies mislabeled as “big tech” were virtually unknown two decades ago, but the basic parameters of the Internet were already well established. (They are, with the exception of Apple, hardly “tech” companies but rather big media companies, still fundamentally based on little more than a website). 

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