Wednesday, February 25, 2009


If you remember, the national dialogue in the US prior to 9/11 was secure in its comfort zone of celebrities and sex. In Los Angeles, the local conversation was about the LA Lakers who were anticipated to have another great season, an assumption that was celebrated by a growing number of Laker flags ceremoniously fastened to car windows and waving purple and yellow all over the LA freeways.

Cut To: Post 9/11, the Laker banners came down and were replaced by American flags, more numerous in number and sometimes larger in size when they weren’t the commercially bought versions. To say that a lot was lost in those days as a country is beyond an understatement. But, one of the things that we famously or infamously lost was the opportunity to embrace the groundswell of world opinion that was in our favor. The Bush Administration fumbled that ball when all but a handful of world nations sympathized with our plight and national tragedy.

Instead, and as we all know all too well, our leaders and news media cultivated and fed a national spirit of jingoism and Wild West style revenge leading to wars in foreign lands. They continue to haunt us at a weekly budget of $1billion and consume the declining American hegemony in an echo of Rome, which collapsed on the home front due in large part to the impossibility of sustaining its Empire militarily and logistically abroad.

As I joined the daily ranks of the freeway lemmings, it was hard to ignore to the procession of red, white, and blue accompanied by a medley of decals announcing “United We Stand” and the like. Still, it was easy to understand how hoisting and affixing the symbolic provided some grounding—if not hope—in the grim days and months following the attack on the World Trade Center. But about six-months after 9/11, I noticed that the American flags started to dwindle, then disappear altogether, and were replaced by the familiar swarm of waving Laker flags. It struck me as not only as premature to say the least, but somehow significant.

Did this transition back to cheering on a local sports franchise reflect something, however informal, about how long the national attention span actually was? Even though there was some self-reflective conversation largely on the so-called Left about why the attack occurred—round-up the usual suspects—Gore Vidal, Eqbal Ahmad, Noam Chomsky—it seemed that we collectively lost the opportunity to ask ourselves the many, hard questions—usually summarized by the Right and Left as “Why Do They Hate Us?”

My informal personal “survey” of the national short-term attention span may not be scientific, but it seems to me that we have long suffered from either a form of communal ADD or shoddy, selective memory. John Ralston Saul, named as one of Utne Reader’s 100 “visionaries”, observes in his prescient, 1995 book, The Unconscious Civilization: “…free speech and democracy are closely tied to an active, practical use of memory—that is, history—as well as an unbroken sense of the public good. Commerce has no memory. Its great strength is in its ability to constantly start again: a continual recreation of virginity. Commerce also has no particular attachment to any particular society. It is about making money, which is just fine, as far as it goes.”

I don’t want to add any gloom to the euphoria that has accompanied the entrance of the new Administration to Washington. Recognizing that President Obama is courageously facing an inherited “legacy” of his predecessor which is more like a firestorm, we are still realistically circling the drain of something that looks an awful lot like Depression 2.0. Several months ago, the “experts” finally proclaimed that it was “official”—we were in a recession—and had been so for a year. But, this wasn’t really news for a lot of non-experts who had not been waiting for the confirming metrics, but had seen it all too closely in the form of shrink-wrapped, personal financial circumstances.

If the six-month National Attention Span rule holds, perhaps all those red, white, and blue “Hope”, “Change”, “Progress”, and “Yes We Did” bumper stickers won’t be replaced, but the euphoria of potential change is due to leave us at the latest by springtime or six months after the Election. I obviously hope not and also hope that maybe this picture is just a shallow LA thing and not reflective of the entire Nation after all. Maybe it will just be Dodger flags fluttering in the smog. But somehow, I feel like I should be getting ready to hoist either the Jolly Roger or Tibetan prayer flags from my car window...and hopefully, it’s the latter. What do you think?

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