Nine years later, the main fact of our lives is the overwhelming force of unreason. Evidence, knowledge, argument, proportionality, nuance, complexity, and the other indispensable tools of the liberal mind don’t stand a chance these days against the actual image of a mob burning an effigy, or the imagined image of a man burning a mound of books. Reason tries in its patient, level-headed way to explain, to question, to weigh competing claims, but it can hardly make itself heard and soon gives up. A Florida preacher with a congregation barely twice the number of the September 11th hijackers can rivet the world—will he do it, or won’t he? Where will the first post-Koran-burning terror attack happen, and how many people will die? The media senses a big story and makes him an international figure, with the tautological self-defense that he had become a big story. Halfway around the globe, in Jalalabad, Afghans riot, someone is killed, and Obama is burned in effigy—Obama, whom twenty per cent of Americans believe to be a Muslim, who has used whatever moral authority he has to stop the Florida nut from doing it. One man in Gainesville who represents next to nobody triggers thousands of men around the globe who know next to nothing about it to turn violent, which triggers more violence, which Fox and Al Jazeera air relentlessly, which makes people in front of TVs around the world go crazy. . . .
An epigraph for our times appears in Jonathan Franzen’s new novel “Freedom”: “The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage.”
Monday, September 13, 2010
George Packer Sums Up the Decade