Prof. Gad Yair's Blog

September 11 and the Denial of Culture
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I gazed at the smoke rising from the first tower as the other jet hit the twin. I looked at the screen and immediately said: "That's it; it's not the same world anymore." I knew that the social theory that we were preaching for the past 100 years had finally eclipsed; that our Western visions of modernity and post-modernity have finally proved to be naïve and empirically false. As the smoke was rising above the rubble, I understood that the belief in Kant's "perpetual peace" gives way, and that the trenchant ideas of modernization and global convergence are now exposed as false ideologies. Indeed, September 11 was bound to change how we think about the world, about history, about culture and about ourselves.

But in contrast to people, ideas die slowly. We had to experience terror attacks in Jerusalem, London, Madrid, Moscow, Thailand, India, and recently even in Stockholm in order to understand that, indeed, it's not the same world anymore (see list of terror attacks). Still, trends towards a global world have not halted their progress. Cross-national security regimes and international campaigns against terror or environmental catastrophes indeed prove that globalization marches on. But September 11 made us aware that the idea of "the end of history" – that we are beyond the times of competing ideologies – was another Western false prophecy. The decade that began in September 11 2001 exposed the fragility of the West and its belief in progress: Shattered is the sense of a triumphant global and liberal democracy; shattered is the belief in the triumph of the enlightened against the traditionalists; and mocked was the sense that secularism triumphed over religiosity and tribalism. No, it's not the same world anymore. What this decade proved is that we are back into the past, back into tribal and religious wars.

The Twentieth century continued the march towards reason. We marched through the Renaissance, Humanism and the Enlightenment unto the age of reason; we killed God and placed Man at the center of the universe; and we followed the creed of Reason – celebrating humanity and elevating it into a universal dictum; we believed that with science at our command we can engineer a world that is all good; and we believed that as we march on, religions would be a remnant of the past and that we are now building a secular, economically viable and scientifically manageable common world for everybody. We believed in global fraternity, we believed in a common humanity. We believed that all cultures would eventually be the same, following Lennon's post-modern request: "can you imagine a world without countries or religions?"

Yes, we imagined. For two hundred years. We imagined that all nations are the same. We imagined that primordial cultures will give way to a man-made global humanity. We imagined a common humanity and believed in the gods of progress, liberalism and democracy. Two world wars and the rise of fascist and totalitarian regimes have not changed our creed and we continued imagining a world without countries or religions. Our political programs after the Second World War continued the march, and the fall of fascism and communism only strengthened our taken-for-granted belief in our Western primordial worldview. We unified Europe and were sure that our world banks and IMF's and G8's and our scientific war against poverty and sickness would all convince everybody to join our democratic and liberal tribe. We landed the moon and cracked the DNA and stood proud with impunity.

Until September 11 2001. As the rubble blazed in heat, the first cracks in our false consciousness brought new light. We then began appreciating that our world is not going to be without nations and religions. We began appreciating that each one of us – Germans, Englishmen, French and Americans – each one of our cultures has a unique collective identity, a unique root and unique destinies. We finally began appreciating that we only imagined a common ground, using false multiculturalism as a temporary political vehicle. We began appreciating that our tribal creed of democracy and liberalism did not convince other cultures and civilizations to join us and to let go of their own past and their own destinies. We finally became aware that our attempt to bring prosperity and democracy to the world is but a new colonial way to Christianize the world through our self-camouflaged secularized theologies. We still try to impose our God on theirs.

Notwithstanding this internal revelation, we still try to hide this awareness away. We still persuade ourselves that our march continues onwards because of Reason and Humanity. We embrace our false consciousness of universalism and keep singing Lennon's imaginary future of common brotherhood. And we repress the fact that we engaged in war to bring capitalism as a panacea for Asia, and we hide the fact that we engage in war in Iraq to bring our religion of democracy unto the Arab world. But the fact is that others are not buying in to our secularized prophecies and humanistic promises. They identify our political theologies and – to defend their own prophets – they send suicide bombers and fiery jets into our symbolic centers with violent wake up calls. And the call is clear and simple: The world is composed of non-commensurable cultures that are not going to go away. The world was and remained fissured by primordial cultural identities. Difference, hierarchy and conflict rule the world, and our political regimes use the political commitments of our social sciences in order to hide their deeper realistic and defense-oriented programs.

It is hence the task of the social sciences to stop its denial of culture. It must be aware to its hidden agendas and expose its own driving ideologies. We must sharpen our analytical tools and appreciate that collective identities are deeply ingrained; and we must re-tool ourselves for analyzing the role of collective traumas and deep cultural codes – of our own and those of other nations and cultures. We must hear the message: We are not the final solution. There is no one correct political ideology. Our way is not theirs. Our culture is not theirs. Hence, we need to stop the denial of culture and engage in a thorough analysis of the deeper values that haunt and challenge nations and cultures – of theirs and ours.

September 11 proved that it is not going to be a world of peace and harmony. Terror and war constitute this world, and our two centuries of imaginings of heavens upon the earth are not going to change this perennial fact of human history. And the social sciences need to face this and propose new self-understandings. This is a task we set on the 12th of September 2001.


15-May-2016, 4:16
First of all, thank you for the 3D features on YouTube. I have two requests to make this feature more useful. 1) I know there are a number of variables to consider, but it would be nice if we could upload a left and right video, and then link the two together. I have 1080p video, that I don't want to cut in half, just to make it work.2) Less video compression. Video compression distorts the small (almost unloticeabne) visual cues that make 3D, 3D. Any distortion in the final image, causes a big loss in depth. Thanks,Tom

08-Oct-2012, 14:01
No question this is the place to get this info, thkans y'all.

09-Aug-2011, 2:54
I am forever indbeetd to you for this information.

19-Dec-2010, 3:43
only a Jew could write that "we are not the final solution" and get away with it...-)

19-Dec-2010, 3:39
Here is someone who truly believes that politics can not be separated from the culture from which it originates and therefor democracy and liberalism turn into "Tribal Creeds." of the west. Are there any ideas that are truly universal? how about 1+2=3 or perhaps in Meka it equals 4? Think of world emigration trends. perhaps many Arab Americans probably wont eat hamburgers because their not Halal meat but maybe one could find in the Muslim Taqlid liberal (American) ideas to connect to. This could help strike a peaceful human connection between the cheeseburger eating cultural colonialist and the Quran reading terrorist who, in the jet age of emigration, are bound to be neighbors.

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