Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Sunday, September 11th, 2016.


Correct Remembrance

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American History

Well, it’s that anniversary again. Somehow I woke up today with the phrase “correct remembrance” in my head. This is taken from Buddhism. The Sanskrit term is samyak-smriti (in Pali, samma-sati), and it is often translated “right mindfulness.” But it could just as accurately be “correct remembrance.”

Mindfulness, of course, is trendy now. Popular mindfulness is all about being here now; staying in the present moment without getting lost in daydreams, worries or plans. And it is that.

But the Buddha also spoke of remembrance. Part of this is correctly remembering that none of us will escape sickness, old age, death and loss. It’s also the case that if you are mindfully attending to current events, you will remember them correctly. Otherwise, you won’t.

Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Memory is not like re-playing a video recording. Memories change over time. Sometimes what you think is your memory is something planted in your head that you heard from someone else. It really isn’t that uncommon for people to remember things that didn’t happen, or that didn’t happen the way they remember it.  (See Scientific American on this point.)

Today all kinds of people are “remembering” 9/11. Most were watching on television. The “truthers,” of course, remember all kinds of things that differ from what I saw with my own eyes. By now they’ve grown a whole mythology about 9/11 that has completely replaced any resemblance of verifiable fact, and they can’t be dissuaded from it.

But there’s also the blanket blaming of “religion.” I see memes on social media showing the twin towers with the words “imagine no religion.” But this is incorrect remembrance from people who never bothered to understand the roots of Middle East terrorism.

The 9/11 terrorists were hardly devout Muslims; it was recorded that several of them drank and liked to go nightclubbing. They were fanatics, yes, but not religious ones. Their core grievances had more to do with politics, with history, with western hegemony threatening their cultures, and probably with personal issues also. Religion was just the box they put their grievances in.

And, in a similar way, religion has become the  simplistic, one-size-fits-all scapegoat for violence in the world today. I’m not saying there is no connection at all, but if you study each situation in detail you find that the core issues, the real fanatical grievances that drive violent mass movements these days, are not religious issues. Religion is used to erect a facade of righteousness around the real sources of fanatical rage. It also can be used to absolve perpetrators (in their minds) of blame for what are really acts of depravity and hate.

The truth is, if religion disappeared tomorrow, people would just find other boxes. If the 20th century should have taught us anything, it’s that violent and fanatical mass movements can be formed around politics, nationalism, and ethnic identity. Religion isn’t necessary. Of course, it is regrettable that religion doesn’t seem to help, either, except on an individual level.

By now we’re way past correct remembrance of 9/11. As soon as it happened, people were putting the events through their own conceptual filters, which is way not mindful. By now hardly anybody remembers 9/11. What we recall are our ideas about 9/11. Not the same thing.

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