Correct Remembrance

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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  1. David Evans  •  Sep 11, 2016 @3:02 pm

    ISIS is continually telling us that their motives are religious. They went out of their way to destroy “pagan” monuments (and to show the world that they were doing so) and to kill as many Yazidis and Christians as they could lay their hands on. They claim that it is their right to rape captured women, and that by doing so they are converting the women to Islam. Those actions are irrelevant to their strategic goals. What more evidence would you need to convince you that their motives are in fact religious, at least in part?

  2. maha  •  Sep 11, 2016 @3:12 pm

    David Evans — There’s a big difference between religion instigating or inspiring people do do something, and people adopting religion as a post hoc excuse to do something they wanted to do anyway. That’s what you don’t get. When you confuse the two, you are perpetrating a lie.

  3. maha  •  Sep 11, 2016 @3:18 pm

    Note that plenty of Muslims consider ISIS to be nothing but thugs and criminals and fake Muslims. Others say that ISIS really shouldn’t be thought of in religious terms at all. Their real issues are entirely geopolitical.

  4. goatherd  •  Sep 11, 2016 @3:12 pm

    Great post and point of view, although the Buddha also deserves some of the credit as you indicate.

    I heard an interview with some of the people from the study on false memories that is mentioned in the linked article. One woman in particular said that when she finally accepted the fact that the event in the shopping mall never happened, she felt as though she had lost a small but important part of her life. Then there is the McMartin preschool affair in which memories were inadvertently implanted with disastrous results. It really is an interesting phenomenon. In Jonah Lehrer’s book “Proust Was a Neuroscientist,” the chapter on Proust deals with the corruption and reconstruction of memory over time and repetition.

    Anyway, I was feeling a bit strange about remembering the day itself, and this post put it in context and perspective. Thanks.

  5. erinyes  •  Sep 11, 2016 @3:30 pm

    Goatherd, I was living in Los Angeles County during the Mc Martin Preschool mind fuck. I was blown away by how two people ( Wayne Satz and Kee McFarlane ) could spin such a ridiculous tale and totally destroy a family and their business, all in the persuit of fame.

  6. c u n d gulag  •  Sep 11, 2016 @4:02 pm

    Terrorists of all religions, use religion as the lipstick they put on their piggish hatred, fear, and desire for violence.
    It’s ok to kill “the others” – the ones not like “us.” They deserve it.

    Ditto non-religious terrorists. They use nationalism, or some other “ism.” to justify their actions.
    It’s ok to kill “the others” – the ones not like “us.” They deserve it.

    “The Heart of Darkness,” and “Apocalypse Now,” were fictional mirrors which showed us that, despite all of the technological advances we have made as a species over thousands and thousands of years, we’re still basically tribal apes, and “cave people,” who hate and fear the others across the river/stream, field, etc…

    “They,” are not part of “us.”
    So “they” either become part of “us,” or deserve to die.

    We humans are just more technologically advanced animals.

  7. David Evans  •  Sep 11, 2016 @4:13 pm

    maha, I repeat. What more would it take to convince you that their aims are in part religious? Or is there nothing that could ever convince you of such a thing?

    Do you apply similar arguments elsewhere? Would you argue that Hitler didn’t really hate the Jews?

  8. maha  •  Sep 11, 2016 @6:29 pm

    David Evans — //maha, I repeat. What more would it take to convince you that their aims are in part religious? Or is there nothing that could ever convince you of such a thing?//

    It depends on what you mean by “aims.” Their stated aims and the actual grievances that turned them to violence are two different things. However, if you had actually read the post with a clear head instead of with the anti-religion filter in your head, you would see that I didn’t let religion off the hook. It isn’t the cause, but it is the excuse.

    //Do you apply similar arguments elsewhere? Would you argue that Hitler didn’t really hate the Jews?//

    Hitler’s hatred of the Jews was ethnic bigotry. What does that have to do with this discussion?

  9. c u n d gulag  •  Sep 11, 2016 @4:27 pm

    Jayzoooooooooos H. Keeeeerist on blotter-acid!!!

    I just tuned-in to watch the start of the NY Giants v. Dallas Cowboys game, and who do I see flipping the coin at the star of the game?
    George W. Bush!’

    I knew even HE couldn’t fuck-up a coin-flip, because, well… GRAVITY!
    Actual science!

    And then they replayed some “special” message, from our “special-needs” former Preznit.

  10. David Evans  •  Sep 11, 2016 @6:47 pm

    [Anti-Muslim bigotry deleted; commenter banned. — B.]

  11. el mago  •  Sep 12, 2016 @12:02 am

    Memory has a 3 day shelf life, max. After that you’re making shit up and believing it.

  12. goatherd  •  Sep 12, 2016 @7:17 am

    Erinyes — It’s been many years, but, I think NOVA did an edition on the idea of implanted memory regarding the McMartin preschool trial. It was chilling to say the least. There were interviews with members of the jury and they recounted some of the most outlandish stories that accompanied what was considered the testimony. The judge instructed them to disregard the really crazy stuff and focus on what pertained to the trial. You could say that it was extremely difficult to divide the truth from the really crazy, especially with suggestible young people involved.

    I’ll have to look up Wayne Satz and Kee McFarlane, that should be interesting.

    Regarding the question of religion, it seems that we have the same phenomenon as a byproduct of the marriage of the political right and “Christianity.” It neatly explains why when you get cornered by an “evangelical,” you get a dose of right wing political talking points instead of anything that could pass as insight into the Christian faith. The references to religion are just a paint job to disguise and validate some fairly ugly assertions.

    I’ve lived in the Bible Belt for many years, and aside from African American Christians, Jesus is rarely mentioned. The Sermon on the Mount only happened for other people. When a figure like Pope Francis comes forward so does a striking contrast. When the salient faces of Christianity are people like Mike Huckabee, Franklin Graham and Michelle Bachmann it’s no wonder that the younger folks want to push off towards atheism.

  13. Bill  •  Sep 12, 2016 @10:45 am

    goatherd, exactly. In the Bible I only see Jesus giving out spiritual gifts. But evangelicals are mostly into the material, the tribal, especially the political. Never talk of a spiritual, forgiving, understanding… peace. This departure from scripture is a huge turnoff for anybody who hasn’t lost their minds yet.

  14. Lynne  •  Sep 12, 2016 @10:50 am

    I tried to share this on Facebook but they have apparently blocked it! I’m going to your FB page to see if it can be shared from there. Ugh!

  15. Bill  •  Sep 12, 2016 @10:52 am

    It’s fascinating to observe this process going on with the more extreme blogs, many of which exist on the right. In their view liberals are always open to better answers which are always wrong, but conservatives already knows all the answers which are always right. If this isn’t ‘round the bend’ enough, the intransigent anger adherents have towards disbelievers borders on insanity. When I inform them we’re living in a country which attained most of its greatness during Democratic Party watch, and that America didn’t explode during far more liberal times… watch out! Here come the internet bullies. Most are Christians, who will always link to conservative political website sources and never, ever quote scripture as a source in any way whatsoever.

  16. Joel Dan Walls  •  Sep 12, 2016 @12:04 pm

    Thanks for this commentary, MahaBarbara. Funny coincidence, I just started attending a class at my Zen center about “Buddhist views of the body”, and the first thing we did at the first class was review the Five Remembrances from the Pali canon.

    On 9/11/2001, I was at home playing with a 5 year old who was going to start kindergarten the next day, and nowhere near a radio or television. I learned of the events of the day when my spouse called me mid-afternoon, but did not switch on the TV until she got home from work and took over as parent in charge.

  17. Dan  •  Sep 12, 2016 @12:40 pm

    I’ve always maintained that religion is rarely, if ever, the cause of conflict, but rather the rallying cry to get the unwashed masses to leave their (un)comfortable homes and lives, travel great distances, and then kill or be killed in the conflict of their elite rulers bent on greedy expansion. More the opium of the masses rather than the generator of battles.

  18. Dan  •  Sep 12, 2016 @12:51 pm

    Bill, Rightwingnuts (and other Republicans) cannot comprehend that the world is a complicated and complex place. Their religious charlatans understand this and simplify, focus on the Old Testament blood and gore, and totally ignore anything even remotely Christian to push their political agenda. These are the “half” of nutcases Clinton identified recently and has been talking about for a long time as comprising TRUMP’s power base. They are only one small disaster (perhaps Trump’s election loss, for instance) away from armed conflict themselves, and they are in awe and admirational envy of the fUSSR (Putin) and ISIS, who are doing what they think needs to be done (just under a different, “false” banner).

  19. paradoctor  •  Sep 12, 2016 @11:51 pm

    Religions present themselves as messages, and they may even start that way, but inevitably they evolve into something more like languages. You can say whatever you want to, in religious terms; the original intent of the founders is beside the point. That’s how religions survive; by serving the believer’s self-perceived needs.

    As for the 9/11 Defeat Celebration, I boycott it.