Another 9/11

A New York Times headline asks, “Will we always remember 9/11?” The article is about the health care and compensation programs for responders and other survivors, which Congress appears willing to let lapse again.

But the question caused me to reflect on memory, and that we’re not all remembering the same day. We’d like to think that our memories are objective recordings of actual events, but they are not. I think memories are narratives we have crafted from our subjective impressions, and I suspect we all “remember” some things that never happened, or that happened very differently from what we remember.

So it was that as the Bush Administration tried to use 9/11 to hustle us into war in Iraq, the pro-war argument was “have you forgotten?” But the people asking that question were the ones who had forgotten, or who had too little experience of 9/11 to actually remember it. The war was never popular in New York City, possibly because people there really did remember.

This is one place where myths come from, I believe. “Memories” of real events become infused with meaning, and from the depths of our subconscious Jungian archetypes are summoned to act out that meaning. Eventually the details of the real event become completely lost, and only the archetypes and the reconstructed narrative remain. Modernity and recording technology frustrate this process but don’t stop it. Trutherism might be an example of post-modern myth making; unfortunately, the poor besotted truthers don’t recognize that’s what they’re doing.

At this point we all do remember that a Big Thing happened on September 11, 2001, but our recollections of that event have all become utterly personalized and subjective, so we really aren’t remembering the same thing.