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Myths To Live By   © 2002 Lew Mermelstein

Why did terrorists choose to attack the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon?  Why did these attacks occur now?  How can we stop future attacks?  Stories we tell ourselves, myths, may be key to our future security.

Why did terrorists choose to attack the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon?
On November 9, in his first interview since the September 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden told Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, editor of the Urdu-language newspaper Ausaf, that the Pentagon and the World Trade Centers were chosen because they were icons of US military and economic power.

"...The Sept 11 attacks were not targeted at women and children. The real targets were America's icons of military and economic power...."
Osama bin Laden,  DAWN the Internet Edition, 10 November, 2001
In a December video bin Laden added US support of Israel as an additional cause.

US military and economic powers come together when we use them to assure the continuous flow of the resources necessary to maintain our economic prosperity.  In theory, both buyer and seller should prosper under free trade.  Realistically, the rich seem to be pulling away from the poor.  It is as if, our wealth is their poverty.

"Globalization appears to increase poverty and inequality.... The costs of adjusting to greater openness are borne exclusively by the poor, regardless of how long the adjustment takes."
The Simultaneous Evolution of Growth and Inequality, The World Bank, 1999
As foreigners view the USA, our level of consumption is egregiously conspicuous.  We are at the top of the resource pyramid, and we use our political and military might to stay there by guarding our flow of economic resources through foreign policy, international trade and, if required, military force.

Israeli and Palestinian distrust has created a landscape of political and social exclusion.  Though there are numerous historical factors which led to US support of Israel, many Muslim nations aligned with the Palestinians feel subordinated in US foreign policy.

Why did these attacks occur now?
The poor and excluded have been complaining for millennia with little ability to change their situation.  In the last few decades, technologies --especially airplanes and communications -- have greatly increased the interconnectedness of the whole earth.  The distant four corners of the earth have been drawn closer and closer together until we now live in a global village.  Desperation, which used to be isolated by great gaps of space and time, can now be potently leveled at the home of the dominator.

Political exclusion occurs in almost every nation and creates desperate situations.  Powerless groups often abandon hope of peaceful political solutions and accept violent protest as their best hope of changing their future.  Terrorism is an extreme act of desperation, and desperation is one of those emotions that sometimes leads to suicide or suicide bombers.

"...Soon after the September 11 attacks Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said, "...we need a just and fair system that brings sustainable, economic benefits to rich and poor countries alike."  Without this... "the forces that forge civil unrest, and in the extreme can give rise to terrorism, will continue to flourish, impoverishing everyone."
Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director (UNEP), Almaty, Kazakhstan, September 21, 2001

...I'd rather be a free man in my grave
Than living as a puppet or a slave...
The Harder They Come, Jimmy Cliff
Although we really don't control the world's blessings and curses, to many of our neighbors in the global village, our position as 'Top Dog' makes it appear that we do.  As advertisers know, appearance is often more important than the truth.  The trick is to maintain our blessings and not have the other nations view us as a threat, either militarily, economically or culturally.

To understand the problem of extremism in Islam we must understand its modern history.  Modern Islamic extremism is a result of political exclusion starting in Egypt in the 1920's.  Born as a reaction to European colonialism, political Islam, or Islamism, never achieved full representation within Islamic nations.  In 1979 Islamists came to power in Iran through revolution and in Sudan in 1989 through military coup, but not through democratic process.  In 1992 Algerian democratic elections were going to be won by Islamists until the Algerian military abruptly cancelled the elections and outlawed the main Islamist party.

"...(Islamists) reflected, ruefully, that the West was hypocritical when it defended democracy and human rights.      By taking the side of the Algerian generals, Western leaders had shown that democracy was a club which Islamists were not eligible to join."
Roger Hardy, Roots of Extremism, BBC, 19 October, 2001, 17:46 GMT
It is not justifiable to blame ourselves, the victims, for the September 11 attacks, but while sitting on top of our resource pyramid, America seems to have lost sight of its founding principle as a defender of justice and freedom for all.  Have we turned a deaf ear to the oppressed while appeasing aggressors to achieve our own goals?  Have we failed to justly address the disparity between rich and poor, at the same time excluding the poor from discussions of their own future?

I understand why, in the near-term, we must deliver biblical retribution to those mass murderers responsible for the attacks, but the roots of terrorism can not be unearthed with murderous force alone.  For that we must defend and support the equality of all people and their inherent right to share in the world's blessings.  If we believe that democracy is the best of all social systems, we must perfect it, and make it desired by and available to all the world's people.

Justice, justice shall you pursue.  (Deuteronomy 16:20)

Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof.
(Leviticus 25:10), as inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia

"I am not a forecaster of the times. But if we're not careful, we'll wake up in a multinational, multi-ethnic police state -- not that America can't reverse itself. Whoever invented America were the greatest minds we've ever seen, and people who understand what the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are all about will come to the forefront sooner or later."
Bob Dylan Discusses the State of Music, Creativity and a Five-Star Review, by Robert Hilburn, Los Angeles Times

How can myths stop future attacks?
Two myths, Consumerism and the New Golden Rule, permeate our lives and are 'believed-in' as much as any other belief system in the industrialized world.  Since the end of WW2, consumerism in the US has created a phenomenal improvement in the standard of living for most of its citizens.  The NGR (New Golden Rule), "The ones with the gold, make the rules" is believed by most to be the way of the world.

Why have these belief systems become problems now?  How can these myths be modified to reduce the threat of future attacks?  In his book The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, Thom Hartmann  explains how myths, stories we tell ourselves to justify our behaviors, permeate our culture.  Any true change starts with the belief in a new myth.  The security of our future lies in first understanding the history of our beliefs and then creating new myths to guide us in the task of healing the world.


Pope John Paul II decried that the true spirit of the Christmas season was being overshadowed by consumerism and urged the faithful Sunday to focus on its original meaning.   NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press, Jan. 6, 2002

...God bless our standard of livin'
Let's keep it that way...
Have A Good Time     Paul Simon

The word consumerism was created in 1944 to describe "the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable."   US citizens work longer hours and produce more than almost any other country.  However, we consume far more energy and resources per capita than any other country.

Proponents of consumerism suggest we encourage other nations to rise to our standard of living through free trade.  So far globalization has only increased the gap between rich and poor, and it is doubtful that the earth has enough resources to sustain every human at current US levels.  Consumerism requires the continual transformation of raw material into saleable items.  Unless new things are sold, our economy will collapse.  Since unlimited resources will be required to keep consumerism going, and the earth does not have unlimited resources, future economic collapse seems inevitable.  Most Americans would not want to endure a major economic collapse or leave that misery to their descendants.

Our standard of living has risen well beyond our basic requirements for happiness and security, and it's time for a correction.  If other nations view our extreme consumption of resources as a threat to their way of life, then future attacks from the base of the resource pyramid will also be inevitable.  Economic and political course corrections will be required to avoid an 'unthinkable' future.  Though it seems an 'impossible' task, Petra Kelly (1947-92), founder of the German Green Party warned, "If we don't do the impossible, we shall be faced with the unthinkable."

Corrections will undoubtedly occur either through our own efforts, through the forces of other nations or, in the long-term, the forces of nature.  It would be better for us to choose those substantial corrections rather than to have onerous corrections suddenly thrust upon us.

As we have seen, our standard of living requires an inordinate consumption of resources and guides our foreign policy.  The lowering of our standard of living to be closer to that of our neighbors will reduce the economic differences and tensions with our neighbors.  Americans must start national discussions about how to do this and support like-minded politicians.

The Politics of Exclusion and the Golden Rule
Political and social exclusion, which often lead to desperation, and in extreme cases, terrorism, can be turned away by adopting the OGR (Old Golden Rule).  "Do onto others as you would wish them do onto you."  This is one of the oldest stories, or myths, in human history and is remarkable for its universality.  (See OGR side bar.)  Much has been written about the subtle differences of the OGR as expressed in our world's diverse cultures, but its core ethical value has remained the same for eons and throughout all cultures.

The cynicism of modern times has given rise to the New Golden Rule.  ("The ones with the gold, make the rules.")  Though contrary to democratic ideals, the NGR has worked, up until now, because it has been profitable. But since the September 11 attacks, losses seem to exceed profits.

As long as the New Golden Rule myth is believed, there will be a great imbalance in the perceived wealth of the world's population giving rise to violent protest from the excluded and the poor.  The communications revolution has created a global village allowing the whole world to witness how the ones with the gold live.  Air transportation just made it easier for the suicidal terrorists to reach our shores.

"...He's poor, and he's got a TV set and he's able to see how you live as compared to how he lives, he's going to get very angry. So either you show him a capitalist route to do it and integrate him, or he's going to find another ideology. The fact that today there is no [longer] a Kremlin that is organizing revolt doesn't mean that they're not going to find another capital, because when these things happen, when people are unhappy and rebel against a system, they'll find another locus of power very, very quickly."
Hernando de Soto, economist, Commanding Heights, WGBH, Boston
The OGR model could be applied to the Palestinian and Israeli conflict.  By now both must suspect that armed conflict is not a viable solution to their common crisis.  Both sides must agree to equalize their economic and political power or continue to fight over their differences.  By equalizing their differences they are following the tenet of the OGR.

The long-term solution to the politics of exclusion will require accommodations from all the world's nations to guarantee life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, equally, to all the peoples of the earth.

Turning the World
Consumerism and the NGR are the two myths we need to change so that we can reduce our perceived threat to other nations, especially the poorer ones.  By reducing our consumption of non-renewable resources to be closer to our neighbors' and acknowledging every human as an equal, we can start to turn away the threat of future attacks.

By keeping the essential good things we have now and discarding the nonessential, we could sustain a new economy based on the maintenance of existing structures.  Equipment, clothing, houses, appliances, vehicles, roads, infrastructures and things, could be valued for their ease of maintenance, durability and sustainability.  It would be a turning from a consuming economy towards a sustaining economy.  Just as many workers could be employed maintaining things that last a longtime as can be employed manufacturing things that are quickly consumed and thrown away.

To achieve this transition would require that non-renewable resources be valued not just at their market value but made prohibitively expensive for use in the production of disposable items.  The repair of existing things and the use of recycled and renewable resources would be encouraged through tax breaks and other incentives.

Universal Education of Children

AMSTERDAM, April 8, 2002
Under the chairmanship of the Dutch Government and the World Bank, ... the G-8, the European Union, UN agencies such as UNESCO, UNDP, and UNICEF, and NGOs from around the world, will pursue financial and policy measures that will sharply accelerate the pace of the Education For All initiative, which aims to give all children access to primary school education by 2015, and eliminate gender barriers to education by the earlier date of 2005.
Education For All The World's Children, World Bank press release
We must also acknowledge children as our most fundamental resource and their education as our highest priority.  Education should be reformed to support the learning styles of all children rather than demand they conform to a norm.  Children should be guided to dignified jobs that support us all.  By nurturing all children during their learning years we lessen the chance of them rejecting our systems and increase the possibility of having them become supportive partners rather than economic burdens.  Justly applying universal education would turn us from the NGR back towards the OGR since all boys and girls would be raised and nurtured with equal faith in their future.

Universal education applies to every child on the planet, regardless of where they live.  Our sense of right and wrong tells us that restricting schooling to boys only is wrong.  Indeed, the oppression of women as a group is unlawful in most industrialized nations.  For their part, the other nations must learn a new myth.

"The domination of the female half of humanity by the male half is a basic template for all forms of domination, conditioning children early on to consider such relations normal."
The Chalice or the Blade: Choices for our Future, by Riane Eisler, New Renaissance, Vol. 7, Number 1
All nations should strive to make their own societies work so well that other nations will look to them as worthy examples of how to exist harmoniously with their own citizens and their neighbors.

What To Do
Creating new myths is a long-term process, but we've already begun.  Ecological awareness is at an all time high.  Electronic media are in-place to permit the instantaneous interaction of many of the Earth's people, with more connecting daily.  But we still seem blind to the concept that every human has the potential to be either a burden or a helper in our world.  When we acknowledge every person on the planet as a contributor to the collective life of Earth, we begin to believe that we are all partners  in our global village.

Accept that it will take longer to get things done.  Believe that your neighbors in our global village are as smart as you are and want the same things you want.  Create new myths (religious commentary, art, movies, novels, theater, music) that explain why partnering is more advantageous than domination and why sustainability, in the long-term, is more profitable than consumerism.  Welcome these changes or resign ourselves, and our descendants, to uncertain and traumatic lives under the global inequalities of the 21st century.

Unless the USA, and the rest of the industrialized nations, turn to a more sustainable standard of living, repair the damage to the earth's resources, and accept foreign cultures as being as valid as our own, we should expect more attacks from the base of the resource pyramid.

Lew Mermelstein
January 15, 2002
Last revised, June 11, 2004

For partners see Riane Eisler, The Chalice and The Blade (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987)

Benefits of Free Trade for US, Europe & Japan     (New  2/23/04)

Marshall McLuhan & Terrorism

External Links:
Golden Rule at World Prosperity, Ltd.
Noel Benson's world issues site