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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
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
"...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
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
"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,
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
...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
(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
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
"...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
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
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.
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
Causes-of-terrorism.net at World Prosperity, Ltd.
Noel Benson's world issues site