Sunday, September 14, 2003

The Twin Towers: reprise 

I received this Greg Palast article on the twin towers the other day, and sent it on to a friend, who posted this response to the article:

I disagree with the article by Greg Palast, which seems oppositional for the sake of being oppositional. Tom Brokaw may just be an empty hair-do, but I think he and the European Left had it right when they said the WTC and the Pentagon were symbols of American capitalism and hegemony. (Palast is just flat wrong to think they were referring only to the WTC towers).
Palast tortuously tries to make the point that they symbolized socialism instead because of the the public tax money that created the towers and because a couple of social activists worked there in addition to the thousands of capitalist tools, but that flies in the face of the meaning of "symbolism". Symbolism is what things mean to most people, not just what they mean to one guy. Greg Palast wants to change the meaning of those two symbols for some reason, but it's a hopeless effort. The WTC and the Pentagon were attacked because, in the eyes of the world, they symbolized American hegemony and capitalist globalization despite their public origins and the couple of activists Palast happens to know worked there.


My friend, I'll call him {C}, also chipped in with this response to the article:

I have to agree with {H} on this one. I think Palast is a good writer, but
his personal friendship shrouds his judgment in this argument. Though, I do
think that we are more of a socialist nation than most people realize, we ain't
number1 or even close to anything in the EU. Furthermore, when the public can
buy stock into a company, or if the entity is primarily financed through
municipal bonds, it is not part of a socialist structure. In a socialist
environment, all citizens are taxed like hell and this just isn't happening yet.
the biggest problem with socialism. But, it does work if everyone is employed
and you don't mind relinquishing a third of your income. Personally, I don't
trust any government and if I'm so inclined and able to be philanthropic, I'll
choose where to be charitable, not Uncle Sam. Thus, I'm a Libertarian at


My response to both my friends:

Your response {H} to Palast's article, aside from being rather stern in tone, provoked an emotional response in me that, pardon me from saying, had me appreciating Palast even more.

He chose to share obviously very personal feelings and beliefs about the two towers and its occupants who lost their lives. I don't know that the two workers he talked about were the only two socialists "out of a thousand capitalist tools", as you said. The building did harbor, yes, capitalist workers, some socialist workers (Palast himself, used to have an office there)
and a great number of service industry workers that cleaned and maintained the building.

The service industry people I feel a little bit more of an affinity for, as well as the socialist workers, but I suppose I felt an affinity for everyone within the building, the firemen and policemen, all who lost their lives.

I remember painfully that day, getting stuck in Houston and sleeping at the International Hostel, which turned out to be quite enjoyable, actually. Sleep that night though was waking up every couple of hours with a start and a sickening rush of awareness flooding my consciousness. It happened. Indeed, the horrible event happened.

I don't know that Palast "wants to change the meaning of those two symbols for some reason," as you said. Ideally, he can't possibly do that for others, unless people are open to his ideas, which is a personal choice. He reached within to explore the symbolism of the two towers, for himself, and volunteered to share it with others (I receive a weekly email from him).

I have to confess I rather felt some affection towards the two towers. I know they were, well, big. They dominated the New York skyline so effortlessly, soaring, claiming the skyline as its own. Their destruction left an indelible mark, an outline, a whisper of a dream perhaps grown too tall, but a dream nonetheless.

I'm well aware, as Palast is, of the importance to many of the twin tower's symbolism as one of capitalism, hegemony.

Bin Ladin chose the towers for a very good reason. One could almost say he made a "wise" choice, though diabolical.

The capitalists, at least, many of them, bought that choice hook, line and sinker. They became afraid. He is striking at us, they thought; he is trying to hurt us. Many very dangerous knee-jerk reactions were born of that fear, of that acceptance of Bin Laden's hostility. It is directed at us, our way of life, many thought, our capitalism.

The symbolism of the twin towers is striking in its apparent obviousness.

Yet...what is a symbol, except a reflection of a collection of beliefs. It is transparent, in that it doesn't have physicality. It is a meaning.

What Palast did, in my view, was turn the symbil, ever so slightly, as if viewing the towers from an angle not often seen. Sure, {C}, it wasn't a perfect symbol of American socialism
but it was a publically owned building, and I didn't know that.

Yes, the EU is miles ahead of us in terms of socialism, including it health care and pension plans. But Europe is also miles ahead of us in terms of the privatization of it's electric and water services.

Right now, there is a small group of dedicated activists, fighting to prevent the privatization of water services here in New Orleans. I've participated with this group. The bidders have been huge, multi-national companies from Europe, Vivendi and United Water are two of them. They are buying up water rights all over the globe, sending rates up and services down. Atlanta just kicked out United Water.

There is a horror story on Commondreams.org about this right now, concerning South Africa. I think we can apply relativity to the socialism issue, and safely say that Palast is encouraging the appreciation of the socialistic institutions, that America already has, and is struggling to keep. Kucinich's fight, as mayor of Cleveland, to keep it's utility company publically owned, is a case in point.

It was nice to find out the twin towers were serving a useful function, besides office space, in that, according to Palast, they "generated the revenue wich pays the bonds that keep the city's infrastructure-subways, tunnels, bridges and more-out of the hands of the ever-circling privatizers".

Also an aside to this, Palast points out, is that Canter Fitzgerald was the "government securities market maker", the company that sold those municipal bonds, to help generate the revenue, to keep the privatize buzzards away, and that Canter Fitzgerald was lost, on that day, 658 workers.

Hidden meanings, alternate symbolism, like alternate probabilities.

What if...we had all collectively thumbed our noses at Bin Laden, defied his attempt at destruction of our dream, flawed that it is, and gone on our way, a little more cautiously perhaps, or perhaps a lot more cautiously. Thank you very much, Bin Laden, but if we want to destroy our own dream, we'll do it ourselves. After-all, we granted ourselves this right in the Declaration of Independence:

"That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

Perhaps Bin Laden doesn't realize that with every terrorist act on our soil, this will strengthen the neocons, or perhaps he does. Both are desperate, and share one trait that is glaringly obvious: fanaticism.

We ought to try to understand the desperation of these men. But even more than that, let us not allow them to "hijack" our own symbols. Let us work to recreate them, if we must, and reclaim them anew.