Monday, September 11, 2006

Thoughts of 9/11 after five years. I again saw news which showed the entirety of 9/11 in real time. I tried to give it some thought. Who could do such a thing and why? What is the etiology of it all?

I keep remembering an aunt of mine who, many years ago, used to discuss with me the larger questions of life. We continuously had discussions about the Holocaust. The Holocaust always has been, since I was ten years old, the yardstick I would use to measure most other areas of academic study. It shaped nearly everything about me. When I discussed it with my aunt she would always utter the phrase “man’s inhumanity toward man.” That was the reason behind all the cruelty as she saw it. I was ten years old and did not quite understand what that meant. As an adult I wondered how that could be the simple explanation for such a catastrophic event. Of course, when I became more sophisticated, I began to understand the Holocaust in a broader light. I understood it from an economic, political, psychological, historical, religious and philosophical perspective to name a few areas of study. Yet, my aunt’s phrase, “man’s inhumanity toward man” always struck a chord.

As I grew older, the Holocaust became so much more and yet when I look at it again the music of my brain kept replaying that song: “man’s inhumanity toward man.” It is that cavalier ability that some men (and women too) possess which can overrule their capacity to put themselves in another’s place, to actually gain satisfaction from the infliction of hurt to another man’s body and their inability to think or even to care what it would feel like if someone tried to hurt or kill them. The explanation of it goes beyond, I think, any historical, psychological, philosophical or other explanation.

The answer to me lies in our species’ and our brain’s emergence from our reptilian origin to our mammalian present. Layers upon layers upon layers encompassing millions upon millions of years have brought man from the sea to the surface. Our nature has behind it eons of biological and cultural development. We still are part sea dweller, part reptile, part primitive mammal and part man. All are in us. Everything that is in all of those species is in man as well. As I see it, different men have different parts in different quantities of all of that.

My aunt’s phrase “man’s inhumanity toward man” has meaning to me but so do the phrases: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man" said by Rabbi Hillel (ca. 50 BCE-10 CE), "Do to others as you would have them do unto to you" said by Jesus in the Gospels and "Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you" said by Muhammad (c. 571 – 632 CE) in the Farewell Sermon.

The truth is all men are parts of all phrases. How could the ovens of Auschwitz have been built by intelligent men and how could planes be crashed into huge buildings by thinking religious men? Didn't one ever think what the other fellow would feel? Didn't anyone have the empathy for the other person? No one is immune from the perpetration of inhumanity. Does anyone think what it must feel like to be at the receiving end of a huge bomb or a nuclear blast? Some did and do. Some did not and do not. Some have the ability to walk in another’s shoes. Some do not. What is the difference between those who do have that ability and those who do not?

I have a friend who literally cannot even kill a fly. She scoops it up, if she can get it, brings it to the door and lets it out. Perhaps that empathetic part of her brain is larger than another part that stops her from killing even an insect let alone a human being. Clearly, there are different types of men and clearly we do not have the totality of answers as to the why of 9/11. The answers probably do encompass the many studious complexities of life but one thing I still know, the discussion must encompass the phrase man’s inhumanity to man as well.

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