If someone had told you on September 10, 2001 that it was possible, using nothing but a handful of box cutters and careful planning, to take thousands of lives, send the world’s largest economy into a tailspin and cause its most technologically advanced military to get mired down in an endless, impoverishing war, would you have believed it?
Doubtful. Most of us probably would have written the person off as a member of the fantasy-based community.
But then we woke up on that sunny September morning shocked to discover that one person’s fantasy can become another person’s reality.
Box cutters. Imagine that.
The attack of September 11th was, first and foremost, an act of imagination. A violent imagination, true, but imagination nonetheless. The great irony was that most of us allowed our own imaginations to be highjacked by our attackers’ narrative. Assuming our assigned role in the script we were handed, we eviscerated our principles of Constitutional law and human rights, launched a military attack, bled off our economic resources to the “War on Terror,” gave the green light to torture, and embraced government surveillance on all of us. In other words, we began to live as a terrorized people.
I think it’s time we turned a creative eye to what we could have accomplished if we’d been brave enough and free enough not to surrender sovereignty of our imaginations. The possibilities were endless, but here are a few thoughts to get the creative synapses firing.
When the rubble was still smoldering and the world still reeling, we could have called for a period of global mourning to honor the lives lost in the attacks and those lost in all acts of violence. The human family coming together for a time of mourning. Imagine that.
We could have put out a plea to musicians, visual artists and dancers across the world to express, through the healing power of art, the grief, horror and possibilities we were all collectively feeling. A global outpouring of art. Imagine that.
We could have convened a global truth and reconciliation commission to allow all parties in ongoing conflicts throughout the world to express their grievances openly and to have their suffering acknowledged and honored. People listening to one another’s truth. Imagine that.
Rather than spending trillions of dollars on the post 9/11 wars, we could have directed economic resources into a massive global health and education campaign. Millions of children getting an education. Millions of people getting health care. Imagine that.
Any of these responses would turned the al Qaeda narrative on its head, and done far more to avoid future attacks than our unimaginative bombs and detention centers, which only amplify hatred and radicalism.
But all these ideas are fantasy, right? Of course they are. But we are making a grave mistake if we fail to understand the power of fantasy. In fact, what we like to call “the real world” is simply human imagination taking on tangible and systemic form. Whether it’s airplanes, money, vaccines, musicals, cell phones or boxcutter highjackings, it all began as someone’s fantasy.
The word fantasy comes from a Greek word which means: to cause to appear, make visible, expose to view, show. Fantasy is the power to create an image in the mind, which is where all culture and civilization originates. Our nation, in fact, was founded on the far-fetched fantasy that people could govern themselves without a monarch. What a sad decade we’ve been through, when the American imagination, known for being the most innovative in the world, was taken hostage.
In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks I accompanied a friend of mine, whose father had been killed in the Twin Towers, to Ground Zero. As we stepped out onto the temporary viewing platform and took in the smoldering wound before us, a deep grief overcame me. It was grief not only for my friend and her father and all the lives lost in that attack, but for our entire species that is held hostage by this narrative of violence.
We face many challenges now that have only gotten more extreme during this past decade. They are challenges not only of violence, but also the possibility of environmental and economic collapse. I believe we can solve them, first by fantasize a new world.
Humans liberating our imaginations to create a new story for our world. Imagine that.