The 9/11 Commission Report concluded the the violent acts of terrorism taken against the United States on September 11th were the result of systemic failures. No shit. What was shocking was their boldest claim, which stated that, "the most important failure was one of imagination." It's odd that a government research group cited a characteristic reserved for artists and children as the reason for the attack. Twenty one years later, it seems that day not only symbolized the failure of imagination in American government but foreshadowed its pending death in American society.
Each year in early September, American's encourage one another to "never forget." That saying originated as a pithy remembrance of the thousands of lives lost in the attacks. Today, its repetition is substanceless. Or rather, confusing. Is it a call for continued vengeance and unending war, a justification for a draconian surveillance state, or still a reverent saying for those killed? The answer is not clear. But if there's anything which we've forgotten - or perhaps denied - it's that 9/11 resulted from America's failure to imagine.
If the collapse of the World Trade Centers symbolized America's decaying imagination, then the dispersion of commercial technology, and smart, portable devices was the solidification of imagination's death. These devices minimized life to the size of whatever screen was before its user, and reduced cultural relevancy to become synonymous with virality.
Virality: think of a neon-jacketed hiker standing in awe before a gloomy waterfall, a to-go coffee held at arm's length before a brightly-lit brick wall, a pair of red-laced boots standing atop a pile of freshly fallen leaves. We've all been guilty of capturing these moments in our lives. And in capturing these moments, we believed, foolishly, that our lives amounted to something unique. But such moments are absent of any creativity. These are acts of mimicry.
To live a replicable life is to live a life easily copied. Queue the rise of instagram face or the next TikTok trend. To thrive online, one must simply duplicate the appearance, time, or actions of strangers with the most followers. As a result, digital culture devalues individuality and rewards facsimiles. In the face of shared likeness, the individual becomes infinitesimal - as compressed images trapped on the web.
This stifling of the individual was detailed in Bessel van der Kolk's magnum opus, The Body Keeps The Score.
Imagination is absolutely critical to the quality of our lives...Imagination gives us the opportunity to envision new possibilities - it is an essential launchpad for making our hopes come true. It fires our creativity, relieves our boredom, alleviates our pain, enhances our pleasure, and enriches our most intimate relationships...Without imagination there is no hope, no chance to envision a better future, no place to go, no goal to reach.
Governments and individuals both thrive when imagination flourishes and suffer in its absence. In an unimaginative government, tyranny conquers. This is why totalitarian regimes censor speech, burn books, and eviscerate the arts. Once imaginations of the free are oppressed vile forces emerge into power. An unimaginative mind resigns to hopelessness, which is not idly awaiting a calling. Instead, it perverts and degrades through its fixation with hate. So, of course we're more suicidal, medicated, and less optimistic about the future. It's a wonder that the National Anthem isn't amended with the prelude, "this message brought to you by Prozac."
Twenty one years ago we witnessed the horrors of a nation whose imagination failed. Since then we've witnessed that failure pervade American culture, reducing imaginations in the minds of millions. If in your mind imagination has failed, other, deplorable powers, will write your story. In the process they'll crumble your towers and crush your dreams. Ah, hell, it's corny, but if you really want to 'never forget', please, for the life of you don't stop imagining a better life. It doesn't have to be grand or elaborate. Just make it yours.