Interesting Times unites brilliant investigative pieces such as Betrayed, about Iraqi interpreters, with personal essays and detailed narratives of travels through war zones and failed states. Whether exploring American policies in the wake of September 11, tracking a used T-shirt from New York to Uganda, or describing the complex response to Obama in Appalachia, these essays showcase Packer's unmistakable perspective, which is at once wide-angled and humane. Seller does not allow pick-ups. This seller is located in Auckland City, Auckland.
Starting price. Skip to site navigation Skip to main content. Show more. Register Log in. Would I go? I think I would. Lauren Moynihan, a lawyer in her thirties, had traveled all over the city pleading with hospitals and emergency centers to take her blood and been turned away by all of them. As a civilian, without skills, she felt useless. Everyone wanted to be of use and no one knew how, as if citizenship were a skilled position for which none of us had the right experience and qualifications.
Interesting Times: Writings from a Turbulent Decade
People seemed to be feeling the same thing: they had not been living as they would have liked; the horrors of the day before had woken them up; they wanted to change. So they had come to stand in line, and they continued to wait long after it became clear that no blood was going to be needed.
People became aware, as if for the first time, that they were not merely individuals with private ends. The embarrassment of strong emotions felt by sophisticated people in peaceful times dropped away, and strangers looked at one another differently. We became citizens. This mood lasted around two weeks, then it began to fade.
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The cleanup was taken out of the hands of volunteers and entrusted to experts with heavy machinery. Elected officials told the public to resume normal life as quickly as possible.
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Average people could show they cared by going out to dinner and holding on to stocks. Then came the anthrax scare, which created more panic than the air attacks had, replacing solidarity with hysteria; and then the Afghanistan war, which signaled the return of the familiar, since the public in whose name it was fought had no more to do with it than with other recent wars.
I thought that the attacks and the response would puncture a bloated era in American history and mark the start of a different, more attractive era. I thought that without some such change we would not be able to win this new war—that the crisis that mattered most was internal. One undercurrent of the mood of those days was a sense of shame: we had had it too good, had gotten away with it for too long.
Interesting Times: Writings From a Turbulent Decade With George Packer
In the weeks afterward, W. For at least a low dishonest decade, large numbers of Americans had been living in an untenable state, a kind of complacent fantasy in which the dollar is always strong; the stock market keeps going up; investments always provide a handsome return; wars are fought by other people, end quickly, and can be won with no tax increases, no civilian sacrifices, and few if any American casualties; global dominance is maintained on the strength of technological and economic success without the taint or burden of an occupying empire; power and wealth demand no responsibility; and history leaves Americans alone.
This fantasy took on its most lavish and triumphant expression in New York, and it was frozen in place there when the towers fell. Several weeks later, a journalist wandered into the ghostly executive dining room of Deutsche Bank, across Liberty Street from where the South Tower had stood, and noted the breakfast menu for September smoked-salmon omelettes and chocolate-filled pancakes. The remains of a meal for two—half-drunk juice turning dark, a mostly eaten omelette, withering fruit—sat abandoned on a table.
The whole scene was finely coated in the ubiquitous gray dust and ash, like the tableaux of Romans caught eating and sleeping by the lava of Vesuvius; except that Pompeii was entirely destroyed, whereas the American civilization at which the nineteen radical Islamist hijackers aimed passenger planes still persists in roughly its old shape, though ragged at the edges and shaky in the nerves. Political predictions usually come true when reality and wish coincide, and as it turned out, I was wrong.
September 11 has not ushered in an era of reform. It has not made America or Americans very much better, more civic-minded. It has not replaced market values with democratic values. Yet my first response on the morning of September 11 still seems the one worth holding on to. The investment banker jerked awake, the aspirations up and down the line of those wanting to give blood, revealed something about the moral condition of Americans at this moment in our history.
Like any crisis, the attacks brought buried feelings to the surface and showed our society in a collective mirror. That day changed America less than most people anticipated, but it made Americans think about change—not just as individuals, but as a country. The hijackers believed they were striking a blow at a decadent civilization, and they were partly right.
Islamic terrorists had been trying for years to make Americans aware of their implacable hostility. In Osama bin Laden declared war on American interests in the Arab world, and in he extended it to American and Jewish civilians every where, telling a reporter that he had learned from Somalia that Americans were too soft and cowardly to fight back. No one here noticed. Only a deeply insular, perpetually distracted people with a short memory, a vague notion of the rest of the world, and no firsthand experience of tyranny could have absorbed all the blows of the past decade without understanding that a serious movement wanted to destroy us.
Imagine what the hijackers saw in their last days on earth—a society so capacious and free that it opened itself wide to the agents of its own destruction and gave them the tools to do it. The soulless motels and parking lots of small towns from Florida to Maine, the promiscuous street mix of colors and sexes and faiths, the lack of prayer, the half-dressed women, the fat people in tight clothes, the world empty of Allah, the supreme thrill of knowing in advance what every ignorant idiot around them did not, the endless stock market news on airport lounge televisions, the drowsy security guards, and finally the towers coming into view, thrusting up out of the clear blue sky in their dazzling white arrogance.
One of the features of American life that had fallen into decay by September 11, , was our democracy.
The reasons are numerous and have a complex history, but I want to discuss three. The first has to do with government, and with ancient and more recent American attitudes toward it. The third has to do with an idea, which I will call liberalism, and the people whose business is ideas, who are called intellectuals. But the Enlightenment pamphleteers and politicians—Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and others—distrusted government in a way almost opposite that of modern people.
The eighteenth-century mind that gave birth to the new republic believed human beings to be rational creatures with a nearly limitless capacity for finding happiness if only they are free. In this sense all men are indeed created equal—endowed not just with rights but with reason. This confidence in the human mind to work out its own destiny meant that government, set up by consent to limit freedom only enough to ensure the public good, should remain small.
If it got too big, it would concentrate too much power in privileged hands and turn back toward favoritism and distinctions, and against freedom and its rational use. Limited government, then, was a means, not an end; the end was human happiness, best achieved when men are free. Individualism is part of our national character—the most famous part. But so is moralism, and this, too, goes back several centuries. The utopian fantasies of the pilgrims were submerged under the commercial practices of republican society, but they were never completely buried.
The main theme of American history since independence has been the cheerful, vulgar, brutal, wantonly innocent pursuit of happiness, from the frontiersman to the venture capitalist. But a minor theme keeps recurring, a moralism so rigid that it baffles Europeans—from John Brown to Kenneth Starr. Just as American individualism can appear either healthy and dynamic or blindly selfish, American moralism swings wildly between high-minded idealism and hysterical intolerance. At certain moments—our entry into World War I was one—the transformation happens almost overnight: the muckraker gave way to the night rider, the Progressive city commission to the Red Scare, without any letup in the sense of a national crusade.
The creed reached a reductio ad absurdum in the last days of the campaign, when George W. We understand differently, though. The superficial similarity of modern conservatism to the language of the founders is misleading. Jefferson and his generation saw democratic government—a new beginning of human history—as the collective embodiment of rational man.
It served the public good. Conservatives today have no concept of the public good. They see Americans as investors and consumers, not citizens. Like most victorious ideologies, antigovernment conservatism grew as complacent as the welfare-state liberalism it replaced—and far more extreme.
The doctrinal rigidity hardened to the point where, in the absence of government interventions, untreated problems, from the health care system to the electoral system, continued to fester, and still do.
Among other things, September 11 reminded Americans that they need a government: inside the towers, public employees were going up while private ones went down. One of the strangest things about the antigovernment era is that it coincided with the first prolonged drop in wages in American history. When you come to think of it, less calamitous forces sparked the American Revolution. But the change from an industrial to a high-tech economy, along with the movement of jobs and investment around the world, has been too incremental and various and complex to arouse any focused resistance.
Most of the influential voices in society—the politicians, scholars, and journalists who, along with other professional classes, seemed to do better and better—said that the change was inevitable and ultimately beneficial, and the public believed them. This money bought unprecedented political power. Some businessmen spent their fortunes running for office; others paid for their influence indirectly. The relationship between democracy and economic inequality creates a kind of self-perpetuating cycle: the people hold government in low esteem; public power shrinks against the awesome might of corporations and rich individuals; money and its influence claim a greater and greater share of political power; and the public, priced out of the democratic game, grows ever more cynical about politics and puts more of its energy into private ends.
Interesting Times: Writings from a Turbulent Decade by George Packer
Far from creating a surge of reform, the erosion of the middle class has only deepened the disenchantment. For thirty years or more the musculature of democracy has atrophied, culminating in with a stolen presidential election. For the past century, the political philosophy of collective action on behalf of freedom and justice has been liberalism. For most of that time, it was an expansive, self-confident philosophy, and history was on its side. Since around , liberalism has been an active participant in its own decline. A creed that once spoke on behalf of the desire of millions of Americans for a decent life and a place in the sun shrank to a set of rigid pieties preached on college campuses and in eccentric big-city enclaves.
It turned insular, defensive, fragmented, and pessimistic. It was a kind of cargo cult. At bottom, it represented a retreat from politics. During these years, the energy that had once gone into struggles for justice under the heading of labor or civil rights balkanized and propelled narrower causes, defined not by any universal principles but along the lines of identity.
Rhetorically, at least, all of that changed in the past few decades. The right took up the universalist language of reason, freedom, and truth, while multiculturalism spoke for group grievances based on the accident of birth. While liberalism slept, the country became more corporate, less democratic, less equal, more complacent. Without it, our democracy tends to get fat and sluggish, as the pursuit of happiness guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence becomes a wholly private matter. In the tension between individual and community that every democracy has to negotiate, what we saw in America in the years leading up to September 11 was the triumph of market individualism, without commitments.
The polis was routed and the sense of civic responsibility died on both the left and the right.