Thursday, 16 August 2007

Trauma & the Origin of Ethics

Ground zero: in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the spontaneous invocation and rapid popular acceptance of this freighted term mark a specific and potent return of repressed American history. While no critic or analyst has dared to confront this return, the genealogy of the term makes clear that the civilian victims and spectacular destruction of 9/11 triggered an unconscious discursive reenactment of the problem of American guilt for the 300,000 mostly non-combatant victims of the first-use of nuclear weapons against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Can what is true for individuals also be true for nations? And thus with respect to 9-11: our task being not to resolve the trauma but to do all in our power to assure that it is fully constituted? But for that to happen it is not enough to cite the traumatic images that were blazed into the nation's consciousness that day: a plane embedded surrealistically in a building; bodies falling from the sky; that great granite elevator going down; the terrible black cloud rushing forth to engulf a fleeing multitude; and then the countless dead, buried alive, passing in endless queue across the shattered landscape of the nation's consciousness.

And so, we return to ground-zero and two possibilities-one idealistic, the other ratified by events. The idealistic possibility: Hiroshima, unfinished business deep in the America psyche, returned on 9-11 to trouble us with afterthought and forethought? A mourning process long deferred would then have commenced and with it the recognition that guilt is not a psychological condition to be avoided at all costs but the primary source of knowledge and inner transformation. Internalizing that possibility we would have found what may be the true origin of ethics: the ability to realize what we have done to others when we see our deeds done to us. Ground-zero would then signify our transformation from subjects bent on rectitude and revenge to ones capable of reflection and restraint.; capable of pursuing justice through international law, through the presentation of carefully gathered evidence to the United Nations and the World Court. We would have attained a recognition of the duties of world citizenship and thereby a way of honoring the innocent victims of terror with a fitting memorial.

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