Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Stephen Flynn Article

Stephen Flynn has an article in March/April issue of Foreign Affairs. The heart of his argument as I see it:

There is in our culture a tendency to view citizens as nothing more then consumers. Viewing ourselves that way infantilizes us, it renders us helpless when the lights go out. We need to get away from that. After 9/11, the government essentially codified the consumerist view of citizens, promising to take care of everything and keep our lives running as smoothly as a ride at Disney Land. A corollary to that is that we should cede total control to the government and just sit comfortably in our seats.

However, If you look at the actual events of 9/11, you see something striking. To quote Flynn:
it is the story of United Airlines flight 93, the thwarted fourth plane, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field, that ought to be the dominant 9/11 narrative. That plane's passengers foiled al Qaeda without any help from -- and in spite of the inaction of -- the U.S. government. There were no federal air marshals aboard the aircraft. The North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, could not intercept it; it did not even know that the plane had been hijacked. Yet United 93 was stopped 140 miles from its likely destination -- the U.S. Capitol or the White House -- because of the actions of the passengers who stormed the cockpit...

Americans should celebrate -- and ponder -- the reality that the legislative and executive centers of the U.S. federal government, whose constitutional duty is to "provide for the common defense," were themselves defended that day by one thing alone: an alert and heroic citizenry.
This is the antithesis of the consumerist view: an active and informed citizenry, taking matters into their own hands to shape the outcome. It's often been remarked on that 9/11 was perpetrated by a small number of people with little more then box cutters, it's almost never remarked that their plans were partially foiled by a small number of people with cell phones.

BTW, if you're interested in Flynn's work I recommend this discussion and Q&A podcast at CFR.

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