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Looking back and looking forward: the post-9/11 era


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By Christopher Babcock



Exactly ten years ago on this date, our world entered a new era.

Eras, as with many things, are generally best understood in retrospect. It is then that a clear picture emerges of how events lead to one another, how the subtleties we took for granted during the moment ultimately dictated the grand scheme.

While we cannot predict the future, we can search for these subtleties in order to tease out a semblance of direction.Some discuss the post-9/11 world as a police state. It’s a place where governments of all forms begin to pull back our personal freedoms and dismantle our notions of privacy. 

Others speak about the post-9/11 world as an era marked by a decline of American influence abroad. Some still may invoke the tension brought about by a higher power’s lost grip on an increasingly secular Western world.

There is a final group that speaks of the lost influence of neither America nor a higher power, but instead of authority in every form. They believe our governments and institutions have struggled to comprehend and react to the rapid changes technology has wrought.

They argue that this change has not reinforced the power structure as it stands, but instead has empowered individuals rather than states.I should be counted among those who believe the new era, which began after the horrific attacks ten years ago, is an era of institutional destabilization.

What most scarred our collective psyche that day was not, perhaps, the gravity of the physical loss we endured but the psychological loss of security.

We found it troubling — and still do — that the attacks were disturbingly unsophisticated in their shrewdness. Suddenly it seemed the systems we had built to protect ourselves were not adequate.

More importantly, we realized there were no quick, easy or painless solutions to the problems posed by this new threat.

A commonality with the attacks that day and seemingly unrelated current events is that those acting could not have done so in a different time or with different resources.The Arab Spring could not have happened without Twitter and mobile phones, nor could 9/11 have happened without credit card networks, mobile phones or rapid communication.

Certainly the advent of the Internet has not made it harder to recruit jihadists. As we democratize information, we must be ready to deal with the unintended consequences. For a while, we might experience more turbulence in this era of change. I believe, however, that eventually those who seek to disrupt, destroy or cause harm will be disadvantaged by democratized technology.

Anonymity is far less a guarantee in the digital realm than most assume. Information is a potent thing. Those who use the Internet cannot be contained to propaganda. Eventually truth wins out.

Truth, I believe, is a positive force, for it is a reflection of our human nature.

We should not fear dark days ahead, because collectively our human nature is good, and collectively we shun disruption, destruction and hate.

­— cdbabcoc@indiana.edu

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