Unlike some of my favorite bloggers, I’m not a shrink. I’m not a particularly deep thinker. I’ve lived all my life paying attention to what I’m doing in the present, while remaining mindful of the possible consequences: I’m not a “what if” person.
This is probably due to the reason that at an early age I knew people who were so focused on the “what ifs” that they managed to supremely mess up their lives. For instance, a neighbor who, back in the days when I was in grade school, spent most of her waking hours wondering “what if” her abusive, alcoholic husband didn’t drink, and who later spent invaluable time wondering “what if” her son (who was my age) hadn’t become a junkie.
The worst kind of “what if”, the most egregious waste of time, is the “what if [bad event] hadn’t happened”. It is self-indulgent, wishful thinking, daydreaming at best, but mostly wasteful of energy and time, and a useless endeavor.
Once something bad happens, what matters is not what we’d be doing if things hadn’t gone wrong: we know what we were doing when things were fine. What we do when we’re faced with a huge problem is what really matters: our survival and very existence hinge on that.
Now New York Magazine has come up with an issue, I suppose because we’re nearing the 5th anniversary of the second World Trade Center attack, asking What If 9/11 Never Happened? A counterhistory. NYMag’s reason to indulge in “counterhistory” is to try to ascertain what are the vast political, cultural, and sociological, intellectual, emotional, and psychological changes.
In the 1970s and 1980s and 1990s while we were dancing in our sleep all the way up the sides of the volcano, plenty of bad things happened and we went on “as if” they were minor glitches: After the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 I recall that The Economist (they don’t have that issue on line) ran a chilling cover story on the emergence of radical Islam. Nobody paid attention. The scenario described in the article, dire as it was, came short of the reality we’re facing.
So now we’re in the midst of a long war, after kicking the can for as long and as far as it could be kicked, for decades, and a magazine wastes an entire issue on fanciful daydreaming. Rather than pay a dozen writers, (including Andrew Sullivan) to tiptoe through the imaginary tulips, how about if NYMag had shown some guts and featured leaders such as Aayan Hirsi Ali and writers from India, Australia, the Americas and the Middle East that are being attacked by fascist Islamists who want their destruction?
Because, as Leon Wieseltier said, if if 9/11 had not happened, then 9/12 would have happened, or 9/13 or 9/14.