Tag: Twin Towers

9/11 at 15

Sunday, 11 September, 2016 0 Comments

For the people who went to work in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on the morning of 11 September 2001 and were mercilessly slaughtered; for the firefighters and the police who gallantly responded to the calls for help and were obliterated; for the passengers on the planes and the flight crews whose lives were extinguished in a terrifying moment, this poignant memorial is dedicated to you and yours.

“Here we are then, I was thinking, in a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate. Fine. We will win and they will lose. A pity that we let them pick the time and place of the challenge, but we can and we will make up for that.” — Christopher Hitchens


Human cruelty and evil

Friday, 5 August, 2016 0 Comments

Yesterday’s post here about artificial and emotional intelligence referenced Simon Baron-Cohen’s book, Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty. The book appeared under a different title in the United States: The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Human Cruelty. The use of the “e as in evil” added to its impact in the bookstores, no doubt, as the combination of “Evil” and “Cruelty” beats “Empathy” and “Cruelty” when it comes to visceral reactions.

Evil The cruel person, says Professor Baron-Cohen, treats someone as if they are an object — ignoring their thoughts and feelings. This is one of the worst things a person can do to another human being. A person suspends empathy when thinking only about his or her own mind (single-mindedness) because empathy is the ability to “identify what someone else is thinking or feeling and respond to that with appropriate emotion,” writes Baron-Cohen. This “empathy erosion” arises from emotions such as resentment or hatred and those who entirely lack empathy are borderline personalities: psychopaths and narcissists.

Compared to the cruel person, an empathic person does not merely ask someone how they are feeling, rather he or she avoids hurting their feelings, considers how to make them feel good and evaluates the impact of his or her words and actions on others. The empathic person listens to what is said, notes how it is said and responds in a decent way. In this way, empathy is a human and a saintly quality.

In the final chapter, “Reflections on Human Cruelty,” Baron-Cohen deliberates on the risks of indifference to cruelty and terrorism. Hannah Arendt’s famous “banality of evil” characterization of Adolf Eichmann is assessed in light of the criticism expressed by the late David Cesarini that she observed only the beginning of the war criminal’s trial. Had she stayed longer, she would have seen how the Nazi displayed extraordinary creativity in planning mass murder. As regards terrorists, their unempathic acts are not necessarily the result of lack of empathy claims Baron-Cohen. “The belief and/or the actual political context may drive the behavior,” he says. This may be so, but as the 9/11 terrorists flew their planes into the Twin Towers, few would deny that their switched-off empathy had led them down a path of cruelty to acts of incomprehensible evil.

Cruelty and evil are facts of life. We should not shy away from naming and shaming them or those persons who engage in human cruelty and evil.

“In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.” — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago


The third Station: Thanksgivings

Thursday, 26 November, 2015 0 Comments

On Saturday, 14 October 1989, my mother wrote the following diary entry: “My last day in Brooklyn after a beautiful holiday, the holiday of a lifetime. Today is really warm. Temp 75 degrees, everyone in summer clothes, etc. Got up at 7.am. Writing this now while the kettle is boiling. Had tea now. Must bake my last cake now. I have 6 cakes put in boxes for Ea & Ann so I am sure they’ll have nearly enough until Xmas. Ann had a great old metal frying pan for baking them in. The real thing.”

The “holiday of a lifetime” was not just a trip across the Atlantic, although that was of itself a milestone experience. What made it momentous was the knowledge that she was retracing the steps that members of her family, near and extended, had been taking since the middle of the 19th century. On ships first and in planes later, they had voyaged to the United States and spread out from New York to Chicago, Salt Lake City and San Francisco. Her own brother, Tom, emigrated to America and meeting his children in Waterbury, Connecticut, was an especially poignant moment for her.

Looking at photographs taken during the holiday, the thing that stands out is the pure happiness. The optimism of the New World suited my mother. The pace of the place agreed with her. The constant motion matched her high-energy approach to life: Sights had to be seen, people needed meeting, trips had to be taken and in the midst of all this, bread had to be baked and all these things had to be noted in the diary. This particular observation never fails to intrigue: “Seen World Trade Centre with its Twin Towers. Rise 110 Stories and 1,350 feet each and on one of them is a high pole to warn the planes not to fly too low.”

Mother with Twin Towers

The “holiday of a lifetime” was also a break from the sometimes-monotony of the rural environment that had been my mother’s reality since birth. She loved where she had been born into, but she appreciated every opportunity to explore the wider world and nothing was wider in the world for her than the USA. Watching her enjoy each encounter with America, one felt that had the cards been dealt differently she would have made a wonderful life for herself in a place where energy and creativity are so much appreciated. That was not to be, but we give thanks today for all that was, for the memories of that happy holiday and the cakes baked in Brookyn.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Faith.