Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I am teaching Social Anthropology this semester. I was scheduled to talk about Religion & Magic in Anthropology today, but last night I got a bug in my brain that I needed to have my students think about September 11th. In the first class, I introduced the concept that culture, among other things, is cumulative. One change can lead to another, which leads to another, which years or decades or centuries later, can produce a much different culture. A perfect example is the advent of agriculture. Agriculture as a subsistence mode leads to a more sedentary lifestyle, the development of more densely populated villages (and eventually cities), role specialization, social stratification, and all the evils that go along with city life-pollution, disease, poverty. It is an extreme example, but that's the gist of it.

So, I wanted them to think of the culture changes that resulted (and will continue to) from a moment in time six years ago. They were thirteen, fourteen, fifteen when the attacks occurred. Now they are college students, on their own to some degree, seeing the world through a different lens. In typical fashion, they froze when I asked my initial question-What changes in culture have resulted from September 11th? Also in typical fashion, once they felt comfortable talking, I couldn't (and didn't want to) stop them. They spoke of fear and paranoia. Of travelling abroad. Of defining being An American, about defining patriotism. Of not knowing when the next strike will come. Of overcoming prejudice and racism and hatred.

I had several students that bravely spoke of their parents in the World Trade Center that morning. I had an even braver student of Iranian descent who spoke eloquently of the United States' foreign policy and religious tolerance and posed the question if defining "American" is something you would want to do. What would An American look like? How would he/she worship? What ethnicity would he/she claim? What language would he/she speak? Why would we want to limit ourselves that way?

I encouraged them to go out today and think about tolerance, about how the events of that day affect them as they move through life, about how they can be better people because of the horrible actions of a handful of outcasts. About rising above it all and making a difference. Something I have to remind myself of more often.

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