This year marks 20 years since the terrorist attacks on September Eleventh. It is a day that looms grimly for those who witnessed with their own eyes the destruction, horror, and chaos of that day. It casts a shadow that creeps into the conscience of those who were not alive or old enough to understand the gravity of those events – nor how they would forever change modern American life. But as time pulls us farther from 2001, it is the image that we don’t see, that was decided upon us for the removal of offense, of hurt, of emotion that is the most important to connect us to a collective historic truth. It is the image of the Falling Man.
Photojournalist Richard Drew had been on assignment with the Associated Press when he was dispatched to the Twin Towers. In minutes, his 12-frame sequence of the unknown man would be symbolic of the moment: at once a surreal image burned out of a nightmare contrasting with the ethereal sense of a quiet, intimate, moment. Tom Junod wrote of the image in his 2003 Esquire feature that if the man weren’t falling, he “might very well be flying.” But since September 12th, when the piercing image was on the cover of publications around the world, it has quietly retreated from the public eye. Just as much pain as the image invokes, as much as our souls repel at the emotion it brings forth, it is imperative to understand the truth of the events of that day and to not erase from memory the Falling Man.
Twenty years later, the censorship of images and words has had a profoundly negative impact on our own thoughts and expressions. The incremental dismantling of free expression – once the guise of protection from offense that was born in universities and European salons – has grown into an all-out war on words, thoughts, and ideas in nearly every aspect of public and private life. The tendency to shelter people from their own emotions has given way to an insatiable movement to control what is acceptable for people to hear, to see, and to discuss. It is the narrowing not only of the mind, but of the soul. It has attached a criminality to the truth-seeker, for how does man find truth – the most virtuous endeavor – if he only has access to a predetermined narrative not of his choosing?
Without the liberty to reject and choose those ideas brought forth in the public square, there can be no moral and intellectual health. America once had a national, heterodox discourse about the social norms of society, it now has an autocratic itch that is being scratched by the illiberal left. The American liberal traded his stalwart support of free speech for the calculated defense of censorship by euphemism and mob tactics. “Freedom to choose” only applies to
abortionwomen’s health, never to school choice, stay-at-home mothers, or most importantly, the individual’s choice to question the ideological homogony of their rules; the foundation was made in the journalism schools, elitist universities, and ivory halls of the cultural elites.
Now the walls of acceptable thought are being built outside the realm of universities, politics, and corporate media. They may be the enforcers, but we are all being conditioned to comply with the ordered diktat, to avoid the risk of an unfortunate fate of those that came before. We were warned about it with Bari Weiss and James Bennet at the New York Times and Megyn Kelly at NBC: cancelled for some arbitrary rules of blasphemy that have nothing to do with vulgarity and everything to do with engaging in performative rituals as a condition of employment or being in good-standing in civil society. Bari Weiss detailed the ongoing case of Jodi Shaw, an employee at Smith College and a single mother who earns less in a year than tuition, resigned for not conforming to the regressive policies of racial separatist dogma, white fragility, and systemic racism apologetics. Ms. Shaw risked her livelihood and stood in defiance for truth.
This is the making of a new structure of forced normalcy in which ideas and debate are toxic and the only cure is what John Milton referred to as censorship of the Licensers. But unlike the ‘book licensing’ Milton wrote about in Areopagitica, ours is a sort of licensing by an autocratic fascism. Democratic Representatives Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney of California sent letters to AT&T, Verizon, Amazon, Comcast, Dish, and Alphabet, amongst others, asking them to rethink their carrying Fox News and OANN based on claims they enabled misinformation and conspiracy theories leading to the January 6th Capitol Riot. Amazon and Target have removed (then reinstated) Abigail Shrier’s book about the transgender epidemic in teenage girls. Not to be outdone, Amazon and Apple removed Ryan Anderson’s book When Harry Became Sallyfrom its platform. We are too familiar with the suppressing of the New York Post’s Hunter Biden corruption story, still to be investigated. And what of the
enabling open secrets of the Lincoln Project’s scandals involving gross abuses of power.
The suppression and censorship of information quickly turns to suppression of individual thought. This ends only when outward conformity matches the self-created prison man is held captive as his own nonconforming and skeptical thoughts could make him a social pariah. News anchors repeatedly call anyone questioning the radical climate change agenda as ‘science deniers’, who are now in good company with COVID lockdown objectors and doctors prescribing Hydroxychloroquine as medicinal therapy. Anyone who dares question the unelected bureaucrats, politicians, and ‘experts’ are traitors to the mandatory suffering the common class must endure to pay for our sins of existence. Objectors are tolerated, but again, only if it fits the predetermined narrative. Minority communities who may be hesitant to take the COVID vaccine are never portrayed as heretics to Science! They are victims of systemic racism. It all has a purpose.
It adds up to the dangerous trend that was but a fleeting warning back in 2001: that the gatekeepers of information know the power of a free individual to pursue knowledge of the truth. It is an indisputable virtue without which we cannot be the owners of our own lives; they belong to those who hold the keys to or perceived world. It is not an act of benevolence or charity by the powerful to protect the common class from potentially harmful ideas. It is an admission of rude condescension and the infantilizing of Americans. Unity would be an admirable goal, but at what cost is the unity imposed artificially from a class of people who don’t know or care anything of our lives – except the urge to run them? If we are given only one set of ideas to calibrate our moral compass, how do we know it is truly pointed in the correct direction? How will we know the truth when we cannot compare it with all other forms of error?
It is imperative as we head deeper into the morass of self-censorship that we shore up the institutions that still give us the freedom to consume all ideas – not just those deemed acceptable by the ruling class. Ricochet is one such outlet. Substack and Clubhouse are other platforms giving editorial and intellectual freedom to users. We cannot wait before Americans wilt at the thought of speaking the convictions of their souls. Before, as Milton wrote in Areopagitica, “The iron yoke of outward conformity hath yet left a slavish print upon our necks.”
How do we know virtue, if we do not as well know vice? How do we not know the evil of the terror attacks and for what reason America and the world changed that day if we aren’t so starkly reminded by the images of that day, of the Falling Man?
And who would know that the choice this one man would be faced with, the weight of an impending, definite end – as unknown a choice to the living as his own identity is to us now, is in the slightest of ways the choice we now face: to accept what is decided for us as an inevitability – or to take it as our own, the choice given before us because we are still believers in and pursuers of truth.
I found this article very powerful. I hope my readers do, too. And it’s a great illustration of the kind of discussion you will find if you join Ricochet.com.