"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
What I'll Never Forget
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As usual for this time of year, there have been many calls for Americans to never forget the tragedy of September 11, 2001 . I certainly will not. The terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 , marked a tipping point in my thinking about politics. It affected a lot of people's thinking, of course, but I was something of an aberration: It led me to trust the state less rather than more. That was the day that I became an anarchist.
It was the culmination of a long journey. I have felt a sort of instinctive revulsion seeing someone shoved around, bullied, or dominated for as long as I can remember. I can still recall how shocked and dismayed I was when, as a boy, I learned what 'taxes' were. There were actually guys who went around forcing people to give them money, and throwing people who refused in jail? And the police didn't stop them? Learning about 'eminent domain' a few years later during a construction project in my town was an even bigger shock. Money was still mostly an abstraction for me, but the idea that the government could force people to sell their house and move somewhere else made a more concrete impression.
My grandfather was a sort of Goldwater Republican, and I spent a lot of time visiting him and reading books I borrowed from him. This started to provide my underlying instincts with a more concrete framework. I began moving in a steadily anti-statist direction more or less as soon as I became politically aware during the Clinton years, and gradually saw through more and more of what I was taught in school or the media, as well as recognizing gaps and inconsistencies in my own beliefs. In high school, I started reading Friedrich Hayek, Thomas Sowell, Murray Rothbard, Albert Jay Nock, and the like.
By about 1998, I was a libertarian who supported only a minimal government. By 2000-2001, I was having more and more reservations about the moral legitimacy of even that, and my study on the subject was driving me towards the conclusion that anarchocapitalism was a genuinely workable possibility, and that it was actually the idea of a limited government that stayed limited that was unrealistic. However, I still found the line a difficult one to cross. To most people, 'anarchy' is a shocking notion, and I still found the idea intimidating emotionally even as reason pushed me inexorably closer to it.
On September 11, 2001 , I went to my college's cafeteria with a friend between classes. We arrived to find a huge crowd of students watching a bunch of TVs that had been set up. The crowd was in near-silence; all I could hear was the television and a few students murmuring about some building "falling." I joined the crowd to find out what was going on, and on the television I saw the second World Trade Center tower burning. I pieced together what had happened to the first building from the newscaster's commentary just in time for the second tower to collapse, the attempted evacuation still in progress.
My friend was distraught and asked me if I would accompany her while she went to the campus chapel. I agreed, and on the way, realization struck me.
By this point, it was clear that what had happened was a coordinated attack. One of the great centers of American business was a mass grave, thousands of corpses buried under mountains of broken concrete and steel. I had been holding on to the belief that the state was there to protect us from violent attack--and I had just finished watching a skyscraper in the biggest city in the country burn and shatter with more than one thousand innocent people trapped inside, and the hundreds of billions of dollars the government spent every year to maintain the most powerful military machine on Earth had done nothing to stop it. The idea that the government was an irreplaceable defender of the nation suddenly felt like a very unfunny joke.
That was the final blow my belief in the state. It wasn't that my opinion about the viability of anarchocapitalism had suddenly changed, but rather that I had been jolted into emotional acceptance of the radical conclusion I had already reached intellectually by this graphic depiction of the state's profound failure. The continuous repetition of images on the news imprinted themselves on me. Whenever I thought about the idea that the government kept us safe, all I saw were great pillars of fire crashing down, a vast cloud of smoke and dust that spread over New York City and seemed to devour it, people trapped in the buildings with no other way to escape the smoke and heat caught on film as they tumbled through the air and smashed into pieces a thousand feet below.
You can be assured that I will always remember September 11th. It taught me too much to ever let me forget it.