Kill Your Status Quo


12 September 2001 18:17

Dear Friends and Family:

This was an email I sent earlier (to my co-workers) with a few opinions that I believe are important in the days to come. It is clear, as the reaction to this tragedy develops, that many people were killed or hurt and MANY more are scared, mad and/or upset. Although I am 32 years old, I feel as if I am an old hand at dealing with and understanding events like what happened yesterday morning (it seems to have been last week, the time has passed so slowly...), mostly because I have dealt with death (my mother's) and the ways of the world (5 years of travel - 3+ in the developing world).

Americans, in general, do not have alternative life experiences from other cultures. For many of them, this attack was the first time that the outside world has directly intervened with their lives. It seems that many people are handling themselves in a way that deserves tremendous respect and pride, but I have some fear of anger replacing what's "right". More below...

My best wishes to all of you and Peace in your lives (and in your various tongues): Aman, Baris, Beke, Fred, Frieden, Ha-Pin, Heiwa, He-Ping, Hetep, Hoa Binh, Mier, Mir, Pace, Paix, Paqe, Pax, Paz, Pokoj, Salam, Samadaanam, Selam, Shalom, Shanti, Shulam, Siochaint, Solh, Vrede

Love from David (and Sandra)

-----Original Message-----

This events yesterday are indeed beyond our imaginations. Although it would be better if it had never happened at all, it seems that the best impact that it might have (as the perpetrators perhaps wanted), is for us (the USA, the Americans), to reconsider our positions and how we "project" power in the world - before we start bombing...  

If the attack was Muslim (not domestic - like last time in Oklahoma), then start by acknowledging that Christians own and control most of the world. The Muslims get screwed quite often (with support from Christian/Western Governments). Perhaps that is fair (the Strong make the rules), but it hardly seems to be either "what Jesus would do" or "love thy Neighbor". Examples:

* Aceh, Indonesia (Muslims governed and exploited by Java)

* Algeria (military regime at war with Muslims, backed by France)

* Bosnia (Muslim genocide by Croatia/Serbia)

* Central Asia (general suppression by regional totalitarian governments of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, backed by


* Chechnya, Russia (Muslim genocide by Russia)

* China (totalitarians suppressing Uigurs)

* Egypt (military regime jailing/killing Muslim leaders, backed by USA)

* France (institutionalized racism against North African Muslims)

* Iraq (sanctions causing drop in life expectancy by 20 years, backed by UK/USA)

* Kashmir, India (Muslims governed by Indian military)

* Mindanao, Philippines (Muslims suppressed by Philippines/Christians, backed by USA)

* Palestine (Israelis (not all of them supporting the government's aggression, mostly supported by religious Jews and fundamentalist Christians who want

    the Temple to be rebuilt so the Messiah can return. Results: homes bulldozed, Settler-fortresses in Muslim villages, Sharon claiming the Temple Mount,

    assassinations of civilian government officials, bombings of opposition buildings, economic boycott/theft of tax revenues, all backed by USA)

* Turkey (jail or death for Muslim leaders, backed by USA/NATO)


There are some counter-examples of Muslims hurting Christians.

* Afghanistan - a complete mess in the hands of wild-eyed fanatics (who have perhaps stopped opium production!)

* Nigeria - Active Muslim suppression of Christian minority in Northern areas.

* Sudan - Muslim government in civil war with Christians/Animists in the south (backed, incidentally, by international/US oil companies)


Iran and Libya are actually benign these days...

Before we go off and start shooting (or nuking) all the "rag heads" (as Howard Stern's listeners want), perhaps we should consider where the perpetrators are coming from in terms of their anger at what "America" has done to them. It's too bad that US citizens are not called upon to make the decisions that the government makes for them, because, if we knew more of what was happening (there is a clear lack of coverage and bias in most of the US press/television - against Muslims), it is likely that the USA wouldn't be responsible for as many messes as it is. One clear result of constraint would be a lessening of Israel's current aggression, not possible without the support of the US government (current UN Racism conference in S. Africa, etc.)

Finally, it is interesting to make a note, when looking for those responsible (Bush's "Evil" ones), of who gain's from US anguish and anger. A US backlash against Muslims would strengthen Israel. Perhaps Mossad** is responsible?

Just a few thoughts on this so-predictable tragedy. My regrets to those who died for someone else's opinion.


** Israel's secret service = CIA; already responsible for hijackings, assassinations and intelligence thefts - from the USA)

Your Reactions

9/12 11:55 from Jim Hoffman (Berkeley, CA)

Thanks for this -- my thoughts exactly, though I hadn't thought of Mossad as a possible perpetrator. Wall-to-wall coverage in the corporate media and not even a whisper about the global context of this event. Last night I was quite horrified to see Lawrence Eagleberger on TV in effect calling for the US to commit massive war crimes by bombing Kabul and 'using the same tactics on them as they used against us'. 

- jim  

9/12 20:06 from Patrick Lam (Los Angeles, CA):

Right on! For once I am in complete agreement with your political views. After being abroad, you really realized how Americans are spoon-fed a sanitized world view by the media. People don't realize how prolific Islam is in this world and how these acts are perpetrated by a fringe faction of a major religion. Would they hate all Christians for the crimes committed by the KKK in the name of God? After hanging out in a country where Muslims make up a huge minority, I've come to appreciate how diverse the religion is. Like Judaism, you got your fundamentalists, your fanatics, and Muslim in name/color/race only.


9/12 21:14 from Tom Jenny (Arlington, VA):


I'm totally with you, right up to the Mossad conspiracy theory. When you get to that point, you need to set down the crack pipe. It is going to be hard enough for us to get any sympathy in this jingoistic environment, without delving into the irrational.

I've been sharing this thought experiment with friends: If you had asked the average American, 48 hours ago, if the US was at war with the Middle East (or with elements of the Middle East), the American would have said, "What war? Did they just announce something?" However, if you had asked the average Arab, from Morocco to Pakistan, if the US was at war with the Middle East, the answer would have been, "Yes, of course." If you asked them how long the US had been at war with them, they would say, "20 years? 30 years?" It is interesting that Americans are only now figuring out what these people have known for years: that a more or less continuous state of war exists between the US and various elements of the Middle East.


9/12 21:21 from Andy Ground (Fremantle, West Australia):

Sound words Dave, people die everywhere every day due to unseen (By the West) horrors. It’s horrible to see it, indeed feel it, in our own yard, but it makes the death we read of around the World every day become real for us. By retaliating with a gun the violent wheel well continue to spin, Violence will never end Violence unless it is absolute. Before America (Australia included) points a finger, they should ensure their slate is clean. Take care Mate. Andy.

9/13 01:28 from JP Fox (Los Angeles, CA):

David, Although I don't agree on all points, it certainly is a relief to hear a well thought out educated opinion. I have been inundated with racist, reactionary, cowboy type comments and opinions. I haven't bothered to voice my resentment towards much of it because most people are so full of shit, I don't know where to start. I am ashamed to say that in recent years I have done a lot of burying my head in the sand. there just seems to be so much misinformation and propaganda here in the states that I stopped listening to everything because I don't know what is real. everything I have seen in my travels doesn't seem to match the blind opinions people seem to have here. I never know where to start with people and it gets so tiring and overwhelming. good to hear from you.


9/13 04:30 from Valentijn Spit (Utrecht, Netherlands):


to be short, your email enforces my feelings and opinion as 'to be critical towards what media tell us and toward the acts of our western UN and NATO partners in international conflicts'. This holds for nuclear experiments and policy, violation of human rights, religious wars, and terrorist acts like this as well. I couldn't have described this situation at hand better than you did, thanks for that!

Ah, to give a brief example: from the earliest moment that someone mentioned Bin Laden the day before yesterday, every 10 minutes we hear that name on our radio and television. This is pure indoctrination, and is far to much honour for a sick soul that hides out for years, and even might not be responsible. If he is, and there's solid proof, there will be justice... no doubts about it, but let's be careful to point our fingers at such a short notice.

Love, strength and freedom for those involved,


9/13 04:22 Christopher Reed (Brisbane, Australia):

Simply interesting to see a rational perspective taken from in that own country. Should you not be too careful that you may be tarred and feathered for having honest thoughts? Or are you aware that to be open as you have it may force others to view the world differently? Great words, you are the man. Run for office man! Or maybe the people aren't ready for you yet? Even over here on this side of the pacific the harbingers of doom sayeth "let's slay the billionaire afghan guy". I keep saying "but what about Oklahoma? Everyone said the billionaire afghan guy did that!" Incredible shame, but great footage. Is that too callous? Keep up the rational viewpoints, brother I'm with U!


9/13 06:57 from Stephanie Meeuwse (Toronto, Canada):


Great email. I was recently reading a book called "Pity the People" all about Lebanon and the Palestine’s view of the situation with Israel. Hardly any people at all know about what is happening over there and the unfairness of the situation. I think if they knew, and could put themselves in their shoes, they would be a little more compassionate. It is really too bad about all the innocents who suffer. I was just having a similar conversation last night about how the Muslims must feel and why they think of the States the way they do ( although I didn't have as many examples as you).


9/13 09:25 from Sheila Phillips  (Toronto, Canada):

Quite honestly, I am not that well versed with the history of Americans and Muslims etc., or whomever it is we're dealing with here. Since this heinous attack occurred, I really felt the need to know/learn more about why, how, when did this start? In turn, I began to research and educate myself on what has transpired between all these nations in the last century. I figured, OK there are many people out there who are really angry, FOR A REASON. You don't just "take out" one of the most prominent cities in the world for the hell of it.

I do feel that Canada is really going to feel many different repercussions from this, over and above how we've already been affected. Canada could be in for some real devastation of it's own. We have little choice but to help defend America and get involved in World War III, which I believe at this point is inevitable. This whole tragedy is going to get very, very ugly. Not only for Americans, but for most of the world.

I know we don't know each other but I wanted to respond to your e-mail, and express that it makes me feel better knowing there are still reasonable, rational and educated people in this world such as yourself. We can only hope that there are at least a few government officials that have the same frame of mind as you do. I appreciate and thank you for the information that you've given and wanted to ask you if you'd mind if I sent your e-mail over to Howard Stern and Robin, if you haven't already done so. As well as to a few other people I know that could also use the information. Let me know and take care.


9/13 11:50 Natalie Burchett (Bognor Regis, England):

David, Just a little note to say that we are all devastated to hear about the tragedy unfolding in the States at the moment. We are completely shocked and hope that you, Uncle Hugh and your friends and relatives are safe and well. We are thinking of you all and cannot believe what we are actually watching on the TV each day. We cannot put into words how angry and upset this has made us all. Take care of yourselves. Love from us all over the pond. Natalie xxxx

9/13 10:09 from Jasna Holjak (Toronto, Canada):

David, I agree with you completely.

Although there is no excuse for such a great loss of (I am sure) mostly innocent lives (as there never was and never will be - anywhere in the world), it seems that the world will never be the same "according to America" again. It looks like "the dragons" are more powerful and dangerous that they seem... And is it not a way too painful manner of understanding that no one in this world is "untouchable"??? No doubt. All we can wish for these days is that common sense will prevail (unfortunately, I do not believe that Bush is the best example for such a thing!)... I am still shocked and disgusted with that events, but not very surprised, because I do not think there is a greater thing (in the whole universe) than human stupidity! Anyway, I certainly hope to see Sandra and you here with us in two weeks. Take care,


9/13 10:20 from Maurice Norrise (Berkeley, CA):

Thanks for the those insights and encouragements.

As-Salaamu-Alaikum, Wa Rahmahtullahi Barakatu - Peace and the Mercy of God and His Blessings.


9/13 13:25 from Doug Slaton (San Francisco, CA):

Mr David,

You can look at Mossad, but that's a ridiculously high-risk tactic. Not only would they be wiped off the face of the earth if discovered, the benefits are not absolute. A protracted "war" will weaken the US and increase terrorism. That does not equal a stronger Israel.

9/16 12:22 from Ana Cerny (Zagreb, Croatia):

I've just read your letter about situation in America and I completely agree. I wish that all Americans had your opinion. It is normal that people are angry and confused but it's also true that most of the people are not aware of some things in the other countries. I keep thinking that  thousands of people are the victims of someone's politics nowadays. For example, last Croatian government took 10 years of our lives. Many people who live in eastern Slavonia are angry because they have to live with the Serbs who killed their families during the war, Muslims in Bosnia are angry because some guys from my country wanted their country...Anger is a very dangerous thing and everybody should let it go. Sometimes people think that everything what was done by their country (especially during the war situations) is right. Are we smart enough to see "the big picture"? Well, you are obviously. I'm not so self confident to claim the same thing for myself but I'm trying every day not to be angry and to find the solution in love because after some time I came to the conclusion that it's easier to love then to hate.

9/17 04:14 from Aziz Muhtaroglu (Istanbul, Turkey):

Dear David,

I want to say how sorry and sad I am about the American people killed by terrorists. I hope USA won't live such an event again. As you know we have been dealing with a terrorist guy (Abdullah Ocalan-PKK) for more than 25 years and believe me there were more than 40,000 innocent people died just because of him. When we got him all EU, particularly USA, told us that you can not kill him otherwise we wont take you to the EU (or something like that). They always defend Human Rights. However my friend none of those countries lived terrorism like Turkey before. Now, USA has faced such an event and people started to understand what terrorism really means. One thing that I want to ask you. I have been hearing from my friends (living in NY), most Americans are showing hostile behaviours to foreigners and especially to Muslims. I heard that people are writing kill'em all on mosques. Do you think that this is right (I know that you don't think but I want to share my feelings with u). I think this is completely out of USA's perception. A friend of mine told me that he is the only Muslim working in his company, and he told that everybody is acting like he did all the events. tell me what is that David? If American people act like that the whole thing loses its importance and meaning. Anyways, I am glad that you are fine my friend.

Take care



Other Reactions

17 September 2001

Transcript of President's Remarks at the Islamic Center in Washington, DC

"Thank you all very much for your hospitality. We've just had a -- wide-ranging discussions on the matter at hand. Like the good folks standing with me, the American people were appalled and outraged at last Tuesday's attacks. And so were Muslims all across the world. Both Americans and Muslim friends and citizens, tax-paying citizens, and Muslims in nations were just appalled and could not believe what we saw on our TV screens.

These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. And it's important for my fellow Americans to understand that.

The English translation is not as eloquent as the original Arabic, but let me quote from the Koran, itself: In the long run, evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil. For that they rejected the signs of Allah and held them up to ridicule.

The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war.

When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace. And that's made brothers and sisters out of every race-- out of every race.

America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.

Women who cover their heads in this country must feel comfortable going outside their homes. Moms who wear cover must be not intimidated in America. That's not the America I know. That's not the America I value.

I've been told that some fear to leave; some don't want to go shopping for their families; some don't want to go about their ordinary daily routines because, by wearing cover, they're afraid they'll be intimidated. That should not and that will not stand in America.

Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don't represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.

This is a great country. It's a great country because we share the same values of respect and dignity and human worth. And it is my honor to be meeting with leaders who feel just the same way I do. They're outraged, they're sad. They love America just as much as I do.

I want to thank you all for giving me a chance to come by. And may God bless us all."



Congresswoman Barbara Lee represents the 106th District (Oakland, Berkeley, Piedmont, Emeryville, Albany, and Alameda). She was outvoted 420 - 1 on Fridat, Sept 14th: 

"On Friday, September 14, I voted against S. J. Res. 23/H. J. Res. 64, which ceded Congress’s future authority to the President regarding the use of military force in response to the terrorist attacks. Our Constitution provides for checks and balances between our branches of government. This resolution does not obligate the President to report back to Congress after 60 days, as was required by Congress during the Gulf War, about the actions our military will take. Additionally, this resolution authorizes an open-ended action and significantly reduces Congress’s authority in this matter. We must bring the perpetrators of this horrific action to justice. 

But during this period of grief, mourning, and anger, the U.S. Congress has a responsibility to urge the use of restraint so that the violence does not spiral out of control and to consider all of the implications of our actions."

Full Statement of Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) in opposition to H.J.Res. 64, authorizing the use of military force

Mr. Speaker, I rise today with a heavy heart, one that is filled with sorrow for the families and loved ones who were killed and injured in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Only the most foolish or the most callous would not understand the grief that has gripped the American people and millions across the world.

This unspeakable attack on the United States has forced me to rely on my moral compass, my conscience, and my God for direction. September 11 changed the world. Our deepest fears now haunt us. Yet I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States.

I know that this use-of-force resolution will pass although we all know that the President can wage a war even without this resolution. However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint. There must be some of us who say, let's step back for a moment and think through the implications of our action today--let us more fully understand its consequences.

We are not dealing with a conventional war. We cannot respond in a conventional manner. I do not want to see this spiral out of control. This crisis involves issues of national security, foreign policy, public safety, intelligence gathering, economics, and murder. Our response must be equally multi-faceted.

We must not rush to judgment. Far too many innocent people have already died. Our country is in mourning. If we rush to launch a counter-attack, we run too great a risk that women, children, and other non-combatants will be caught in the crossfire. Nor can we let our justified anger over these outrageous acts by vicious murderers inflame prejudice against all Arab Americans, Muslims, Southeast Asians, or any other people because of their race, religion, or ethnicity.

Finally, we must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target. We cannot repeat past mistakes. In 1964, Congress gave President Lyndon Johnson the power to ``take all necessary measures” to repel attacks and prevent further aggression. In so doing, this House abandoned its own constitutional responsibilities and launched our country into years of undeclared war in Vietnam.

At that time, Senator Wayne Morse, one of two lonely votes against the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, declared, ``I believe that history will record that we have made a grave mistake in subverting and circumventing the Constitution of the United States.........I believe that within the next century, future generations will look with dismay and great disappointment upon a Congress which is now about to make such a historic mistake.”

Senator Morse was correct, and I fear we make the same mistake today. And I fear the consequences.

I have agonized over this vote. But I came to grips with it in the very painful yet beautiful memorial service today at the National Cathedral. As a member of the clergy so eloquently said, “As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore.

1) A resolution condemning bigotry, racism and violence against Arab Americans, American Muslims, and Americans from South Asia following the terrorist attacks. Soon to be introduced by Rep. Bonior (D-MI).


I have spoken to a few Arabic people (from Tunisia and Egypt). They are sad that the US is attacking all Arabs for the actions of a few (if even Arabs did this). They hope that people are more intelligent than the government and media but see little chance of that. 


The Religious Right: Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson tell us that God is punishing the US for the sins of homosexuals, anti-abortionists, et al. Idiots!


The Conservative Right: "Airports scrupulously apply the same laughably ineffective airport harassment to Suzy Chapstick as to Muslim hijackers. It is preposterous to assume every passenger is a potential crazed homicidal maniac. We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war."

            -- Ann Coulter (writing for National Review), September 13, 2001


On 9/13, the Guardian (UK) tells America that there are other people with other opinions and perhaps they are upset with what America has done in the past.



Tamim Ansary (An Afghan-American):

Dear Gary and whoever else is on this email thread: I've been hearing a lot of talk about "bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age." Ronn Owens, on KGO Talk Radio today, allowed that this would mean killing innocent people, people who had nothing to do with this atrocity, but "we're at war, we have to accept collateral damage. What else can we do?" Minutes later I heard some TV pundit discussing whether we "have the belly to do what must be done." And I thought about the issues being raised especially hard because I am from Afghanistan, and even though I've lived here for 35 years I've never lost track of what's going on there. So I want to tell anyone who will listen how it all looks from where I'm standing.

I speak as one who hates the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. There is no doubt in my mind that these people were responsible for the atrocity in New York. I agree that something must be done about those monsters.

But the Taliban and Ben Laden are not Afghanistan. They're not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who took over Afghanistan in 1997. Bin Laden is a political criminal with a plan. When you think Taliban, think Nazis. When you think Bin Laden, think Hitler. And when you think "the people of Afghanistan" think "the Jews in the concentration camps." It's not only that the Afghan people had nothing to do with this atrocity. They were the first victims of the perpetrators. They would exult if someone would come in there, take out the Taliban and clear out the rats nest of international thugs holed up in their country.

Some say, why don't the Afghans rise up and overthrow the Taliban? The answer is, they're starved, exhausted, hurt, incapacitated, suffering. A few years ago, the United Nations estimated that there are 500,000 disabled orphans in Afghanistan--a country with no economy, no food. There are millions of widows. And the Taliban has been burying these widows alive in mass graves. The soil is littered with land mines, the farms were all destroyed by the Soviets. These are a few of the reasons why the Afghan people have not overthrown the Taliban.

We come now to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. Trouble is, that's been done. The Soviets took care of it already. Make the Afghans suffer? They're already suffering. Level their houses? Done. Turn their schools into piles of rubble? Done. Eradicate their hospitals? Done. Destroy their infrastructure? Cut them off from medicine and health care? Too late. Someone already did all that.

New bombs would only stir the rubble of earlier bombs. Would they at least get the Taliban? Not likely. In today's Afghanistan, only the Taliban eat, only they have the means to move around. They'd slip away and hide. Maybe the bombs would get some of those disabled orphans, they don't move too fast, they don't even have wheelchairs. But flying over Kabul and dropping bombs wouldn't really be a strike against the criminals who did this horrific thing.

Actually it would only be making common cause with the Taliban--by raping once again the people they've been raping all this time. So what else is there? What can be done, then? Let me now speak with true fear and trembling. The only way to get Bin Laden is to go in there with ground troops. When people speak of "having the belly to do what needs to be done" they're thinking in terms of having the belly to kill as many as needed.

Having the belly to overcome any moral qualms about killing innocent people. Let's pull our heads out of the sand. What's actually on the table is Americans dying. And not just because some Americans would die fighting their way through Afghanistan to Bin Laden's hideout. It's much bigger than that folks. Because to get any troops to Afghanistan, we'd have to go through Pakistan. Would they let us? Not likely. The conquest of Pakistan would have to be first.

Will other Muslim nations just stand by? You see where I'm going. We're flirting with a world war between Islam and the West. And guess what: that's Bin Laden's program. That's exactly what he wants.

That's why he did this. Read his speeches and statements. It's all right there. He really believes Islam would beat the west. It might seem ridiculous, but he figures if he can polarize the world into Islam and the West, he's got a billion soldiers. If the west wreaks a holocaust in those lands, that's a billion people with nothing left to lose, that's even better from Bin Laden's point of view. He's probably wrong, in the end the west would win, whatever that would mean, but the war would last for years and millions would die, not just theirs but ours. Who has the belly for that?

Bin Laden does. Anyone else?

 - Tamim Ansary


Going Faster but Where?

Shell and The Economist newspaper are delighted to have joined forces once again to launch their second international writing prize. The US$65,000 prize seeks to encourage future thinking, with the 2001 competition entitled "Going Faster- but where?" dedicated to the theme of mobility and the sustainability of 21st Century travel. Entrants are asked to discuss how mass mobility will affect society, politics, commerce, technology, culture or the world's environment.

How will the rapid increase in the volume and pace of mobility continue to affect the world in the next 100 years?

My Response:


Two forces drive mobility: social and biological.  Humans value mobility, or speed, because it makes life easier; biology values it because it develops the species.  As a result, human speed – often expressed through mobility – has accelerated for thousands of years.  Many assume that the acceleration will continue.  I do not. 

Past social revolutions pushed through the inertia of the status quo.  Today, while we might be in the middle of a similar situation, new factors are present.  Biological and social evolution push forward, nature and our inner selves hold back.  The limiting resource turns out not to be fossil fuels but humans coping with conditions well beyond basic design specifications.  We have always been able to add to “finite” resources, but time and space really are finite.  The next revolution will determine whether we are able to live with more speed or start to slow down – for the first time since human evolution began.  Mobility will change according to this result.

I write from one flashpoint of social evolution (the San Francisco Bay Area), but the problems and promises we have are around the corner for the rest of the developed world.  For those of you in the developing world: be careful of what you ask for – you might get it. 

Main Paper

To answer a question, it is often useful to examine the assumptions behind it.  Why are we mobile today? What underlying force does mobility reflect? Why do we admire and seek greater speed? For most of human history, our need for speed has motivated us to seek the means of speed.  If we can understand why we want to go farther, faster, perhaps we can understand where we are going, both physically and metaphorically. 

The primary force of evolution underlies the need for speed. Not only biological evolution, but social evolution, which clearly surfaces at the points of revolutionary change, as the status quo changes.  A more successful species emerges - allowing humanity to increase and prosper.  Social evolution resembles to biological evolution, but conscious thought pushes it forward.  History gives context: by examining the path until now, we can perhaps predict where our need for speed will take us next – and where it will not.  Merely concluding “why = need for speed” does not tell us where we are going.  For that, we need to look a little deeper by going back a bit.

In the beginning, small groups hunting and gathering moved about and bonded internally.  The resulting culture - feelings and knowledge held in common –smoothed group dynamics by countering residues of the savage past and allowed the group to cooperate.  This culture revolution allowed the groups to move more quickly on the quest for prosperity.  The need for speed that had been previously available to the swift of foot or thought was now available to those who were able to cooperate with each other.  Society prospered and expanded, but there was room for improvement.

Thousands of years later, mobile tribes settled down to farming and herding.  Their life was perhaps sedentary, but it speeded up; people performed more efficiently at living, breeding, and expanding their lives.  People were able to apply themselves to diverse crafts and specialties, beginning the economic revolution.  Specialization increased overall wealth as well as ambition.  Human society, yet again, was able to enlarge, despite the continuing conflict between and among tribes related to greed, lust, and vanity.

After time, the quest for wealth led to problems.  Religion and philosophy emerged and had immediate effects.  Diverse peoples united in common belief; the poor were assuaged with the promise of better things to come.  The faith revolution clearly increased cooperation among peoples of divergent success through both income redistribution and belief in destiny.  Social stability increased, progress proceeded.  At this point, human society was complex.  Although there was little that society lacked for physical or emotional needs, the urge to go forth and prosper, to make a place for one’s descendents, was still strong.  Religion became both the lubricant and the irritant:

We are one people with faith in our Gods.  We must conquer those who are not us, not because they have land and possessions, but because we are the chosen, and we need space for our children.

The next revolution was predictable: military.  There had been fights and battles in the times before then, but they had neither the impetus of righteousness nor the motivation of ever-after.  The military revolution seems to have been destructive to the human race as a whole but eliminated weak tribes.  Overall, it redistributed resources to stronger tribes and spread the reach of humans through improved organization and communication.  Only the religions that worked in the favor of the tribe continued to exist.  Those too vague or selfless were left behind, as nature predicts. 

Skip a few thousand years to the recent few centuries.  The prior revolutionary changes evolved in the face of greater stress.  People prospered, experimented, self-destructed, and looked for more, faster.  Military regimes led to political regimes.  Kings descended from Gods.  New religions emerged and evolved in the stewpot of intercultural exchange.  Mankind was doing quite well and everyone got along – more or less.  The New World was contacted, Asia and Europe finally met face-to-face, and, in the Renaissance, Arab scholars added to and reacquainted Europeans with their knowledge of 1,500 years earlier. 

All of this interaction led to the scientific revolution as new neighbors tried to dominate each other.  Its effects were dramatic and widespread.  Printing left heavenly precincts for the vulgar world.  Medicine, astronomy, physics, and other sciences allowed yet more people to fit into settled lands.  Literacy spread; the race for more and better entered mass psychology.  As social evolution began to dominate biological evolution, its results - imperialism, slavery, and war – subtracted from the overall good of the species for perhaps the first time.  Counter-trends in natural philosophy, pacifism, and science fiction attempted to compensate, but a new balance was emerging.

The democratic revolution was a partial reaction to the negative trends in social evolution and an extension of scientific rationality.  Popular politics strengthened the people at the expense of the rulers.  Democracy, even imperfectly, addressed many social weaknesses and advanced humanity.  More people, in more places, are able to do what they want and assist their descendents in even more ways. 

The pattern emerges.  Humanity moves forward like a train.  Some people live their lives at the front while others in the back are not as advanced.  Passing through the different cars of the train are Knowledge – scientific breakthroughs, philosophy, methods of social destruction, etc., and people - seeking a different balance.  Those who want to be in on the greatest energy, action, and success move inevitably forward; those in the rear are disdained or even hunted down.  This train-motion of progress seems natural (mostly because it has existed forever).  Because it has gone on for so long, the passengers take no active role in looking for, understanding, or responding to potential problems.  We tell of the frog in a pot of water slowly coming to a boil…

Today’s life mish-mashes of the revolutions and evolutions of the past.  People can and will do more of what they want.  Mobile minutes, globalization, haute cuisine, and 24-hour headline news are the measure of mobility.  Underlying mobility, the need for speed still tries to go faster.  People can go anywhere, anytime.  Where are they going? When you can fly to the other side of the world, communicate with the opposite hemisphere, and eat food from five continents, what remains?

Time and Space, or, as Einstein would have it, Space-time.

Not the space outside the atmosphere, but the space we live in - whose limitlessness we no longer have.  Not the time that we save with each revolutionary advance in shaving (in the car) or microprocessors (which run faster and do less for us), but the time that we no longer have.  From the start we have wanted to go faster and called it progress, but terminal velocity – a point beyond which multitasking and mobile computing will not take us - approaches.  Humans cannot exceed their design specifications; nature appears to be straining at its.  Declare victory and go home.  Certain anecdotal evidence leads to the conclusion that many people already have done that: fear of neighbors, fear of change, and fear of self, as life spins ever faster, too fast.

Ever since history (and this essay) began, there has been a movement to centralize, coordinate, evolve, interact, and push outward.  There has been very little standing in the way of humanity as it expanded from a handful to the 6,167,137,503 (as of this keystroke) that we have today.  We are successful, as a species, no matter how you might measure (land occupied, species dominated, effect on climate), and perhaps we are too successful, too productive. 

The clock of life has been with us for thousands of years: It takes time to sleep, to gestate, for the sun to come and go, but we know that evolutionary success means beating that clock.  For years, decades, centuries and millennia, we have tried to beat death, beat the odds, and beat nature’s agents – all for the increasingly pyrrhic goal of increasing our numbers and our biological impact.  Greater pressure on nature now puts pressure on our own lives.  As we go faster, we lose more and more of the stability that we have counted on for so long.  Our ability and skill at evolving has grown beyond our skill at living. 

Each revolution has beaten the status quo.  Cultural law tamed primitive lust – partly; economy tamed social derangement – partly; religion tamed inequality – partially; military tamed religious fragmentation – partly; democracy tamed military fascism – partly.  Change in every era has stabilized humanity while simultaneously increasing both current speed and the speed limit.  Today, the feeling of excessive speed signals high pressure.  If and how humans and nature will react to it remains unknown.  Looking back from 100 years in the future, we will undoubtedly feel more mobile and operate at higher speed. At that point, Where we will be will depend on the next revolution, and how it overcame the current status quo.

Jan 4 - Letter to the National Geographic Society

Dear Sirs:

I am a lifetime member of the Society and value the NGS for its goal of disseminating geographic knowledge and encouraging exploration. I was particularly pleased to see the new Earth Pulse feature in the Jan 2001 issue. What struck me as somewhat ironic, in light of the desire for the NGS to educate people and act as a pundit in favor of world cultures, human and animal diversity and natural resources, is that a majority of the ads in the magazine are for car companies (10/32 pages), drugs (7/32 pages) and petroleum products (3/32 pages). The total (62.5% or 20/32 pages) is nearly two-thirds of total advertising. Now - I know that the NGS editorial policy is not affected by the advertisers and their business-models, but isn't this relationship a bit hypocritical? I have accumulated over 30 years of the NG and - just pulling the Oct 1983 issue out at random - I can say that the number of ads for cars/drugs/petroleum products was far less (6.5/39 pages or 17%). This is a worrying trend. What message is the NGS trying to send to its members and the public-at-large ("Look at the pretty pictures and drive your SUV....")? What does Earth Pulse propose to do about this?

I remain - curious and apprehensive as to the goals of the NGS - yours sincerely,

David Zetland