Postmodernism and Terrorism

This is a letter I sent to the Seattle Times in response to an Op-Ed piece.

Philip W. Eaton ("A new set of glasses for a changed world," November 26) says that the terrorist attack of September 11 shows us that we must look at education differently. His essay, however, is based on non sequiturs.

He says that the terrorist attack calls us to "think anew," but he then he says we should return to our "ancient resources of wisdom." That's not thinking anew. That's thinking like the hijackers, who also relied on their "ancient resources of wisdom."

He says that postmodern thinking has created an uncivil society, but if you could talk to any black, labor union leader, homosexual, or free-thinking woman from 1900 about how "civil" society was then you'd see that we have created a very civil society indeed. Afghanistan under the Taliban was uncivil—precisely because it wasn't postmodern enough.

He says that we should no longer teach cynicism, suspicion of authority, or postmodern relativism to our youth. But the attacks weren't carried out by postmodern relativists. They were carried out by anti-modern absolutists. Maybe if the Wahhabi extremists were more cynical about the mullahs, more suspicious of the fatwas, and more doubtful about their promised reward in paradise, they'd be harder to lead into suicide. Maybe if they understood their hatred of us to be a relative opinion rather than the absolute judgment of God, they'd be less willing to massacre us.

What the world needs is not for us to go back a hundred years, but for the Wahhabis to catch up to us in cynicism, suspicion of authority, and moral relativism.

November 2001