Commusings: Our Own Worst Enemy by Jeff Krasno

Sep 11, 2021

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Hello Commune Community,

In honor of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, this week I share with you some recollections of that day — and where we find ourselves now. 

If you are 35 or older, you likely remember exactly where you were and what you were doing that day. If you have thoughts you would like to share with me, I am here at [email protected] and you can follow my daily exhortations and meditations on IG @jeffkrasno.

Quite separately, I have started to experiment with a regular fasting practice and find the process intriguing from both a physical and spiritual perspective. If you are interested in learning more about it, listen to my podcast conversation with Dave Asprey, one the pioneers of bio-hacking.

In love, include me,
Jeff

• • •

Our Own Worst Enemy

by Jeff Krasno

 

September 11, 2001

Bleary-eyed and knackered, we trundled into the Motel 6 in Santa Cruz at 2am after making the post-gig haul up the coast from San Juan Capistrano. Better to sleep in before the show at the Rio Theater than endure a hectic day battling traffic on the 101. 

I shut my eyes only to be jostled from slumber seemingly moments later. My trusty sidekick vibrated furiously on the nightstand. I sluggishly turned over, the creak of my bones harmonizing with the rusty coils of the box spring. 

My dad loves to call me for no reason — often early in the day. Of course, I recognize this emerging habit in myself as my daughters prepare to flee the nest. Just hearing the voice of your progeny makes the world seem momentarily OK. But, on this particular day, at 6am, I pressed the decline button and stuffed the phone into the top drawer next to Gideon. Only seconds later, the nightstand began to pulsate like a subwoofer with a buster tweeter. Dammit dad … I need some sleep.

“Hellllooooo,” I croaked dramatically, exaggerating my distress the way children do with their parents.

“Turn on the TV. Right now!” He barked.

I fumbled for the remote and jabbed at the power button. The cathode ray tube warmed just in time to project the image of the second plane hitting the South Tower. 

“Wake up, Eric,” I shouted at my brother. “It’s World War III.” 

We all remember where we were. My office was two blocks north of the World Trade Center. And I lived just across the river in Brooklyn Heights. Yet, there I was, just hours after the first attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor, helplessly wandering a deserted boardwalk three thousand miles away, desperately trying to reach Schuyler. 

Eventually, I did. She, like hundreds of thousands, had tried to retreat to the countryside only to abandon our neighbor’s Explorer in the emergency lane of the chockablocked Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. It seems ridiculous now but, at that juncture, none of us could predict what was coming next. 

On Saturday, September 15, the first day the FAA lifted restrictions, I boarded a JetBlue flight home. There were plenty of white knuckles despite the captain’s assurance that this particular Saturday was likely the safest day to fly in the history of aviation. Approaching JFK, we circled broadly around the no-fly zone. The plane was pin-drop quiet as we peered out at the plumes of smokes curling up from the absence. Tragedy makes everyone feel the same. 

Despite the anguish borne for souls lost and the ever-pervading dust, New York City was an extraordinary place to live in the wake of 9/11. For a time, our collective grief eclipsed the petty divisions of race, religion, color and creed. Perfect strangers hugged on the subway platform and bought each other rounds of Jameson’s. Random acts of kindness were the norm. The loss of these iconic buildings unveiled a truth even more towering: We are all connected by a power greater than ourselves. 

9/11 slapped us with perspective. I remember cops looking the other way as tavern revelers spilled out onto sidewalks and into the streets. We questioned our self-imposed rules as well. Why not take a chance? 

Schuyler was one of those inspired to do something risky with her one wild and precious life. She opened a yoga studio at Ground Zero called Kula, Sanskrit for intentional community. I sat in the front row as the beleaguered denizens of lower Manhattan traipsed up the lime green stairs and rolled out their mats. Drenched in sweat and hearts cracked open, in the alpenglow of the practice, a motley collection of crushed souls sat cross-legged on a stained futon and, in communion, healed. Witnessing this phenomenon bent the arc of my personal and professional life. 

Of course, while one finds company in shared pain, nothing unites like a common enemy, especially when the source of the pain is outfitted in a robe and a turban. With a 92% approval rating, Dubya led us into two wars, one arguably more justified than the other. Terrorism became the new rallying cry in the endless war of “good versus evil.” Having defeated fascism and communism, liberalism had a focused, albeit not completely novel, antagonist. This particular adversary did not commandeer legions of green men or operate from a lavish palace or even rule a nation. He maneuvered from a remote cave, where he prayed and fasted, and directed a decentralized guerilla force of non-state actors. 

Bin Laden was more slippery than Hitler or Khrushchev. We rarely saw him. It was harder to know what we were fighting against or, I suppose, for. Certainly, in the wake of 9/11, Islam became the symbol of terrorism and backwards fundamentalism. But it was harder to distinguish friend from foe given our many alliances across the Muslim world. After Bin Laden was executed in 2011, the identity of liberalism’s enemy became even more opaque. Why did we remain in Afghanistan for another decade? To nation-build? To protect our national security? To prop up an increasingly old-school military-industrial complex? 

The enthusiasm to spread liberalism around the world has waned with the Western world’s own disenchantment with it. While certain sectors of society have benefited from liberalism’s embrace of globalism, free markets and multiculturalism, those left behind have taken umbrage. The last ten years has brought a simmering cultural divide to full boil. This yawning chasm pits populists, generally white and rural, against elites, a mishmash of cosmopolitan institutions, executives, experts and intellectuals. 

We live in a society that sanctifies individualism and capitalism, yet, while everyone wants to be a billionaire, the billionaires also appear to be the most reviled clique on earth. And while there are still chest-thumping tyrants – notably Putin, Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-Un - that rankle us, our daily villains are more familiar, if at once popular and abhorred. 

Zuck has polluted the information ecosystem to the precipice of epistemological collapse. Trump, in his unwillingness to accept a peaceful transfer of power, has undermined confidence in elections. Bill Gates, despite pledging to give away $130 billion in his lifetime, is perceived as stripping the world’s agrarian class of the right to control their own inputs. Anthony Fauci, the contentious face of public health, is leading a one-size fits all approach to our pandemic. Mr. Bezos is squeezing himself into rocket cockpits while also squeezing small businesses through monopolistic pricing. And, for those in the ideological backwaters of the Internet, even Oprah is in a tunnel extracting adrenochrome from Christian babies. 

In the absence of free elections, reliable expertise and trusted institutions including media and science, liberalism has little to brag about. However, those keen to tear it down – the Brexiteers, the alt-right, QAnon, the Oath Keepers and others on the thinner edges of the branch offer little in the way of solutions. We’re left with a showdown between nihilism and those of us madly scurrying around trying to patch liberalism’s leaky hull. We don’t really want to return to the divine right of kings, miasma theory or even 3 channels on the tele. 

But what do we want? 

When COVID reared its spikey head, I thought it might provide us common cause. If there is anything that underscores our mutual interdependence, it’s a viral epidemic in which my well-being is dependent upon yours. But Sars-CoV-2 has proven to be a more elusive and sinister villain than even a man in a cave. We can’t see it at all and, pointedly, a primary strategy in protecting each other is distancing from one another. Far from unifying America around a shared objective, it has only exacerbated the polarity. 

Given the scale of COVID’s damage, the utter lack of collective grief (like that experienced after 9/11) unsettles me. Despite causing more than 200 times the fatalities of 9/11, no one is producing thrillers about COVID. It’s an unmotivating dirge of a killer. But it’s not just COVID’s lack of dramatic intrigue that has contributed to our inability to come together. As a society, we just don’t experience life the same way we did twenty years ago. Artificial intelligence serves us up our own personalized and curated version of reality, a crystal vase shattered into 330 million shards. 

It leads me to wonder whether it is better to have flawed inter-subjective truth or no truth at all. Is it better to have Walter Cronkite or YouTube? 

I often argue that both the greatest – and most terrifying – human projects are predicated on our special ability to cooperate flexibly at scale. The erosion of social cohesion has led us into a murky future, especially as we stare climate reality directly in the eyes. 

But, one thing is clear. After twenty years, thousands of deaths, and two trillion dollars, we have a new enemy: ourselves.  

Both images in this post were taken from the roof of our apartment on 9/11/2001. 

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