Every year, on September 11, all colleges go quiet.
They do this not out of respect—that hushed solemnity that makes room for our grief and for our memories—but out of the desire to say nothing.
For they have nothing to say.
Who are “they”? I am speaking of scholars. I am speaking of administrators. I am speaking of donors. Students, too. Intellect, when confronted with the harsh nature of the modern world, dissolves into an impotent silence.
Consider this: The lecture halls of the average university rage most days of the year. They rage with talks of women’s rights, of the plight of the Third World, of “social justice,” of the ways in which Marxism might be resurrected from its own violent death in the guise of literary theory.
The academic mind thrives on this dialectic of nothingness. We accept is as part of the culture of higher education. Out of the 365 days of our year, though, shouldn’t one in particular scream for a place among talk of dead theoreticians? Haven’t scholars made “justice,” or at least some version of it, so central to their lives that they should at least feel the need say nothing because it’s the right thing to do, not because they have nothing to contribute? Or how about this: say something. Say something for the lives that were taken.
For the younger readers among us I have a question. Each day, on your campuses, you pass large bulletin boards full of neon flyers—textbooks for sale, apartments for rent, the occasional seminar on gender in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. But did you, this year or previous years, see the flyer for the 9/11 memorial to be held on the quad? Did you see any announcement of a poetry reading dedicated to remembering that day? Perhaps a new wing of the college library, to be devoted to the testimony of those who survived and to the stories of those who did not?
You didn’t see them because they weren’t there.
If you feel enraged, you should. If you feel betrayed, however, you shouldn’t.
And why? Simply because the idea of betrayal presupposes the idea of allegiance—and allegiance means making choices. Intellectuals don’t make choices. They merely comment on those who do.
For years, writers far better than I have been articulating this conspicuous and soulless moral rot in the academic world. Out of respect to the thousands of my countrymen who were murdered nine years ago, I will leave stronger language for another day.
Political correctness, you see, requires that one abandon any concept of morality not dependent on an image of “tolerance”—an image one cultivates for political, not ethical, reasons. And when there is no moral code by which one lives, there is no logical basis for condemnation. There is no moral basis for celebration. There is no philosophical basis for remembering.
Thus the silence.