The other day I was opening a packet of ketchup and on one side it said “open here.”  I said aloud “You’re not the boss of me!” and opened the packet from the other end, which worked just fine.

It is not in me to submit to authority.  I will HAPPILY put my shoulder to the wheel to help anyone do almost anything.  But if you tell me I HAVE to do something?  I’m going to at best resent it, and at worst try to make it obvious that compelling me makes us enemies.  If you try to harness me, I will spit the bit.

I’m different.  I mean we’re all different, but I am *different.*  I grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons.  I competed in soccer and lacrosse as a young man, not football or baseball.  I had a Bar Mitzvah.  I spent a year studying in Europe.  I can get my face slapped in several languages.   “In toto nusquam corpore menda fuit.”  I love football, action flicks, science fiction and musical theater.  I have an appreciation of art, cars, science, literature — pretty much anything that involves the esoteric.

I’m proud to let my freak flag fly.   Of course you probably already knew all this.  Why do I bring it up today?

Because today is 9/11.

And as much as I bitch about this, that and the other thing, I am grateful to live in the United States.  Any other country would have locked me up by now.  I love our land.  But I understand that we are engaged in a conflict.

The strongest weapon we have in this conflict is our culture. It trends, like I do, towards rebellion.  We are in fact a nation birthed in rebellion and it remains central to our character.  If the arc of history tends towards tolerance, we Americans have been outside of the standard deviation, but almost always the indicators of the curve.  For a society to become more tolerant, it needs a new behavior to learn to tolerate.  Americans have always been the trendsetters in social innovation. Here we lead the world.

I recognize that what happened on 9/11/01 was an attempt to change that.  When photos of Britney Spears’ bare midriff started showing up in authoritarian homes, the abstract threat of American tolerance and permissiveness was brought home to tyrants everywhere.  When movies like “The Last Temptation of Christ” showed how willing we were to attack our own culture — tyrants realized we were inspiring other to attack THEIR culture.  Every time America criticized itself or lead itself to reform — tyrants noticed.  And as the internet age dawned our trend of rebellion and of tolerance of rebellion started to really spread.

And in September, at the beginning of the new century one tyrant struck back.

I wanted to do something.  I was too old for military service.  I thought perhaps I could join the FBI or an intelligence service.  In the end I stayed in my job, and became more involved in civics.

And today, 20 years later, I think I’m helping…though it’s often a pain in the ass.  I hate politics and the political process.  But I could not hate politics so much I did not love my country more.  I have the liberty to be Dan, and I love that.

So on this solemn day I wish us all peace of mind and health of body and I wish us all the wisdom to recognize that we are all minorities of one.  When we practice tolerance anywhere we make our own lives more free.  When we seek to restrict other’s liberty — even with the best of intentions — we eventually limit our own.

 

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