September 10, 2003 -- So much has been written about the 9-11 terrorist attacks that it is difficult to add much that is new or enlightening. Perhaps it is sufficient to reflect that most of the observations and lessons make one point in common: A rational philosophy is literally a matter of life and death.
Real philosophy is not constituted in dry, dusty books, nor in senseless and soul-killing rules to be followed by rote. The Objectivist philosophy instructs us on the nature of reality (existence exists); about how we can discover truth (through the use our rational faculty); on what code of values will allow us to live happy, fulfilling and flourishing lives (rational individualism); and on what social and governmental arrangement is most appropriate for human beings (capitalism).
Choosing reality and reason allowed architects to meet the technical challenges of building the World Trade Center. The land on which the skyscrapers were built was too wet; dig a hole three feet deep and it fills up with water. The solution: build a giant concrete basin, a reverse bathtub, seven stories deep to keep the water out. The architects had to design the towers as innovative tube-like structures, with each building's weight not borne principally by internal pillars but by load-bearing outer walls.
Each individual working on those shining towers, to the extent they were successful, had to call on the best within themselves, to use their minds to determine the nature of the facts and reality that they faced, to discover the appropriate actions needed to complete their tasks, and to have the strength and fortitude to see those tasks through. Each individual who helped create the World Trade Center created for themselves the pride of accomplishment and gave each of us an inspiring vision of achievement as well as the world's then-tallest buildings, dedicated to commerce and the creation and exchange of wealth by free people. The World Trade Center was a manifestation of a rational philosophy of life.
A rational philosophy is literally a matter of life and death.
By contrast, the terrorists who destroyed it were religious fanatics who chose their beliefs without reason or critical thought. They held to a narrow, rigid dogma without reference to facts that might have contradicted or mitigated their views, without any concern for the consequences. Of course, to the extent that these self-made savages chose the irrational, they were incapable of creating anything like the World Trade Center or the planes that they used to destroy them. The only thing they could do was destroy.
Spiritually, the terrorist could not be filled with the true pride of achievement, which requires an honest and open mind. Their souls could only be filled with rage and hate. Those emotions and truly evil wills were required for them to drown out all thoughts of justice or humanity, to allow them to look into the eyes of an innocent child or other passengers on their hijacked planes and to murder them with many other children, mothers, fathers, son and daughters. The ultimate, consistent consequence of irrationality is death.
But most Americans accept an ethic of life and happiness. The terrorist attacks gave us all a better appreciation of the blessings of a free country. Let us also reflect that to remain free and happy and alive we need to maintain a constant commitment to a rational morality.
Edward Hudgins writes on political and social issues. He is the editor of Freedom to Trade: Refuting the New Protectionism, Space: The Free Market Frontier, and two books on postal service privatization. His latest collection is entitled An Objectivist Secular Reader. He is director of advocacy for The Atlas Society.