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Violence, even terror, always exists on the periphery of empire. They are the means by which empire is consolidated, defended, extended. Similarly, empire must respond to attack, or its basis is forfeit. All that is new about September 11 is that it didn't occur on a distant horizon. It was as if Rome had been attacked 2,000 years ago, at the height of its power.
The heartland of empire has a vast and ever-present meaning separable, and inseparable, from those twin towers in Manhattan. Everyday existence, under the sign of the capital and technology that the World Trade Center represented, also cries out.
We live in a culture of increasing emptiness; there is a vacuum at the heart of our empire. Epidemics of illegal drugs succeed one another, while tens of millions, including children as young as two, need antidepressants to get through the day. A great hunger exists for anesthesia in the face of emotional devastation and loss. Everyone knows that something is missing, that meaning and value are steadily being leached out of daily life, along with its very texture.
"The less people really live - or perhaps more correctly, the more they become aware that they haven't really lived - the more abrupt and frightening death becomes for them, and the more it appears as a terrible accident." Theodor Adorno's observation of decades ago seems even more pertinent today. Exploding jetliners and anthrax can terrify; meanwhile a much deeper crisis triggers a far more pervasive and fundamental fear.
The empire is global. There is nowhere to go to escape its corrosive barrenness. Frederic Jameson reminded us that we live in the most standardized society that has ever existed. In Global Soul, the peripatetic Pico Iyer ups the ante, meditating on how the whole world now tends towards a universal sameness. A global unity of alienness, of disorientation and disconnection, destined to resemble a mall or an airport. People now dress alike in every major city in the world. They drink Coca-Cola, and watch many of the same TV shows.
The empire's landscape of unreality and routinization grows steadily more pathological. Damage to nature and violence to the psyche compete in a postmodern culture of denial, punctuated by eruptions of the homicidal at work, at home, at school. We can expect to hear more and more alarm bells that will wake us altogether. Peaceful slumber is unthinkable.
Who doesn't know, on some level, where this empire - this civilization - is taking us? Our liberation movement needs to be qualitatively different from all the failed, limited approaches of the past. Everyday life is waiting - waiting to be truly lived.
John Zerzan is a philosopher and writer in Eugene, Oregon. His latest book, Running on Empty (Feral House), will be released in spring.
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