Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Falsifiability, and definitions...

So there's this mailing list in which I participate, and we have these debates, and stuff comes up. Recently I asserted that Buddhism is in fact very well documented, in response to someone's assertion that it is not. His immediate question was this (the question sounds a little gramatically odd because I've yanked it out of its context, but hopefully it makes sense anyway):

So the hypothesis of the nature of samsara, and the hypothesis that a person can break free of the wheel of samsara and reach Nirvana, are testable, repeatable, and falsifiable? And to do that, of course, Nirvana must be well-defined.

This is a really good question. The answer is, of course, difficult. My father will probably accuse me of sophistry, but here goes anyway:

Imagine for a moment that you are an old-time person, who has never been more than a mile from the place where you were born. You have never in your entire life met a traveler passing through - you only know local people, all of whom speak the same language. One day, a traveler comes through. This traveler speaks your language, but explains to you that it is not the language he speaks at home. He demonstrates by uttering a stream of gibberish.

You don't believe him. You have never heard of someone speaking a different language, and it doesn't make sense. This person is making a wacky claim, but offers no falsifiable proof, unless you are willing to walk with him, a journey of many weeks, to get to the place from whence he comes.

Is he lying to you? Would you walk with him? If so, why? Imagine that you are the traveler: how would you prove your point to this person?

In fact, this stranger could probably logically convince you of the possibility that there might be more than one language, if you were willing to listen. But you'd have to be willing to listen, and in order to follow his logic you'd have to be reasonably well motivated, because while the existence of foreign languages is obvious to those of us who live in these times, it would not be obvious to this hypothetical person from the somewhat distant past, and so the proof would of necessity be fairly detailed.

Now, what if the claim were about something having to do with your own mind. I could come up to you and say "Yo, dude, I am an enlightened being. Bow before me, and make offerings to me, because I totally rock." And you would rightly say "Fuck off, Ted! You're a regular dolt like me, only, based on what you just said, clearly not very bright." This is because I am making a claim about a state of mind, and such claims can only be investigated and falsified by someone who is able to perceive the state of the mind on which the experiment is being done. That is to say, the person whose mind it is.

So one way to approach this is to say "okay, this dolt can't prove to me that it's possible to reach the state of mind that he claims to have reached, so clearly he's an idiot, and I will ignore him." This is a perfectly reasonable response. People make lots of assertions about stuff, and usually they're completely full of it.

Another way to approach it is to say "wow, this guy says he's enlightened. I will bow to him and worship him, and maybe he'll be nice to me." This is actually a really unhelpful response. Who cares if he got enlightened? The real question is, can I?

A third approach is to observe that the claim this person is making is neither obviously true, nor obviously false. At this point, you can either say "look, I don't care about this enlightenment thing, I'm not wasting any effort on this," or "this enlightenment thing is interesting enough that even though I have no way at the moment to verify that it is possible, I want to test this guy's claims."

If you choose this latter path, then because the only mind you can observe is your own, you are stuck doing the experiments on yourself. And when you're done, you can verifiably assert to another person neither that enlightenment is possible, nor that it is not possible, because you are the only person who can observe whatever state of mind it is that you have achieved.

Having said all that, I will point out that in fact some studies have been done as to the state of mind that serious meditators can achieve, using MRI imaging and also measuring body signs (e.g. heart rate) and electrical activity in the brain, and the preponderance of evidence suggests that meditation does in fact bring about some positive change. Whether it can be used to reach the matchless state of a totally enlightened Buddha is neither supported nor not supported by what evidence is currently available, nor can I see any way that if such a state were possible, you could measure it using these techniques. I don't know enough about these studies to know how carefully they have been done - to be frank, I'm not that interested, because I don't need an MRI to see what my own mind is doing.

So this pursuit will probably always remain the domain of those who are willing to do experiments on their own mind, and have sufficient motivation to actually carry out these experiments, even though they require a great deal of long-term effort to perform. My friend on the mailing list is mistaken in thinking that there is no definition of nirvana - there is, and it's a very careful definition intended to precisely describe the relevant qualities of the state of mind one is attempting to reach. However, he is also right to question whether it makes sense for me to assert that such a state in fact exists, and if so, in what context.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Dwelling on the obvious...

It's sometimes helpful to revisit old hurts, because sometimes in hindsight it's obvious how to think about them, whereas at the time emotions were strong and it wasn't obvious.

In the strange case of the bashed bike, the event that occurred, on which the story depends, was that a 14-year-old boy made a left turn at an inopportune moment. This was a mistake. In our culture, the way we deal with mistakes like this is to attempt to assign blame, and then force the guilty party to pay. But the question that pops into my mind now that I look at this in hindsight is: is that really the correct way to deal with a situation like this?

If you stop thinking about English common law for a minute and just look at what happened, the situation isn't really ethically different from the situation where a boulder drops in front of my bike at an inopportune moment and causes the same damage. The kid didn't set out to trash my bike. So why is it his problem to repair it? I'm the idiot who owns the bike, after all. If I'd just been a little smarter and not owned a bike, there would have been no chance of my seeing the bike get trashed, either by a kid or a boulder.

Anyway, that's what popped into my head upon reflection on last night's posting. Your milage may, of course, vary.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Remembrance of slights past...

Since I'm reminiscing, here's one for the hopper. When I first moved to California, I almost immediately crashed my car, because I wasn't used to rain making the roads ice-slick. Insurance in California is expensive if you have a clean record; if you have accidents on your record, it is impossibly expensive - to own a car under those circumstances is a genuine commitment, more expensive than renting a nice apartment. So I got rid of the car and got a motorcycle. It's a long story, but the bottom line is that they're lots cheaper to buy, insure, and maintain.

Anyway, one day I'm riding down the hill on my bike, going to some meeting or other - I can't remember what. This kid, probably fourteen, is riding alongside the road on his bicycle. Just as I get to him, he darts out in front of me. I try to avoid him, but I can't, and we go down together on the hard pavement. The damage to my bike is probably $2500. His front wheel is trashed, but probably fixable. Neither of us is seriously hurt - he's maybe a little scraped up.

He realizes that the accident is entirely his fault. He recognizes the mistake he made - he saw my wheel turn to the right, and expected me to turn to the right, but I did not turn to the right, because like bicycles, motorcycles countersteer - if you turn the wheel to the right, you go left. I was turning to make more room for him, but he thought I was going to hit him.

So anyway, he goes home with the intention of figuring out how to fix the damage. I try to comfort him, to let him know that I'm okay and that there are no hard feelings. I have this idea in my mind that maybe he'll help me fix the bike, and learn how things work a little while helping to undo the damage he did. I know even at the time that this probably isn't what's going to happen, but I naively never expected what did happen.

What did happen is that his family threatened to sue me.

I'm sure they had every good intention. They heard their son's story, and not having been there and not knowing me at all, they misunderstood what happened, and concluded that the accident was my fault, and that their son was mistaken. With every intention of protecting their son, they circled the wagons and called the lawyers.

Now one of two things might have happened with their son as a result of this. One is that he may have concluded that in fact he was not at fault, that he had been mistaken in thinking that he was. Another is that he learned that you can and should make every effort to shirk your responsibilities, because that's what the other guy is going to do. I have no idea how this kid turned out, but I worry about it. By now he's an adult, living in the real world. Does he take responsibility for his actions, or does he now believe that the way to get by in the world is to always defend yourself aggressively, even if you are at fault?

If he believes the latter, he's probably not far from right. The conventional wisdom these days seems to be that if you ever admit to having done anything wrong, you can expect to get taken to court and reamed. I don't know how true this is - it seems counterintuitive to me. If you do some damage and then try to correct it, it seems like a reasonable person would appreciate that, and furthermore would tend not to have any reason to sue you, since you've done what you can to address the problem. But of course an unreasonable person might try to take advantage of someone's deep pockets, so that explains why people would be paranoid about this. I don't know how often it happens that you wind up with an unreasonable person instead of a reasonable person, but given the posting that started this blog, I suppose planning for people to be unreasonable isn't unreasonable.

However, I will say looking back on this that their decision could easily have backfired. And I suspect the kid probably wondered for a long time whether the other shoe was going to drop. The problem with not doing the right thing is that you know you didn't do it, and you know the other person knows, and now you have to wonder whether the other person is going to let it slide, or come after you and try to make you do the right thing, now at great expense, since you have to hire a warrior to defend yourself, and the other person's going to hire a warrior to attack you. Did I say warrior? Of course I mean lawyer. :')

When this happened to me, I was very upset. I seriously thought about taking the family to court. And my state of mind was a wish to punish them for what they'd done, so I would have asked my warrior to do damage rather than just getting compensation. And you know that when you hire a warrior, there's going to be damage anyway, because they want to get paid for their trouble.

So my point is that in an ideal world, which this admittedly is not, we would not employ warriors to settle our differences for us. Instead, we would behave like adults and take responsibility for our actions. And we would also behave like adults and not demand excessive recompense for the damage that others do to us. If someone bites their thumb at you, you do not run them through with an epee. I don't know how to get there from here - I'm just sayin'.

Oh, by the way, if you're the kid, or his parents, and you're still worried about me coming after you, stop it. Pay it forward. Do something to help someone in need. I don't care about the bike anymore.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

On race and class...

Will Shetterly has been writing a lot about the topic of race and how the concept perpetuates poverty. His latest article, which he claims is the last on the topic, hits the nail squarely on the head. If you find this issue interesting and worthwhile, I heartily recommend that you give this posting a read.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Sicut locutus est...

These days I have my iTunes on random, with a smart playlist that jumps around a lot. There are some problems with the way iTunes does this - it seems to play some songs a lot more than others. But sometimes it jumps into the middle of this lovely Musical Heritage Society recording of Bach's Magnificat in G, performed by the Orchestra of St. Luke's in Putney, Vermont. I am going to embark on a reminiscence here - prepare to be bored.

When I was a little kid, my father used to teach at Windham College up in Putney, Vermont. Windham was a small college, a kind of a strange and unique place. I won't try to describe it from an adult's point of view, because I wasn't an adult then. To me Windham College was a place with a lot of really neat people, who were sometimes busy, but sometimes would talk to me. The buildings were connected with a cement and pebble walkway that was covered with a stressed concrete roof suspended on two steel girders every sixteen feet or so. This is roughly how I remember it - I don't know if this description is accurate.

What I do remember very well was that if you stomped your feet under the stressed concrete roof, it would resonate. It was really, really cool. I could entertain myself like this for ten minutes at a time, anyway. In the music building, there were harpsichords. I developed an immediate love for harpsichords there, which hasn't left me to this day - whenever I hear one it seems to, if you will pardon the pun, strike a happy chord in my heart.

The library had a music section. A friend of the family, Linda Ruggles, used to work in the library there, and she would sometimes offer to keep track of me while my father was teaching. I don't really remember her watching me very closely, but I think as kids go I was pretty easy. I used to check myself into the listening room, lie back on a bench with headphones on, and listen to a Musical Heritage society recording that I loved over and over again. I am sure I wrecked the record, not by scratching it but just by playing it too many times. It was a recording of Pachelbel's Canon, a few other pieces of Pachelbel chamber music, and a bunch of chamber music by Johann Friedrich Fasch, a composer from (I guess, ignorantly) the Baroque period who did some very nice trumpet concertos that everybody should listen to, because they are some of the best music ever. :')

Of the library I also remember a plant stand, sort of an open terrarium, about six feet square, in the middle of a room in the middle of the main room of the library, with a lovely skylight above it. I would hang out there as well, but I don't remember what I did there - probably read books or annoyed the students who were trying to find books there.

Our family's connection to Putney somehow lead us to connect with the Friends of Music at Guilford, the Brattleboro Music Center, the Monteverdi Players, and a wonderful group of musicians who had abandoned the big city and moved to Brattleboro and points remote during the late sixties or early seventies. So for a period of my childhood it was a regular thing, particularly during the summer, that we would go up to Brattleboro or Guilford on the weekends so that my mother and father could rehearse with one or another of these musical groups. Sometimes there would be impromptu performances - I remember a performance, I think either at Don and Evie's house or at Zeke and Linda's house, where twelve violinists, violists, cellists and bass players (bassists?), and for all I know someone on a viola da gamba just sat down spontaneously and played Pachelbel's Canon. Needless to say I was in heaven.

I grew particularly fond of the organ barn. This was a barn, out in back of a farmhouse, up in the hills above Guilford Center. In the barn was an old tracker organ, in not very good shape, which was being lovingly restored by certain interested parties. I'm given to understand that to some extent FoMAG formed around this organ, but I didn't know that at the time. My recollection of the organ as a child was that it was huge.

Anyway, of all the times in my childhood, our time with FoMAG and the Brattleboro Music Center were some of the most purely wonderful. So every so often when I'm sitting down at the computer, minding my own business, this recording comes on. The conductor is Blanche Honegger Moyse, who is one of the grande dames of the Brattleboro Music scene. I don't know who I know in the orchestra or choir, but I'm sure I would have recognized many faces if I had been at that concert. So when this music randomly comes on, sometimes it's just music, and sometimes it strikes that delicate chord in my heart, and I remember all the wonderful times I had as a kid because of the kindness of a bunch of wonderful people, and things shift for a while in a very sweet way.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Wind in the hair...

It's been a really hard summer. Not because of the heat, which has been intense, but because of the other things that have happened. The hurricane really capped it off, but it's been a lot of things.

So tonight, on the way home from an errand of mercy, I just rolled down the windows, opened up the sunroof, and drove like a bat out of hell down Aviation highway. We sit in the midst of certain doom, surrounded by nothing for which we can justify any kind of real hope, a happy and difficult past behind us, a doomed future before us. And yet somehow it is good. What else can we do but to shriek joyous defiance into the hungry jaws of night?

Friday, September 09, 2005

Sad story on BBC...

Apparently not everybody has as good luck with disaster aid as we do. Children actually are still starving in Africa. I don't know how to solve the world's problems, and I don't know how to solve this particular problem, but a little visibility never hurt. I'm sure the three people who read my blog will pass this along, and sooner or later there will be a stampede of aid heading toward Malawi.

Why should we help people who are less fortunate than we? I've heard people flame about how helping poor people encourages them to have more children, and so we're just making the problem worse. I don't really know. That doesn't feel right to me. If someone is in trouble, and you can help them, you help them.

I do know that population growth in places where people by and large are not poor seems to be slower than population growth in places where they are; this could be an effect or a cause. Everything I've seen suggests that wealth breeds negative population growth, though. So I think it's okay to help them. A prosperous world isn't impossible.

That said, it would be nice to identify a systemic solution to this problem - to teach them to fish, metaphorically speaking, rather than just sending them fish. I wish I knew how to do that.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Getting it done

To amplify on my flaming from yesterday, the biggest thing that I think derails forward progress in politics is the making of one's opponent to be an enemy. If one's opponent is an enemy, then the enemy must be utterly defeated in order for forward progress to be made. And utter defeat of one's enemy is unlikely, perhaps even improbable. So if we frame the problem in terms of good guys and bad guys, it can't be solved.

Right now there is a lot of rhetoric in the press about how Bush and FEMA are bad guys. This isn't going to help anything. What's important is that they didn't get it done. The question to ask next time it comes to a vote is not "is Bush a bad guy?" It is "will he get it done?" And so a political campaign to promote a candidate should have as its focus "will he or she get it done?" Not "is the other guy the Antichrist?"

I noticed as I saw the news of relief finally making it to New Orleans yesterday that I was disappointed. How can good news be bad news? It's because it cuts into the idea of the enemy. The enemy would never solve the problem. But here the problem is, getting solved, a little. They must have done something wrong - it must still be a bad solution somehow - because they are the enemy. They're not the enemy. They're just late. It's great that they finally arrived. It's okay to rejoice about that.


What is happening on New Orleans reminds me (very tangentially) of how things changed after the dot bomb. For those of you who aren't Silicon Valley nerds, I'm talking about the tech industry crash at the beginning of this century. Bear with me here, I'm not a completely callous bastard and don't mean to trivialize this disaster.

During the unbelievable times that led up to the crash, all kinds of neat stuff came out. The Internet became a really fascinating place, with so many cool products it was kind of scary. Most of these products didn't have a way to make money, but that didn't make them any less cool if you didn't know that there was no business model behind them. Briefly, it was possible to order Ben and Jerry's ice cream for immediate delivery for cheaper than the price you'd pay at the corner store. To be honest, I can't even remember all the cool stuff anymore, but it really was a heady time.

When the crash came, all the companies with no real business plan, and many of those that had a real business plan, folded. All the goodies went away. The web really felt like a dreary place. It still isn't where it was (and this is probably a good thing, because lighting other peoples' cash on fire is really bad karma). This is probably the closest most of us in the United States who aren't at or beyond retirement age have ever felt to a genuine loss of infrastructure, and frankly it's not very close.

Those of us who live in the United States, in Japan, in Korea, in parts of Europe, Israel, Bangalore, Australia, and many other countries that I have forgotten to mention are experiencing something unusual right now. It's called affluence. Affluence comes from infrastructure, not from dollars. In Japan, you can get on a train to virtually anywhere. That's affluence. In the U.S., you have access to amazingly high-quality food for ludicrously low prices, cheap fuel (still, at $3/gallon, it's substantially cheaper than in Europe). Cheap toys. Amazingly good toys. Fresh water that won't give you dysentery. From a pipe in your house.

We don't notice this affluence because we are steeped in it. It is how we think the world is. But the world isn't inherently a place of affluence. And what's happened in New Orleans, in addition to being an immense tragedy for those affected by it, is a lesson to us all. This morning as I was brushing my teeth, I thought about the people who are still stuck in New Orleans, who have no fresh water in which to brush their teeth. The people in New Orleans no longer have city services that do things like remove dead bodies, or arrest snipers. They no longer have convenience stores.

Andrea and I used to drive from Bisbee up to Saint David a lot, and frequently we'd see the Safeway truck as it came in the other direction. To me the Safeway truck says it all. In that truck is what will keep the people in Bisbee alive. If that truck stopped coming, people would literally have to leave town, because the town can't support its population strictly based on local food production. The big glowing 'S' on top of the truck is a beacon of hope.

Okay, that's sappy, but here's the thing: there are no Safeway trucks going into New Orleans. Safeway trucks aren't some automatic thing that happens. They happen for a reason. Much of the infrastructure across which Safeway trucks and their like pass every day to bring food to you, wherever you happen to live, if you live in the U.S., is not being properly maintained. Where you live, there is a good chance that no plans are in place to deal with whatever catastrophe may strike there.

I say this to strike fear into your heart. Our country has, for a very long time, let ideology stand in the way of practicality. Our country is being run by a person who has never had to worry about whether the Safeway truck would come. We permitted this person to be elected. No, Democrats don't get a pass on this. Just like the Republicans, the Democrats have been fiddling while Rome burns. Issues like Safeway trucks don't get talked about.

It's really bloody well time that we started insisting that the people who we are interviewing for the job of running the country had to talk about Safeway trucks. It's time to start throwing rotten tomatoes if they want to talk about being pro-life, or pro-choice, or about stem cell research, or about litmus tests, about the economic threat of China, or some other mechanism for blaming someone else for our problems.

That's all noise - it has nothing to do with the job of running the country. We can decide for ourselves about stuff like that - we don't need George Bush or John Kerry to tell us what to think. And we're already seeing the signs of our failure to hold them accountable. Bodies are rotting in the streets of New Orleans. Our infrastructure, our affluence, is going down the drain, not because of foreign competition, but because we have permitted the ascendance of an idea, that affluence is free, that infrastructure just happens, and is not something for which we have to pay, in which we have to invest.

Don't blame President Bush. The buck stops here. We are a citizens, not a consumers. It is a duty, not a privilege. Failure to do our duty will not be a theoretical problem. It will affect each of us, personally, significantly. Which of us will be the next to have to see ourselves sitting in a disaster area, with no help on its way? Standing for three days neck-deep in water, and then slowly, quietly sinking? Driving off the edge of a bridge that has fallen into the water, and feeling the brief, horrid thrill of free fall before our car smashes headlong into the water?

What do you have to do? Stop accepting what people tell you at face value. Look underneath the story. If you're a conservative, read the liberal press, and take it seriously. If you're a liberal, read the conservative press, and take it seriously. Learn to research the backstory using google. Stop watching TV news, or if you must watch TV news, broaden your horizons. Watch the BBC as well as CNN. Even if you're a conservative and find it hard to take, try to watch the Daily Show sometimes. Comics are very good at finding the weaknesses in politicians' positions. Read the International Herald-Tribune, not just the Washington Post.

As a citizen, your first duty is to be informed, and you have to do it yourself. You can't just rely on CNN to do it for you. And if you don't have time to be completely informed, which is completely understandable, at the very least, stop assuming that what people tell you is true - if you haven't checked the facts yourself, assume that you just don't know. It's better to not know, and know that you don't know, than it is to allow yourself to believe that you know, when in fact you don't.

The most important thing, though, is to let go of the idea of us versus them. Us versus them is how the wrong people get elected; how the right people never even make it onto the stage. If a politician can't find anything good to say about his or her opponent, they don't deserve your vote.

Friday, September 02, 2005


I have a friend who's a member of a private mailing list to which I have been subscribed for many years - since I was in my early twenties. He said something on the mailing list recently with which I strongly disagreed, but when I tried to explain why he was wrong, I wasn't able to do it. I'm going to try again now.

The premise is, what if I were mildly omniscient and omnipotent? I could detect someone in the process of inciting mass murder, and I could take them out, right as the words were coming out of their mouth. In that case, my friend theorizes, mass murder would die out, because people would, after some time, realize that promoting mass murder was a good way to get killed, and would stop.

So the problem with this is that it lacks symmetry. That sounds nerdy, but it's true. Imagine this hypothetical benevolent despot, who knows the moment someone begins to propose some kind of mass killing, and kills them instead. What class does he fall into?

That's right, gold star for you. He's a mass murderer too.

The problem with a lot of what we do is that it's motivated by a wish for me to get what I want, as soon as possible. I'll give you an example: I used to be very much involved in mass transit issues in the Bay Area, at least in my own mind. At some point I realized that there was no way in the world that the mass transit situation in the Bay Area was going to genuinely improve in time to be of any use to me - it was possible that perhaps 20 or 40 years in the future, things would be better, but I was going to have to live in a mass-transitless Bay Area for the forseeable future.

At that point, living in the Bay Area stopped being a good idea to me. I moved for a lot of reasons, but I think this is the one that really killed it for me. The value proposition in my living in the Bay Area had as part of it "good mass transit," which I had hoped to make happen, for my benefit and, theoretically, the benefit of others. When that hope died, the value proposition collapsed, for me.

The fact is that I was not a key part of the movement for better mass transit in the Bay Area, and my leaving didn't cripple that movement, or indeed affect it in any way of which I am aware, so all's well that ends well. But my point is that by and large, we are not satisfied working to change the world for the better unless it helps us personally, at the very least in the sense that we get to see the result of our work. This is an oversimplification - our motivations are more complicated than this - but this is, I think, a key part of what motivates us to try to change the world.

So back to mass murder. Mass murder has existed throughout human history. Archaeological evidence suggests that it predates history, actually.

If we want mass murder to stop existing in our world, we need to understand what it is. It is an idea. Do ideas have power? Yes. Nearly a thousand people died horribly the day before yesterday not because of a suicide bombing, but because of the idea of a suicide bombing. If an idea, planted perhaps accidentally or perhaps intentionally, can kill a thousand people, we have to take ideas seriously.

The idea behind mass murder is this: I can make my world a better place, in time for me to actually experience the benefit myself or see it happen, if only I kill all the people who stand in the way of the implementation of my idea. Put more succinctly, killing can bring a good result faster than those lame, inefficient non-killing ways of getting the result.

My friend is a very nice fellow, who I think is genuinely hurt to see all the horror that has been visited upon his fellow man in his lifetime. He's not a bad guy. But he agrees that killing can bring a good result - that a person who disagrees with him in some way that he sees as urgently harmful can legitimately be killed.

Full disclosure - I have this idea too. I don't want to sugar coat it. I knew intellectually that invading Iraq couldn't bring a good result, but I still wanted it to be the case that an Iraq without Saddam Hussein would be a better place than Iraq with him. Maybe it still will be, but I suspect that the death toll when that happy result arrives will be higher than the death toll that would have occurred if he'd just lived out his natural life and died off. Many despotic governments have been transformed by that natural process, without a single shot being fired.

So the point of all this is that it is this idea that needs to die. We can kill it in one of two ways. One is to kill every single person who has it, which means, eventually, suicide. The other is to fight it on its own ground - install a new, very counterintuitive, very difficult to accept idea: that killing is never an appropriate action. That killing never brings a good result. That if someone is pointing a gun to my head, I would rather die than turn it on him.

Try to imagine what our national response to 9/11 would have been if we all had that idea. If we still believed that as a nation we needed to be active in making the world a better place, but if instead of using guns, we actively went out, at the risk of our own lives, and tried to kill that idea.