WTC and the Power of Place
and other jingoists – with the help of their media flacks – continue
to exploit the dead, the suffering, and the devastation of the WTC
attacks for their own political ambitions. To such people, the events
of 9/11 were not so much an atrocity, as an opportunity
to expand their power and promote their own agendas.
The media spent the anniversary of these attacks trying to wring
as much emotion as possible from viewers, with virtually no effort
directed to understanding what led a handful of men to undertake
such actions. The mindset of the war-whoopers may have been inadvertently
revealed in a radio talk-show host’s comment about the "celebration"
of 9/11, then quickly correcting himself to say "commemoration."
The politically-correct explanation for these attacks is expressed
in the now-familiar mantra "they hate us for our virtues; they
despise our freedom, culture, and way of life." Any who question
this are accused of all sorts of wickedness, with the most vocal
condemnation directed against those of us who suggest that the root
of such attacks is to be found in decades of a vicious and grasping
American "foreign policy," particularly in the Middle
I am curious as to why these terrorists were attracted to the World
Trade Center. If they were willing to kill themselves as an expression
of their anger at the American culture, why didn’t they attack the
Statue of Liberty, or Disneyland, or a Hollywood film studio? Why
was the World Trade Center the attraction? In an effort to answer
this question, I have turned to the study of "chaos."
When I first became familiar with chaos theory in the mid-1980s,
I realized that here was the most effective means for analyzing
both the disorderly nature of politically directed systems
and the orderly nature of spontaneously ordered social practices.
We are taught that the authority of the state ultimately rests upon
its presumed superiority in obtaining information that will permit
the management of human behavior toward socially desirable ends.
This attitude is found in the maxim "the more complex society
becomes, the greater the need for government."
But the study of chaos reveals the fallacy of this assumption. Complex
systems are inherently unpredictable, with tendencies for error
greatly increasing over both time and space. Because our capacity
to predict is dependent upon knowing the nature and extent of every
factor influencing a given situation, and because it is impossible
to ever marshal such complete information, statist claims to be
able to direct social policies are inherently flawed. The collapse
of the meticulously planned Soviet Union, as well as the failure
of strategic defense planners to prevent the attacks of 9/11, are
but two of the more visible examples of the truths available in
the study of chaos.
To those unfamiliar with the deeper meanings of chaos, it is imagined
that this theory does no more than remind us of the second law of
thermodynamics (i.e., the tendency for closed systems to move from
a state of order to disorder). But chaos theory is far richer than
that, for it also helps us to discover the orderly nature of seemingly
disordered events; and to understand that what we identify as "disorder"
may only reflect our lack of awareness of hidden patterns regularizing
what appear to us as random events.
Through the study of chaos, we discover the presence of attractors
within systems. An attractor represents the organizing principle
that brings regularity to a system (i.e., "attracts" orderliness).
An earthquake fault line can be regarded as an attractor for geologic
forces operating in an area subject to plate tectonics while, on
a social level, an estate sale can be regarded as an attractor for
There are many who believe that the marketplace is a form of undisciplined,
disordered confusion; and that political intervention must protect
the public from such unpredictable conduct. To those who understand
the dynamics of the marketplace, however, the seeming chaos is underlain
with processes through which the interplay of competing interests
provides incentives for orderly behavior. In the language of "chaos,"
the pricing system of the marketplace is an "attractor"
that brings buyers and sellers together to engage in transactions
that benefit both.
My interest in the study of attractors within systems has led me
to speculate about the relationship of events to the physical
setting in which such events occur. Some have referred to this
possible phenomenon as the "power of place." To what extent,
in other words, are events interconnected with the geographic location
in which they take place? I don’t mean to imply any sort of "magical"
explanation of events. I have long adhered to causal explanations
for happenings but, with an awareness of the complex and interconnected
nature of the world, our ideas about causation may have to undergo
Richard Weaver’s classic observation that "ideas have consequences"
may provide us with a starting point. But it is also true that "actions
have consequences," and those consequences take us beyond the
simple causal explanations implicit in the proposition "A hits
B, B falls on the floor." The study of chaos makes us aware
that simplistic, linear explanations no longer suffice for our understanding
of a complicated world. Scientific inquiry has helped us move beyond
superficial explanations of behavior, and to examine less-apparent
Let me emphasize, here, the speculative nature of my inquiry. I
have reached no firm conclusions, but only formulate questions based
upon what I see as interesting parallels. Whether there are any
causal explanations or only interesting coincidences,
remains to be seen.
My first interest in the question of a possible relationship between
events and geography arose when I was living in a
city in the Midwest. Within the center of the city was a piece of
commercial property whose various occupants consistently failed
to succeed in whatever businesses they conducted. A restaurant,
night club, and advertising company, were just three of the businesses
different owners conducted on the premises, all without success.
This land was on the main thoroughfare through the city, and other
businesses in the area all thrived, in spite of the fact that the
physical nature of their land was seemingly indistinguishable. There
appeared to be something inherent in the location that led
one business after another to fail on that site.
My curiosity about "power of place" led me to inquire
into the underlying conditions that attracted creative energies
to Manchester, rather than Marseilles, as the birthplace
of the Industrial Revolution; or Florence, instead of Naples,
as the center for the Renaissance. What forces converged to bring
such creative minds as Emerson, Thoreau, Louisa May and Bronson
Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, to live within walking distance
of one another in Concord, Massachusetts?
My attention has also been directed to the question of why Austria
became a focal point for the creativity that included composers
Haydn, Schubert, Mozart, Johann Strauss, and Mahler; such pioneers
as Gregor Mendel in genetics, and Sigmund Freud in psychology; Franz
Kafka; and a number of geniuses who gave us the Austrian school
of economics. Why did an interest in individual liberty develop
so strongly in America, and not in Russia?
with human behavior generally, numerous and complex factors can
combine to produce either creative and peaceful consequences, or
destructive and violent ends. Why do government schools, rather
than private ones, tend to be the ones shot up by angry students?
Why is it that some government postal workers, rather than employees
of private delivery services, are the ones to "go postal"
and shoot their supervisors or fellow workers?
Why is it that Washington, D.C. which is the producer and
manager of much of the political violence in our world – also has
the highest murder rate of any major American city? Is this only
a matter of coincidence, or might it be that the coercive nature
of this city’s activities has made it an attractor for violence
in other forms?
Does my "power of place" hypothesis have anything to tell
us about the dreadful events of 9/11? For those unfamiliar with
the history of these buildings, a book by Peter Collier and David
Horowitz, titled The
Rockefellers, provides illuminating details. The World Trade
Center project emerged as part of a plan by Rockefeller family interests
to rehabilitate the lower Manhattan (i.e., Wall Street) section
of New York, an area in which the family had substantial property
interests. While there is nothing wrong with such an undertaking
in and of itself, they resorted to state powers of eminent domain
to acquire land needed for their proposed WTC. This led to a conflict
with various small businesses and low-income residents who unsuccessfully
challenged the taking in court.
After land for the WTC was taken by lawful force from its rightful
owners, construction began. But as the building was nearing completion,
there was a problem of finding a sufficient number of tenants. As
Collier and Horowitz tell us, Nelson Rockefeller, as governor of
the state, arranged to move a number of state offices to the WTC.
This resulted in a forty-year lease for sixty floors in one of the
buildings, with the state paying substantially more per square foot
of space than were private tenants.
The WTC, in other words, was conceived, delivered, and nursed by
many of the same corporate-state forces that have long directed
American domestic and foreign policies. Its very origins reflect
the neo-mercantilist premise that has long insinuated itself into
our lives, namely, that state power may rightfully be exercised
on behalf of commercial and industrial interests. This premise finds
expression not only in terms of using eminent domain powers to take
land from private owners, but employing military force to advance
business and political interests abroad.
Is it implausible to suggest that, in both its creation and
destruction, the WTC became an attractor for state-generated
violence, in much the same way as Washington, D.C.? The war-lovers
will reject such a possible explanation out of hand, but then men
and women engaged in orgiastic fits of flag-waving are not inclined
to reflection of any sort. Some will even suggest that my speculations
amount to a defense of the attacks on the WTC, an absurdity
expressive of minds unable to distinguish explanations from
As I stated at the outset, I admit to the speculative nature of
my inquiries on this point. But the advance of human understanding
– whether through philosophy or the sciences – has always depended
upon men and women offering hypotheses whose unfamiliarity may evoke
ridicule or contempt. There is no mysticism or magic implicit in
what I suggest. To the contrary, one can identify various causal
factors that help to explain the phenomena.
Perhaps, like the aftershocks of an earthquake, our disruptive and
violent actions continue to reverberate deep within the bedrock
of our physical and social environments.
study of chaos compels us to delve deeper into the interconnectedness
of a complex world in order that we may better understand the implications
of our conduct. "They hate us for our goodness" may satisfy
minds that are overwhelmed by the demands of complexity, but such
childish explanations will not suffice for men and women who insist
upon living with intelligence. If we are to live freely, decently,
and creatively, we need to begin asking fundamentally new kinds
© 2002 LewRockwell.com