My guess is that the 9/11 attacks resonated for more than just sheer terror. They were visually intense, and conveyed to us scenes like being in a plane under the control of insane people, noticing that it has turned, and looking out the window to see the building get larger as the engines speed up, knowing the end is coming.
For Generation X, this is nothing new; we have lived this way our whole lives. The approaching WTC is reality and the plane is popular delusion. We have seen people, in the aftermath of the 1960s, drift entirely into a slow-motion insanity that eventually took them over and compels them to self-destruction like moths to a flame.
Imagine being born into an age when people routinely viewed pictures, movies, and books from the 1950s; these represented sanity. There was also material from the 1960s; this demonstrated insanity. Then there was the 1970s compromise, which tried to build what was left of the former inside the latter.
It was clear from the beginning that this was a doomed civilization. Adults were insane; their support networks and connections to things larger than themselves like nature, culture, and the divine had been smashed by the individualism of the 1960s. The country had become a place where you had to watch what you said or you would never work again.
Overhead satellites and spy planes kept watch for the inevitable nuclear exchange or world war. In all of our movies, foreign people were presidents and heroes, while our own people — with Anglo names, even when the actors were not Anglo-Saxon — were portrayed as bumbling, neurotic, and hateful egotists.
Constant propaganda in school told us of the enlightened noble savages and their pemmican, the wisdom of the slaves, and the civilizations greater than Europe who somehow faded away either just before or just after colonialism got there (no one was sure, and no one wanted to look too hard either in case it had been before and not after).
We received frequent warnings about nuclear war, whether from the television or the hushed conversation of adults. The plan, if it happened, varied from finding a shelter to simply dying, since creeping out of the shelter when the food ran out in thirty days would doom us, if the radioactive air did not get us first.
Television showed us The Day After and Threads to remind us that life after nuclear war was not worth surviving. The Soviets daily provoked response and played around with brinksmanship, always threatening to create a situation that would detonate into war or missiles flying over the north pole.
Vietnam veterans wandered the streets, reminding us that they were winning until the politicians sabotaged the war out of an excess of moralism. Men with no faith in their wives fled to their garages where they engaged in “hobbies” that were designed to distract them from life after work.
Jobs, which previously meant getting stuff done, now meant doing the process right. The “corporate job” meant simply a job at a company large enough that the rules, meetings, and procedures mattered more than just getting in there and getting stuff achieved. No one seemed happy at these but they were our destiny unless we really got off the path.
And there it was. Just like in Communism, Fascism, and National Socialism, there was a single path to success: do the school thing, get the corporate job, waste your young life away, and then when your forties hit, you would get a position where you did nothing but order others around and make them clean up your mistakes.
To recap, if you won, everything would be bad. If you lost, it was worse. No matter what you did, it seemed likely that the whole thing would explode in nuclear conflict, race riots, or civil war. Hollywood movies portrayed adults as stupid, but more likely they were neurotic and oblivious, trying to escape awareness of a world gone mad.
Your friends came from homes of one, two, maybe three or four divorces. Their parents were addicted to hobbies and socializing but welded to their jobs. Most had working moms. You got home after school to an empty house and a few hours of freedom before people started talking about your future career and scared you into incontinent submission.
This generation never had hope. We could see no way that things would come back to sanity and start making sense again. Civilization had collapsed, but we were there to see the end, as our elders reminded us before remarking sagely — they thought this clever — that they were glad to be dying before they had to see the mess.
In our schoolbooks, we could read of better times, as we could in literature and see in many films. But nothing was going back that way; it was going the way of the 1920s and 1960s, with people despairing and choosing insanity to distract themselves from what was actually going on.
As a result, we had few choices. You either joined the insanity and pretended to like it, or became a dropout who had to live a lifestyle on the edge while others got rich, celebrated, and comfortable. The best minds of our generation became bookstore clerks destined to die childless in poverty.
Boomers admonished us for being slackers, or people uninterested in following the path. More accurately, it scared us so much that we wanted to run away and stay gone. There was no future in a system where even victory looked like misery and defeat. There was no way to be happy as a false artificial plastic person in a world of soulless drones.
The televisions repeated uncannily similar messages. Our peers repeated to us their crutches, or rationalizations generated out of fear that made them think that if they just did a few basic things, everything would be alright. We stayed up late at night to outlast the nightmares and pass into a sleep like death without thoughts.
Adults exuded a kind of muted but tremorous fear. Religious people seemed to be absolutely insane, but so did most of the atheists. No one believed in a future, so everyone was relying on a few basic hopes that were based on obvious illusions. This made people desperate, narcissistic, and retributive.
Generation X had one foot in the past and could see that it was better. They also could see that it had been replaced by an inferior version. This generation never had any hope. They only had the expectation that they would be here on the deck of the Titanic to watch it all finally come apart.