On September 11, 2001, around 8:00 A.M., thousands of eager investment analysts, successful stockbrokers, bankers, traders, security guards, and secretaries made their way on the New York subway, on the city’s harbor ferries, and in its yellow cabs to southern Manhattan. The offices that awaited them filled 220 vast floors in the twin towers of the World Trade Center, where more than half the world’s ﬁnancial and market business was transacted. Routinely, unremarkably, the global economy was reopening for another day of business.
Two hundred miles up the eastern seaboard, in Boston, barely more than 100 passengers on two commercial airliners were boarding their ﬂights to Los Angeles. The passengers included parents and children, people visiting their families, schoolteachers, successful executives in high-tech companies, and—mainly up front, in business class, next to the cockpit—ten fiercely determined hijackers. Shortly after takeoff, armed only with box cutters and bravado, the terrorists seized the controls of the two aircraft. In a swift and callously synchronized operation, they turned the planes south and headed them directly toward the city of New York.
At 8:45, as elevators were ascending, ofﬁces were ﬁlling, and breakfast meetings were in mid-ﬂow, the ﬁrst plane ploughed into the upper decks of the ﬁrst World Trade Center tower. This sedate civilian aircraft had been transformed into a deadly killing machine. Just eighteen minutes later, with the instant eyes of CNN already broadcasting the scene to the world, the second plane tore the very heart out of the remaining tower. Across the globe, millions watched helplessly as television screens showed the towers buckle and implode—the twin icons of global enterprise and American self-regard reduced to rubble.
The pictures portraying the aftermath of this attack were apocalyptic. The charred facades of the seven remaining floors of the World Trade Center hung like twisted skeletons in architectural agony over the devastated remains that were quickly called Ground Zero, the name ﬁrst given to the site of the atomic bomb dropped on Japan. Americans now recycled this grim phrase to describe the site of their own particular horror.
The scale of human catastrophe was colossal. Thousands of people perished in the New York carnage alone. One of them was a young man named Thomas More Brennan, after whom my chair at Boston College has been renamed. Those who survived lost scores of friends and colleagues. Companies had their entire operations obliterated. Of 1,000 staff members in a New York bond-trading company, for example, 700 lost their lives.
Business was immediately paralyzed. The New York Stock Exchange closed for an entire week. When it did resume trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted by 14 percent. For several days, the U.S. skies were empty of civilian trafﬁc as all airports were closed, leaving passengers stranded from Asia to South America and outposts in the Arctic. Airline reservations later dropped by half, and major airlines announced immediate layoffs of more than 20 percent. National airlines with distinguished reputations ceased to exist. In the shadow of terrorism and in the face of intrusive security, travel has become an inconvenient burden and frequent-ﬂyer points a heavily devalued currency. Economic globalization may not have been completely halted by the tragic events of September 11, but business slowed, conﬁdence sagged, and the world was accelerated into its already impending recession.
Globalization and technology did not make the United States invulnerable to this terrible assault. In the aftermath of the attacks, analysts were critical of the FBI’s and CIA’s overconﬁdence in high-technology surveillance at the expense of more traditional forms of human undercover intelligence. Airlines and airports were condemned for having put security operations out to private contract—paying low-skill people minimum wage to perform a publicly vital job. The principles of the ﬂexible economy catastrophically compromised public safety, placing airline clients and the nation’s citizens in mortal danger.
September 11 was a day on which Americans realized that the borders of their oceans, their tools of technological surveillance, and their unsurpassed military might could not make their nation impregnable in the face of the globalization of terror. The United States was no longer only the originator of globalized markets, knowledge, and information. It had become the target of another kind of globalization that moved the world in a few short minutes from the optimistic age of information to an anxiety ridden age of insecurity.
Organizational-change theorists usually describe the age we are in as one of uncertainty, complexity, or risk. These words highlight the ambiguities of globalization, flexible economies, and rapid change, warning people about the threats but urging them to embrace the opportunities. Unlike uncertainty, the idea of insecurity points less ambiguously to the disturbing human consequences of globalization.
In the age of insecurity, as L. Elliott and D. Atkinson call it,people experience increasing job and pension insecurity, environmental degradation, the collapse of welfare safety nets, the erosion of supportive communities and relationships, and the growing threat of crime and violence to their physical and psychic safety. This affects people’s basic capacity to trust others, to rely on their relationships, and to not spend their lives looking over their shoulders. It creates a society of suspicious minds. John Vail argues that
the rise in insecurity in contemporary society . . . has been immensely destructive of human potential and social justice. Insecurity damages individual lives, it destroys self worth and self-esteem, and it has generated intolerable levels of fear, anxiety, hopelessness and powerlessness.
The pervasive insecurity that accompanies globalization amounts to more than issues of personal safety and national security—locks on the doors, cameras in the shopping mall, walls around the community, and barriers to discourage immigrants. Governments in the global economy have had “the inclination to trade off a lot of security (economic, environmental and social as well as physical) in exchange for removing more and more constraints cramping the exercise of free choice.” The result has been displacement of support and protection away from governments onto individual citizens. This has created an unacceptable redistribution of risk and accompanying insecurity across the entire population. Unlike uncertainty or complexity, widespread insecurity is not an unavoidable state of being. It is a political choice in the knowledge society. As Chapter 3 will show, this insecurity extends into the work and world of teaching itself.