Learning to live in a changed world

The outloook: Unpredictables abound as a harsher reality replaces 1990s go-go excesses.

September 24, 2001

THIS IS part of the new reality: At lunch hour on a glorious fall day, Baltimore's Inner Harbor is practically empty. The Planet Hollywood restaurant has just closed for good. Hotels are laying off staff. The world still reverberates from the aftershocks of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

The financial markets are in turmoil. A sudden dearth of demand is playing havoc with the nation's service industries. People are afraid to fly; they have lost their appetite for shopping, at least temporarily. The job market is feeling the consequences. Prospects for the Thanksgiving and Christmas merchandizing seasons are gloomy.

Some preachers suggest all this is God's revenge for American materialism and sinful lifestyles. Stories in supermarket tabloids report that Nostradamus, a seer back in the 16th century, predicted this catastrophe.

As the shock wears off, hysteria will ebb. Only to be replaced by an unsettling realization that the world we knew has changed.

Terrorism, for example, will be recognized as a fact of life. It should not destroy our lives and routines, but it must be taken into account. We will have to function like people in many other countries who have dealt with it emotionally and as a security issue for years.

If safety measures make domestic short-haul air travel less convenient and more time-consuming, trains may make a comeback - particularly in the densely populated corridor between Richmond and Boston. There might even be a market niche for overnight passenger ships, which disappeared in the 1950s.

The memory of what happened in New York and Washington will have profound consequences on city planning. Malaysia's Petronas Towers, 1,483 feet high, are likely to long remain the world's tallest skyscrapers. Office tenants in this country may demand smaller and more secure buildings.

Overall, bigness and conspicuousness may cease to be virtues. Anonymity will gain acceptance because of its advantages.

Turning points are often difficult to predict.

Just nine years ago, Francis Fukuyama chose to see the collapse of the Soviet Union as "the end of history." The values of Western liberal democracies were going to prevail throughout the world, he declared.

The terrorists who attacked New York and Washington are among the latest to challenge this naive view. They may be faceless and largely nameless, but their choice of targets was revealing. They struck the citadel of international capitalism and the headquarters of U.S. military prowess. Although frustrated, they aimed at the White House, one of the hallmarks of representative democracy.

During the past 13 days, this nation has shown its resilience in amazing ways. The pain and hurt continue, but we are bouncing back, ready to adjust to the new reality.

The world has changed. It's not ending.

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