Thursday, 5 March 2015

Fear Is The Key

I was so happy - and surprised - to see this, this morning:

Generally speaking clergy tend to be very protective, and if if they confess there are rogues in their numbers, they won't usually go this far.

Most intelligent people know that it is extremism that is the problem, be it religion, politics, guns, or whatever, but we still have to contend with the apologists.

Many people object to this comparison, which is fine. I see it as valid, but then I'm coming at it from a different perspective.

Clearly it's not an EXACT comparison, and it's simply disingenuous to seek that. I'm sorry, but it is. It's a comparison of intent and potential.

But on top of that is another objection, that religion is even involved in such things. Well, it's there, it's quoted, and it's used to justify opinions. When it's convenient, anyway.

I think the problem lies in how people see cause and effect.

Here's how I see it.

A person finds the world he lives in frightening and confusing. Not unusual. He has several options as to how to deal with this.

1. He can complain about it to anyone who'll listen, then escape from the reality of it immersing himself in distractions (see yesterday's post, and Bill's comment on it too).

2. He can escape using drugs or drink. Doesn't care any more.

3. He can become an activist. There are many ways to do that, writing, art, music, politics, marching, protesting, etc.

4. He can lash out. Blame anyone who he sees as responsible, argue, or even fight with those who don't share his purview.

5. He can rationalize it, study it, philosophize, and find ways that as a lay person, he can simply cope with it all.

6. He can turn to the comfort of an ideology that provides answers.

Most people combine two or more of these.

Depending on which he chooses his fear can grow or diminish. What can fear become? Hatred. We don't need Yoda to explain this to us. Lucas didn't pull this idea out of his arse. Philosophers have been discussing this link for hundreds of years, and it's pretty obvious when you think about it.

Hate inevitably leads to extremism, because hate is extreme. You will hear people say that hate is the opposite of love, but I see it differently. I see both love and hate as potential opposites of apathy, and you can go down either of those paths as far as you like, but you can't go down both of them. Just as black isn't a colour, it's the complete absence of light, I see hate as the complete absence of love.

People say to me that if you love something passionately you can feel hate for whatever destroys it. We're not talking about people here, but things like power, culture, systems, nations etc. I really don't have any experience of that, I may change my mind if I did. I strongly suspect that the passionate love in question was more about ownership, but I'll reserve judgement on that one.

For now it's enough to say that we see a cause and effect chain from fear to extremism.

So what is it that the extremists fear, initially?

The same things that the rest of us fear. Loss. Powerlessness. Hunger. Poverty. Change. They don't all start out as thugs.

I got myself into terrible trouble a few weeks back when I (half-joking) suggested that instead of killing the grunt level of ISIL, we gave them cookies and a hug. But surely Melanie, don't you understand these are are all dangerous extremists?

Were they born that way? Or, until a few weeks, months, years ago, were they just regular people?

The leaders are another matter, quite separate. The recruits are mostly young, disaffected, angry, confused, and frightened.

I liken it to a dog that bites. The first time it happens it was him lashing out from fear or pain. Perhaps he was teased to breaking point. Whatever the reason he loses control and his instincts are to attack. What happens after that depends entirely on how he is punished. If he is beaten, he may submit, temporarily, but this is often the fast track to an aggressive dog.

We see this in children too. When a child is "bad", if he is beaten (abused) he may become submissive, and this could go three ways. He's timid forever. He becomes aggressive. He's like a coiled spring, and one day...boom.

Here in the west we have no idea of the lives of the majority of these young people, and those who join from outside have problems of their own. Once part of the organization, their experiences change them. Can they be "cured"? Maybe. Do we try? No, silly. We imprison and torture them.

Here's one theory:

Now then, opinion is divided on just where Islam itself comes into this. There are those who say there is no connection, it's pretty much coincidence. The problem is occurring in the middle east, QED those involved are Muslim. There are those in other religions that think Islam is a lesser religion than their own. That it is by definition more violent, and they quote passages, and cite examples, blah blah. "We'd never do this". There are those of no religion that see all religions as equally dangerous, and that's the end of it. Then there are those who want to look a bit deeper.

This could not happen without SOME sort of ideology. It didn't have to be religious, it could have been political. Something has to act as a framework, a reasoning (however distorted). It needed to already exist too. You can't get that level of support for a brand new ideology, it needs time to garner respect, admiration, and trust.

And when disaffected people seek answers, be they leaders or foot soldiers, they look for something solid. Something black and white. No wiggle room. No board meetings. They look for rules and "solutions". That's why fearful people vote for authoritarian leaders. That's why people follow them. It saves a lot of decisions.

There's a lot of fear in a fast changing world, and it's a very uneven world. Despite all the scientific advancements of the last 200+ years that could have every human on the planet living in comfort, what we have instead are billionaires who hoard and/or waste money while children die of cold, disease, or hunger quite unnecessarily, and if you are on the low end of that scale but are feisty enough to try and change the balance, you may see extremism as your only solution.

That doesn't make it right, and anyone who thinks I mean that is an idiot, frankly. There's no right and wrong in extremism. Cause and effect isn't necessarily justified, it's just how it is. There is a whole shitload of unfairness involved.

Unfairness due to cause and effect occurs in nature. When your house is razed by a tornado, it's nobody's fault (not even the Romans) and it's jolly unfair. The one next door is still standing. You can scream at the sky, at the weather office, at the government, at the builders, it won't change anything. It was random. You were unlucky. The cause of the tornado? Climate/weather. The effect? Destruction. For some reason this house has been singled out, is that right or fair? No. Can we do anything about it. No.

Nobody can do anything about tornadoes, or where they go, and building houses to withstand them may be possible, maybe not, but considering the likelihood of yours being hit, it's simply not cost effective anyway. We have to just live with stuff like that.

Solution? If you have fear of tornadoes the only solution (from the list above) is escape, only this is real escape. Move somewhere they don't have them. Done. End of problem. If you say "But it's not fair, I want to live here, make the tornado go away" you're being ridiculous, it's not possible.

Unfairness due to cause and effect exists in society. If a kid is bullied in school, that can be difficult to deal with, but it's not impossible. The cause of the bullying? The kid isn't like everyone else. The effect of the bullying? Destruction. Yes. The kid gets hurt, humiliated, and lives in fear of it happening again. This is very destructive to young psyches. For some reason he's been single out. Is that right or fair? No. Can we do anything about it? YES. This situation is not the same as the tornado at all.

We are helpless against tornadoes, but we can deal with bullying. How? Well, at the very least we can chastise the bully, maybe remove privileges. Maybe let's try to stop this happening again. Some schools deal with it better than others, and some bully targets do too. How fast can you run? Can you fight back? We can remove the bully from the school, prevent him getting an opportunity to bully that kid again, and if he persists in being a bully we can remove him from society, put him in a secure place. That's how we deal with those who don't play nice. If all else fails we lock him away. Hopefully in the meantime we try to cure him, but if we can't we have a responsibility to prevent him being able to harm anyone.

I know of situations where schools have blamed the victim. They behaved, in fact, as if the bully were a tornado. Nothing we can do. Move away or suck it up. Bullies are not the same as tornadoes, there are things we can do. It's not the responsibility of the target, it's the responsibility of the bully to behave, and for the system to ensure that happens, and to protect the target. Because it is possible, and that is the right and fair thing.

Unfairness due to cause and effect occurs in the world. When your village is hit by a drone, you might just ask yourself WTF did I do to deserve that? Maybe you lost your home, maybe your family. The cause of the drone? US foreign policy. The effect? Destruction. Is that right or fair? No. Can we do anything about it? Well, duh.

But we don't, do we. Instead we blame the victim. Well, you shouldn't be related to a terrorist, should you? Silly! We pretend this is the only solution, which is bollocks.

Can the victim do anything about it?

Victims aren't stupid. Victims of bullying know they weren't at fault, and one day, if it's not handled well, they may get a gun and go shoot up a school. Stranger things have happened. Cause and effect. Is it fair? No. Is it right? No. What's the cause? Just told you. What's the effect? Destruction. And so on, and so on.

Victims of drone strikes know they weren't at fault, but what do you expect them to do about it? Rebuild and move on? Or is there a chance that they look for a solution? Revenge? Or maybe let's try to stop this happening again. How? Ask yourself, if you were that survivor, what would you do? Remember, you are afraid, you are looking for a solution, and nobody is looking out for you...including your own government. Well, where do you go? Your religion. The only safe and reliable thing left to you. If what you find is an extreme, vengeful version of that, so be it. Serves the purpose. You draw upon its lessons, take comfort in its familiarity, and look for leadership in its clergy. People need leaders and they get them where they can. Is religion involved? Of course it is.

If you have been paying attention, you'll see I am attempting to explain extremism and terrorism. I'm not justifying it. It's wrong. But those who chose that route do so for reasons that make sense to them. They don't do it on a whim. They don't do it because they are evil. They do it because they are damaged, hurt, and they don't see any other solution.

I spoke to a young man just yesterday who sees the future of his middle-eastern country as very grim. It's not as bad as Iraq or Syria, but there is considerable poverty, corruption, foreign exploitation, and an inert government. If the trouble spills over the border into his country, could he be radicalized? To talk to him, I feel not, but you never know. People respond to difficult circumstances with expediency, and the worse the circumstances, the more so. 

If you don't understand this then you don't understand people. At all.

1 comment:

  1. "Your religion. The only safe and reliable thing left to you. If what you find is an extreme, vengeful version of that, so be it. Serves the purpose. "

    Well, yes, but I would remind you that religion isn't the only option; violent non-religious revolution is still a path that many, even in Occupied Palestine, take to this day. And fear isn't the only motivating factor for hate. I, for example, hate the American Empire, and if required or given the opportunity I would happily take up arms against it. But that's not because I fear it; I am in fact (unless it provokes a nuclear war with Russia) at no risk whatever from it. My hate for it, which is a strongly positive emotion, comes from my identification with its victims, like the 13-year-old Yemeni called Muhammad Tuaiman Al Jahmi one of Obama's drones incinerated recently. I don't think hate for such a criminal entity as the United States is a negative emotion in anyone.