We have all heard the aphorism, “The definition of insanity is to continue doing the same thing while expecting different results.” of President Obama referred to a similar truth when he opened dialogue with Cuba, after 50 years of blockade, trade embargo and prohibition of United States tourism to Cuba, expecting either to break the Castro regime or return Cuba to diplomatic relations with the U.S.
Just yesterday, through the CBC National News, we learned that repeated flu shots in successive years results, paradoxically, in reduced immunity to the very “bugs” those shots are designed to impede. One of the lines in the CBC story ran something like this: “Here is a medical paradox.” It seems to us that there are other examples of paradoxes in our current situation that would demonstrate our collective clinging to “old habits” while simultaneously seeking different results or outcomes.
For starters, we have all witnessed the outpouring of political unity and solidarity in Paris, immediately following the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the Kosher Market hostage taking. The world’s television news cameras came together in Paris to demonstrate a united front, partly in sympathy with the victims of these acts of terror. Politicians of all stripes are addicted to venues where cameras can and will portray them in a favourable light. Their very survival in their political roles depends on their sustaining public confidence, respect and trust among their respective populations. On Sunday, January 11, 2015, some fifty world leaders grasped a common shared opportunity to march through the streets of Paris, in a show of strength (and personal courage) to inspire a common front against radical Islamic terrorism.
Whether radical Islamic terrorism is an ideology of religious bigotry exclusively is a matter of considerable debate. Some argue that the roots of these terrorism cells are poverty, dispossession, lack of access to education, alienation and a lack of access to economic independence, and political misadventures based on some the convergence of some old habits among leaders with a new emergence of terrorists opening the windows of their “tents” and screaming, “We will not put up with this any longer!”
What are the things they are saying they will no longer put up with?
Start with a global economy dominated by the corporations whose interests are exclusively the wanton production of profits for shareholders, using whatever strategies and tactics that permit them to maximize those profits, regardless of the impact their actions and attitudes have on the people working for them or the people living in their orbits. Imposing a savage capitalism on a highly differentiated and obviously “unequal” plethora of demographics, without concern for the pace and the ravages such capitalism has and will continue to wreak is one way in which we are all implicit in doing the same thing while expecting different results. Western capitalism cares for immediate profit, and in its largest forms, corporations devour their own kind, in a race to dominance in their respective sectors.
Yes, to be sure, there are pockets of “social entrepreneurs” whose business models are dedicated to ameliorating social blight, like the housing depletion in cities like Detroit through the application of free market discipline. Micro loans, as one of the central instruments of social entrepreneurialism in the third world, are considered a model for the restoration of regions in the first world where capitalism has left is trail of devastation, as it certainly has in Detroit. However, social entrepreneurialism, based as it in on a stream of individual entrepreneurs, will not provide the social and economic and industrial and educational infrastructure in countries like Nigeria, where Boko Haram runs rampant. Admirable as it is, social entrepreneurialism, is like putting a band-aid on a massive and metastasized cancerous tumour. It may slow the spread of the disease, but it will not stop it.
However, there are other “old habits” besides their addiction to their own media dependence that plague the current generation of political leaders. We hear this week from President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron of Great Britain, that they share a common belief in and commitment to a variety of strategies to address the problem of radical terror. Good words, and admirable attitudes, even insightful diagnosis, to be sure. Nevertheless, these “visionary” leaders are still inextricably trapped in a military, industrial, pharmaceutical, corporatism vortex so complicated and so deeply embedded both in the public infrastructure as well as in the mind-set of their respective “publics” that hard-powered intervention of all kinds, including flu shots that defeat their very purpose., token philanthropy as a primary means of addressing poverty without the dedication of massive public resources that are really needed, along with the accentuated gap between rich and poor in their own countries, as well as most other western, “developed” countries, and overt, over-powering “know-best” solutions like drones, a massive intelligence overbuild, a reversion to airstrikes and military training and mentoring, as the primary responses to terror, like those flu shots, have proven their own futility and even counter-productivity.
Since 2001, and 9/11, when this “current cadre of terrorists” were concentrated in one country, we have watched them grow, morph and continue to adapt and adopt, and are now operating in somewhere between 30 and 40 countries, and their reach continues to grow. Furthermore, they are now the recipients (unwittingly) of American weaponry much of it left behind in Iraq and in Afghanistan, weaponry that is readily and frequently being used by the terrorists against all enemies including western forces seeking to “eradicate” terror from the globe. Nearly a decade and a half of repetition of armed conflict with the Islamic terrorists, including the addition of the latest intelligence hardware and software not only have not proven successful, except perhaps in micro-venues, only driving the terrorists underground to evade the scan of intelligence and also the rain of bombs and missiles. Political discussion in most western countries continues along the lines of “increasing police and military empowerment” to deal with the threat, along with enhanced military measures, albeit jointly deployed by more than a single country, and the language of the debate is now ramped up to President Holland’s “war” on terror.
We are becoming entrapped in our own rhetoric! We are fulfilling Pogo’s insightful diagnosis: “We have met the enemy and he is us!”
Is it just possible, for those determined to find a silver lining in these years of savage murders, beheadings, kidnapping and selling of young girls, wanton destruction of whole communities (Baka, Nigeria, for starters) and assassinations, that those privileged to have acquired a full and legitimate education, a full access to health care and employment with dignity, as well as access to the largest and latest quantity of consumer “toys” the world have ever produced (the political class of all western countries) can and will see the blindness and the hubris of their collective addiction to “inside the box” thinking, strategies, traditions and conventional expectations and make a radical shift to searching and finding unconventional and creative and non-violent strategies that will of course be seen as “weak” and counter-intuitive, by most who seek revenge and pay-back.
It is precisely revenge, and pay-back and alienation that are motivating the terrorists. Piling on to enflame and enrage that alienation will inevitably bring the terrorists more and more recruits and more and more creative acts of vengeance, and all locales are targets for their vengeance. Just like the microbes that have mutated into bugs that are immune to the latest vaccination, the terrorists have and will continue to mutate, as well as recruit, to develop an immunity to the power attacks that can and will be inflicted by the “developed” nations. And while every pharmaceutical corporation in the world has a lab and laboratory staff dedicated to the 24-7-365 pursuit of a vaccine that addresses all potential microbes, including those we have not met yet, so too will all western governments act in parallel to those laboratories, to counter the terrorist movement. And in another two or three decades, we will still be having these conversations, still ineffectually addressing those issues that are providing the “green-houses” where terrorism and terrorists are conceived, gestated and birthed, in their increasingly monstrous models.
There is still not a universal commitment from all nations to the processes and the ideals of the United Nations.
There is still no sign-on from the United States to the International Criminal Court, even though the Secretary of State this week called the actions of Boko Haram “criminal acts” which could thereby be brought before the ICC.
There is still no international agreement to address the perils of global warming and climate change, in spite of the mountains of credible and reliable evidence of human production of toxins that are already raising the sea levels in cities like Miami where they are installing pumps at considerable cost to alleviate the problem.
There is still no international recognition that imprisonment, especially the imprisonment of minorities including in Canada, First Nations men, in the U.S. blacks and Latino’s, and in France, Muslim men, leads only to backlash that is legitimate given the disproportionate and racist imprisonment of those very men, already marginalized even before incarceration.
There is still no international acceptance of a young girl’s “RIGHT” to a quality education and to the pursuit of a professional career that is commensurate with that education.
There is still no international agreement that the ravages of global corporatism have wrought serious negative prices in many countries, depriving millions of access to the “benefits” of wealth.
There is still no international agreement that “we are our brother’s keeper” a cornerstone of all faith communities, in their most healthy incarnations.
There is still no international agreement that all humans deserve access to clean water, clean air and land free of pollutants, as well as access to work with dignity.
There is so much work to do, that it will take centuries to reverse the current path of the planet’s largest “ship” the globe, and there will be decades through which we will continue to question whether we have built into the hard-wiring the very capacity to change course in time to meet the changing challenges of today and tomorrow.
And we will all know that we could see the danger signals on the horizon in the early years of the twenty-first century.