Friday, January 9, 2015

Where are our better angels when they are needed?

In an early episode of he Aaron Sorkin renowned television series, West Wing, speech writer Toby Zeigler tells the president: your demons are winning the battle over your better angels while engaged in a pick-up game of street basketball.
Later in a private moment at a staff dinner in the White House, the president asks Zeigler if his assessment was precluding him from "greatness"; Zeigler answers in the affirmative.
We all have demons within struggling for power and control of our decision-making on all levels of our existence. Voices telling us how to sabotage another, how to betray the other, how to obliterate another's impact, especially one we fear.
Our fears take on various masks, characters that sometimes come from our past, sometimes from our imaginations, telling us how dangerous some move might be, without any rational basis for that perception. The suspect  hypotheses through which we wander, none of which have any basis in reality in the outside world, very often take over our attention, our mental and emotional pathways, diverting energies from those higher aspirations and visions which we know we wish to pursue,
Simultaneously, while we are walking and talking with others in the course of our daily lives, internally another drama is playing out both unconsciously and even semi-consciously, over questions of import to our inner life.
Some call the inner life a spiritual life; some speak of it as the theatre of the psyche. Regardless, there is a respected body of opinion that this "secret" life, so long as it remains out of reach of our consciousness, holds considerable sway over our lives. Born in the vortex of trauma from early experiences, issuing in pain too crippling to face, this "Shadow" becomes, as some have expressed it, a "sack" of both painful memories and frightening imaginings, whose unpacking becomes the task of our maturing years.
Alienation, separation and loss are among the most prominent kinds of experiences that generate the memories and perceptions we "load" into our personal sack, for later "discovery", whether that discovery emerges impulsively when we least expect it, or through a deliberate and conscious process of guided discovery.
Some, when and after experiencing emotional trauma and pain, thrust their emotions into overt acts of defiance, subversion and rebellion from which they believe they will achieve a measure of "justice, vengeance, and the power of superiority previously denied them.
Fear of powerlessness, no matter the specific arena, is an extremely virulent motivator for actions and decisions that depend on a feeling and a perception of absolute control.
The most frightened among us, if we can penetrate their fears, are the most likely to impose the most abusive attitudes and behaviours we face, individually and collectively.
And when there is a venue into which frightened people, (those deeply impacted by their negative experiences of alienation, separation and loss,) can join in both sharing their pain and planning their vengeful actions, then the potential for explosive behaviours is significantly enhanced.
Street gangs, drug gangs, mobsters....these sociological phenomena take root in individuals whose lives have experienced alienation, at least from their point of view. And when the sociology is supplemented by a religious fever, among zealots now infused with both a belief and a conviction to do some kind of work inspired and demanded by a religious prophet or deity or both, liquid and gaseous combustibles have found their 'match'.
As CBC reporter Neil McDonald put it in a piece of analysis, immediately following the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, when other religions have been pilloried in such publications dedicated to satire, they did not come raging with kalishnakovs massacring those responsible. And even if Muslim imams denounce the actions of the Islamic terrorist brothers in Paris as not representative of the Muslim faith, those conducting their savagery are convinced otherwise. 
In a world in which binary answers to all questions leave hungry minds and hearts and spirits starved for nuance, complexity, ambiguity and mystery, uncertainty, doubt and humility, and replace those deeply human appetites, even needs, with absolutes so terrifying that everyone who has not converted to Islam (and a narrow and very specific brand of that faith) is in danger. Especially targeted are those whose lives are and have been dedicated to poking imaginative fingers in the eyes of all institutions, as artistic expression, required in a life that  rejects all absolutes, especially those to which one can easily fall prey.
Pencils of cartoonists, while never opening literal wounds, nevertheless paint pictures that incisively poke fun (sometimes painfully, often merely humorously) at the pomposity and the vulnerabilities of all human institutions. And both political and religious institutions are legitimate targets for their acid wit. It may well be that much of the "heat" of the cartoonist's frames comes from the same places in their psyches as do the bullets of the terrorists while they cry Allah Akbah....God is Great!
One of the ironic and tragic aspects of the terrorists world view, including their chosen path of martyrdom, is that they are not God nor are they acting on instructions emitted from any source worthy of the name God.
These Islamic terrorists, like those who perpetrated their savagery at Charlie Hebdo, are engaged in what the world calls "criminal activity" and they have magnetized much of the world's intelligence and legal systems as they are pursued to "justice" to respond to the pain they have inflicted on their victims. The world, for its part, deploys all of its instruments of detection, arrest and even war, if necessary, to eradicate what is now a formidable cancer, metastasizing into whatever form and shape that outsmarts our best brains.
And yet, we all know that merely "hard power" both from the military and from the legal system, will not succeed in excising this deadly fervour, fever, sociopatholgy from our shared western culture.
We have to address this monster very differently from all of the approaches currently being deployed.
We have to move from our extrinsic analysis and design of our responses to a much more intrinsic and sustainable analysis and design of responses.
Terrorism is born in alienation; further alienation is precisely what these men and women demand. Our enhancing the separation and the alienation of these people, starting from their Islamic "zeal" merely enflames their zeal for martyrdom and risks additional slaughter. The Pope wonders out loud in his public prayer, "how can humans inflict so much pain on each other?".....referring to the slaughter of human life inflicted by the terrorists not only with impunity but with a conviction that they are doing "god's" work.
Victims, especially those joined in a subversive and virulent movement of world evangelization, world dominance of people and their beliefs, as both a political ideology and a personal commitment to an afterlife, comprise a force with which the world has little knowledge and experience. We have to consider a significant shift of resources from an overt and extrinsic struggle to an overt and intrinsic campaign of prevention, both in the micro and the macro spheres.
We have to put our efforts into extensive and imaginative educational initiatives that spell out the arguments opposed to terrorism, especially radical religious terrorism. And we have to divert resources from the military and the intelligence communities to this effort. We also have to re-think our self-imposed and growing gulf between the have's and the have-not's and all of the implications of that collective and deliberate failure.
We need to fund a million Malala's and generate a public information program around the globe that addresses the alienation and the separation and the loss of the millions of desperate people whose lives have been reduced to refugee status, starvation, political and economic poverty. And we must move more quickly than we have considered necessary in our history.
This moment of greatest threat and danger can also become our moment of most significant opportunity to work together, to bring our best angels to the fore in our analysis and our understanding of the roots of terror and our attempts to reduce the needs for its expression.
And throwing our most frightened demons at their most frightened demons will result only in more conflagration and bloodshed. Our better angels are available and waiting for deployment....and that process will take a radical shift in our understanding of our humanity and our higher purposes.

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