Monday, March 3, 2008

The Post-9/11 Delusion

Uri Averny, among the best that Israeli society has to offer the world, in a discussion of Israel’s dilemma with Hama, put the plight of the contemporary world in a nutshell:

WE ISRAELIS live in a world of ghosts and monsters. We do not
conduct a war against living persons and real organizations, but against devils and demons which are out to destroy us. It is a war between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness, between absolute good and absolute evil. That's how it looks to us, and that's how it looks to the other side, too.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia made a similar point just a few days ago:

I pose these questions for your consideration….

Will my region plunge into more chaos and violence, where extremism rules?

Or will it be a peaceful, developing region?

Will it be a region focused on conflicting radical ideologies fueled by the manipulation of sectarian division?

Or will it be a region reaping the benefits of globalization and strong global partnerships?

Will it be a region that rejects Western alliances, perhaps violently, because they have become far too difficult to achieve?

Or will it be a region that is a global partner in progress and prosperity with the West?

The choice is ours. But we must act and time is running out....the wellspring of global division, the source of resentment and frustration within the region and far beyond, is the denial of justice and peace in Palestine.

Extremism begets extremism. Look at any prolonged social conflict (your neighbor’s divorce, the American Civil War, take your pick). The longer it lasts, the harder it becomes to differentiate the good from the bad. Evil behavior either genuinely forces opponents to behave the same in self-defense or simply overwhelms reason and deludes opponents into believing they have no choice. It also provides irresistible opportunities for mischief-makers. The politics of fear is very good business.

The tragedy of the post-9/11 world is that the opportunities offered to mankind by the end of the Cold War have been submerged by a flood of Manichean assertions: all claim to be the Sons of Light battling to the death, with God on their side, against the Sons of Darkness. There seems almost to be a fatal genetic flaw in humans compelling them to throw themselves lemming-like over the cliff of reason into the sea of insane hatred of “the other side.”

Such twilight zone battles cannot be won because they do not exist…except in the tortured minds of the self-deluded combatants. That is, they cannot be won unless you define victory as the creation of chaos. Those who combat “ghosts and monsters” either fight sick fantasies in their own minds or know exactly what they are doing and are consciously seeking chaos in the coldly rational calculation that they can benefit from it.

The two types of course get mixed together and feed on each other, or, more appropriately, feed together on the rest of us. The trick is to remember that almost always the numbers of the self-deluded fundamentalists and the coldly calculating exploiters are small. They win by trickery, by fanning emotion, by confusing thought. The vast majority of people in almost any group will be amenable to reason and most interested in pursuing their lives. The key is to get to them, and the trick is to remember—in the face of all the claims of how evil the other side is—that most of the individuals on “the other side” are just victims who never chose the game they are being forced to play.

No comments: