Just a few Reflections

We are all repulsed – revolted- horrified at the thought of people having their heads cut off in Syria, Iraq, of Afganistan. How can those people do such hideous, grotesque things, we ask? We can only try to imagine the stone cold terror of those who have been captured, and are waiting to suffer their horrific fate in the final hours of their life.

 

We empathize with the grief, frustration, pain, and anger with the families and loved ones of the unfortunate, hapless victims. The thought of dying from cancer, being killed in a car crash, or losing your life fighting a war is bad enough. But this brutal atrocity is unspeakable, almost impossible for us to wrap our minds around!

Acknowledging that some people are capable of such evil acts shakes our belief in “a loving, just God “, “right and wrong”, and our “faith in humanity”. The stark reality of it makes us uneasy and fearful. And, of course, that is exactly what these barbaric acts are intended to do…scare the hell out of us…or into us.

If we look back on human history we see that we humans have accumulated a terrible track record of atrocities; a legacy of torture and murder inflicted on each other… our fellow man. We would all like to believe that this sort of beastly behavior has been left far behind, relegated to the annals of history books.

We’d like to think that we modern men have risen above such abominable “animal” behavior. Unfortunately, the inescapable reality of these recent beheadings, taking place in the here and now, makes the cozy illusion of man’s overcoming his own primitive, violent nature, untenable.

Without well-defined and strictly enforced restrictions and regulations, brought to bear by a strong, outwardly imposed social structure, our man-made rules for living together in a civilized community break down, and are (obviously) easily forgotten.  In truth, given the right (or wrong) circumstances, we are still capable of the most dastardly, despicable, and destructive human behavior. In short, human nature is very prevalent.

In ancient times, living as families or as small groups, we lived by the rule of nature: “might makes right”.  We enforce it with a code of conduct: “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. If someone did something horrible to us (or one of our loved ones), we were justified in doing the same, or worse, to them (or to their loved one).

We lived in small groups, with ample distance between us. Usually, the people doing these despicable things (to us) were from another tribe, another town, or another country. They didn’t have the same god as us.  They didn’t worship “the right god”, and so they were considered to be sub-human… inferiors. What we did to them, no matter how awful was justified by the concept that they were not really humans. They were something else, something lesser, something to be enslaved or sacrificed. All we had to do was to remind ourselves that we were “God’s chosen people”, and if we had the might – we were right.

But then the world began to fill up with people. People, who had been our enemies, now became our neighbors. We were forced to face the fact that we would be better served by a new set of rules and regulations; rules that said: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

Instead of seeking personal revenge on those who had offended or wronged us, we would have to be content to let society punish the offenders according to a mutually agreed upon social system, one where: “the punishment fits the crime”. Instead of following the philosophy of “do unto others before they do it unto you”, we started to see the merits of trusting that if I don’t harm you, hopefully, you won’t harm me. We invented “the golden rule”.

This new system allowed wrongs to be put to rest.  Instead of perpetuating feuds or vendettas that go on and on and on, with one side or the other always needing to retaliate against the atrocities of the other, we subjugated our personal need to seek revenge to the dictates of society. Instead of endlessly being at war with each other, the new rules gave us the potential to enjoy periodic times of peace, even though those who held or sought after power occasionally broke the rules despite what our Microsoft-driven program told us.

Peace is a time that allows us to put our energies into other areas of endeavor.  It lets us be creative and productive. In order not to have people always going around trying to “get even”, we adopted a new “God the Father” that said: “Vengeance is mine”, or “Let getting even be up to me…you people learn to forgive and forget, and keep on being creative and productive”. One of the most important new rules put in place to overcome our baser instincts by this new God was: “Thou Shall not kill”.

The rule wasn’t: “Thou shall not kill, except in those cases where it happens to meet your current needs”. Now, since our former Presidents’ policy of preemptive strikes, we have returned back to the primitive world of: “An eye for an eye”, etc. We have usurped the role of the new god who gave us the new rules to live by, and we have gone back to the old gods of: “Might makes right”.

We now have the power to drop “smart bombs” on pinpoint “targets”, “taking out” the “bad guys”, and taking an indiscriminate number of innocent bystanders along with them as “collateral damage”. We say we are fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here. In return, they, who feel disempowered, and in fact have little power in the way of hi-tech weaponry, revert to such terror inflicting tactics as suicide bombings and beheadings.

You do not win “a war against terror” with more sophisticated weaponry.  You make terror and terrorists go away by spreading the opportunity to enjoy the benefits we in this country have come to take for granted to all the people of this one world community. Sadly, it is an old, vicious cycle we have gotten ourselves back into…one that goes on and on indefinably, until someone is willing to take the heroic risk that “If I do you no harm, hopefully, you will do me no harm ”.

That does not mean that we should be blind, stupid or complacent.  Of course, we should be prepared to protect our homeland, and ready to defend ourselves (and our family and friends) if we are attacked.  The Islamic rule that says: “Trust in Allah, but tie up your own camel” has much merit, even on a national scale.  But, that kind of thinking takes great conviction and extraordinary courage, a belief that life is more worthwhile and fulfilling when you live it by the more civilized code of conduct, instead of always acting first out of fear.  Unfortunately, we seem to be giving in to fear and thus losing our basis for greatness.