The Historical landscape often sets the table for much of what happens in the present moment.
"We're blissfully unaware of the historical tides and events that have brought us to this moment"
The Historical landscape often sets the table for much of what happens in the present moment.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
"O eloquent, just, and mighty Death! whom none could advise, thou hast persuaded; what none hath dared, thou hast done; and whom all the world hath flattered, thou only hath cast out of the world and despised. Thou hast drawn together all the far-stretched greatness, all the pride, cruelty, and ambition of man, and covered it all over with these two narrow words, Hic jacet!"
Sir Walter Raleigh
With the recent events of Takfiri extremists burning a Jordanian pilot alive and President Obama's statement on twisted faith and on the past violence of Christianity and the Atheist who murdered three Muslim college students in America the public debate continues on what extremism is and what the source of the problem is.
It should be clear by now that extremism is a human problem that goes beyond creed, class, and ethnicity.
As Ernest Becker stated, “doesn’t matter whether the cultural hero-system is frankly magical, religious, and primitive or secular, scientific, and civilized. It is still a mythical hero-system in which people serve in order to earn a feeling of primary value, of cosmic specialness, of ultimate usefulness to creation, of unshakable meaning. They earn this feeling by carving out a place in nature, by building an edifice that reflects human value: a temple, a cathedral, a totem pole, a skyscraper, a family that spans three generations. The hope and belief is that the things that man creates in society are of lasting worth and meaning, that they outlive or outshine death and decay, that man and his products count.”
In our human reach to matter and to count as Becker put it we must balance it with a global ethic of liberty and pluralism. A space where humans can debate ideas without it turning into dehumanizing rhetoric and dominating others different than us who find meaning in a different hero and belief system. The goal of Pluralism and liberalism should not be to have everyone think the same but to have the global ethic of liberty of conscience and expression without reactionary intimidation of violence whether from the state or groups.
If extremism has a common theme it is in its claim to superiority and its ability to dehumanize those it deems outside the superior group. Making violence not only acceptable to bring about the utopia but even necessary to destroy those who are different. Extremism is an attack on diversity. An attack that involves violence and force to bring about a monolithic society instead of a pluralistic society.
An extremist believes in their superiority and their particular utopia to a point that it is necessary to dominate and dehumanize those outside their envisioned utopia.
The challenge for the modern world is to make a global ethic of pluralism paramount without it changing other systems of belief by force or intimidation. There needs to be an umbrella belief in tolerance and pluralism that helps tame belief systems that have the potential to lead to domination and dehumanization. And that umbrella belief cannot become a will to power over others. That is the tight rope.
Deanna Othman highlighted Walt Whitman's quote "The largeness of nature or the nation were monstrous without a corresponding largeness and generosity of the spirit of the citizen."
Nature and humans can be brutal. When you see humans being gentle and generous when they do not have to be there is something great in that. When power is used to help the weak instead of crush the weak that power becomes more than power it becomes greatness.
I have been thinking lately of what made the character Gatsby great from the novel and I immediately focused on the words largeness and generosity when I read Deanna's essay. There is something noble and great about magnanimity in human beings when you see it. When they are not retreating to provincial pettiness but reach out with expansive magnanimity.
“The greatest strength is gentleness.” Native American saying
Photo by Ami Vitale: Samburu warriors encounter Rhino up close for first time in Kenya.
Photo by Yongzhi Chu: A monkey in a Chinese circus cowers as a trainer approaches.
E Pluribus Unum - "Out of Many, One" (original motto of the United States of America)
Pluralism: the idea that people of different backgrounds and beliefs can be free and live with each other.
With the advance of globalization and information technology the world is becoming a much more crowded place. Ideas and people are becoming much more in your face and it is easier now to either offend or be offended by others opinions and actions. The opportunity is for a deeper and better understanding of the world and exchange of ideas but the danger is a rising reactionary balkanization, tribalism, and ethnocentrism.
Who am I? Who are we? Identity becomes a point of existential importance.
What is my group? Who is outside my group? For a naked ape and social primate it should not be surprising that social groups and cohesion is of evolutionary importance. Humans in general have a psychological drive to be sympathetic to family and that has expanded over human history to tribe, religion, and nation.
The ideal is to expand that circle of sympathy to the whole of humanity. The ideals of the Enlightenment may not be easy for humans to live up to.
With the recent events coming from Takfiri extremists killing cartoonists in Paris or an Atheist extremist killing Muslim college students in America the problem of reactionary tribalism that threatens Pluralism is a real problem impacting human lives now.
Ideas have consequences. Not knowing or caring for people outside your particular in group has consequences.
How much ideas and memes impact human violence is an ongoing debate over the nurture versus nature argument. Which variables are greater or lesser factors is a hard metrics to pin down when dealing with human behavior.
Instead of getting into a long debate on nurture versus nature we can say that human ideas and the particular human brain it comes into contact with is the cocktail mix of action.
Whether one is a more dominant factor than the other is a case by case study. Human brains vary in their particular physiology and are not blank slates, however ideas still matter and the lack of an everyday pluralistic experience where you interact with others outside your group can matter as well.
I have heard the most vile things being said about unbelievers and others by Takfiri fundamentalists and I have also heard the most vile things being said about Muslims coming from those from another faith or the faithless. This is not an either/or position. One can be against Islamic extremism and Islamic phobia at the same time.
Whether it is Islamic extremists cutting off the heads of people simply because they belong to a certain hemisphere or the anti-religious extremist who shot three people in the head simply because they belong to a certain religion both are an assault on the great polis of Pluralism. The fanatics are waving the knives and pulling the trigger on Pluralism from all directions.
It seems there are people who have a hard time with the scientific method and nuance, they would rather have simplistic judgments based on superficial observations. When a human is viewed simply as a representation or a symbol it is easier to kill them instead of viewing the person as a distinct individual with a nuanced and varied life. As Kierkegaard understood, "Once you label me you negate me."
Cosmopolitanism and Pluralism need to be nurtured and nourished. Tribalism and solipsism can grow in famine and neglect.
Pluralism is under siege and to protect the polis of Pluralism those who reside in it must not let the fanatics that assail it from different sides tear the great city apart. ***
Chapel Hill shooting attack on diversity - Zeba Khan
"Regardless of whether law enforcement deems these killings officially a hate crime, we as a society need to acknowledge that violent extremists come in all creeds -- and they can be inspired and their anger nourished by any religion, or animosity towards one.
With this in mind, the mainstream majority -- hailing from whatever faith or ideology -- needs to stand united against these kinds of acts of violence, regardless of the source. In practical terms, this means going beyond condemnation, by following the examples of people like Deah, Yusor, and Razan who lived out their faith values through service to others. We should also follow the example of organizations like Found Beyond Belief, which launched an atheist and humanist community drive to honor the victims.
Ultimately, our nation's diversity is its strength. As citizens, we must do whatever we can to protect it."
"What the Islamic State is doing is best described as a war on cultural diversity," said Michael Danti, a co-director of the American Schools of Oriental Research's Syrian Heritage Initiative, which documents the devastation war has wreaked on the region. "It's a war on anything deemed inappropriate for their version of Islam." Danti's group worked in tandem with the University of Mosul until the jihadists abolished its archaeology department last year.
National Geographic news
"If men could only know each other, they would neither idolize nor hate."
"Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together."
"Ideal types are used to simplify a complex reality."
"I found the blind slavery, which ties the people’s present with their parents past, and urges them to yield to their traditions and customs, placing ancient spirits in the new bodies."
"...and Heaven have mercy on us all - Presbyterians and Pagans alike - for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending."
Herman Melville (Moby Dick)
“The need for a global ethic is inescapable. An ethical life is one in which we identify ourselves with other, larger, goals, thereby giving meaning to our lives.
At the end of the nineteenth century WH Lecky wrote of human concern as an expanding circle which begins with the individual, then embraces the family and ‘soon the circle... includes first a class, then a nation, then a coalition of nations, then all humanity, and finally, its influence is felt in the dealings of mankind with the animal world’."
"Man is always inclined to regard the small circle in which he lives as the center of the world and to make his particular private life the standard of the universe. But he must give up this vain pretense, this petty provincial way of thinking and judging."
Michel de Montaigne
"The last thing man can admit to himself is that his life-ways are arbitrary: this is one of the reasons that people often show derisive glee and scorn over the 'strange' customs of other lands—it is a defense against the awareness that his own way of life may be just as fundamentally contrived as any other. One culture is always a potential menace to another because it is a living example that life can go on heroically without a value framework totally alien to one's own."
"A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
"Our lives begin to end the day we are silent about things that matter"