To paraphrase George Martin, You will not find truth on the tongues of men but in the guts of nature.
I look to Nature to tell me the truth about the world because men rarely do.
To paraphrase George Martin, You will not find truth on the tongues of men but in the guts of nature.
“Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed. There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him: a vapour, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even if the universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than his slayer, because he knows that he is dying and the advantage the universe has over him. The universe knows none of this.”
"Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun."
There has been much hand wringing from think tanks and pundits about why people join ISIS from the anemic reason from the State Department (poverty and jobs) or some other simplistic assertion. A bureaucrat would assume a person could be appeased with a job. They miss the historical context, the geopolitical and cultural context, and the human element itself.
I. The Search for Identity. When it comes to some Jihadis especially those who have been third culture kids growing up in a country and having two identities can cause an identity crisis and tension. They may feel the drive to search for what the “real” or dominant identity is and feel compelled to prove that identity.
II. The Search for Meaning. What can be better than being at the center of the stage of a Cosmic Drama?
Jihadism offers this and no secular gang can offer such cosmic significance. To be part of a great narrative that gives one ultimate purpose and meaning is something that humans are attracted to. To be certain and to be central in the grand story of the Universe and existence is not a bad recruiting tool.
“I started getting interested in my deen [religious life] around 2012,” Hoda Muthana told BuzzFeed in an interview... “I felt like my life was so bland without it. Life has much more meaning when u know why ur here.” Muthana left America and went to join ISIS in Syria.
III. The Search for Justice. Grievances can be real (Assad’s crimes or other Tyrants) or perceived (middle class western recruits). Whether they be real or perceived to a human perceived is just as real. Not only those who are displaced and marginalized but those who feel displaced and marginalized.
IV. The Search for Asabiyyah. The great Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun gave the term Asabiyyah for social cohesion, group feeling, and solidarity. It is the factor that gives one group the ability to rise over other groups that have little or lesser Asabiyyah. That is why a couple thousand ISIS members can take over Mosul from a larger and better funded military at the time. The Iraqi army had little Asabiyyah...they did not feel there was a State or government worth protecting. ISIS had the asabiyyah advantage.
“Anyone who studies present and ancient affairs will easily see how in all cities and all peoples there still exist, and have always existed, the same desires and passions.”
CNN report from Aleppo Syria 2015:
"These are people who suffer any one -- or all -- of the following litany of afflictions daily: Barrel bombs -- randomly dropped, crudely made devices intended to maim, kill and terrify; warring rebel militia, also fighting with the regime; radical Islamic groups; shortages of food and water; people cutting down whatever trees they can find for fuel. Kidnapping is now the major hazard. After months of hospitality and risking themselves to assist journalists, rebels now find their ranks bedevilled by radicals and criminals who see foreign media often as a form of currency to help with boosting funds or dealing with another scourge: ISIS. This is the nightmare of being caught between a regime trying to besiege them on one side, and on the other, the evil of ISIS trying to impose their radical worldview."
Josephus, The Jewish War (66 AD - 70 AD):
"The whole of Syria was filled with hopeless confusion, and every city was divided into two camps, the survival of the one depending on the destruction of the other. The days were spent in bloodshed, the nights-still more terrible-in fear."
"Every town was seething with turmoil and civil war, and as soon as the Romans gave them a breathing-space they turned their hands against each other...Faction reigned everywhere, the revolutionaries and zealots with the boldness of youth silencing the old and sensible."
"For Zealots they called themselves, as if they were devoted to good works, not zealous for all that was vile - vile beyond belief...no one was prepared to resist, as it was obvious that the Zealots would be very difficult to tackle."
"The group who supported the high priest Ananus were convinced that it was impossible to stay in the city unless they rid her of the terrorists, the Zealots that unless they triumphed they would be spared no punishment."
"Another type of bandit sprang up in Jerusalem, known as Sicarii. These men committed numerous murders in broad daylight and in the middle of the city. Their favorite trick was to mingle with festival crowds, concealing under their garments small daggers with which they stabbed their opponents. When their victims fell, the assassins melted into the indignant crowd, and through their plausibility entirely defied detection...many were murdered every day. More terrible than the crimes themselves was the fear they aroused, every man hourly expecting death, as in war."
"The faction fight in Jerusalem had broken out again; a three cornered fight now, as one party had split in two...We should not be far wrong if we described this as a faction within faction, like a maddened beast driven by lack of other food to devour its own flesh."
"Miserable was the plight of women and children."
Reading Josephus (The War of the Jews) highlights the fact that religious fanaticism existed long before the Islamic extremists in the late 20th century or the Christian wars between Catholics and Protestants.
It also reminds the reader that Imperial ambition and brutal Dictators have existed long before the present powers who seek greater security through greater power.
Common elements of this Ancient and Modern Drama are:
1. Imperial intervention in the Middle East
2. Monotheistic Zealots
3. Moderates stuck between Tyrants and religious zealots
6. Rome’s inability or refusal to understand Monotheistic sensibilities along with the Fanaticism of certain elements within Monotheism.
“So in all human affairs one notices, if one examines them closely, that it is impossible to remove one inconvenience without another emerging."
Remove a tyrant and underneath it is the rot of extremism and factions. The Tyrannical authoritarianism of Caligula and Nero helped set the stage for Jewish Extremism to rise in Judea. The brutal Tyranny of Saddam Hussein and Assad combined with the removal of Saddam by the United States set the stage for reactionary groups to rise.
Maliki and Shia militias abused their position against the Sunni's in reaction to Saddam's previous brutal rule. Assad's violence against his people's aspirations fed into the Jihadi narrative of the unjust taghut who can only be fought by Jihadism.
Put it this way, terrorist groups feed on the brutality of Tyrants and swim in the disenfranchisement of the people.
"The people resemble a wild beast, which, naturally fierce and accustomed to live in the woods, has been brought up, as it were, in a prison and in servitude, and having by accident got its liberty, not being accustomed to search for its food, and not knowing where to conceal itself, easily becomes the prey of the first who seeks to incarcerate it again."
"In short: whether a peaceful old age waits for me or death circles with black wings, rich, poor, at Rome, or if thus chance bids, an exile, whatever the complexion of my life, I will write."
The Roman Poet Horace (65 BC - 8 BC)
It seems that modern humans have a hard time justifying life affirming optimism without relying on the religious myths of the past or the technological dreams of the future.
Or even the a priori life affirmation of Nietzsche’s Amor Fati (Love your fate) and Camus’s Sisyphus. “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Accept the absurdity and embrace it states the existentialist.
Can the ancient Epicureans and Stoics be a guide to the modern human existential crisis?
Humans would like to anchor themselves in cosmic importance and cosmic significance. Cosmic survival.
Religion is one way to do so. There are many other ways as well through identity in a Nation or a Group.
Transcendent ideas and identity keep humans mentally afloat while alive but the reality is we all sink into physiological oblivion. Our ability to be smug about the Universe has a purpose to keep a person mentally stable.
In the overwhelming ocean of life we grab on to transcendent ideas to keep afloat and with faith we walk on water. Nature catches up though and despite our bravado of human language the decomposition of the body rolls on. The bacteria and viruses that ravage our bodies, the various diseases and decomposition that tear at our strength, the accidents, storms, tornadoes, tsunami’s and other acts of Nature that crush us have not been given the memo apparently of the sanctity and dignity of human beings.
Humans need to anchor themselves in some transcendence. The reach for Heaven, Utopia, Singularity. To be significant and to survive.
We demand answers now when in reality we have to wait in uncertainty. We demand a final solution to problems that are beyond our ability to solve. Has modern man taken its faith in the gods and now put its faith in technology?
The Apostle Paul asked who will deliver him from this body of death and his answer was faith in the man god Jesus. Today humans still ask who will deliver us from this body of death but now the faith is in transhumanism and technology to take away the corruption of the body. To deliver one from Nature's wrath of entropy and death.
The feeling that humans need redemption and salvation runs deep. Redemption from a lost paradise and salvation from Nature's wrath and the endless cycle of suffering and mortality. For the Buddha, Nirvana was not coming back to this cycle.
That is the magic of faith it takes away the burden and limits of human knowledge and the body. It takes away the question mark. It takes away mortality. Are bad answers better than no answers? In our reach for transcendence is it hubris based on conceit or desperation? Or the Transhumanist would see it as progress?
"Our lives begin to end the day we are silent about things that matter"