Restraint and Balance the Watchwords To Cure Terrorism Without Escalating It
In one of the first full-length animated movies, Walt Disney’s Song Of The South, Brer Rabbit constructs a tar baby and goads his adversaries Brer Bear and Brer Wolf to attack it. With every punch they get more stuck in the tar baby. As their frustration mounts they also begin to kick it until all of their limbs are hopelessly stuck in the tar baby.
The present world situation is a lot like the tar baby. We have already gotten partially stuck in it by past decisions in which we allowed ourselves to use or condone the use of too much force. But we are not showing signs of learning.
Partly this is because of the tendency to repeat actions which have proved successful in the past. After Pearl Harbor the way we mobilized our national resolve with fine words and inspiring music did work in that instance, so we are doing it again. Our fabulous and courageous military worked perfectly in the Gulf War and so we are gearing up to fight the same kind of war. In the back of our minds we may also be thinking that we have not prepared ourselves as well as we might have to fight the kind of a war that the terrorists are fighting, so the idea of fighting them on that basis is not something we want to think about too much. And yet that may be the right solution.
Any clear-thinking person who gives it more than a moment’s thought will conclude that our pronouncements to the effect that we will tolerate higher levels of collateral damage – that is, the deaths and injuries to civilians – are just as wrong as what the terrorists have done. And in fact will only push over to the other side millions of people who are now in the middle. Yet by too-extensive use of our superb planes and pilots and other weapons of general war we will inevitably cause great collateral damage. Cutting off food to Afghanistan is another example of flailing at the tar baby. It can only do ourselves and the people we ought to be saving more harm than it does to the terrorists.
Another reason we have started down some wrong paths is that our emotions cry out to strike back. Our leaders know this and wish to give the people a sense that effective action is being taken. Infiltrating the terrorist organization without television publicity is not satisfying in this regard even though it might be the most intelligent thing we could be doing to win the war.
Part of the reason why a large part of the world’s population – including many of the poorest people on Earth – is less than fully friendly to the United States is that they perceive no incentive to being our friends. We send them aid which often does not reach the intended recipients, and not knowing that it is some of their own people who have intercepted the aid, we get blamed for not doing enough. And we could of course be doing much more.
People who perceive that they have no options take desperate measures. These are many of the people who have helped the terrorists or who have become them – although the terrorist organizations appear to be run by better-educated people who were more often born into the higher strata of their own societies and whose criminal ambitions stem more from megalomania than from the pressure to simply eat.
There is a lesson to be learned here as well. To the extent that we eliminate all options except destruction we cut off any other options for more peaceful solutions. The cornered rat will always fight – what is the incentive to do otherwise? If our actions now say that there is no carrot and only a stick then we shall galvanize not only the terrorists but those on the fringe of becoming terrorists into becoming our sworn enemies.
As in the case of the tar baby, letting our negative emotions rule us will only make us less effective fighters. It is a time to ride herd on our negative emotions, to rein them in, and to more cool-headedly analyze the best way to fight and win this war. Hate is what caused the terrorist phenomenon. Hate will only fuel it. Hate and the desire for vengeance weaken us by distracting us from clear thinking which is what we need now more than anything else.
There is a debate going on right now. Anyone using email knows about it. Every day friends send friends emails attaching articles. People are writing their own articles and publishing them to each other over the Internet. This is a very healthy process. It is an expression of one of the high ideals of our society, freedom of speech. It allows our minds to work together to get past the obvious and to dig deeper into the root causes and possible cures to our present situation.
One unfortunate aspect of this electronic grassroots debate is the tendency to blame. Many people including loyal Americans blame our own past actions in the world for helping to cause the current crisis. Others blame Israel. These writers would do better to express the same thoughts without the concept of blame and without the inflammatory adjectives such as “cruel”, “brutal” and so on. The object is to transcend the current dilemma not to get more stuck in it. It does not help to demonize each other. Let us recognize that we have all made mistakes, honest mistakes, with good intentions. Instead of blame let us forgive the past and work on the present and the future.
Although all of us see the current world situation as a war this is a misleading metaphor. Overuse of the metaphor could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Today the literal situation is one of an international crime ring with connections to a few rogue nations. Certainly a potent mixture that could easily be tipped over into a true war if we are like Brer Bear and Brer Wolf in the way we approach it. All of our prophets have warned of an apocalypse. Yet God has given us free will. Armageddon is only one possible future. The prophets warned us so that we could use our free will to steer into a different possible future. Now the time is upon us to make those right decisions.
So far we have been speaking tactically. It is also a time for us to pull back from the narrow obsession with the situation at hand to meditate and to contemplate the broader picture – all of life itself. Clarity, that which we need now more than anything else, cannot come from any amount of thought that is too narrowly focused.
I will ask you to take a few minutes away from the present situation and to imagine with me. I shall present an unfamiliar picture of reality and ask you to suspend disbelief for a short time. Imagine for a few moments that what I am about to say may be the true nature of reality itself.
When you close your eyes you still exist. The you that exists in that dark space is what we call “consciousness”. A word that we do not fully understand. Consciousness is strange stuff. Consciousness is “that which observes”. In science there is the concept of an observer. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity which has been proven again and again by rigorous measurements is based on the perception of time being relative to different observers – to different “consciousnesses”. The concept of consciousness is implicit in everything we do but it is as pervasive as the water in which fish live and therefore as invisible and hard to focus on as water is to the fish.
What if God is the first consciousness that ever existed. Imagine that God has a body made out of consciousness. Imagine that God has a way of creating us creatures out of “consciousness-stuff” and then inhabiting each creature. And that the experience you have of being a “self” is actually God experiencing your selfhood through you. Your separate selfhood might not exist. All that exists might be God. We might all be remote cameras looking in at the same reality.
It is possible to interpret the holy scriptures of all religions as in essence saying what I have just said. All religions tell us to go inside to find God, to reach inside to a higher level of consciousness, to love one another as ourselves.
What if each of us, even the terrorists, is God. Then the awful actions that the terrorists are taking is from the good intentions of God, but fooled nevertheless into wrong decisions. Please for a moment imagine that you are in the mind of Osama bin-Laden. Imagine that as him you have fooled yourself into thinking that what you are doing is for the good of your people, that it is the only course of action that makes sense to you under the circumstances, and that God has even asked you to do it. Can you see that this is the way he must be thinking?
Rather than hating him we should feel sorry for him. He has been fooled. He is a great fool. He is God making some terribly wrong decisions. We have all had the experience of making terribly wrong decisions so we can understand how that can happen even with the very best of intentions.
God has given us free will because otherwise we would be mere puppets and the exquisite design of the universe would be a wind-up toy. This leads to error (I believe error to be the true meaning of the word “sin”) and error leads to suffering. God has allowed suffering – it is God who experiences the suffering through us – because it is temporary, it leads to learning, and it in the long run is therefore better than having a wind-up universe.
Nevertheless it is within our power, the power of our free wills, to minimize this suffering. We can do so by setting aside the hate and blame which comes from impoverished views of reality, by forgiving the bin-Ladens of the world even as we hunt them down and bring them to justice – whether that involves a trial and capital punishment or life imprisonment, or the practical expedient of summary justice in the field. We gain clarity and therefore fighting effectiveness by setting aside the hate of the man. Inside there is God, the same as in us, struggling to make the right decisions, some of us better at it than others.
Our strikes must be surgical. We must not be casual about collateral damage. Those who have killed deserve the strongest consequences. Those who have merely aided and abetted need a more restrained form of violence to bring them to justice. Those who are innocent must not be harmed. Those who are under suspicion are innocent until proven guilty – although security measures must be wisely thought out to prevent their escape.
In my book Mind Magic (which has nothing to do with the supernatural, whatever “supernatural” means) I estimate that the acceleration of complexity in our lives, especially since the printing press, has caused there to be 40 times the amount of question-producing stimuli falling upon our senses each moment as existed 500 years ago. This estimate was put together using the tools of thought which I employ in my profession as a media researcher.
I postulate in that book that the brain has evolved a way of dealing with this increased stimulus pressure, a circuit which I call EOP, Emergency Oversimplification Procedure. In EOP, there is a tendency to rush to judgment and to overbalance past the point of a clear assessment of a situation. Negative emotion is symptomatic of EOP. Black and white statements are also symptomatic of this state. Often EOP causes us I believe to take an essentially right thought and to overbalance past it into a wrongheaded view, often out of strongly emotional attachment to that right thought, which is perceived as a solitary tower of rightness in a sea of wrongness and therefore locked onto too strongly and exclusively, without balancing it with other thoughts.
I hope I will be forgiven by my many friends who sincerely adhere strongly to one specific religion or another, when I say that the tendency for each religion to see itself as the one and only true religion is an example of EOP. All religions are right. The details are insignificant compared to the central harmony. The most spiritual people within every religion see this. The errors made in the name of religion are not religion itself. As we go forward to correct the errors of the past, to catch the terrorists and to eliminate the causes that create terrorists, religion will be a central part of the field of action in which we do these things. Religion can either separate us or it can bring us all together. We need to think clearheadedly about God and religion as well as about counterterrorism in the days and months ahead.
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