As my fellow Americans have had time to process the tragic events in Paris, I peruse the social media and internets to constantly find an interesting common denominator:
Complete, utter disbelief.
“I just don’t understand how a human being can do that to another one of God’s creatures?”
“Haven’t we evolved above all this? Aren’t we more civilized?”
“How could this possibly happen?!”
The other response is to lump the terrorists into a group that is typically subhuman.
“They’re all monsters!”
“There must be something wrong with their wiring! There’s no way they’re normal, because normal people would never do something like that!”
Either dehumanize them, or stick your head in the sand. Get on one side or the other, reader! There’s no room for fence-sitters here!
What if there was another explanation, one that describes the utter depravity of the terrorists, as well as explains the horror seen in the face of the civilized world? The simple truth may be that those terrorists were human just like us, and we are aghast at the idea that if our fellow man is capable of those acts, then so are we. We look at that evil, and in some way, we look into a mirror.
Before you accuse me of saying that you’re the same as an Islamic terrorist, hear me out. Your beliefs are probably significantly different. You probably don’t worship the same god, and you view human life as precious. I will make the case that all mankind has a significant part of our wiring that makes it possible for each and every one of us to do terrible, horrific acts to each other.
As long as man has existed, violence has been a part of our story. Innovations, science, geography, and even arts have all been changed and advanced because of the various wars and violent interactions with other cultures. One could almost make the argument that man was designed with violence in mind. The ability to stand up to better be able to use hands for striking, as well as an intellect able to adapt the surrounding environment into various weaponry, stands apart from any other species.
Call it what you will. The atheist views man as a slightly more intelligent animal, but with a higher capacity for killing within our own species. Christians like me, and other religions from the same areas believe that it is the fall of man from our perfect design by God. Either way, there is no functional worldview that can honestly say that mankind is, in the deepest parts of our soul, good.
Farmers today, unless they’re the hippie, free-range organic type, use hybrid seeds for their crops. These special seeds have been designed by science and breeding to be immune to diseases, resistant to pests, and producing the most amount of edible product. These crops are essentially a more “evolved” and sophisticated living being. The problem with these crops is that they cannot be replanted after the harvest. A farmer can’t take a portion of his harvest and turn it into viable crops for the next year, he has to buy new seed every time. The reason is that, after a while, these plants begin to devolve and go back to their common denominators, which are smaller, meaner crops.
Mankind is essentially the same. While we may think that our peaceful and safe societies are the natural order of things, they take much less than one generation to degenerate into violence when key infrastructure is taken away. How long did it take for New Orleans to become a cess pool of violence and theft? When New York lost power for about a week, that fragile civility rapidly crumbled. No matter how developed and civilized mankind is, Newton’s laws will take effect, in that everything in the universe tends toward disarray and decay. Man is, as a common denominator, a brutish creature, given to violence and hatred. Ask yourself how long it would take you to resort to violence if your spouse and children were starving.
If this were not the case. wouldn’t it take minimal effort to maintain peace and security? If man was generally good, it would take more effort to create violence than to stop it. I have to train my children not to be mean to each other, yet they continuously delight in various petty actions toward each other. People have to be trained to be civil, and it is usually a result of a mutually shared benefit. I will be nice to a certain person because I may need his help in the future. What maintains this teetering level of politeness and peace is a very, very easily broken network of comfort. Take away one item that a people are used to having, and it will all go away. Turn off the water for a week, or take away the police, or take “Firefly” off of the air, and it will collapse.
People are not good and decent unless they are operating in their comfort zones. Go to a city and take away any of the following and see if people start acting better or worse:
As I’m writing this, I’m reading reports of apparent Islamic terrorists with AK-47s storming a Radisson hotel in Mali. I’m also reading comments from people expressing their shock and surprise at these actions. Really? You can’t believe that a bunch of dudes grabbed some weapons and a reason, then violently rushed into a hotel? What part of history made you doubt that this would stop after the last attack on unarmed civilians?
We have a global society right now. The exchange of ideas, knowledge. currency and trade all can create a false sense of security. What it also does is make it easier for violence to move from being localized and isolated. Whereas fifty years ago, Muslim extremism was contained largely in the Middle East, now we not only see it moving on a global scale, but the nature of the internet has made the images of the attacks available to us in real time. We’re supposed to be moving more toward the Star Trek ideal, where all humans get along across the globe, and we only have to worry about the Borg. Apparently the world didn’t get Gene Roddenberry’s memo, because violence seems to be spreading.
Practical application time. You’re never safe. Don’t let your guard down just because you don’t want something bad to happen to you. Believing, or rather hoping, that your fellow humans will generally be decent to each other is inviting disaster upon yourself. There are two types of people in a crisis; the one who acts and finds some way to fix the situation, and the one who refuses to accept the horror around them. The second person is so shocked by the terror around them that they wrap themselves in a mental cocoon. If they survive, it is either by luck, or because of actions of the first person who is not shocked into submission.
Knowledge that the people around you can turn against you may seem paranoid, but it will make you aware of potential dangers. You walk into a restaurant and look for people being threats. You go into a stadium with the knowledge that it is an inviting target to terrorists. You drive down the interstate and keep an eye out for bad drivers, or worse, angry drivers.
Many look at attacks such as the one in Paris as anomalies which can be solved and stopped permanently. The solution is economic, psychological, social, racial, etc. Once we address the root of the problem, there will be no more attacks. Those who view the world in this way are constantly surprised when the next one occurs. Consider the simplicity of this latest incident, where a handful of men illegally obtained a few AK-47s and some easily-made explosives. They said to each other, “Find a target, and kill as many as you can before you’re killed on this date.” Just a few men, with minimal equipment and training, brought a nation to its knees.
The attacks will never stop. Why? Because there are humans involved, and humans attack each other. All man needs is a method and an excuse to do it. There will never be a day when our children can play in the streets completely free from the possibility of intentional harm. The only solution is to be aware that you live in a world full of those who wish to do you harm, either for your religion, your lifestyle, your nation’s foreign policies, or any number of reasons. Once you realize that your fellow man has the capacity to drop you in a second, you can prepare for it and continue your life.