Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Corrosion of Character

Sometimes, I amble through some of my old posts. After the recent events in Oslo [Breivik], I ambled systematically to things I've written about terrorism, to see if there were any thought worthy of rethought. There were. A lot of them. I'm going to quote some of them, in order to put them into context. Starting with this recent one:

Wouldn't it be cool if there actually was a [Muslim] conspiracy? Think about it. If there were one, any and all other everyday problems would be null and void. Unimportant. There would be a war coming, a war in need of preparations! Forget all of those lousy drab problems that never go away - they are unimportant, not worthy of attention, irrelevant. When the war comes, no one will be either willing or able to remember them.

Those words of "what if" doesn't quite ound the same now as when I wrote them. To understate it. They are, in a way, a reuse of the words of another post:

The key to the concept of anomie is to think that the parents of yesterday succeeded in doing anything but teach their kids to use and understand the tools of modernity. Instead, the kids are left to fend for themselves, and to try to understand how the world works on their own - without either positive or negative feedback following good or bad actions. Because of this, both good and bad, good and evil, become indifferent concepts, impossible to differentiate. And thus, the one become as doable as the other. [...]

The point here is not that we are all the children of society (though we are), but the loneliness of the modern condition. The one we are all prone to fall into every now and then.

The best cure against loneliness is of course meaningful interaction with others. Every child knows this. Yet, somehow, this is forgotten as age happens: one starts to think about one's life as if what's lacking is something other than other people. The feeling of loneliness submerges, sublimates, subverts into something else - into an all encompassing life goal, a grand narrative of good versus evil, an epic quest, anything that brings order to the chaos that is the lack of other people.

Anomie is not a pleasant condition. It is also an extremely common one. Very few living among us are not anomic to some extent. And we all, sometimes, feel that urge to do something extreme. To borrow a thought from another post:

There are days when all I want to do is to yell a non-euphemistic "fuck this", blow up some minor monument and then use the following media spin to imprint the message "next time, I'm not going to dick around with minor monuments; stop this madness at once!". And then, once the madness inevitably continues, blow something bigger up, with the same spin. Rinse and repeat.

We all have our extremist days. It comes with being human.

As fortune would have it, most of us have social safety nets (in the form of friends, family etc) that helps to mitigate such thoughts. People who, as if by magic, makes the anomie go away by just being, and who remind us of why we do what we do. But the tendency is still to go into that dark place every now and then - it comes with the being human thing. One can live with it. Handle it. Like I did (in a backward kind of way) when I wrote this post:

If I was a terrorist, I wouldn't waste time dicking around with blowing things up or hijack airplanes or spread socialist propaganda or any of that nonsense. Bombs have a very limited blast radius, and it's easier (albeit slightly more expensive) to just buy a plane that to steal one. There are better ways to achieve my diabolical goals and aspirations.

You might  have caught glimpse of a tendency by now. A tendency that can be summarized by something I wrote in this post:

The key here is to understand that there will always be self-appointed philosopher kings. Persons who are fanatically convinced that so many of the world's problems will be solved if this one thing gets done, and who get so fanatic about it that they will take the world into their own hands to execute their master plan. No matter the cost - the world may burn while I save it.

An easy solution gets a difficult problem. An easy solution that fixes both the problem and the loneliness - until it doesn't.

The purpose of this collection of quotes is to show how important it is to take the time to acknowledge one's peers - even if only by the tiniest of gestures. But also to show that we all become the extremist every once in a while, and that this happens for a reason. When the world is big, inexplicable and lonely, people reach for explanations that will make it easy and manageable. Easy explanations is food for the starving soul, and if there happens to be company at the dinner table - why object?

We are all the children of society. This big, inexplicable and in oh so many ways lonely society, so effective at the mass production of anomie.

It is easy to feel tiny and insignificant in the setting of everyday life. As if that doesn't matter. But, paradoxically, it does - it is there all things of importance happen. It is there that you, me and everyone we know can create just enough sense to shoo away both the anomie and the terrorism of our lives. Through the creation of meaning and understanding. By being those persons who create a better context than that of extremism and terrorism.

If you've ever wondered how hugs save lives - this is how.

Originally published July 25, 2011

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