Cults like ISIS and the Nazis help define true human insanity. Ironically however, the tribal instinct driving such insanity is both sane and universal. It arises in all of us to various degrees. So, what drives the fanatic ISIS or Nazi follower to go over the edge? And what is is the best way to deal with this?
First, calling acts of insanity evil solves nothing; in fact, this only adds fuel to the tribal fire. More effective would be to realize just how universal this tribal instinct is. What stands out is not so much this instinct, but how it goes to extremes in the context of civilization. This is ironic in itself. Ostensibly, civilization aims to tame instinct. It does do that, but then like a pot on the stove, pressure builds and the pot ultimately blows its top. Civilization doesn’t tame instinct; it either bottles it up, or channels it into sanctioned paths like religion, politics, and sports… and then blows its top.
Symptoms aren’t solutions
ISIS embodies what I’d call pseudo power. Chapter 52’s Seeing the small is called clarity, abide yielding is called powerful speaks to true power. The lack of true power has the ironic result of driving one to compensate with force. (1)
One of religion’s main quests has always been to fix such inherent downsides of civilization — to unite the divided and bring peace on Earth and good will toward men. The sentiment here is, unity would come if everyone on Earth shared the “one true religion”. This always fails, as Rodney King witnessed so simply, “Can’t we all just get along?” Ironically, religion turns out to be a primary focal point for tribal division… the very thing it seeks to put right. Passionately anti-religious people decry this political consequence of the religious quest, and shortsightedly blame the institution. Unable to abide yielding we compensate with force, and attack scapegoat villains. Focusing on institutional villains, be they religious, corporate, or governmental, briefly eases emotional tension… ignorance is somewhat blissful for a while.
Long ago, I read a book by Christmas Humphreys, a founder of the London Buddhist Society. I recall how bewildered he felt by the partisanship of Japanese Buddhism sects. Buddha’s message is certainly universal, so he wondered why these Buddhist people ended up so divided, so partisan. Similarly, I doubt Jesus had 50,000 different denominations in mind when he set out to upgrade Judaism. Indeed, Jesus had a message of unity and is quoted in John 13:35 “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another”.
All you need is love, love, love is all you need
Spiritual rhetoric comes down to being either (1) just flat out naïveté, or (2) as chapter 65 puts it, Of ancients adept in the way, none ever use it to enlighten people, They will use it in order to fool them. Which of these applies to Buddha and Jesus? I’m guessing naïveté, especially Jesus. On the other hand, followers could have added the naïveté aspect to transcriptions afterward. The ideal of unity and peace on Earth is an appealing one that most everyone supports … until our tribal instinct kicks in.
We either don’t believe we are tribal animals, or we believe we have a free willed ability to manage it if we are. Certainly most religions champion the power to choose and change. We just can’t accept that it is biologically impossible for us to “all just get along” in the same tribe. Institutional attempts to solve this problem are symptoms of our deeper problem. Dealing with issues at the symptoms level never addresses underlying causes. While we can alleviate the symptoms, cures don’t come about until we grapple with fundamental causes. Science employs rational analysis of the natural world to help dig into the deepest causes, and it works. A similar symptoms point of view applied to human nature might help us figure out a more effective way of dealing with our differences… including ISIS!
We swing between extremes
We know from our experience with the Nazis that hoping for peace doesn’t work, as Britain and France did in the 1938 Munich Agreement. We could go whole hog and invade Iraq…. Oh, yes, we already did that. History shows the difficulty we have in finding the right balance… It is either too little too late, or too much too soon. All too often, the reality we understand is a shadow of an ideal we want to occur, and chapter 16 shows us the consequences, Not knowing the constant, rash actions lead to ominous results.
A more recent example of a failure to know the constant is how President Obama swung the opposite way from what President Bush rashly took on. Yet now he is swinging the other way. If we don’t nurture a broader view of current circumstances we blunder and stumble our way through whatever rash response feels right at the time. Obama wasn’t concerned until the ISIS beheadings began, and now he naively talks of “destroying ISIS”. Destroying the symptom does not cure the disease! Messy situations such as this require a comprehensive approach, which is seldom if ever politically viable. Impatience rules the day. There are at least four things playing out here all at once:
1) A Shiite vs. Sunni religious conflict.
2) An authoritian vs. reformer conflict.
3) A secular vs. Islamist conflict.
4) And the question of whether an artificial state that stitches together naturally antagonistic tribes can ever form a cooperative unity government?
Choice vs. Wisdom
After all is said and done, we invariably end up doing what we feel compelled to do at the time. Our “free choice” in all matters invariably boils down to instinctive reactions in response to current experience. Yet, we fool ourselves believing we are in control. Perceived necessity is the mother of all choice and action… or inaction. Instinct drives us. The only moderating influence I know of comes from embracing the broadest view possible in order to choose what action may be the best reaction. Otherwise, like free-swinging pendulums, we’ll swing from one extreme to the other. The wisdom of recognizing this tendency and the instinctive drives behind our reactions could only help.
Our deeper problem is that we are animals who think we really aren’t animals, or at least “dumb” animals driven by instinct. Instead, we view ourselves spiritually superior and at the pinnacle of evolution. “We”, as in individual egos, “we” as in religious or political parties, “we” as in sports teams, and so on. Granted, this superiority sense is simply an offshoot of basic tribal instinct and species’ ego, as it were. We just can’t help but feel we are right or superior, and they are wrong or inferior. Thus, when we happen to get fixated on our belief, we invariably take actions to the extreme, in words and/or deeds. While this describes us all, ISIS currently manifests this in the extreme.
Bring E.Q. up to speed with I.Q.
The only way we’ll reduce these cycles of over reaction is when innovation (rash action) slows down and stabilizes. Certainly, we’re more likely to see this come about as the median age of the human population approaches 100 or more. Chapter 16 sheds light on the overall process…
…Answering to one’s destiny is called the constant.
Knowing the constant is called honest.
Not knowing the constant, rash actions lead to ominous results.
Knowing the constant allows, allowing therefore impartial,
Impartial therefore whole, whole therefore natural,
Natural therefore the way.
The way therefore long enduring, nearly rising beyond oneself.
Answering to one’s destiny is a reflective, returning process that deepens throughout one’s life. In light of this, how many really old-timers would succumb to the bull**** that so readily fires up youngsters to innovate or rebel? Instigators would find few willing to fight their wars. Innovators would tempt few to buy their latest and greatest gizmos or culturally cool trends. Politicians would find few that took their partisan biases very seriously. Most oldsters would just want to play shuffleboard and sip margaritas. Oh, and let the robots do the work.
As I’ve said more than once, we want the benefits of civilization, but object to the costs of civilization. We did not evolve to live in such large impersonal populations, but civilization offers us irresistible benefits. We want to have it both ways, as all children do. Another way to look at this is that human E.Q. (emotional intelligence) is far less developed than human I.Q.
We are super clever apes without sufficient wisdom. We have a superior intellect without the emotional where-with-all to balance that cleverness. E.Q. (emotional intelligence) can’t be educated into us; it only comes gradually as we stumble through the lessons of life. As the median age of humanity increases, the mean E.Q. of humanity (wisdom) inevitably and naturally increases. All we need is to reach the point where E.Q. counterbalances I.Q. (p.372)
I imagine E.Q. will counterbalance I.Q. sufficiently within a few hundred years. But hey, even if it takes a few thousand years that’s nothing really. Our religions have been attempting to improve the human condition much longer than that. Undoubtedly, we won’t realize this solution will work until it is actually working. Ironically, the pursuit of cures can blind us to the cause of the disease we’re trying to cure. Chapter 65 hints, Of ancients adept in the way, none ever use it to enlighten people, They will use it in order to fool them. The ancients don’t intentionally fool the people; people’s unrealistic expectations fool the people.
For the past 10,000 years, we’ve been competing over material resources. Over the last few centuries, science has been leveling that playing field. Soon everybody will be able to get what they need without war. True, wars also have ideological roots. However, increasing the median age of the population helps reduce the likelihood of any group gaining enough converts to cause serious harm.
(1) Among other things, ISIS reminded me of the difference between power and force. This excerpt from the introduction in Tao Te Ching – Word for Word speaks to this difference.
“Even so, I feel power accomplishes is more profound, provided you appreciate the difference between force and power. In physics, that parallels the difference between voltage and wattage. (Voltage is the electromotive force, the potential; wattage is the actual work accomplished by electrons driven by the electromotive force. W = V × I, where W = watts, V = volts, I = current (amperes). Another way to say this might be, “Put your money where your mouth is”. ‘Mouth’ expresses a potential. ‘Money’ expresses something relatively more tangible. Finally, to bring it all home, consider chapter 52’s, abide yielding is called powerful.“