Preaching to a Terrorist
When you hear Be strong, I say to you Be calm.
When you hear Honor, I say to you Virtue.
When you hear Be afraid, I say to you Be joyful.
When you hear Revenge, I say to you Justice.
When you hear Hate, I say to you Respect.
When you hear Kill your enemy, I say to you Consider no one your enemy.
When you hear Loyalty, I say to you Responsibility.
When you hear Righteous, I say to you Moral.
When you hear Evil, I say to you Wrong.
When you hear Good, I say to you Good.
In cultures where there is no dependable system of order, people must learn to live under their own private value systems. These private systems - contrasting with the impersonal legal systems of civilized societies - are based on survival, protection, personal relationships, power, and decisiveness. The consequences of actions are measured in minutes, hours, and days, with little regard to the consequences within weeks, months, years, and decades. Since such basic goods are always at stake in these situations- even life itself - emotions predominate, especially fear, excitement, and pride. The goals of actions are avoidance of pain, pursuit of pleasure, and exercise of domination.
When one has no access to a dependable system of laws to insure social justice, one is forced to live by such a private code, seldom allowing for long-range planning, analysis and reasoned judgement, or disinterested respect for competitors' needs and values.
This is true of clans and tribes in what we call under-developed areas of the world. It is true of terrorists who are systematically excluded from the externally imposed rule of others and who, within others' social and economic schemes are seen to have no intrinsic value. It is true of gangs in poor neighborhoods or prisons.
I have said that an undeveloped society's private value system is based on survival, protection, personal relationships, power, and decisiveness. What we consider a civilized society's social, moral, and legal system is based instead on social and individual justice, a stable distribution of power, interdependence, and long-term continuation or even "permanence." The goals of action are security, prosperity, amity or fellowship, and shared labor. Balance is a governing principle, sought through reasoning and communication.
Emotions, or even intense and enduring passions, are not shunned in civilized societies, but strong emotions do not predominate in public life and are not considered trustworthy guides to significant decision-making where cool observation and reflection are more highly valued. Most or even all civilized cultures accommodate religious observances, rituals, and organizations, for instance, but any society whose legal, economic, or political systems are controlled by religious leaders make secular nations uncomfortable, often more so than the most authoritarian secular tyrannies.
So, there is not likely to be a "Preacher" of the most fundamental values of civilization. But if there were to exist such a phenomenon, he or she might address an agitated crowd as I have imagined, proclaiming the superiority of values based on social stability and enduring peace over the values of the dispossessed and powerless: The Preacher would praise justice over revenge, joy over fear, virtue over honor, right action over righteous action, and conscience over personal or communal loyalty.
The poet Yeats observed that in his world of 1919, "the best lack[ed] all conviction, while the worst [were] full of passionate intensity." That seems true of our world today too, doesn't it? in our world where fanatics - whether Islamic jihadists or white supremacists or the ELA Dukes or Clarence Street Locos, the loudest Tea Partiers, the extremist anti-abortion Christians, or the Boko Haram - where fanatics of any stripe or color seem to be on the rise, and the rest of us seem numb, "etherized upon a table."
Where is our Preacher? our passionate intensity?
Primitive or undeveloped societies do evolve into civilized cultures, although it may take centuries. Uncivilized groups or individuals can vary between showing characteristics of impersonal public virtues and those of fanatical cults or terrorists. Individuals in all societies can swing back and forth from behaviors we associate with socially responsible citizens to those typical of clans or gangs or primitive tribes. And our culture is definitively moving in the wrong direction: away from the comfortable, pleasant and prosperous society of our parents toward the fearful, fast-changing, action-packed, violence-riddled, addle-brained times from which we began to escape about two hundred years ago, replacing a world driven by force to a society ordered by laws.
How can we turn the tide again?
How can we turn the tide again?
Can we be passionate, decisive, confident about our civilized values, or do we actually hold those values anymore, and live by them?