No One Else’s Problem
In Chapter 3 of “Life, The Universe and Everything“, Douglas Adams immortalized the idea of the “Somebody Else’s Problem” field, which makes things invisible. We all tend to look at the world of politics and war through an S.E.P. field. This has to stop.
Consider the problem of Islamic terrorism: most non-Muslims feel that it is the responsibility of the majority of sensible, peaceful, moderate Muslims to “do something about” those who perform hate crimes against innocent civilians in the name of Islam. And yet when a Muslim woman is violently attacked by “patriotic Canadians” for the crime of wearing a veil over her face, we dismiss this as an act of deranged idiots — not something we’d do, not something we condone, so not our problem. But it is our problem.
Conversely, when sects of fanatic Christians raise money to bring on Armageddon, or disrupt the funerals of soldiers, most Christians dismiss them as “wingnuts — not real Christians” and hence S.E.P. Wrong! When people who call themselves the same thing you call yourself do something despicable, you have three ethical choices: convince them to stop, have them officially expelled from said tribe, or withdraw from the tribe yourself. The collective is responsible for the acts of its individual members, and vice versa. That’s the social contract.
I know, it’s hard enough monitoring our own behavior without worrying about that of others; but in today’s world it is not enough to simply “set a good example”. Each of us has a responsibility to engage those we regard as “deranged”, find out why they think the way they do, and try to talk them out of it. We may not succeed, but we must try; otherwise nothing will halt the condensation of a diverse society into mutually hostile pools of like-minded individuals reinforcing each other’s prejudices.
Talk to your enemy. It’s no one else’s problem.
If I imagine myself across a table from some ISIS jihadists, in an attempt to ” find out why they think the way they do, and try to talk them out of it”, a strategy for success doesn’t immediately occur to me. As I look at the blood of their latest beheading victims, on their clothes, on the floor, and running across the table, do I say, “Lookee here, what do I gotta do to get you to stop slaughtering those you consider infidels, a behavior that is repugnant to almost all cultures and societies outside yours?” Or, do I say, “Look, if you could just restrict your beheadings to other Muslims, we’ll stay out of the way and let you work it out among yourselves.”?
And when they pull out their knives and swords and point them at me, do I say, “This is not the way Kumbaya is supposed to go.”?
And if they lop my head off, and hold it in the air while shouting “Praise Allah!”, do those who have accepted their responsibility to make change send someone else to take my place and try again?
Years ago, I wrote a piece called “The Line”. The Line has been around since humans started walking upright. It’s almost impossible to define, yet it’s so simple everyone understands it. It’s certainly a meme; maybe even a gene:
This is The Line. Stay on this side of it and, regardless of the pain, everything is negotiable. However, if you cross The Line, there is no coming back. You have forfeited the privilege of breathing the same air your victims used to breathe.
You must be destroyed.
I was thinking more in terms of “enemies” with whom The Line has not yet been crossed. Still, it is not unknown for adversaries who most definitely crossed The Line a few years previously to give up the “You must be destroyed” response and “just get along”. Of course, there are probably more examples of groups who are still looking for Line-crossing retribution decades or centuries after the fact. Which do you consider more successful?
Your example was of islamic terrorists. Without regard to the distinction between men and women and how outsiders treat them differently (presumably to point out that a gender gap exists in our reaction to terrorism), I’m not quite sure what you’re trying to suggest, especially with regard to those still seeking “revenge” for lines that may have been crossed years or decades ago. I don’t care about them, nor do I seek any kind of revenge. It’s strictly bidness, bro. They (terrorists, regardless of gender) have given up all sense of humanity and decency — I knew some of them when I worked in the prison system — and no longer deserve the privilege of being alive. I’m not advocating vengeance, I’m simply suggesting that discussion and empathy is removed when The Line is crossed and, like a good surgeon, I would remove the cancer from the body of life. That’s not revenge so much as it is giving life a chance to exist without exposure to disease.