Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Enemy Among Us

We live in a complex world that we know relatively little about, despite millenia of accumulated scientific data, observation, history and experience. And yet, in our arrogance, there are those among us who believe they have it all figured out - all wrapped up in their own personal "theory of everything".

It's not just physicists chasing that particular chimera.  Politicians, theologians, sociologists, conspiracy theorists and anthropologists are looking for it as well as every back porch know-it-alls and shade tree philosophers; anybody that has a Facebook account and Internet access runs the risk of setting up shop as an expert on "how it really is".

The truth is that not one of us can say for sure how the world works.  At best we can set up a little paradigm for ourselves and collect evidence to prove its validity.  If we're an atheist, we collect evidence to prove there is no God.  If we're a believer, we look for evidence that there is.  That's not necessarily a bad way to go about it, but it is a painfully slow way, for as we accumulate evidence for our pet theories, bits of data flow past us that may disprove our theory.  If we collect enough of this evidence, we experience a sudden "jump" or, what Thomas Kuhn called a "paradigm shift" in which we suddenly reset our theory of everything to include the new data and begin collecting data to prove the new theory.

Learning is not a smooth upward climb for most of us. It's more of a series of stair steps.  It would be far too frightening to run through this world soaking up information and not putting it into a framework by which we can understand it.  We view life against a background of our own construction.  We can only distinguish new ideas or data or experiences against the backdrop of our beliefs.  It's like the person who was born blind and suddenly has his blindness cured.  His first look at the world is apt to be frightening because he cannot distinguish foreground from background. He has no idea of perspective. If something moves it frightens him because he cannot tell how far away it is and whether or not it is a threat. Some newly sighted have to put on a blindfold and take a break from seeing in order regroup their senses.

The devil our adversary, said Christ, walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.  A lion's roar is designed to confuse and frighten his prey so they cannot act in a coordinated way to oppose him. By stampeding a heard of buffalo, he can pick off one of their number as they run away, something he could not do if they were to stand together and trample him into the dust.

Whether on the political left or right, the Christian, Muslim, Neo-pagan or Atheist viewpoint, the devil walks among us all. I identify myself as a member of the so-called Christian right.  I have a personal definition of that which does not at all resemble the mainstream media's definition. I have spoken about the devil on the left.  My greatest concern is the work of the devil on the right.  It follows a predictable pattern.  If you're the devil you stick with what works.

1.  You work your victims up into a lather over some issue, real or imaginary, either serves his purpose. This is the roaring lion bit.

2.  You provide the targeted group with a nice theory of who is to blame for all of the trouble.  It may be George Bush, Rush Limbaugh, Nancy Pelosi, Frances Fox Piven or the Illuminati.

3.  You convince your victims that this person who is to blame has almost mystical powers to do evil works and (even better) that this person is after them personally.

4.  You convince the victim that a certain group is the only one that has the proper magic to save us all.  Give that group as narrow a vision of God or the Universe and everything else as possible.  If it's a religious group, make their concept of God as narrow and as repressive as possible.  Give them special underwear or something like that for the "true" initiates to wear as badges of belonging.

5.  Make them see both their enemies and their friends as potential traitors and underminers of the faith (or, in the case of atheists, lack of faith). Formalize their peculiar brand of belief.  Give it rock solid fundamental beliefs.  Heat up their paranoia as much as possible.

6.  Suggest to the victim that violence may soon be necessary and make them come to cherish the idea of pulling the trigger, swinging the sword or wielding the battleaxe. In rare cases you can convince them to long for martyrdom for the cause.

7.  Begin organized guerrilla attacks on those "infidels" who dare to disbelieve. Have them start with their own friends and neighbors and former colleagues.  Start with verbal attacks and angry rhetoric. Move on to punishment of those who have fallen away from the faith.

8.  Pit the paranoid group you've organized among your victims' opposites directly against your paranoid group.  This will solidify both sides in inexorable hatred of one another

9.  Convince the victim that the group needs to do something "big" that will make people listen. At first only a few will make the attempt, but as the reaction to the "something bigs" grows you can gain group support for acts they once would have decried as "monstrous".

10. Set off the bomb, conduct the air raid, murder the innocent - conduct whatever horror you've convinced them they need to conduct to "show them". Don't let them think about who "them " is or to see them as human beings in any form or fashion.  Once "the enemy" is dehumanized, you can keep the war going on for a jolly long time.

More often than not, one paranoid group ascends to the pinnacle of madness well in advance of the others - Germany ahead of Russia in the 20's and 30's for instance.  We got dragged unwillingly into that whole mess in order to save ourselves and the world from a truly evil threat. Don't get me wrong, there are wars worth fighting. Even great pacifists like Charles Lindbergh came to see the justice of our cause in that war.  But it was the communist bogey man that did more to propel the Nazis to power than anything. And remember this, both the communists and national socialists were on the same side in the beginning.

We must be wary of those amongst us who are so anxious to get their minds around some idea that explains it all that they would even limit the power of God.  These folks develop theories such that God needs us to do things for Him that He cannot do for Himself.  Such a God is not permitted to be great and unknowable at least not to the leaders of the movement. The leaders of such groups will say God is great and unknowable - for you ordinary folk - but they, because of their education, breeding or special underpants claim to understand all about God will be happy to tell you what God wants them to do.  If this is an atheist group, then instead of God insert "how it really is" in place of "God".  They always have a set of books or DVDs to sell you about "what really is going on".

It is impossibly arrogant of us to believe we know everything there is to know about anything.  Even the governance of a nation has proved time and again beyond the power of any one person to govern alone. When we diddle with the economy to make it better, we always make a mess of it.  There is an infinite cosmos out there we've never even seen except at second hand.  Even the starlight we see at night is thousands of years old for the most part.  We have no idea what's really going on in the universe and as soon as we think we understand, we discover we had no idea.  The sooner we come to accept that, the sooner we will find ourselves seated comfortably at the feet of God, our minds open and ready to learn.  And, by the way, the sooner we'll be able to work together with each other, our individual cosmic paradigms notwithstanding.

I'm just telling you what I think.

Tom King (c) 2010

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