Thursday, July 31, 2014

Human Conflict is NEVER About Religion, Sam Harris!

If this depicted French 'settlements' in Spain,
can you imagine Spain NOT bombing France?
A post directed at Sam Harris, motivated by his post about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict of 2014, which was an 'offensive' (pun intended) begun by Benjamin Netanyahu, a career 'hawk' who's most vocal supporters, not surprisingly, are the extreme right wing in Israel who claim to be fervently religious, but whose principal aim appears to be to 'squat' on ever bigger properties (with swimming pools!) on land that it has been repeatedly agreed upon by everyone with a stake in the matter is not theirs to 'settle on'.

Sent July 31, 2014 to Sam via his 'contact' page:

Sam, in following you and the few who can operate at your level of ability to understand ("Hitch", Noah, Richard, et al) I often see the same expression of anger and frustration on your faces when confronted by religious fervor (read: the inability to see beyond indoctrination).  What is that?  I believe that it's your individual (and collective) comfort with having brains that can see the 'threads' of rational thought that wind through idiotic dogma, revealing that it is all based upon patently ridiculous assumptions (indoctrination).  All of you are naturally dismissive of the fallacy that underpins every religion and so you get exasperated in trying to explain, to not-so-clever folks, your insights into the fallacies they hold so close to their chests.  (e.g. 55% of Americans believe in 'guardian angels'; '07 Harris Poll -- coincidentally, on the IQ bell curve, most people just are of average to low cleverness.)

My point (which I know will dismiss as obvious, but bear with me), is that we all see other humans and their behaviour through our own filters, 'lenses' that are determined by our nature/genetics/brain chemicals and nurture/early indoctrination/experiences.  These lenses allow us, due to the limitations of any human brain, to only focus on just so many things/topics at any given time, 'filtering out' conflicting or problematic things that get in the way of what each of our individual brains most enjoy contemplating (another subject for a different debate -- our individual 'addictions' to what pleases our unique brains most.)

Very smart people ALL have that same expression when confronted by idiotic conviction about fallacies, be they old wives' tales, superstitions, conspiracy theories (the 'new religion' of youth), or religious stories.  It's a look of incredulity and exasperation.  But I have that look whenever I read about just one single conviction of yours: that the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is religiously motivated.  Sam, your roots are showing.  ;-)

I grew up in a largely Jewish neighbourhood in Toronto and had mostly Jewish kids as friends.  I listened to the fervor with which people with ZERO actual ties to a newly formed country supported this far-off nation.  Some of the boys wanted to go over and die to defend it!  (A point for another day -- many teenage boys regardless of family indoctrination would volunteer to die to defend the wizards, or the muggles, if given the chance.)  Religion, especially early indoctrination combined
with our instinct to self-identify with 'our people' has that power, Sam.  It has the power to cast a veil of blind conviction over even the smartest amongst us.  It has the power to generate what I call a 'red mist' (that spray of blood in the air that war combatants speak of in trying to unlock the roots of their PTSD and the murderous rage rooted in self-defense -- and defense of 'our people' -- that often occurs in the midst of battle) that makes rational thought difficult. 

I have a conviction having struggled to understand the human insight behind that look of incredulity and frustration I see so often on the faces of the truly brilliant, relatively rare people who walk among us (think of George Carlin's rage, or that of so many other superstar comedians -- ALL of whom have extraordinarily high IQs -- like Carlos Mencia, in their sketches about dealing with stupid people).  I believe that really smart people suffer from the same instinctual prejudice against others -- an irrational, gut-based, blind prejudice -- that stupid people feel towards people who are 'not of my religion'. 

So what?  Well, Sam, what if we find a common starting point, an Occam's Razor kind of agreement on where we can start thinking about any human conflict?  "No group of average human brains can come together to fight 'not-OUR-people' without some leader who can articulate a nationalist/religious doctrine, or 'manifesto,' for the group to 'gather round' and repeat endlessly in order to stir up the conviction that allows them to fight to the death against 'those other people'." Bear with me, Sam....

What does it take to be such a 'leader'?  I postulate that it takes a specific 'personality type' (a certain type of brain, if you will).  Who has the kind of resilient ego to push aside criticism, the energy to overcome repeated set-backs, sufficient creativity to come up with the right kind of story, the kind of lack of empathy required to advocate eradication of innocents from the arbitrary designation of "not-OUR-people"?  Not your average, run-of-the-mill individual.  To be a truly successful 'leader' of any band of religious zealots (or even average folks), or of any group trying to gain more wealth/power for themselves [thus primarily for their leader(s)] by stealing land/resources/women/slaves from "not-OUR-people" one requires a combination of several odd 'personality traits'. 

It turns out recent psychological research has revealed that what we used to think of as extremely rare individuals who are mass murderers are actually just on the extreme end of a 'spectrum' of psychopathy and that many individuals who are not quite that kooky walk among us every day.  They tend to be the egotistical types who end up becoming bosses (BAD bosses), successful entrepreneurs, lawyers, surgeons and, you guessed it, religious leaders.  The most successful among them transform into 'war lords' in developing/under-developed countries, or political leaders in developed nations. 

The one 'universal truth' about these 'leaders', Sam, is that, while they APPEAR to be very committed to their credo [be it religion-based, or nationalistic, or cultural (Hutus and Tutsis of Rwanda)], they really don't care about the 'springboard' that motivates their minions -- they merely require that tool to get what their brains demand of them: power, wealth, adoration.  They use blatant manipulation of the most vulnerable of human tendencies to get what they want.  They 'hide behind their cause' while never really caring what that cause is -- it is fluid and changes (see: Hitler), transmogrifying, to fit whatever will best motivate their followers to support them unconditionally.  Psychopaths seek out and empower sociopaths to be their lieutenants, who help recruit oddballs, who help swell the ranks to the point that average people feel comfortable to join 'the team' and fight to the death against 'not-OUR-people'.  

Sam, the mid-east conflict is NOT about religion and never has been, just as the opportunist 'war lords' (former mayors and apparatchiks like Putin) in Eastern Ukraine are NOT fighting to be Russian, they're fighting to make money and gain more property and power for themselves, their families and supporters.  It is about the powerful, low-empathy leaders staying in power and therefore having access to wealth.  They don't care, deeply, about their stated cause, they're in it for themselves and they don't care about who dies in the process -- not because they wake up and overcome their natural human empathy to order the killing of innocents in their nation's efforts to 'protect itself', but rather because they have never felt any empathy for others.  It is just the way they are.  And it there is anything that psychopathic personality types are good at, it is at convincing others that they are deeply and 'heartfeltedly' empathetic. 

Sam, if the conflict is not constantly 'fed' and instigated by the ongoing betrayal of the peace accords to stop one single thing, the 'settlement' of 'not-OUR-people's' land by religious zealots (read: following their psychopathic leaders -- the exact type to embrace and never let go of early indoctrination), then there is no reason for 'hawkish' leaders and their political parties/minions to stay in power with access to the wealth that comes with it.  And this is true on both sides of the supposed 'religious divide'.

Occam's Razor.  The most simple human motivations and tendencies drive all our human  conflict and have since the dawn of time: self-interest.  Without 'good governance' and majority-approved democratic rules and regulations to limit the ascendancy of psychopaths and sociopaths into positions of unlimited power, those individuals will do so, over and over again. 

Through 6-7 million years of living in nomadic tribes, human behaviour tended to be limited to 'good behaviour' by the democratic pressures of what was good for all the members of the tribe: keeping the babies/children safe and everyone well-fed and injury free.  The tribe (which anthropologists have identified consisted of a sustainable 12-26 members) expelled or killed the child-molestors and psychopaths. Suddenly, a few hundred thousand years ago the advent of tribe members living to grandparent-age vaulted our species into the age of knowledge-retention that allowed us to become sedentary in small villages.  That, in turn, allowed the real psychos, like Ghengis Khan and Alexander the Great, to take over and wreck havoc. 

This type of 'leader' is still with us, and they are ALL OVER THE PLACE, in businesses, in politics, in religion.  They need to be identified, their tendencies discussed and their upward mobility and 'power-collecting' limited.  Once our entire global tribe begins doing this (from their early appearance as schoolyard bullies, to their rise to Presidents and Prime Ministers) we will see peace on earth.  Simple.  ;-)

ADDENDUM:  I believe it is no coincidence that we continually see these 'offensives' by Israel begun at very opportune times.  Yes, the recent relative global peace period has driven up the arms industry's warehoused stockpiles to the point that both Hamas is getting them at a SUPER DISCOUNT, but then so is Israel.   The Israelis have standing annual orders for arms, so occasionally they have to clear out the old inventory -- a distressing but sadly practical truth.  What is most telling, however, is that Russia has ignited the conflict in Eastern Ukraine (and facilitated the headline-grabbing downing of MH17) to very successfully deflect global attention from its annexation of the ruling oligarchs' beach properties in Crimea (it was NOT about "historical Russian ethnicity") and Netanyahu once again chose a global distraction as an opportunity to launch an offensive.

Ironically 'Ben the Bomber' (he bombed the power station near the condo I was living in during my year in Beirut during the final days before he had to give up power back in 1999 because he had "promised his principal supporters he would attack Lebanon during this term in office") claims Israel won't stop until the Palestinians in the Gaza strip stop intruding on Israel's territory with illegal tunnels under the border -- but the primary reason that the Palestinian's continue tunneling and sending rockets is that the Israelis continue to build access roads to illegal 'settlement' incursions upon Palestinian territory.  The former won't stop until the latter does, and so the happy profit-making of selling and setting off bombs/rockets and military equipment continues forever!  Yay!  (Invest in the arms business...All of the 1% do!)

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