Yesterday’s horrific events in Paris serve to remind us that as much progress as we’ve made in enhancing civilization we have remained as violent and barbaric as we were generations ago.
One can easily conclude that the principal difference between what we observed yesterday and what the history books report can be easily summed up by saying we have simply become better and more sophisticated in our killing and that our advancements in knowledge and technology have served to allow us to do so in greater numbers and with grander efficiency and ease.
Undoubtedly the government of France through its intelligence services, military and law enforcement agencies will strike back hard at those responsible for these senseless massacres.
There is a sad irony in the way in which we respond to appalling acts of terror. We use these acts to justify vicious retaliation which in turn seems to lend equivalent justification to the recipients of our retaliation, spurring them on to new acts of violence.
Over the course of my life I have watched countries in the Middle East repeatedly go to war against each other and yet after decades of launching attack after attack in response to, and in retaliation for, other attacks these parties involved are no closer to resolving anything than they have ever been before.
I am no pacifist and certainly believe that crimes such as witnessed yesterday in Paris cannot go unpunished. I believe those responsible must be shown the same levels of mercy and suffer the same fate as their victims.
I also believe that there has to be a better way of dealing with conflict.
By attacking our perceived enemies and thereby providing them the justification for attacking us does nothing more than create a never-ending loop of violence that, as we have sadly witnessed, is passed from one generation to the next.
Martin Buber, an Austrian-born Israeli philosopher wrote extensively of what he called his I-thou and I-it philosophy.
He posited that there are two ways in which we see others: we see them as people (I-Thou) or we see them as objects (I-It) and he argued that in every moment we are seeing others either as people or objects.
Essentially what he was saying is that by seeing people either as objects, we often view them through the lens of anger, derision, criticism, hatred.
We use the differences between us as validation for our viewpoints., We lump others together and give them tribal names: Arabs, Jews, Christians, Muslims, etc., and in so doing we depersonalize them and by not viewing them as people it is easy to see them as our enemies.
When we see people as others we exaggerate the differences between us. We see little in common with them and easily rationalize feelings towards them which then allow us to justify any and all actions we take against them.
We have been doing this since the dawn of time and if the entire human race was to appear as a guest on the Dr. Phil show he would famously ask, “How is this working for you?”
With a body count which, over the centuries, numbers in the hundreds of millions it is clear that this is not working and as long as we continue to operate from an I – It perspective the bombs will keep dropping, the snipers will keep sniping, the planes will keep blowing up in midair and the trains will explode on the ground.
We will continue to pass, as their inheritance, this legacy of force justifying force to our children and their children until one day there will be no more children.
Minds far sharper than mine have spent decades focusing on solutions to no avail.
Not for a moment do I claim to have any answers to these enormous challenges.
What I do believe is that until the day comes for us to revisit the I – Thou philosophy in which we view all humans as humans like us, with the same wants and desires, the same fears and concerns, the same anxieties and neuroses, the same dreams and aspirations, the only industries that will benefits from today’s status quo are those that manufacture instruments of death and those that produce body bags in which to dump the remains.
Perhaps none of us are able to influence these big events in the world but each of us can take steps in our lives to look at those with whom we have conflict through an I – Thou lens.
Maybe, just maybe, when we see them as people and not as objects, and when we shrink down our differences and seek to broaden our commonalities, we can begin to chip away at the self-justifying anger and hatred that has robbed so many of their lives.
Until then the bullets will keep flying, the bombs will keep dropping and our hopes for peaceful co-existence will remain as illusive as they are today.
Till we read again.