instruments of their own destruction : ISIS and the paradox of civilization

—- —- —- —-

In seeking to divide the world between people who like life and those who like death, the death cult known as ISIS has united the world, not divided it.

This is paradox — a nerve of life we cannot do without. The co-existence of good and evil, injustice and justice, is what generates commitment to do right. Augustine was perhaps the first Western Civilization thinker to see the point; he made it his theme and the structure of his prose, and if you want to understand how paradox drives life, you should turn to his Confessions and read it, as vivid as a drama, in full cry.

Paradox creates civilization as we know it. Those who seek an outcome often bring about an opposite result, one that almost everybody wants but which, without the acts of those who opposed it forcing the matter, probably would not have happened at all. Vested interests prevent transformative outcomes. Those who seek to change the situations over which vested interests exercise dominance, and who use persuasion to do so, most often taste defeat. then comes an unreasonable, or even violent event or series of events, and vested interests are swept away.

Thus ISIS has united nations once enemies — Russia and France, America and Iran, Turkey and Great Britain — in struggle to defeat it. By unify I do not men alliance; the many nations and people now working to end ISIS have their own outcomes in mind and mostly are going about the mission on their own dime. Still, the opposition to ISIS encircles. Coming at ISIS from many directions may even be more lethal to it than a alliance.

Within the Muslim communities, also, whereof ISIS has arisen by revelation, an enormous confrontation is swelling : the overwhelming majority are telling the radicals, “not in my name.” How could it not be thus ? It is one thing to be ready to die, another to die in the act of killing people.  Few of us go that route; such revelations do not come to us, fortunately, and if they do, they usually come as happened to Saul of Tarsus : a revelation to cease persecution and travel the road of good news.

The road of good news is almost part of our genes; how could it not be ? Whatever life may be, the breath of it strikes almost all of us as good, as a miracle, as a treasure to protect and enhance; and when Rabbi Hillel famously told the Torah student that “whatever is hurtful to you, do not do to your fellow man, the rest is commentary,” his saying struck consciences with truth sufficient to keep his words alive and quoted even 2000 plus years later. Often it strikes some that the road of good news is a deception, that those who profess it mean good only to their own nation or community; and because life is almost always tough even for those who believe in it — Thoreau had it right when he said that “most people live lives of quiet desperation” — for those who despair of life, the route of death seems tasty. At least in death there is a decision. The desperate are often advised to wait, wait, wait; until it becomes a mockery. In death there’s no more mocking. Yet most people prefer to wait, if need be, and to seek a better day in which their olives can be glorified; maybe even happy.

In the meantime, during the years of waiting and struggle people fall out and divide against each other; this we know from reading history and from observing our own day. Easily enough we dislike those we differ from, even to “unfriended” them on facebook or block them on twitter. These blockages cut deep (don’t I know it !). Then along come the  killers of ISIS, and suddenly all that had divided us from each other no longer matters.

For bringing us together; for making us whole again; for reminding us how sacred to us is the life we have been accorded by grace, we thank the killers of ISIS. Pursuing death, they ennoble life. The empire of paradox reigns still, powerful to rescue and revive our civilization.

The more heinous the evil, the more restorative the good that arises in opposition to it.

And this shall always be our destiny as a civilization.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s