By Stephen J. Johnson, Ph.D.
The news these days is laden with the escalating war against terrorism and the random acts of violence that are becoming so prevalent. It’s alarming, in modern times, that factions of our world are still very much in the throes of unconscionable acts of cruelty and inhumanity that demonstrate shockingly insensitive behaviors lacking an understanding, empathy and tolerance for others. It appears that those who violently resist modernity are locked and loaded in the primeval values of a time in history that has not advanced. But are the answers to what’s ailing the world to be found in the questions that plague the modern world?
The assassinations of the Charlie Hebdo staff members and policemen followed by the hostage take over in a market, leaving a total of 17 innocent people dead in Paris, rocked the civilized world. Most recently, the ISIS generated attacks on Paris leaving 129 innocent people dead and over 350 injured, followed by mass anti terrorist raids throughout France and Belgium left in its wake an even more sobering reminder for many that the post 9/11 world is a frightening and dangerous place to live. We are forced once again to come to grips with the unimaginable brutality that some inflict on others.
The question on the minds of many now is whether our lives will continue to be what we desire for ourselves, our children and our children’s offspring. The norm for a long time has been that the turbulence, strife and upheaval existing on a daily basis takes place in uncivilized and remote parts of the world. Since World War II, the lives of people residing in the free world have remained relatively unscathed. We have enjoyed our liberties, including freedom of expression, the ability to travel when and where we want to go safely, and all of the other benefits that are protected by residing in a democracy.
In a post 9/11 world, it has become evident that there is a new normal. We have crossed over into an era in which the genie is out of the bottle, perhaps never to be put back? Many are worried about whether we are now doomed to endure a world that has become more and more divided between disparate ideologies driven by divergent beliefs? We are now forced to take more seriously the threats imposed by those whose beliefs discriminate between who is a believer or an infidel, and who deserves to live and who should die. Extremist death cults have existed for centuries and are once again fomenting their evil upon innocent victims. Who is our enemy? Apparently the answer to that question is no longer relegated to national disputes over territorial imperatives. Yes, land grabs still take place but a nation’s misgivings about its neighbors over political disputes has seemingly given way to a much larger schema in which a radicalized group’s beliefs concerning ideology and perverted notions regarding “God-directed dogma” determines who should live and who should be punished or even perish.
The purveyors of hate are typically young. They feel shunned by the normal ones, those that live by society’s rules and travel within the circles that promulgate wider acceptance and expansive opportunities for personal advancement in the civilized world.
These are the disconnected youth, the disenfranchised, the misfits, the one’s who are discontented from their families and society. They feel that they are the forgotten ones so they turn to a surrogate family that will recognize them, embrace their passion and welcome them with open arms. They turn to drugs and alcohol and to various acts of conduct disorder and crime to avenge their anguish and rage at having been left behind. They seek attention on the world stage to requite their feelings of invisibility.
It is evident that males are deemed to be the main culprits. The central cause of worldwide mayhem, including the vast arrays of domestic crime including abuses toward women, children and others who are targeted as not worthy of consideration and nonviolent communication, always seems to have something to do with the male homo-sapiens of the world. However, increasingly there are troubled females who are displaying the misguided motivation to join the instigators who are hellbent on creating mayhem in the world. I’ve heard it said that the girls who desire to connect with the leaders of Islamic extremism wish to become the brides of those who refer to themselves as Jihadist Princes. In so doing it would put them on the world stage and vindicate their need to seek the recognition and prominence that has been previously unrequited in their lives.
Whether it’s a street gang in the greater Los Angeles neighborhood or a terrorist organization in a remote land, these young people are searching for acceptance and a sense of personal importance. They tend to seek a cause, a mindset based on an ideology to take a stand for, to go to battle for, and even to die for. But why are so many young people with long lives ahead of them willing to give up their lives?
We walk a thin line between the ruling forces of Eros, the life urge, and Thanatos, the death urge. The mission of Eros is to keep us alive and in maintenance of perfect, radiant and dynamic health. On the other hand, the mission of Thanatos is to take us out, compromising the quality and longevity of our vitality and eventually ending our life in one manner or another. As long as we’re alive, our life urge is intact and doing what it is supposed to do. As long as we strengthen our life urge and weaken our death urge we will continue to live in good health with longevity.
However, the death urge is alive and well throughout the world. It’s face has two genders, many shades of color and lives in the shadows. Given the terms that the terrorists are ruled by, an agenda to bring about “the end times” and to inflict as much misery as possible along the way, the culture of death is unrelenting in transacting its Paradigm of Perversity. It feeds off of the pain that the angry ones feel. It survives on the anguish and desperation of the lost boys and misguided girls, our disconnected youth, throughout the world. The death cults’ mission is to annihilate. It’s ultimately to bring about an end to civilization through terminating life on a mass scale. It’s mission is to vindicate the misgivings of those who are perceived as “disbelievers and wrongdoers” while perpetrating heinous acts of terrorism and abject cruelty upon them.
But is this the real enemy? Is it possible that the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots, the remembered and the forgotten, those that are included and those that are the outcasts, is the cause? Ideologies, philosophies and religious beliefs have never been reconciled through quarrels and wars. Yes, they can be debated but history bears out that acts of war and terrorism will never ultimately resolve them.
My colleague, Dr. Jed Diamond, in his article, The Hidden Causes of the Paris Killings And What We Can Do to Prevent Future Violence, urges that, “We need to address the anger growing in the hearts and minds of young males and we need to address the fear in the general population. Fear and rage only bring about more fear and rage. Love and understanding are the hope for the future.”
Jed goes on to say, “We also need to address the increasing levels of depression and suicide that are being experienced by people all over the world, particularly young males. A recent article in the NY Times asked, ‘Is the World More Depressed?’ and concluded that it is. We know the suicide rate for males is much higher than it is for females and young men and older men seem to be at higher risk.”
Jed concludes, “Certainly we need to deal with fanatical elements in the world, including groups like ISIS…But we also have to recognize that, for many, living in our modern world has become a source of pain and despair.”
What can be done to correct this before it’s too late? It may be tempting, in the midst of all of what’s occurring these days, to overlook the fact that there are also good men who go above and beyond the call of duty to take bold actions to do what they can to correct and fix the problems. Let us not forget the courageous people, men and women on the front lines, exercising the intention to do what they can to make the world a safer and better place for all to live.
It begins at home. Before we set off to clean up some other area of the world, we should go home and clean our kitchen. Our work does begin at home. It exists under our own roofs, within our own families, within our own neighborhoods and in our community at large.
The work of the Men’s Center Los Angeles for the past 29 years has been devoted to bringing out the best in good men and in turn they have brought out the best in each other. Lives have been saved, relationships have been stabilized and families are thriving. In turn, the giveback to the community has been demonstrated through the results that have emerged from the Sacred Path Men’s Retreats and our Call to Adventure Rites of Passage Retreats. There are thousands of good men who have passed through the portals of the Men’s Center Los Angeles. They have joined the rank and file of those that are doing what they can to make a positive difference in the world.
We have never turned anyone away from our programs. If someone from any walk of life has wanted to join us we have made it possible. It’s through the generous efforts of those who care that we have been able to fund our scholarship program. This has allowed those, who could be considered the disenfranchised, to find a home within the Sacred Path family. We have several examples of lives that have been touched in ways that have made the difference that evidences that instead of fear, there is faith, instead of rejection there is acceptance, and where there is the spirit of understanding, compassion can flourish, so that instead of hate, there is love.
“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.