There are many among us who are puzzled by the suicidal actions of Muslim terrorists. How and why are they doing this? What really is their motive? None of these questions can be answered with the standard pabulum about terrorism seeking to destabilize the West. Terrorism begins with one individual and spreads like a disease to others. Howard Bloom describes this disease eloquently in his book, The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History. Bloom describes social units in terms of group minds with appetites that he refers to as “superorganisms.” Human beings become part of belief systems that function as larger wholes even though the individuals within such superorganisms think they are acting independently. Think of any mob scene in America and you will get some idea of the group mind that superorganisms generate. The whole “us versus them” mentality that generates the team dynamics of armies, churches, gangs, political parties and sports events are woven from the cloth of group mind. We like to think of ourselves as individuals who are above the crowd, but the reality is that most of us are more part of a crowd or a group mentality than we will admit. If a being like Lucifer were to exist wouldn’t the energy generated by group dynamics be something like his dinner bell?
In order to understand the mechanics of group mind, we must understand the dynamics of belief and belonging. Quite simply put, it is possible to believe in falsehood, and participation in group mind absolves us of the obligation to determine truth or falsity. Group (think tribal) mind will decide that for you. The lynch mob is a classic example of this. The mob moves and decides as one. There is no need to think, only to act. The mob mentality of the extremists who flew passenger airplanes into the Twin Towers may have been fueled by the slimy belief that their actions would take them to Paradise, but the only place they could possibly go, if indeed there is such a place, is hell.
On the individual level, truth and falsehood can also be obscured by feelings masquerading as truth. I am reminded of the Chinese proverb about the peasant who just “knew” his neighbor Wang had stolen his chickens. Based on this “knowledge” he took a meat cleaver to Wang’s head and administered justice on the spot. A week later another neighbor was found to have stolen his chickens. You can imagine how our peasant must have felt when he discovered his error. We have all had this experience when we “knew” beyond a shadow of a doubt that so and so committed an injustice against us. The reality is that we don’t always know at all. We have the knowledge that Plato referred to as opinion. Opinion is provisional knowledge that requires proof and rational interrogation of its premises before it can be certified as actually existing, as other than a feeling or fleeting idea masquerading as something entirely solid.
All too often these days in America, opinion is taken to mean that my belief is as good or equally true as anyone else’s. This is simply not so. Some opinions are true and some are manifestly false. If a cannibal, for example, says that cannibalism is good, it may be thought of subjectively as being good for him, but it is manifestly not good for the person being eaten. It cannot simultaneously be thought of objectively and universally as being good simply because the cannibal finds it to be so. The subjectivity of the cannibal would normally be rejected by the common sense of Western culture as repugnant. It is not possible for something to be true and false at the same time, unless you invoke the apparent contradictions of modern physics. But even then, the variation of this equivocation between truth and falsity known as “it depends” tends to skirt the issue. The substitution of many variables should never obscure the fundamental reality that all effects have causes and that effects differ one from the other in quality and number. It is not true to say, for instance, that two plus two equals three—no matter what system of non-Euclidean thinking is invoked. It is likewise of paramount importance that we repeal the notion that all beliefs are equivalent in value. Our political system is not equivalent in value to the beliefs of Muslim fanatics or any other fanatic for that matter. Indeed, the contrary can be argued, i.e., that the belief systems of religious fanatics or the similar beliefs of eco-fascists who wish to blow up dams to watch water run wild are in fact demonstrably inferior to those who seek to rise above the subjectivity of their own opinions and feelings.
We see the practical insanity of the notion that all beliefs and cultures are equal in the pinched and grotesque moral posturing of “correspondents” such as Forrest Sawyer. The idea of racially profiling Arab travelers as being potential terrorists is apparently too much for Mr. Sawyer to bear. He once repeatedly pushed Chris Matthews of “Hardball” TV fame to admit that he was in favor of racial profiling—as if Chris Matthews were some sort of moral leper for even thinking such a thing. Clearly the terrorists in all of the hijackings were not white, black or oriental, so why on earth wouldn’t you racially profile any Arab traveler? For the small inconvenience of being questioned, thousands of lives might be saved. One gets the impression from Mr. Sawyer that such an inconvenience represents the ultimate horror, the ultimate violation of civil rights. One suspects that the horror of racial profiling that many people seem to express stems from a deeper fear. What might this be? The answer is relatively simple. Profiling is based on common sense and one of the singular requirements that an amoral or unprincipled legal system feeds upon is the abandonment of common sense. The obvious is never to be entertained. AIDS, for example, is not a disease that arises primarily in the homosexual community—it is everyone’s disease and once it is everyone’s disease, no one can be held accountable for behavior that might spread the disease. Young black and Hispanic men are not arrested in disproportionate numbers because they commit more crimes but because we have a racially prejudiced police system. Public schools do not turn out inferior students because the schools’ unions have few moral and intellectual standards but because of lack of money or computers, or America’s favorite red herring: racism, the one size, fits all source of every problem. There are a million problems with causes, but none of them, it seems, are the responsibility of the individual. This is the mentality that leads to the inanity of old ladies having their nail clippers confiscated at airports, and toddlers having their shoes examined for explosives. We are all responsible for all acts—in fact, we must have bombed ourselves on September 11, not a group of Arab psychopaths.
Associated with the problem of group mind is another insidious problem at work in America: the unhitching of cause and effect in the business and legal world. Let me furnish a pertinent and timely example. After the wave of hijackings in the seventies, airlines were required by the FAA to provide funds for security at airports. Security companies came along and offered to solve the airlines’ problem for them. For a set fee, security companies would handle all security matters for the airlines at airports. Now how do security companies make money? They take the set fee that they get, and
their profit consists of whatever is left over after paying security personnel. What is the inevitable financial direction that will be taken here in terms of quality personnel? The cheaper the better, i.e., the less the security companies have to pay employees, the more profit they make. There is inexorable pressure to cut costs and increase profits. The equally inexorable result is inferior security. By some accounts, security personnel receive less training, and in some instances, less income than fast food workers. Notice how the original purpose of security has devolved into simple profit taking with horrible consequences.
Who should be responsible for security at our airports? Is it the airlines, the security companies or the Federal government? No doubt legions of lawyers and lawsuits will be required to answer this question in the years ahead but the one thing that will be certain is that the airlines will argue that security is the responsibility of security firms, and the security firms will argue that the ultimate responsibility resides with the airlines that hired them. Note the disconnect between cause and effect. The coming legal argument on the part of the airlines might be summarized as follows: because we hired you to do a certain job and you promised to do it, we are no longer responsible. The security companies will argue that because you hired us, you are ultimately responsible for the results. This dance is of course being conducted to avoid paying for lawsuits relating to 9/11, or any other terrorist events coming our way. It is precisely for this reason that the Bush administration correctly federalized airport security. You simply cannot have good security within a system that consistently waters down or deflects responsibility onto multiple parties. Federalization of airport security personnel may not be the ideal solution but it is one that creates clear lines of responsibility within a legal system that systematically blurs the lines between cause and effect.
The classic expression of causal disconnect, “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing” is the bane of our country’s present financial and moral life. Anyone accused of a white collar crime, for example, can refer to his or her attorney, or accountant under police questioning and say for all practical purposes that the question can only be answered by their accountant or attorney, as if their actions suddenly became the property of someone else or a ghost with actions distinct from themselves. I am reminded of trials conducted by defendants who will ask those whom they shot or maimed to identify the “attacker” as if they themselves were somehow not involved —indeed hoping to confuse the jury with such nonsense. We also see this disgraceful attempt to disconnect cause from effect at work in recent corporate scandals. One Enron official was so well schooled in this technique that when asked if he was an American citizen, he took the Fifth Amendment—as if such an admission would link him necessarily to the criminal actions he was apparently seeking to decouple himself from. I refer to this legal weirdness as the “ghosting of causality” with attorneys seemingly degenerating into a priesthood of criminal shamans whose sole purpose is to collect fees for disengaging actions from individuals by totemically ghosting them onto causes such as environment, heredity, or vague social processes that are documented with reams of legal gibberish. This sort of contorted sophistry is a blatant violation of legal counsel that is constitutionally designed to protect the individual from injustice. The protection of individuals against injustice should never be confused with the further injustice of never administering justice or so watering it down that it becomes meaningless.
I keep hearing in my mind, the refrain of what was, even in the late sixties, an unusual song by the band, Quicksilver Messenger Service. Who knows what they might have been smoking or what vision gave birth to these lines but I find them hauntingly appropriate for our present condition.
He will cause your towers to fall
And make of you a pyre of flame
Oh God, Pride of man
Broken in the dust again
One thing is sure. Group mind requires the absence of cause and effect. It cannot function in a creative atmosphere of individual reflection, consideration and disciplined problem solving. We need to get back to business and disengage the group minds of extremists on all sides, which are indirectly blaring from every TV screen in America. I can’t think of any better solution than for everyone who has the means to take a vacation, and should the terrible occasion arise where men with knives seek to hijack our preferred mode of transportation, then we should invoke our own group mind, rise up as one, and rend them from limb to limb.
About Sean O’Reilly:
Sean Joseph O’Reilly is the editor of many award-winning travel books, including The Road Within, Testosterone Planet, The Ultimate Journey, Pilgrimage, and The Spiritual Gifts of Travel. An active member of the Society of American Travel Writers, he is also the author of the shocking and controversial new book How to Manage Your DICK: Redirect Sexual Energy and Discover Your More Spiritually Enlightened, Evolved Self. He lives with his wife, Brenda, and their six children in Arizona.