Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fear not, citizens! The barbarians are at the gate.

Although the Zombie Apocalypse may very well be upon us, I would like to focus instead on the far less interesting topic of fractious racial, religious and political groups, and their influence on the globalizing force of modern Western civilization.

The current state of globalized communication and trade has been resisted at every stage by cultures that were afraid of losing their individual identities in the all-encompassing march of progress. In his 1992 article in The Atlantic, Jihad vs. McWorld, Benjamin R. Barber does a good job of putting this ancient struggle in modern terms, though I do think he makes the common fundamental error of characterizing the tribalistic struggles of Islam as a force opposed to globalization.

In my post, The Tragedy of Mohammed, I assert that the primary goal of Mohammed himself was an end to tribalism, though I concede that, as religions are wont to do, Islam has probably created more tribalism than it has vanquished.

But all evangelizing religions are seeking globalism, and Islam is no exception. It is the defining characteristic of evangelizing faiths to convert everyone else on the planet to their religion, be it by the pen, the sword, or a thousand daily wars of attrition.

The idea of Islam as an intended globalizing force is particularly terrifying in light of the grizzly public executions perpetrated by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) against innocent emissaries of peace such as journalists and humanitarian aid workers.

I mean, these people are barbarians!

I'm assuming that I don't have to argue that these terrorists are barbarians, so I'll jump right to discussing what barbarians are and what they actually do.

Although the cultural wounds inflicted by the barbarian hoards of antiquity have left painful scars on our collective memory, barbarians are not necessarily harbingers of the apocalypse. In his 2001 book, Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, Robert Wright very credibly establishes that the great "falls" of civilizations were really not falls at all, hence the consistent forward march of culture and technology that has lead us to the all-time pinnacle of civilization where we now find ourselves precariously perched. Wright maintains that 1) only top-heavy states that are stagnating are susceptible to being completely overrun by less advanced cultures, and 2) although the barbarians' battle cry is for the destruction of the civilization they are seeking to overthrow, once they take power, they find themselves rather fond of the finer things in life like clean water, textiles, taxes, and most of all... peace.

So, perhaps think of barbarians as the wrecking crew that tears down dilapidated structures to clear the way for new developments.

The alternative is the long-held widely accepted belief that every civilization that rises inevitably falls, and that humanity as a whole is stuck in an endless loop of creation and destruction, much like a caged mouse running in its wheel.

I find it personally more comforting to see creation and destruction in the Eastern sense; as two sides of the same coin; the beautiful eternal dance that is life itself.

And while I can see that the actions of the modern-day barbarians are terrifying and evil; we must take heart in knowing that the end of a life is not the not end of life itself, and the end of a civilization is not the end of civilization itself.

Or, in FDR's words, more relevant than ever in this modern age of terror, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."