Observations

Slouching Toward Bethlehem


I am not the sharpest tool in the shed. I don’t claim to be; I am without doubt confused by the attitudes and beliefs that pass for wisdom in modern American society.

I am also confused by the behavior of chimpanzees in the zoo – I have sympathy for their plight, but I didn’t incarcerate the little darlings, and I don’t want to be there any more than they do. They have the misfortune of being slower and dumber than the other chimps, and I have the misfortune of not really liking the zoo. Among other behavioral differences, however, is the fact that I don’t throw excrement at them, and I don’t stare at their mates with evil intent.  It’s just rude, and it makes the gap between our species needlessly wider.  Certainly not all chimps are obnoxious, but these few that are make life more difficult for the vast majority who aren’t.

If I were standing outside a chimp cage at the zoo and I caught a handful of some foul substance in the face, I doubt my first thought would be, “it must be raining chimp feces – how odd.”

No, I’d probably think, “one of those darling monkeys threw a handful of whatever at me” – not because I have a beef with monkeys and I want to see their species suffer, but simply because that’s how monkeys roll, and given my location and their predispositions, it would be foolish to blame the ibexes or the wallabys. And yes, I know monkeys and chimpanzees are different. You’re missing the point.

People are blowing things up again and driving large trucks through crowds with the intent of causing as much death and mayhem as possible. When people behave this way, there is usually no point in pondering the reasons.

“I wonder what his motivation was? Is this an act of terrorism, or just severe misbehavior caused by the alienating influence of modern culture? Perhaps he was just traumatized by not feeling like he was welcome to set off bombs in public places. After all, everyone must be free to express their inner rage at the oppression of modern life.”

We certainly can’t try to identify people who might be predisposed to commit these acts based on their past behaviors and actions – what if we found that there were more than just behavioral similarities between people who like to blow the arms and legs off of other people? What if they had a common set of experiences that formed their current attitudes and drove their actions? Perish the thought, but what if they had a common cultural background, or even…do I dare say it? What if they came from a common geographic location, or were influenced by a common belief system? What if none of these factors is important? Instead, what if what really mattered was identifying people who were likely to perpetrate acts of violence?

Not all chimpanzees are obnoxious. However, if you’re standing in front of the chimpanzee cage at the zoo and you catch a surprise in the face, it might make sense to remember that chimps like to throw certain things, that the chimps in this cage had the means, motive, and opportunity, and that the last time you found yourself picking foulness out of your hair, one of the little darlings in this very cage was laughing and giving you the chimp finger. And it wasn’t the ibexes, the wallabys, the bus full of nuns that just showed up at the zoo, or the fast, smart chimps who were not captured. It was probably one of these depraved, caged reprobates right in front of you. It may not actually be the way circumstances unfolded this time, but it usually shortens the search and it’s the way to bet.

Behavioral profiling and racial/cultural/ethnic profiling are not the same thing. One is a solid, well respected technique for identifying a subset of people who exhibit behavioral characteristics that make them more likely to engage in specific criminal actions, and the other is arguably prejudicial, racist, and bigoted. What happens if both techniques identify the same group of people, though? Do we disregard the benefits of behavioral profiling to avoid the appearance of bigotry?  How many lives is it worth? How many faces, eyes, arms, and legs? How many mothers, fathers, sons and daughters?

The decisions we make about our perceptions of the world have a far-reaching effect. Our adversaries are resourceful, committed to their cause, and completely sure they are right. Many of us, on the other hand, have consciously and unconsciously become so politically correct in our actions and thoughts that we cannot bear the thought of challenging those who would take our lives and liberty without a second thought.

History repeats itself.  After World War I, the world was tired of vigilance, weary of conflict. An entire generation, traumatized by the horrors of war, never fully recovered.  This “Lost Generation,” disgusted by the perceived excesses of nationalism, turned to pacifism, nihilism, cynicism, and profound disillusionment.  Socialism and communism flourished in this social environment, and arguably resulted in the rise of fascism in Europe in the years before World War II.

The more onerous elements in the Treaty of Versailles, which included a public national acceptance of guilt by Germany for World War I, coupled with a strong desire to rebuild national identity and repair national pride and a social and political environment characterized by shame, resentment, and anger, eventually led to the rise of National Socialism in Germany, under the iron fist of Adolf Hitler.

The dissolution of a world power.  Fragmentation of a coercive hegemony into a freer but more chaotic group of nations struggling to chart their own path forward.  The opportunistic maneuvering of the formerly powerless, with imperialism and world domination as the primary goal.  Rootless populations searching in vain for a voice in the wilderness that will tell them they have a purpose, and promising a return to the days of power and national identity. An emerging leader with no dedication to higher principles, ruthless in his pursuit of world domination and reconstitution of past glory and power. All taking place while the watchers are not watching, but instead play at appeasement, false pacifism and globalism. Does this sound familiar? It should – it has happened before, and it is happening again.

Hopefully it’s not too late, and the world is not experiencing a reconstitution of the Soviet Union, with a looming threat of strategic nuclear war overlaying the daily threat of terrorist action in the bus stations, subways and streets of every country on the planet.

Shame on us if that happens, on the altar of political correctness and through our lack of desire to see the truth.  We may not be able to prevent the apocalypse, but we certainly cannot if we refuse to see the threat.

We’ve been whistling past the graveyard for far too long.  Evil is not just an undefined, supernatural concept – it is born in the basement torture rooms of the KGB, flourishes in the chemical weapons factories of Syria, and reaches maturity in the nuclear weapons laboratories of North Korea.

I grew up under the threat of nuclear annihilation.  I vividly remember participating in duck and cover exercises in my first-grade classroom. I served my entire military career during the Cold War, and I remember expecting “the balloon to go up” during events that will never be public knowledge. I don’t want to go back to those days.  I don’t want to think that the sacrifices we made (and are still making) to clear away some of the darkness were in vain.

I want to know that the world my children and their children will have will be better, safer, and more humane than the one I had.  My world was better than my father’s in many ways.  It breaks my heart to think that the world I leave my children, for the first time since the beginning of the Dark Ages, may be less safe, less evolved, less humane.

Shame on us if that happens.

One thought on “Slouching Toward Bethlehem

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