Sunday, November 22, 2015

Marco Rubio’s new ad unwittingly illustrates what I just wrote

I never thought in a million years that I’d post a Marco Rubio ad on this blog — but what he says in this one, released on Sunday, is such an impeccable depiction of what I just wrote about in my last post that I simply can’t resist. (Sorry, I’m fully aware that this is one of those “see, I was right” posts, but indulge my narcissism for just a moment if you could, please.)

Rubio begins: “This is a civilizational struggle — between the values of freedom and liberty, and radical Islamic terror. What happened in Paris could happen here; there is no middle ground…”

And ends: “Either they win — or we do.”

And here’s what I wrote in my post from last week:
There’s a psychological term for this; it’s called splitting. I’ve mentioned it before on this blog. Splitting is a defense mechanism that involves just that: splitting people, ideas, and things into all good or all bad characterizations. Splitting is used as a shield against anxiety or fear that comes from complexity or ambiguity — in this case, mainly the reality that no one people group is entirely virtuous or evil. Like humanity itself, they are a messy mix of both. (Even ISIS itself, it can be argued, consists of desperate and hopeless human beings who weren’t born evil but have chosen to do horrific things.)

But in the wake of a tragedy like the Paris terrorist attacks, itself an extreme event, society tends to be driven to extremism: If you’re like us, you’re absolutely good; if you’re like them, you’re absolutely bad.
There is no middle ground — right, Marco?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The terrorists’ most potent weapons: Fear, prejudice, and splitting

Pleased to see my state of residence shaded green here. Saddened to see multiple states I hold dear that are not.
Source: Tucker FitzGerald
In the accounts I’ve read of the massacre at the Paris concert venue last Friday night, some of the interviewed survivors reported that the attackers stated during the bloodbath that “this is because of France’s involvement in Iraq and Syria.”

Of course, there’s no way to know for certain whether the perpetrators actually said those words as they slaughtered close to 100 people. Either way, it stuck with me mainly because there’s little doubt that this was at least part of the motive behind the worst terrorist act to hit French soil since World War II.

In essence, the attackers equated innocent, unwitting concertgoers — many of whom might not have even been French, for all they knew — with the French political policies they so despise that drove them to commit mass murder.

Tragically, a variation of the same thing is happening right here in the United States — the land of the free that is supposed to be a haven for “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Sunday, November 15, 2015

France’s tragedy: Violence against one is violence against all

On Friday, November 13, the same day that terrorists attacked multiple public venues in Paris with assault weapons and suicide bombings, Politico published the most detailed, chilling account yet of the various warnings that the Bush administration ignored back in 2001 in the months leading up to the horrific attacks of 9/11.

The article, which also highlights how the United States has fought terrorist threats in the years since, can now almost read like a sick foreshadowing of the news the world would hear later that night of Parisian restaurant patrons being gunned down while enjoying happy hour or concertgoers being massacred as though on a battlefield. This segment in particular now bears more significance than its author could possibly have envisioned when writing it (bolding mine):
Who’s winning? The CIA — or radical Islam? “The big picture,” says Morell, the two-time acting director, “is a great victory for us and a great victory for them. Our great victory has been the degradation, decimation, near-defeat of the Al Qaeda core that brought tragedy to our shores on 9/11. But their great victory has been the spread of their ideology across a huge geographic area. What we haven’t done a good job of is stopping new terrorists from being created. And until we get our arms around that, this war is not going away.”

“You can’t kill your way out of this,” says Tenet. “It’s not sustainable. The message to Islam itself is they have to create vibrant civil societies that work, that create educational opportunities. But this is something they have to do for themselves.” Panetta agrees that the roots of terrorism must be dealt with: “You’ve got to address what it is that produces this frustration and this anger. It is almost Mission Impossible because, for God’s sake, we’re still trying to figure out how the hell the Baltimores of the world happen; how the hell the Detroits of the world happen; why there are people that are attracted to gangs in this country.”

Until we do, Panetta concludes, “we may have to use these kinds of weapons, but in the end, let me tell you something: if we fail to do this and, God forbid, this country faces another 9/11, you know what the first question will be: ‘Why the hell did you let this happen? Why the hell did you let this happen?’”

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Peru’s Sacred Valley: A place of mystique

June 2013: On my first trip to South America with my dad and my cousin, we visited the Sacred Valley of Peru, a vibrant area of land wedged deep in the Andes between Cusco and the ancient city of Machu Picchu. This image is from Moray, an archeological site at 11,500 feet above sea level featuring circular Incan agricultural terraces whose precise purpose is unknown. One theory is that the terraces were used to study how climatic conditions affect crops, given the huge temperature difference between the top and bottom levels.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Four reasons American democracy is fundamentally broken

Just like last year at this time, last week’s elections across the country yielded some fairly horrifying results.

In Kentucky, voters elected a Tea Party Republican governor who has pledged to wipe out the health care coverage of hundreds of thousands of that state’s poorest residents.

And in Houston, voters rejected an ordinance that would have banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, incredibly buying into the vicious lie that the law would have given male sexual predators license to dress up as women and enter women’s restrooms.

American democracy is broken. Most people aren’t voting regularly, and those who do often vote for terrible things and terrible people.

How can we make sense of this? Here are my thoughts.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Living as one who tries too hard to avoid conflict

I’m terrified of conflict. In fact, for most of my life, I’ve done just about anything to avoid it. I’d much sooner be passive aggressive than actively confront someone on something.

And in instances where direct conflict does happen — usually, though not always, through no choice of my own — my anxiety level goes through the roof. Sometimes it’s so bad that I can’t even articulate what I’m thinking or feeling in the moment because I’m flooded with cortisol. I’ve been known to turn into a blithering idiot, where nothing I intended to say comes out the way I hoped.

So it makes sense that I always try to play the role of the easygoing guy who isn’t easily offended and whose feelings aren’t easily hurt. This text message exchange with a friend of mine from today is a perfect example of that (blue blurbs mine):

See how I practically tripped over myself to assure my friend that I wasn’t upset? Why do I always do that?