If you aren’t prepared to die for what you believe in, you don’t deserve to live
In the mid 1980’s on a school field trip from Chilliwack, a rural community, to Vancouver, the comparative Big City, I saw those words were hand lettered in white on the back of a denim jacket worn by a punk rocker.
Most of the other teens – the school was primarily cliques of head bangers and goody two show kids – on the field trip, made ooo and ahhh cat calls in complete non-comprehension and likely more to do with the fact of the young man being a punk rocker than the sentiment on his back. I sat frozen, looking at the words and absorbing them very deeply. When you’re a teenager, everything feels epic, life and death, but you don’t really have a sense of what those concepts really mean. Or what if anything, you believe in, never mind what would be worth dying for. Dying was for old people; except….. my favorite movie at that time, was TAPS, starring Tim Hutton and pre-Ridgemont High Sean Penn and introducing Tom Cruise as three military students who lead a student revolt against the closure of their school – to disastrous and predictable conclusion of romanticizing the death of youths for a cause greater than oneself.
This idea of martyrdom continues to hold sway, people who die for religion are made into saints, religions demand sacrifice of supporters and promise eternal afterlife rewards for those who die in service or at least, when taking out the enemies of religion.
In American, religious zealots are less willing to die themselves but are often fairly open to taking out those who they see as betrayers or enemies – shooting abortion doctors right inside their own community church if need be. The American zealots tend to prefer to live to kill more another day, but when they do end up dying, it’s more likely suicide by cop during a shooting event than taking their own life. Suicide being a sin for which you burn in hell, and apparently this is not balanced against the good of protecting the unborn by the murder of a medical doctor.
As if forcing a police officer into killing you is somehow different than doing it yourself….. might as well take up extreme sports as the avoid hell loophole to suicide and not traumatize another person.
Whereas, Islamic zealots are more the hands on martyrs, strapping on a bomb belt and detonating in the crowd – even though sometimes, they only manage to take out themselves – we have to give them kudos for being fully committed in a way that makes North American Zealots look like they are phoning it in.
Not that there’s anything remotely admirable about being a martyr or, for that matter a criminal. The admiration in American culture for the gunslingers, mobsters, gangsters, outlaw bikers and gangstas is on the same wavelength as admiration for saints and martyrs. They are all the same spectrum of rule breaking outsider who’s become romanticized in pulp fiction, movies and video games.
They are an archetype that fulfills the fantasy of rule breaking freedom, being the law unto yourself, to be the power or to be the one fighting the power. The reality is far short of the fantasy.
Criminals are no different than businessmen, they are in it for the prestige and the cash, the power and influence, one through force and the other through cunning. Their respective criminality and anti-social behavior is only limited by the scope of their reach – and businessmen have a far greater reach than criminals – organized or otherwise – as businessmen who put stockholders above employees, customers, financial institutions and the environment do far more damage to society than the most violent of criminals can hope to.
Criminals, be they in legitimate or underground business, are related to the zealot martyrs, in that they often feel entitled by a higher call or by some quirk of birth or force of personality, to be above or beyond the rules that apply to mortal and lesser men. To be rule makers unto themselves.
Hmmm, putting it that way – the dictator/politicians, criminal/business, outlaws and zealots are really the same spectrum of anti-social disorders. Especially with the recent revelation that many if not most American Republicans believe that they are called by god to run for office and that dictators assure their populaces that they are themselves divine – but never in a fun campy way, always the creepy religious way.
To some degree, the mentality of “live fast, die young” explains the willingness of criminals to accept life as brutal and short, to live and die in service of the gang or larger community, is no different than a person who is a religious martyr, who either dies as part of an assault on their religious foes or in self-sacrifice in self-immolation as a form of protest.
Western secular zealots are less self-sacrificing than their eastern counterparts generally, again, preferring to not be caught or to be killed by police or by the state after a media saturated trial. The most horrifying fate for the western murderous zealot would be to be caught and endure life in obscurity and prison; without even a made for TV movie to explain their crusade.
Perhaps if we could understand the nuance between a zealot willing to self-sacrifice and one who is only willing to sacrifice others, we could identify the thought process that allows a person to sacrifice life in the name of ideology.
The willingness to die for causes has traditionally been thought linked to the degree of economic participation and freedoms one had in their respective society.
For bigoted reasons, the 9/11 hijackers changed this idea – suicide bombers where thought of as disaffected, disengaged young men – but the 9/11 hijackers were middle aged, married and many with children and professional career credentials. Most of them were engineers by training and trade. The increase in female suicide bombers also flies in the face of convention.
I say for bigoted reasons, because Timothy McVeigh was middle class and employed and he looked and could have been anyone. Homespun terrorists hit too close to home to analyze perhaps, much easier to hand wring and wonder about the truth when we don’t have to examine ourselves too closely.
People are something in between herd and pack animals – we like just enough structure to provide a consistent and stable framework, but we also like our individuality and some freedom from restrictive social roles (gender or socio-economic). Collectively, anyway, some people reveal in anarchy and others rejoice in rigidity. To each their own comfort level, but most of us in the middle spectrum like these two extremes in some balance or variability – it maintains our illusion of not only freedom, but free will.
Aside: Here’s a terrible thought, what if the only true expression of free will is choosing to die?
It all comes down to what do you value, or, as the punk rocker wrote, what you believe in.
Do you believe in yourself or do you only credit you with value when you are in service or attached to something bigger?
I think that if you are not enough to assign value to, you have no option but to glom onto something bigger, be it religion, politics, sub-culture, anti-culture or social movement. But, by casting yourself in a supporting role, you become vulnerable to exploitation by people who have no problem with their own self worth and often will fall prey to people with the opposite problem – those who value themselves as better than everyone else.
Leaders of movements have dupes, pawns, toadies, hangers on, minions and disaffected fanatics to do the sacrificing.
It’s never the leaders of any movement who self-immolate or strap on a bomb belt – when the leaders of a movement die, it’s usually a result of either their own over-indulgence with drugs/alcohol or in a doomsday cult mass murder/suicide when the legal authorities come knocking and blaring music and blazing gunfire.
It doesn’t matter how much education or professional accreditation or career accomplishments or families one has, without self-worth, there can be no value or worth inherent in these accomplishments and connections. Without valuing yourself, you have no value to transfer or put into accomplishments or connections; and instead, seek external validation to convey worth and value to your person.
It seems to me, that in addition to fluoride to compensate for the state of dental hygiene, that the government may wish to add anti-depressants to the water. Except that governments of any kind prefer a compliant and only marginally disaffected population who feels bad enough to console themselves through shopping therapy, but not bad enough to get out and vote or revolt.
We find meaning and purpose when we are connected to other people, to the community and we can economically participate and contribute to the world. But this cannot be our only source of value – we have to value ourselves in order for other people to value our contributions and to value ourselves.
Individuals are the basic part that make up the larger blocks of family, friends, colleagues (packs), demographic groups (herds), and segments of society (hives). We are the parts that form the sum, and must in turn, be enhanced as a part by the resultant sum. It is not enough that we contribute, but our contribution must be honored and recognized uniquely.
By us being a part and merely feeding the machine without recognition and enhancement, without that feedback balance, it is little wonder then, that maladaptive and anti-social behaviours emerge, and eventually, bites the hand that has stopped feeding them.
How many decades has Gadhafi been in power that all of a sudden, the world has suddenly noticed that this dictator is not an okay guy to run Libya after all?
Given how Rwanda, Darfur and many other countries lacking oil had their civil upheavals under dictatorships deemed an internal matter that was unseemly for the international community to be involved in; this sudden: Gosh, Gadhafi’s a terrible dictator who needs to be removed! is a bit odd.
I mean, as opposed to all the good dictators who are in the pay of or are supported by the US?
The UN has to have a consistent policy.
Maybe the UN should be replaced with something more like the United Federation of Planets – at least that was human-centric and not a specific country centric. At the very least, UN membership could more closely resemble the UFP – nations can’t join unless there is a determined minimum level of standard of living for the majority of the population.
Standard of living includes education, health care, economic opportunity, rights and freedoms and environmental sustainability. More on this later.
Either an internal civil matter is exactly that – or the world is really one place with the UN as, at least, the world police if not the actual world government.
We cannot set one rule for civil unrest for countries with oil and another for countries without.
Either we say dictators are bad – and then we’d have to say theocracies are bad too – and force the conversion of every non-democratic country into a democratic country – or, we leave internal civil matters, no matter how genocidally horrific – to be managed internally.
The reality is that social advances and massive civil changes do not work when imposed by external forces – unless it’s a multi-generational occupying force.
Social and political change must come from within any nation. The people of the country have to want change – otherwise, as soon as the occupation force is kicked out or leaves – that country will be business as usual with the endless game of what rebel turned dictator is in charge now.
It does not work for a country to be managed on a might makes right basis, internally or externally.
The Collective People must determine what kind of social structure will work for them and failing to achieve it is far worse than never trying. After all, no one stepped in to stop America from rebelling against England.
Where there is an international interest in the internal workings of any nation is on matters that are not contained within the borders. This includes environmental concerns but also refugee migration.
When a portion of a population flees their home nation, it is everyone’s concern. Regardless of whether there’s oil to be had.
Robin Williams once referred to the UN as a traffic cop on Valium.
It’s time for the international community to stop the addiction to oil and other resources that makes the eyes turn away from genocide, environmental destruction, loss of species and habitat and nations with oppressive regimes where the general population’s greatest fear is their own government.
But, this is perhaps too lofty a goal, given how American centric the UN is and that the US population, while touting their government as the best form of government; still cling to their “right” to be armed against said government.