#416 – Dick Bernard: The Downside of Belief.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune accompanied us enroute to our vacation on July 23. The front page headline said it all, “TERROR IN NORWAY“, recounting the heinous attack by a lone Norwegian which included over 90 deaths, mostly young people at a youth camp and in Oslo itself. I had read the entire article early that morning, and on page A4, in a sidebar, was a note that “A Twitter account for [the killer] also surfaced, with just one post from July 17, which was a quote from philosopher John Stuart Mill: “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests.”
The gunman survived, and seemed rather proud of his accomplishment – often that is how an eruption of anger feels: “they got what they deserved”. He now has a lifetime, short or long, to consider the wisdom of his actions. Thankfully, most likely his role modelling will not encourage others.
Thankfully, the Norwegian responses, officially, and through the public, seems not to be to exact revenge and thus compound the problem.
I bring this incident up as we are a society that has become more and more prone to substitute a dangerous combination of belief and supposedly righteous anger for reason.
“I don’t believe that human behavior has anything to do with climate change”; “I don’t believe that our country is collapsing due to our own actions, personal and collective”….
“I just believe [whatever it is]. I don’t want to hear any other view.”
Of course, there are pesky things called “facts” which sooner or later come calling, interfering with those beliefs of ours:
The credit card gets maxed out and the clerk says “sorry”; after a lifetime of smoking, that pesky cough turns into something far worse; the job we thought we’d have as long as we wanted it disappears….
That law we didn’t think we’d need, and got rid of, becomes personally very important…after its been repealed.
The government itself, which represents stability, is cast as the enemy of the people, because government is bad, or so we’re convinced to believe.
We forget that that awful U.S. Congress that we all hate, or our State Legislature, is really a creature of our own making. We forget to consider that not one single one of those Congressmen or women would be in office were it not for our vote, whether informed, uninformed or not voting at all….
They are, in fact, representatives of us, individually and collectively.
We are, it seems, a bunch of people who have trouble thinking beyond the immediate; and we are notoriously unwilling to be accountable for our cause in the matter of the huge problems we have brought upon ourselves over the past years. We’d like to have the fantasy that what is bad will be fixed, and we don’t need to exert any effort or make any sacrifices to do the fixing.
The guy in Norway bought the argument that the enemy was “them” – people who weren’t Norwegian – and went on a killing spree where all of the victims, to the best of my knowledge, were his fellow countrymen. Rather than solving his fantasy problem, he simply damaged his own people.
Like our ‘armed and dangerous’ society, he felt he was a law unto himself.
The Norwegian (who purposely remains nameless in this post) may well be one of those isolated nut-cases that do these heinous things, but he and others like him are just visible indicators of our lack of a greater and longer term vision, and our own inhumanity towards each other.
Just a thought.

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