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                                                                  JOURNAL #197

                                                             November 15, 2015


               We're just a couple of days away from the attack on Paris, conducted by a swarm of armed idiots. I have nothing to add, really, to the comments that have already overwhelmed the internet and the cable news channels. I understand the dangers that arise from ideologies that are portrayed as directives from God. What I do not understand is how anyone who accepts the idea that there is a Creator can become so indoctrinated with a specific system that he will take the lives of total strangers who have done him no harm, and accept the idea of arriving at a final judgment that will play in his favor.

               Two qualities that have gone missing. These killers are equipped with brains, but obviously don't use them. That's not a trait that is limited to some branches of Islam. We've seen it in western culture, too. Not that it necessarily leads to homicide, but we have substantial numbers of people who have made up their minds about an issue and simply refuse to look at the evidence. Setting religion aside, we have substantial portions of the population who deny climate change, maintain political loyalties under any circumstances, cling to racism, sexism, and are hopelessly locked in on evolution, to name just a few. Each of us has been given a brain. It would be helpful if we got into the habit of using it, even when the conclusions that show up make us uncomfortable. There should be nothing dispiriting about being wrong about something. We've all been there. But intelligence incorporates the idea of being able to admit that we've made a mistake, and change accordingly. One of the Priscilla Hutchins novels features a world with a civilization that is just getting started. But the bon motif in their schools is 'Think for yourself.' Imagine how the world would improve if we could do that. Set aside our personal prejudices and opinions and look at the evidence.

               The other quality that seems to evaporate when people get sucked into a radical cause is empathy. Over the course of what has become a long lifetime, I've known a lot of people. Virtually all have been concerned about the welfare of others. And we can define 'others' as a term extending beyond family and friends. They stop for persons holding signs declaring themselves as homeless. They contribute to good causes. They come to the assistance of an older person who's fallen in the street. Veterans return from battle zones with PTSD, not necessarily because they were at extreme risk, but because they watched their friends die, or because they've had to kill people during combat.

               We volunteer to work in animal shelters, we give our time to churches and community efforts, we run scout troops and Little League baseball teams. The Salvation Army and the Red Cross have become icons in our culture. Our lives are devoted to giving. But for some of us, the empathic gene seems to have gone missing. We don't get a chance to hear the life stories of most who cross over to the dark side, so we don't know why it happens. It's impossible not to notice that the vast majority of  suicide bombers and lunatic gunmen are young males. Those that we do learn about seem to have had trouble holding onto girlfriends.

               I wonder why that would be.