But the reality of this "new normal" seemed to explode in our consciousness around 9:30 PM, on Friday the 13th of November 2015, in Paris, France. On that evening, a handful of young adults whose pictures would allow them to pass as recent graduates of high school, armed with suicide belts of high explosives, carrying automatic rifles, acting in the name of ISIS, opened fire on a diverse gathering of innocent civilians in restaurants and a concert hall.
"France is at war," declared France's President, François Hollande, addressing his Parliament and exhorting the country's allies to join France in an all-out confrontation with the jihadist fundamentalists who go by the name of ISIS or ISIL, operating out of a stronghold in the fragmented country of Syria. Talk of a Word War III began to rumble through the media, a war to destroy ISIS.
But locating the center of ISIS seems not to be so simple as sticking a pin in a map of Syria, where the barbarian state is supposed to be headquartered. ISIS is actually not a physical state but rather a state of mind occupied with very strange ideas, an ideology with sprouting beliefs, a mood, death-welcoming emotions, and apocalyptic images.
Young people are drawn to it, having not much to lose as they most often come from backgrounds of poverty and violence in which the only sense they may have of a homeland is comprised of deep insecurities, hopelessness, and helplessness. Theirs is a post-apocalytpic world.
So the explanations for the rise of such a phenomenon as ISIS rightly focus on political, economic, and environmental causes. But there are more and much deeper dynamics at play. What is so confounding for many people is to understand the reasons for the tribalism that threatens our world today. We are surprised and have difficulty listening -- really hearing -- the critics of our western way of life presented as it is in the cloak of materialistic secularism. Those values in the materialistic West, the critics say, are dismissive of the eternal values and codes of living shaped by human beings living in unity with what the critics believe God wants for the world. And to support their argument, these non-Western critics of the West's secular humanism point to the increasing number of deaths by gun violence among our civilian population.
Of course, the problem with what the critics propose is that they do not agree on what God wants. Hence, we see the infighting of religious group against religious group, tribe against tribe. Oh, we think, if they would only come together and rationally resolve their conflicts, they could come to a rational solution such as a Jeffersonian democracy that separates religious affiliation from state and allows each person the privilege of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" as long as they do not threaten the common good.
Sounds idyllic and reasonable doesn't it? But throughout the world, even among those people who live in the democracies of the West, there are voices edging us closer and closer to a nihilistic catastrophe. These voices are not just those on the outside that fill our ever-waking moment with offers, opinions, idyl chatter, threats, admonitions, exhortations, etc. There are plenty of these, to be sure, but I am also thinking about the inner voices that subtly create a dark mood and set us to thinking things that stir the primitive aggressions of our past. Sometimes these voices possess a group of people. Think, for example, of what happens with "mob hysteria."
Think of what seized the German people and made possible the eruption of the Nazi fanaticism in the 1920's, 30's, and 40's. In 1924, the English writer D.H.Lawrence described his experience of traveling in Germany in the chilling account written in a letter back home.
Germany ... is very different from what it was two-and-a-half years ago
when I was here. ... at night you feel strange things stirring in the
darkness, strange feelings stirring out of this still-unconquered Black
Forest. You stiffen your backbone and you listen to the night. There is
a sense of danger. It is not the people. They don't seem dangerous. Out
of the very air comes a sense of danger, a queer, bristling, feeling of
But something has happened to the human soul, beyond all help. The
human soul recoiling now from unison and making itself strong elsewhere.
The old space of the old world has broken, and the old, bristling, savage
spirit has set in.
The same in Heidelberg. Heidelberg full, full of people. Students the
same, youths with rucksacks the same, boys and maidens come down
from the hills. The same and not the same. ... They strike one as
strange. Something primitive, like loose, roving gangs of broken
scattered tribes, so they affect one. ... It is as if everything and
everybody recoiled away from the old unison, as barbarians lurking
in a wood recoil out of sight.
(D.H.Lawrence, "A Letter from Germany." The Phoenix, pp. 108-109)
As Carl Jung reminds us, "All human control ends when the individual is caught in a mass movement. Then the archetypes begin to function as happens also in the lives of individuals when they are confronted with situations that cannot be dealt with in any of the familiar ways." (CW 10, para. 395) As unconscious, psycho-neural structures in the gnomic make-up of human mental states, the old archetypal structures of our psychic life may be compared to "an old watercourse along which the water of life has flowed for centuries, digging a deep channel for itself. The longer it has flowed in this channel the more likely it is that sooner or later the water will return to its old bed." (Jung, CW 10, p. 395)
Do you see? In times of stress, when we struggle to modulate the conflicting thoughts and feelings at war within us, those archetypal energies burst outside and flood a people, bringing forth age-old wars and barbarous projections upon others who become a target for our attacks because they differ from us in some way or threaten to control scarce resources important to us.
Such are our times. Such are the strange voices we hear, the demonic voices urging us on toward a cataclysmic fate that more and more of us seem to think is inevitable.
Actually, however, such a fate is not inevitable.
TO BE CONTINUED