Monday, October 23, 2006

magical thinking

First, read this. Then ask yourself, if our problem here is really combating people who are irrational in their view of us, people who view us as props in their religious script- and it seems plausible to me- is fighting a war really the best way to stop it? Harris likens this ideological artifact to a disease, "a cancer in the body politic", and says we must fight it with quarantine and "closely monitoring precisely those populations within [the] country that are most at risk."

But the last time I checked, we don't fight virulent disease by gassing and burning everyone who has contracted them- although that might be effective in containing at least some diseases. Instead, we work our asses off producing an antidote. We produce a vaccine or an antibiotic, we come up with countermeasures that, ideally, leave those subjected to them alive, healthy, and able to live in peace for years.

Would it be possible to develop an ideological countermeasure to radical fundamentalist Islam? Specifically the 'suicide-boming' strain; the others appear, at least to me, to be strains we can live with as a "body politic." I am not sure what form such an ideological vaccine would take, or how it could be administered, but it is certainly an interesting thought.

Harris also dismisses the causes of terrorism that have been brought up- poverty, inequality, economic imperialism, global warming, etc- but in fact his argument does not require him to dismiss them. They may actually be an interesting addition to his argument. He says, "there must first be a preexisting collective need for this fantasy" in order for fantastical or magical thinking to take hold on a large scale, across societies; however, he does not explore what might spur this collective need. Might not widespread poverty impel the widespread belief in a glorious afterlife? Might not economic imperialism impel the belief in a cosmic power struggle between good and evil?

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