Je suis stupide

Yes. Great. Yes. You are right. Yes. Yes. Certainly. I agree full-heartedly. The perpetrators of the attacks in Paris were Muslim. That is, indeed, an incredibly keen observation.

je suis stupideBut maybe, just maybe — you know, all other things held equal and in my humble and respectful opinion — that is besides the point?

If you are blaming Muslims right now, I am going to guess you are a Christian, or consider yourself to be one in any case. If you are not a Christian, well, this piece is still relevant to you, but I am using Christians as examples.

First a few things to say about what I am not in fact saying:

I am not saying that all Christians hate Muslims, or that even a majority do.

I am not saying that Christians and Muslims are evil.

I am not saying that Christianity and Islam are to blame for the conflicts today.

In fact, whatever religion you happen to be in is besides the point, so I am not at all saying religion is to blame for anything.

What am I saying? What I am saying is that the same reasons we carve ourselves up into various religions, nationalities, ethnic groups, etc. etc. are also the reasons these attacks happen in the first place. And, by logical extension, they are the reasons we cannot deal with the real problems we face today: climate change.

Some say these reasons have to do with class struggle, or power-seeking, or plain old self-interestedness. I’d say, however, that the reason is deeper than that. I’d say — and remember that is just my humble and respectful opinion — it is because humans are incredibly, unquestionably, undoubtedly, extremely, very stupid. We’re so stupid, we can’t even comprehend our stupidity. We probably don’t even have tools in order to measure our stupidity. It is on such a global scale, so vast and obvious, we live our stupidity every day without even knowing it is there.

We’re so stupid, when we shoot ourselves in the foot, we blame others. We’re so stupid, when others shoot themselves in the foot, we give ourselves credit. We’re so stupid, we prefer to engage in competitions of shooting ourselves in the feet and shouting, “He did it! He did it!”, rather than agree to put down the guns, or at least agree to talk about how we could put down our guns. All the while the soles of our feet are slowly burning because the ground is warming up underneath us.

Am I suddenly not stupid for being able to see our stupidity? No, I am probably stupid as well for calling us, and by inclusion you, stupid. No one likes to be called stupid, and no one reads opinion pieces in which the author basically concludes that the reader is a neanderthal. But that’s what we are, so let’s get over it and move on.

Now that I have spent half a page calling you stupid, let me tell you why that is. Not how, but why. You see, our brains are incredibly complex organs, built over millions and millions of years to quickly react to situations that threaten our lives (better said, threaten our chances of reproductive success, but I digress). It is understandable, therefore, that the first species (us) that is capable of predicting and responding to threats in the future (as we do) is nonetheless incredibly reactionary. We are so reactionary, we are the first species to have the honour to commit the cosmic irony of reacting to future events before we can even predict them. Hell, THIS PIECE is just as reactionary as anything else, since maybe we will actually overcome our differences this time. I am really doing nothing different that you are.

Except what I have identified as the threat, the true threat, is not any one religion, or even extremists in that religion. It’s us. We are the threat to ourselves. We are that, because, as I have said before, we love to separate ourselves into groups and say that my group is better than your group. That’s why I started this piece with Christianity and Islam, two groups that emerged because some guy with a beard (it’s always a guy with a beard, why is it always a guy with a beard?) decided, “I am going to do things this way now”. Before people had been doing things — good or bad — another way, because some guy had been doing that as well. Before that it was likely the same. I don’t know, my history of guys duping groups of people to follow them doesn’t go back more than a few thousand years.

I’m a guy (with a beard), and I do stuff, and I am trying to convince you to do that stuff, at least some of it, so I guess my argument is not valid.

Ignore that. I have said the problem is us, specifically that we listen to guys who do stuff, because we are stupid. I admit, that is rather vague and misleading, because that stuff that these guys want us to do could very well be cool stuff.

But if it is cool stuff, why do we need some guy to tell us to do it? Okay, maybe that guy was just setting an example, as we need reminding of the cool things we should be doing. But why, if those things are indeed cool, do we then define ourselves as “The People Chosen To Do Cool Things”? We weren’t chosen for anything, we presumably chose ourselves, because we are free to do so, or at least should have had the opportunity to freely choose for ourselves. Then we should give others the opportunity to do the same. Or, if you don’t prescribe to the Chosen Ones schtick, we probably nonetheless see the cool things we do as cool things everyone should do, so why create the categories of “Cool People” and “Non-cool People”? It seems dishonest and — as I said before — besides the point.

We are probably all cool people in some way or another, just as we are probably non-cool people in some way or another, and all of these ways are going to be different so long as we continue to divide ourselves along them. That’s why we are the threat and the problem all at once. Each and every one of us is really, thoroughly and beyond all doubt convinced that our side is correct, despite all of the evidence to show us that we are in fact slobbering neanderthals, and despite our own admission of our fallibility.

In fact, calling us neanderthals is also part of the problem. Neanderthals survived much longer than we ever did, in much harsher conditions, or at least conditions whose harshness were not their own making. We are the makers of our problems, and climate change, not Islam or terrorism, is the biggest problem of all.

Except terrorism is the problem. That is, the terrorism that we exact upon each other every time we give an immigrant or refugee a dirty look, or blame the other side for some attacks without being able to concretely say who this other side is, all the while letting climate change worsen. Is it Muslims? No, most Muslims are peaceful. Is it Muslim extremists? No, because Muslim extremists kill each other and peaceful Muslims much, much more than they kill us. And Christians have, in fact, been responsible for more Christian deaths than any Muslims. Funny how even within the same groups, with all of the shouting about defending us against them, we still find the time to divide ourselves. We are the Terrorists, because we live terrified lives by the doctrine of terror, and let terror be the answer for terror rather than stamping it out at its source: Our brains.

Our Terrorism, our being terrified of the wrong things, and by my count the dominant religion on this planet, prevents us from reacting to the terrifying scenarios that we can actually predict — global climate destabilisation — in order to focus our brains on scenarios that we have in fact made up — global terrorism. I am not saying that there is no small-t terrorism in the world, or that it doesn’t threaten people. I am saying that we have successfully elevated the least threatening of all of our problems — one that is not even global but actually very much localized and specific to certain regions and only occasionally spills outside of those regions — to our highest priority, while the problem that is actually our highest priority — and which is driving terrorism as well — is not even second banana. Of course, global climate destabilisation is in fact the whole bunch of bananas, so maybe this is just another example of being unable to see the bunch for the bananas.

Our Terrorism means that we are basically subjecting future generations to famine, floods, droughts, death and mayhem without trying to alleviate their inevitable suffering, giving them a fighting chance, or even laying down the process for creating the tools for alleviating their suffering themselves. We are very short-sighted, meaning whenever we try to see beyond our immediate surroundings everything becomes one giant blur. Is that black cloud over there from a smokestack, or a bomb? Is that bearded guy over there a hippie or a member of ISIS? Better not take the time to find out, or even listen to the evidence that is already on the table, because on the off chance that it is a member of ISIS and the smoke is coming from a bomb then I will be very D-E-A-D, and that’s terrifying.

How do we move forward from here? If you truly want to show your support of the citizens of Paris (and Beirut and all of the other terrorist attacks that happen), and that you exhibit the values that Paris supposedly represents — liberté, égalité, fraternité — then go to the COP21 meeting in Paris next month in any way you can, or rally in your own cities, and speak out against Islamophobia and against climate inaction. And then keep on rallying when that meeting is over, and act and live your words and values, because who decided that such meetings were the times and places to rally in the first place? We’re cool people in a hot-headed world, and we’re to blame for that heat. Stop the war on terror by stopping your own War of Terror on future generations, whether through climate change or through creating and participating in those divisions that will tear across generations to come. Coming together to stop climate change will mean we are coming together to stop all our other problems as well. If we can show fraternité in the face of uncertainty and set égalité as our goal, then, and only then, will liberté follow, for us and for generations to come.

I know this is not the best rallying cry. Calling us stupid proves that. But if I can at least turn a few heads, and some of those heads are able to tell others — in their own words — what needs to get done, then I have done some small thing to make the world a better place. I can live with that.

Robert Pyotr Wolff

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