Monday, November 16, 2015

On the Paris Attacks

A few nights ago, my sister-in-law mentioned in passing that Paris was under attack. To her, it was no big deal. However, the journalist in me couldn't let it pass. I logged onto Reddit and thought that it couldn't be any worse than the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Time proved me wrong.

At the time of this writing, 132 were dead and at least 89 were in critical condition, so it's quite possible this number can jump much higher. It's a great loss of life that shocked even my normally Stoic self.

Over on r/Stoicism, someone asked how a Stoic would cope with something like this. Stoicism, like Socrates, teaches that no one willingly does evil. Rather, they do things in a misguided attempt to do good. The terrorists in this case did not think they were doing evil, but justice for things happening in Syria. Even in cases where we can perceive that others may think we are doing wrong, we still justify that we are doing right in some way.

When these terrorists got ready for their attack, they must have known that the world wouldn't agree with their reasons. Yet they went on with their attack, because at the end of the day, they felt they were doing more good than wrong.

Yet that doesn't feel right, does it? When it comes to minor actions, it's very easy to say, “It seemed so to them.” Someone steals your lamp, well, it seemed like a good idea to them. A group massacres and hurts hundreds of people and saying “It seemed so to them” just doesn't seem to fit.

The problem is that this is exactly what Stoicism calls for. We as Stoics, as hard as it is, must accept that the terrorists meant to do good. Does that mean what they did was good? Of course not. By saying the terrorists wanted to do good, we're aren't saying that they did good. What they did was further create a chasm between non-Muslims and Muslims. In essence, they created more of the suspicion they accuse non-Muslims of by (most likely) hiding within the refugees' ranks.

There's another way of saying this: Everyone thinks themselves the hero of their own story. Of course, this mean that someone has to be a villain as well. People often talk of the whole world bearing down on them. Well, to these terrorists, the world really is and so they think they're doing an even greater good, because the whole world is an evil to fight. Perhaps that's why they don't see the damage they do -- or why anyone who does wrong doesn't see their wrongness. Even the most innocent babe is just a spawn of pure evil.

This doesn't mean that Stoics are just going to roll over. Marcus lead a Roman army for many years, wielding its power not in rage, but as it was needed. Of course, most Stoics these days can't rouse up an army. But we can still do good, like give money, donate blood, or fight for better foreign policies.

As for however we're feeling, well, none of us are sages. Even the staunchest Stoic flinches. The point isn't to be perfect and unfeeling. That's a part of being human. To paraphrase Seneca, our initial anger or sadness are a result of emotional scars. It's how fast we can get back on track that counts.

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