Sane man !

Monday, August 01, 2005

Why do we find these terrorist attacks so horrible?

I wasn't sure about this but now that the second bombers team's intentions seem to be clear...

Half of the answer is that they are happening to "us", ie someone similar to us, close in the ethnico-cultural space represented in our reptilian brains. This is normal, and the way empathy works.

But it is often said that the attacks are particularly evil because they target innocents, civilians... like me. I'm pretty innocent I guess. But this is absurd: would it be less "evil" if they had targeted the military, bombed some soldier's barracks in Hampshire? Would it have been better if they had come down Oxford street with some tanks? Of course not. Is it the surprise effect? It increases the terror but not the nature of the acts.

The problem, and unpleasant truth, is more that we think we're out of any war. We live in a peacetime, thriving economy where the biggest concern is what to consume, how to fine-tune our governmental expenditure, and the house prices. But there is an ongoing war, waged far away from our direct awareness.
Foreign wars are a distant abstract, the full nature of which it is quite easy to ignore.

The same people would also say that the traditional wars are not aimed at civilians, but they have been lulled by the military euphemisms ("capture", "progress", "neutralise" etc). Wars impose by force and death some political aims.
The major aim of the terrorist attacks wasn't to kill civilians, but was strategic, politic, etc.

War is brought back into Babylon...
This is not to diminish the horror of the act of course. But the Iraq War was pretty horrible as well, and it is quite sickening to read endless one-sided discussions by people who keep going on about one half of the world, and wondering about those horrible events while ignoring the other half quite easily. I wished none would happen.

This is like foreign slave labour and the failure of socialism in modern western societies: this is a failure of empathy in a globalised world, which is a fairly new but crucial phenomenon. It is quite easy for us to ignore the sufferings of labourers in third world countries that bring us the cheap products we enjoy... And no "working class" here will fight for the rights of others over there.


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