There is a new form of radicalization that may soon be researched in social science circles. It has to with the way our society has been dealing with “bad thinking”, and how the resulting outcomes can be multiplied by social network activity. We are seeing this equation play out in full effect.
After the recent terrorist attacks in Southern Israel and everything that has transpired since then, some of the world’s most recognizable people have reacted and written things that are completely void of morality, but the precedent they set and the sentiment it arises should concern all of us. Some of the most dehumanizing rhetoric has come from these most recognizable people, but these were people who have achieved “financial freedom” for themselves – in other words they have “F U Money”. On the other hand, some working-class people have gone on to demonstrate the exact same type of “bad thinking”, dehumanizing others and minimizing the horrors that were the final moments for all the innocent Israelis and others that lost their lives as a result of the terrorist attacks, but also about the subsequent outcomes that innocent Palestinians are now forced to endure and how life under terror-promoting leadership has robbed generations of Palestinians from living the lives they ought to live.
The difference between having “F U Money” and being “working class” is such that working class people depend on being able to work to earn a living to be able to afford life’s essential needs like food and shelter. Having that taken away from them, such as by being cancelled, does nothing to help these people transition from “bad thinking” to “better thinking”. But what it does do well is create the precursor conditions of vulnerability and despair, which can lead toward radicalization and worse.
If vulnerability and despair are not bad enough on their own, consider the amplifying effects of social networks on people who lost their jobs for being incapable of appropriately communicating their frustrations and anger about a situation. This is precisely how a person becomes radicalized with those conditions, by isolating them and watching them get flogged over social network, over and over again. So, while the exhibited behavior of dehumanizing others and minimizing the horrors of terrorism and war are unquestionably wrong, the question to answer becomes, whether responding to “bad thinking” as the end-all-be-all is “good thinking”, or if “better thinking” might suggest that people can overcome their intellectual errors with a little bit of guidance.
A far better starting point.
It is far better for a person to have a starting point that demonstrates that they care about the loss of life as a result of war, wherever that conflict may be taking place, than it is to have a starting point that demonstrates indifference about whether people live or die. It is also far better to have a starting point that needs to address “bad thinking” than it is to have a starting point that needs to address “bad actions”. Additionally, there is nothing normal about war and the lives that are lost as a result, so an abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation should be seen as a normal response to such circumstances. However, that does not mean that abnormal reactions are always acceptable or appropriate, and they can be both wrong and offensive to others.
Some of what has been said by working-class people after the terrorist attack in Southern Israel might not be reflective of what those people may have been attempting to say or even what they may have been thinking. Perhaps a quote that sums it all up, in layman’s terms, might be, “Hurt people hurt people.” It is far more likely that if these people had the dearness of their beliefs tested, they would crumble and give way to internal feelings of self-defeating emotions, and that we would be far more likely to hear things like, “I did not think about it in that way” or “That is not what I was trying to say”. Precisely for these reasons, context must matter.
Yet for all the trouble brought about by “bad thinking”, it is not a permanent condition. It is not intractable. And it is not the end all be all it is made out to be. In Good Profit by Charles Koch, Koch shares a story about his father, Fred, whom has all his items seized by the Soviets after they had promised to pay him for his expertise but instead rob him of everything. When Fred returned back to the U.S., instead of casting blanket assertions on all people living under Soviet rule as being wicked, Fred describes what he saw in those people was nothing more than an intellectual error that could be corrected.
Instead of shunning people, casting them away, or even taking away their livelihood when they commit intellectual errors, why not empower them to take greater care about the lives they live, and perhaps introduce them to the Socratic way of thinking to be able to avoid making future intellectual errors? This matters because most people grow up in environments where beliefs are inherited and where the socialization process may lead them to adopt these beliefs, not because they are right but because the norm is that the beliefs be unchallenged.
Whether we are looking at current conflicts like the Israel-Hamas war and the Russia-Ukraine war, or past conflicts like U.S.-Japanese war and Serbian-Albanian war, what should never get buried in the rubble of destruction is that the future always has to matter more than the past. And when it does, there will be other instances similar to how the Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was one of the first people to call and check-in on U.S. President George Bush Jr. after the September 11 terror attacks, despite that in the decades prior both of their fathers were on opposite sides and at war.
Perhaps the thesis of this piece might be better described by combining two quotes. The first quote, by former U.S. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, is reflective of what we are seeing transpire as a result of people’s abnormal reactions to the chaos in Southern Israel and the Gaza Strip—chaos that threatens to spread across the Middle East—is that everyone is better than their worst moment and that those occasions should not be viewed as defining moments. Another quote, by renowned psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, explains that if we take people as they are in the now, we make then, worse, but if we take people as they should be, we make people capable of becoming what they can be. Case in point.