Hey neighbor, what do you really believe?


I’m sure many of you watch TV news or keep up with current events online. Recently we’re seeing more stories about lone wolf attackers committing mass murder in everyday public spaces. 

We’re right to be concerned. 

Unfortunately, we're all going to have to be more diligent about our safety - more diligent in counter-intuitive ways.

The new fashion among our more fanatical ideological and religious militants is to convince young men and women to commit mass murder against civilians. These heinous crimes can happen anywhere in the world. Random acts of violence with a purpose one might say. Irony is never far from the battlefield or the playground.

Apparently, the lone wolf killer type believes in some twisted way that normal people are somehow guilty of not believing what the lone wolf believes and that that gives him the right to commit murder. 

I know, a bit simplistic, but a fair characterization in a limited context.

There are also small groups of people who feel their particular culture, ethnicity, ideology or whatever sets them so far apart from other groups of people that the only way they can imagine a future is if all “outsiders” were dead and buried. 

This small minority of humanity we call fanatics. They don't fit into normal society. Our social norms are not valid to them.

What are the odds of our becoming a victim of such people or groups? 

Of course the odds that you are killed by a terrorist or fanatic are extremely slim, but if it’s you, your friend or family member who is killed, winning the lottery of death won't be made any less painful because you frame the event as a freak accident. Murder is always going to be more shocking than the bicycle accident that took your cousin. 

Is there anything we can do to prevent even one such tragedy, however few and far between these episodes of horrific violence may be in our world; the world outside of the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia? 

See how easy it is to differentiate and regionalize these terrible events in our minds. See how easy it is to think that it’s someone else’s problem? The fact remains that you are more likely to be blown up in Pakistan, Syria, Iraq or Nigeria than in Denver Colorado. And yet, what country has the most deaths from nonmilitary related gun incidents? The good old U.S. of A of course. Let’s never forget Columbine high school

How are we supposed to know if the boy or girl next door, those nice kids we've known for years, is becoming radicalized and is in the process of persuading himself to take steps towards terror or mass murder? If I ask my neighbor's son to tell me what he really believes, what he's been learning on YouTube, at the Madrasa or from his cohort of haters, should I expect an honest answer? What might a conversation like that sound like?

"Actually, Steven, I believe that there is only one way of life that is correct and it's clear to me you are not living that way so basically, sadly, you are my enemy and I feel morally taxed to kill you and yours anytime I feel like it. If you would like to convert to my glorious medieval religious ideology then you will become my alley and you can join me and help me rid the world of non-believers. You'll be happy living according to the true will of God. You won't have to think so much. You'll be able to live in the right way. Look around you, the world is evil, your society is sick, your culture is destroying everything! I can't get any respect or consideration for being a good religious man. People treat me badly and all I want to be is right with God. I'm justified in doing what I have to do to bring the world back into order. You will be my brother. I'd give my life for my brother." 

One could also easily illustrate an imaginary conversation with a white supremacist. “I just want to live with white people and let the blacks live with their people. What’s wrong with that?” 

Or you could include the “fresh air” speech of Donald Trump and say, “We have to build a wall on the border and keep the Mexican government from sending their rapists, criminals and murderers into our country.” Really, people think his irrational comments bring “fresh air” into the presidential political contest. An example of delusional people leading delusional people.

How does one argue with these kinds of views? It’s not easy. You’ll experience that same old circular reasoning, and baseless assertions that are vexing to any reasonable person. The true believer simply wants to believe. The hater simply loves to hate. The fear monger loves to engender fear in his audience to garner support for his power play. He may be a smart, well educated, healthy fellow who simply feels more secure believing in a form of moral absolutism. He doesn't care about your reasoning, your logic, your evidence, your historical perspective, or your ideas. It's not hard for him to dehumanize his victims. He doesn't even care if he dies while killing you. He doesn't care who he hurts while he’s making his power play. He simply wants what he wants and damn those who stand against him. His primary concerns are with his particular form of mysticism, metaphysics, ideology, money, power or his religious dogma. He’s a magical thinker. He knows, beyond any doubt, that he is righteous, or that his reward awaits him in heaven. How can you argue with that? For those of us who have tried we know all too well that it’s not easy. It’s a tough, uphill slog full of frustration and disappointment.

It's tragic, but we are all going to have to be vigilant now. As if we didn't always have to be vigilant. Yes, I am a fan of history too. Today, even among the better angels of our nature we are confronted with the possibility of sliding backwards towards solipsism and violence to the good old days of the wild, wild west, or the Mongol Hordes.  

Unfortunately, we can't shirk it, we still need to pursue uncomfortable conversations and disputes. We can’t get away from that. We need Socratic dialog now more than ever. Striving for truth is more important now than it ever has been. Public and private debate must go on. We must help evolve our social theories so that society can improve. To succeed, we need to communicate across domains and across cultures. We need to look at the pig picture and care about our future.

We must constantly talk with our children about what they are learning and what they believe. We have to engage our neighbors to find out how they feel about things in our world and in our communities. We need to ask them if they could use our help and support with family members or friends they are worried about. 

We are all in denial to some degree. 

“What, my boy? My boy may be a bit stressed or depressed sometimes, but he’s just a normal kid, he'll get through his bad patches.”

It may be embarrassing, but we're going to have to reach out and ask for help when we think someone in our family or community might be getting sucked into pathological beliefs. It may be none of our business, but we might want to tell someone that we suspect our neighbors could be entertaining some dangerous beliefs. 

We might have to, oh no, confront someone about their thoughts and ideas. 

Oh, My God, we're going to have to police ourselves, our neighbors, and potentially even inform on them. We’re going to have to intervene! Is this a slippery slope towards a Fascist Police State, a Surveillance State, an ever expanding Prison Industrial State? Are we sowing the seeds without knowing it for another Nation State to organize and implement genocide? Are we going to have to build several Guantanamo Bay facilities in America and around the world to warehouse our suspects?  Do we need deprogramming experts, are we going to have to reform our educational system to re-educate people along social-political lines we’ve adopted as a mindless mob?

Here we go again.

How can we increase our resistance to pathological ideological contagion?

I believe it’s our duty to humanity and life on earth to learn constantly how to be better thinkers, critical thinkers. Choosing this as your discipline is a sure-fire way to limit your vulnerability to pathological ideology and beliefs. 

We're all going to have to ask ourselves what we believe in and learn to articulate it clearly. Where do we draw the line? What are we willing to fight for? I know it's easy to fight for money and power, we can all be recruited into that line of work, but what is really worth preserving and protecting. We're going to have to have these uncomfortable conversations if we are going to stop these murders before they happen without becoming that which we are fighting against. How do we define the moral high ground? How can we inoculate people from false and destructive beliefs?

One thing is for sure if we are going to fight this fight we're going to have to have a good understanding of what hypocrisy means.  We’re going to have to be more humble. We’re all going to have to be a lot more self-critical. We’re going to have to have a long hard look in the mirror. 

This is not to say that eventually we won’t identify a common enemy that must be destroyed. Let’s be real, the exercise of power and self defense is a legitimate part of human life and experience. We must be diligent, and how we go about our diligence is very important.

Are there things we can do to invite people who are vulnerable to toxic beliefs into another reality? Cultural values are profound and important. In a way, the fight against hate is a fight for a particular set of cultural values opposed to hate. What kind of world would we have to create that would make it extremely unlikely that people would turn to hate? Or, simply, how can we improve things to such a degree that these kinds of haters would be highly unlikely to develop? This is not utopian thinking, I'm suggesting incremental improvements, an evolutionary  arch heading in the right  direction, towards a more loving and compassionate society and global community.

The creation of such an evolutionary arch requires a great deal of decent, skilled and sincere communication. We'd better get better at expressing ourselves in community with the people around us. We need new and positive connections with one another. The difference between Good and Evil is not just a simple juxtaposition of opposite concepts. We need to work hard at teasing apart those things that divide us and find common ground. The alternative is forever having to deal with Hate. 

None of us is completely innocent. We all participate in an imperfect system. We face problems of our own making. We cause problems that we can't even see coming. We stumble and fall. 

We can all do better.

Watch your backs people. Take care of each other. Take care of your world. The lone gunman or suicide bomb woman are going to keep coming. We need to be careful in more ways than one hundred. Special interests will continue to destroy our world through greed. We'll keep burning fossil fuels until we cross a tipping point that will put more stress on living systems than we can even imagine. We may all become refugees, and think of the violence that could cause. 

We need to give a shit!

So ask your faithful friends to tell you what they really believe and ask yourself the same question. We need to have that dialogue, if only with ourselves. 

Because we give a damn. I love that.

Because we give a damn. I love that.

Have a quick look at two opposing sides of the gun violence debate in America and tell me what you think. There is only a ghost of a chance that anyone on either side of this debate will ever change their minds.

There is a whole literature out there concerning why that is.



The US has higher rates of homicides from guns than Pakistan. At 4.5 deaths per 100,000 people, the US rates aren’t much lower than gun homicide rates in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (5.2 deaths per 100,000 people). Annually, the US has about two fewer gun homicide deaths per 100,000 people than Iraq, which has 6.5 deaths per 100,000.
Firearm homicide rates in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United States, and Pakistan, 2010
"Instead of using local data to identify local solutions, the US may largely have to rely on studies done in other countries to gain insight into ways to curb gun violence. Even though Obama lifted a 17-year-old ban on US federal funding for gun violence research in 2013, a congressional ban on funding for this research remains in place."
Engender a little fear shall we Winston? did he really say that? what was the context in which he may have said that?

Engender a little fear shall we Winston? did he really say that? what was the context in which he may have said that?

Above we have a photo of the very mature, Nobel Prize winner, Winston Churchill with his "Islam is as dangerous..." barb boldly printed near his task-master face. What we take from this is whatever we want to take from it. 

It's so easy to find something on the internet to fuel your hatred. Anything can be spun into invective. If you want to find a historical figure to bolster your hatred of Islam, or for anything else you can do it with a click. 

Paul Snow from The Uncertaintist Blog has an interesting and more informed take on the above quote. A lot of his entry he obtained at snops.com. 


I don't want to hate of fear anyone on the basis of their faith or cultural beliefs. However, I do want to know very clearly what your faith and beliefs entail. If you love a vengeful God and are taught that your God wants you to kill all apostates, atheists and people of another faith then I want to know about it. I'd want to ask you why you believe God wants you to kill? I'd want to have a civil conversation with you, and if I found you were serious about doing me harm, I'd want to be able to find legal ways to defend myself against your bad intentions.

To get that far we are simply going to have to talk to each other. We must make our views clear. We must act like human beings who give a shit.  

Read this fascinating paper on Genocide. We must be vigilant! 

The Origins of Genocide


Steven Cleghorn

Steven is an autodidact, skeptic, raconteur and film producer from America who has been traveling since he was a zygote. He's a producer at The Muse Films Ltd. in Hong Kong and a constantly improving (hopefully) Globe Hacker. He's seeks the company of interesting minds.