Friday, October 24, 2014

Jihadism is not Nihilism

“Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy.” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
"There has to be a clear rejection of this kind of nihilistic ideologies. One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century."
Barack Obama
"There is evil in this world, and we all have come face to face with it once again. Ugly, savage, inexplicable, nihilistic, and valueless evil.
John Kerry on ISIS
ISIS believes in many things not nothing. They believe in Theocracy. ISIS believes in militant political Islam. ISIS believes in Sharia Law. ISIS believes in God. ISIS believes in the Caliphate.
ISIS are religious extremists. Correctly identifying them is one thing but understanding what motivates their extremism is another thing. The motivation and the degrees of it vary. To blame it simply on religion is intellectually weak, to blame it on nihilism is intellectually dishonest. ISIS is more of a reaction to nihilism than it is nihilism.
The issue or topic of ISIS and Islam has been approached with intellectual laziness on both sides of the debate it seems to me. Those who simply claim ISIS is just a bunch of crazy people with a screw loose or those who claim ISIS represents Islamic thought are both simplifying a more complex reality. First ISIS are not nihilists or senseless anarchists as some at the State Department would like you to think. ISIS has an ideological basis and they are religious extremists. Some at the White House and State Department would like people to think of ISIS as nihilists because they feel it is the most outcast terminology they can use but it is a misdiagnosis and intellectually dishonest. They want to cut ISIS off the evolutionary ideological tree of Islam and that is a good goal but it is intellectually dishonest to call them nihilists or claim their ideology is based in nihilistic thought.
Did they forget about Salafism? Wahhabism? Jihadism? These are much more intellectually correct and honest words than what is coming from some government officials. There are to be sure bigots and racists that criticize the religion of Islam based on their prejudice but that does not nullify all legitimate criticism of Islam or strains of Islam.
It would be like if a Stalinist critiqued German Nationalism in the 1930’s and because of that you shied away from critiquing German Nationalism because you did not want to appear siding with Stalinism. It would open you up to being called a Stalinist by simply criticizing German Nationalism. George Orwell one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century was able to critique Fascism, Communism, and Western Imperialism all at the same time. No need to be caged in to one ideological critique. You could be a German Nationalist and not be a Nazi. You could be a critic of German Nationalism or Nazism and not be a Communist. These plain syllogisms must be clear when there is so much intellectual laziness coming from public commentators and government officials.
Most Muslims and religious people do not think like ISIS. The majority of Muslims just want to live in peace. During the Islamic golden age Baghdad was a place of philosophy and medicine (House of Wisdom). Now Baghdad seems far from the House of Wisdom and closer to the House of Horrors. But to call ISIS nihilists is intellectually dishonest. Religious extremism is a problem that needs to be acknowledged.
Jihadism is just a strain of Islam but it is clearly not the totality of Islam. Jihadism is on the evolutionary tree of Islam but it does not represent the essence or totality of Islam. Most Muslims in the world have other interpretations and ways of following their religion without resorting to violence and theocracy. There are other strains like Sufism that offer a broad spiritual experience. No one should claim that Sufism is the totality of Islam though and no one should claim that Jihadism is the totality of Islam either. These are ideological evolutionary strains. Like a benign virus in one being that suddenly becomes a vicious virus when it mutates in another being.
There are many mutations and variables of why one subscribes to Jihadism. Some of the variables are the search for identity, existential crisis, belief in the supernatural, psychological stressors, religious reward or punishment, injustice perceived or real, and so on. Depending on the individual one variable will be more dominant than the other and that you have to study by a case by case process. Now as far as the stated ideological foundation for those that are in ISIS it is clearly religious and it is clearly Jihadism. However their personal motivations may vary.
*** Further reading: Is ISIS an army of nihilists? Just the opposite
"ISIS, however, recoils from such an encounter with doubt. Far from being nihilistic, the followers of ISIS are instead terrified by the empty vistas nihilism reveals. They parade a twisted version of Islam as truth, insisting that death and blood on earth are a necessary sacrifice for the paradise that awaits the religious warrior. Many of Al Qaeda’s and ISIS’s recruits are disaffected young men glad to turn to a thrilling new belief system that walls them off from the danger of nihilism. As George Orwell, among others, pointed out, a similar role has been played by other belief systems, like communism: No matter how violent the deed, it was done in the service of History, the brutal deity of the communist movement. The worldwide caliphate ISIS aims for is a vision just as galvanizing, and just as illusory, as the communist utopia...We know that ISIS scorns the principle of human justice, but by labeling them “nihilist,” comforting as that may be, we ourselves flout plain language."
By Robert Zaretsky and David Mikics

Male Birds Poison Themselves to Appear Sexier—a First

Male Birds Poison Themselves to Appear Sexier—a First

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Death is nothing to us

It was about a year ago I was directly reminded about the fragility of the human body. I was hit on the drivers side of my car by an SUV and my car was totaled. I don't remember being hit until after the impact. Unfortunately I did not have my seat belt on and I cracked my head against the front window. For a couple seconds there was nothing. No time. No space. Nothing. When I came to I did not know what happened but I was able to stumble out of the car and I caught a glimpse of the damage to the car. Not long after I saw the damage the blood starting coming down I was feeling weak and started to lose my strength to stand up. I walked over to the side of the road and laid down. The blood kept coming down. I was not able to open my eyes but a woman stopped and got out of her car and put her sweater around my head to slow down the bleeding.
It was a long night of blood, vomit, stitches, and drugs. Had to wear a neck brace for some time but eventually I recovered just fine. What struck me the most is how consciousness can disappear with a bit of force. How easily it can be extinguished. What a fragile thing consciousness is and when it goes it does not go anywhere from my experience. There is nowhere to go.
I know other people have claimed experiences of visions of light and seeing family members when they brush up against death but for me it was nothing. It was beyond dreams. Not even darkness could penetrate this nothing. For me when my head was thrown against the window hard enough to crack the glass there was nothing. There was no time and no space.
Human consciousness resides in an entanglement of nerves and flesh on a meat stick. If you pay attention nature will remind you of this fact from a stomach virus to blunt force trauma. If you are not killed by forces outside your body you can be sure you will be killed by forces inside your body. If the force from a car or a bullet does not end your consciousness the cells within or the complex web that holds you together will fall apart eventually.
It has been said that when one reads Montaigne’s essays the divide of 400 years of time just disappears. Montaigne is the accessible and human philosopher. No pretense or obfuscation. After my experience I was reading Sarah Bakewell’s book on Montaigne and the description of his loss of consciousness and injury due to falling off his horse particularly resonated with me. Montaigne described it as a loss of consciousness and that the primitive body took over and there was no self when the force impacted his body.
As Sarah Bakewell stated, “He realized, you do not encounter death at all, for you are gone before it gets there. Your existence is attached by a thread; it rests only on the tip of your lips. “
Montaigne wrote,“the fact is that I was not there at all.” He further went on to say “If you don’t know how to die, don’t worry; Nature will tell you what to do on the spot, fully and adequately."
Montaigne wrote, “It seemed to me that my life was hanging only by the tip of my lips; I closed my eyes in order, it seemed to me, to help push it out, and took pleasure in growing languid and letting myself go. It was an idea that was only floating on the surface of my soul, as delicate and feeble as all the rest, but in truth not only free from distress but mingled with that sweet feeling that people have who let themselves slide into sleep.”
Montaigne was knocked off his horse and experienced an Epicurean understanding, the Apostle Paul was knocked off his horse and experienced a Christian vision. After having my head slammed against the car windshield my experience was much closer to Montaigne's. Slipping away into the silent land seemed like a natural thing to do. Death was not a foreign supernatural substance or being but a natural event in this play we call life.
Despite the signs pointing to personal annihilation and extinction being the the most likely outcome many humans still refuse to read the signs and instead turn their heads toward the superstitious noises coming from other primates.
Epicurus - "Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not."
Michel de Montaigne - Nature compels us to it. "Go out of this world," says she, "as you entered into it; the same pass you made from death to life, without passion or fear, the same, after the same manner, repeat from life to death. Your death is a part of the order of the universe, 'tis a part of the life of the world.
"Of all the world's wonders, which is the most wonderful? That no man, though he sees others dying all around him, believes that he himself will die." Yudhishtara answers Dharma, from "The Mahabharata"
CICERO says "that to study philosophy is nothing but to prepare one's self to die."

Friday, October 10, 2014


There are some beliefs that depend on keeping your view narrow and limited. The more it expands and encompasses...the less the belief seems reasonable and does not fit into a larger narrative.

Friday, October 3, 2014


There are some beliefs that depend on narrowing and confining your view. The more the view expands the belief fails to encompass the whole of reality. On policy makers who deal only in numbers and not the weight of human suffering: I am impressed by your bureaucratic indifference and borderline solipsism. I am not impressed by your lack of compassion and empathy.