Where has gone the regard for common humanity, by which I mean all of us? The word "common" refers actually to qualities of the many, in which we all partake, more or less, and generally. Common humanity exists. It also is a permanent, essential possibility of human nature. It is the fundament of civilized behavior, on which so much depends. Today, the phrase "universal humanity" is a more apt or synonymous phrase.
Universal humanity is under attack these days. Too many lone wolves and bands of them think there is no common humanity anymore. Too many young adults have adopted the life, mindset, and ideas of terrorism. Disproportionate numbers inhabit the most powerful class, white males, of advanced nations. Disproportionate numbers inhabit the Muslim and Arabic worlds, as well as those of their Diasporas in Europe, America, and elsewhere. There are parallel developments in all the other continents of nations.
Terrorist organizations like al Qaeda and ISIL are only the latest cults and organizations of terror to capitalize upon the existence of mass numbers of young people whose common humanity has been evacuated. Many others have distant and individuated ideologies on which they choose to take their last stands.
Many victims of terrorism are highly accomplished, but their lives have not lived up to their expectations, let alone their dreams. Many others are not accomplished, are poor, and are lacking in prospects for anything like the world phantasmagoric heights of Internet living on display for all to see. Their relative expectations tell them that life is empty. They are led to buy into lies by those whose reality is no different but who have decided to turn out their emptiness in violence and hatred.
Some people who feel that life has passed them by already can be saved. We need to make that "many" to "most". However, in our world, we are throwing such lives on themselves. Many turn to inward and outward imitations of death, to suicide and to murder in various ways. Countless others enact lesser versions of the same in dysfunctional behaviors, thoughts, words and deeds that compromise the conditions for their own survival.
In collective and community rich societies, faiths, and traditions, these individuals may choose to join anti-establishment, revolutionary, or change-oriented movements and parties. That is not necessarily a bad thing. But they also may join terrorist movements, the present cults of death that look like revolutions but actually are false efforts borne of the same loss of humanity. These organizations take and make their members substitute the organization's life for their own.
In watching a special about the late John Lennon's killer, I was struck by the similarity between the morphology of this killer's mental illness and those of the tens of thousands of world terrorists now with us. Lennon's killer was taken in by an obsession with a positive object of motivation and by a constructed, understood context of nihilism and alienation arising from the felt emptiness of his life and prospects. Many incidents of terrorism originate from this same combination of alienation and false identification. What for Lennon's assassin were "being a Beetle like John Lennon", seeing Lennon as a fake and phony, and the meaning of life through the prism of a character in a J.D. Salinger novel has many variations. The ideologies of Al Qaeda and ISIS/ISIL have current analogues to offer. The lives of many young men and women in our national societies situate too much depravity of community, absence of life prospects, and frustration of expectations.
This reality of Al Qaeda and ISIS/ISIL is already apparent. And we know the discrepancy between the image of Bin Laden and the way in which he actually lived. We can easily identify that the movement he authored wasn't one he lived and wasn't one destined or even intended to change the world in any constructive way. I have no doubt that the scenes of rape, human violations, and wholesale denial of human rights evident in the work of ISIS cells and armies of terrorism will reveal the same pretensions and lies behind their false myth of a new caliphate.
However, as various voices now come forward to tell us, so many of the recruits for terrorist organizations worldwide are young people who've chosen to associate with the terror for solidary reasons. Their lives need meaning, connection, and association with beliefs that capture their energies and imaginations.
What are the sources of this tendency? I would advance these as empirical hypotheses to test:
• Disaffection from traditional religion and all established religions • Distrust of existing political authority and governments • Distrust of establishment political parties, interest groups and social movements • Exaggerated sense of personal possibility and inclination to heroism • Sense of undeserved deprivation • Frustrated relative expectations by gender, race, class, religion, nationality, gender, and all manner of sociological variables. • Isolation attending obsession with mass culture • Over-reliance on technologies of advanced culture • Lack of affinity with natural family members • Failed experiences of life as immigrants, as members of a non-native community, minority group, or multicultural context for living.
Too many young adults despair of their lives achieving their dreams and expectations. They may also suffer unmet needs along any of the lines just sketched. As a result they fall victim to false prophets, demagogues, and the promises that imitate legitimate social institutions, processes, and contexts and healthy behaviors.
Ultimately, they set themselves on a path to be used as fodder for the terrorists' aims, but their activity mimics and imitates the lives they imagine for themselves to be purposeful, meaningful, and whole.
This is hardly what Benedict Anderson meant by the basis for nationalism in the work Imagined Communities, but there are parallels. The terrorist organizations have organized media and images, they brand themselves well, they create structures that imitate established social organizations, they provide solidary/material/ideological incentives to join, participate, and substantiate a politics with clear distinctions between in- and out-groups, hierarchies of desert and reward, and definitions of justice as against the images of the mainstream cultures, societies, nations, governments, religions, etc. They create substitutes for the rest of the world.
In the zeal to identify new populations to occupy laboring classes, in the desire to supplement declining birth rates, in the hope to renew existing and aging civilizations and countries, advanced countries need to focus on the real threat represented here. It is that we too much discount and underserve our youth. That is because the post-World War II generations succeeded too well for themselves but did not create the means to extend anything like the quality of life they enjoy for ensuing and coming generations. They have violated the intergenerational tenets of political justice that liberal societies imply for all persons in their authority. For students of Rawlsian liberalism, one aspect of that theory of justice should include intergenerational concerns.
We must tend now to begin to create the conditions for inter-generational and international indices of inequality for all of us. On par with concerns about climate change and the environment, we have undercut the conditions of universal humanity of the present generation of young adults and at least the next generation to come.
Policies to ease - no eliminate - exorbitant and rising inequalities of income, wealth and life conditions are sorely needed. Tending to the basic human needs, an economic bill of rights, is long past time, on a universal scale. Full provision of educational possibilities to include a university education would make sense. Full employment policies, regulations to ease corporate and financial depredations and corruption also would help. 100,000 universities and practical training centers need to be constructed for the world's young adults devoted consciously to their concerns and their training for the professions, including technical vocations. What could all of this look like?
Nothing is forever, but nothing changes without organized effort that partakes of common humanity. At present, the vector of terrorism has arisen apace and must be faced, full force and head on. And by that, I mean much more than in military terms. I mean in the terms of common humanity and its evolution to reality on this earth.