Terrorism as a Means of Self-Actualization
A Disturbing Look at Human Behavior
by Jason Crumer (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Violence improves the value of life. More precisely, violence improves the value of the person's life who is perpetrating the terror. That is to say when people perform violent acts upon others, they attempt to raise or defend their personal or collective value as seen through their own eyes. Though some see brutality as a way to gain more personal value than they already have, most of us use violence to terrorize those who threaten our existing but fragile self-esteems.
I sense some readers may become uncomfortable when I say "most of us." First I say violence increases a person's value; then I include most people in its use. That's right. Though most of us think of violence as forceful death or physical injury, and most of us are not out there damaging others that way, the violence I speak of is hostility in any form -- whether emotional, economic, psychological or physical -- against another. Violence not only happens in a war, or in a terrorist bombing, or in a hijacking, gang fight or robbery; it happens each time we attack another person's world and personal value in an attempt to increase or salvage our own. And most of us use that kind of violence.
We use that kind of violence when we frame others into taking the blame and consequences for our mistakes. We use it when we spread rumors and gossip. We use it when we attempt to publicly humiliate others, or discredit them in order to keep their input from interfering with our world. Though we say it doesn't hurt, most of us know how it feels to be the target of someone's violent verbal abuse. On the job, bosses may threaten employees who do not help them achieve some personal benefits. When feeling oppressed, employees may strike or damage company assets in order to inflict economic terror. At home, parents may physically or emotionally abuse their children when they don't feel loved by the child. And children can become rebellious when they don't feel heard.
We also use the more subtle but equally effective form of violence known as censorship. Adolescents are great at this. They ostracize anyone who doesn't fit their group. They refuse to sit at the same table or play on the same team as the outcasts. They form what are known as cliques and heap silent scorn upon anyone to whom they've denied admission. They adeptly understand, as do many of us who use the same methods, that silence and withdrawal of recognition are often more damaging than being verbally lambasted or physically abused.
This shows up in the adult world in a variety of ways. We cut off communication with a family member who has violated our norms of behavior. We drop all contact with friends or family who one day start expressing a different religious or political view than our own. We ask the government to censure those who ideologies we see as harmful to our children, i.e. homosexuals and deviant religious members teaching in our schools, and in some locations, anyone who advocates "Global" learning rather than solely promoting United States nationalism. And often, whether we are even aware of it or not, we help disseminate disinformation about those we oppose through adopting and proposing stereotypes we have not personally validated.
Please note at this point that I have not said whether all these forms of violence are good or bad. The word violence, in general, is perceived to be negative, but as in the case of using violence to protect our children, many would argue it is a necessary hostility -- much the way homeowners with guns would argue that shooting a burglar is better than being violated. I have not argued at this point. Rather, my aim in point out the violence in our lives is to show that its use is widespread. And, as I stated earlier, it is widespread because it does bring value to the individual using it.
Violence brings value to the aggressor because of the way we usually receive our personal worth. Although some value comes from the fact that we exist, most comes from who we are. If all our value came from just being, there would not be the disdain for those who will not work, the depression created when someone who wants to work is unemployed, the despise of those who have not achieved as high a level of success as we have, and the ease at which we disregard those in our society that cannot fulfill a productive role. Status symbols would be worthless, and fashion designers would be broke. Most of our worth comes from who we are, and who were are is usually defined by the values of the culture in which we live.
We rely on our cultures to define our values because they are a loud voice of confirmation we would not hear if we relied solely on our own choice of values. At every level, whether it be the national culture or the subculture created by a church group, professional club or family, by conforming to the norms of a culture we gain recognition and confirmation of our value as individuals -- the more we conform, the greater the value. This holds true for counter-cultures as well. Even in rejecting a dominant culture's norms, most of us associate with an established group of people whose culture is based on opposing the dominant culture -- the more we oppose, the greater the value. Every so-called counter-culture has their own cultural norms that distinguish them from other dissenters and which give those involved a level of personal value.
By volunteering to give its participants greater personal value, a culture liberates the individual from making risky decisions. Psychologists and communications specialists use a pyramid-shaped scale to illuminate basic human choices. Called "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs," the scale starts at the bottom of the pyramid with physiological needs, namely food, shelter, air, etc. If a human doesn't have these needs met, he or she cannot move up the pyramid until the needs are remedied (he or she will die). Extremely primitive societies spend much of their energy on this level. The next level is security. Those who can manage to stay alive, but who could lose that ability at any time will spend their energies securing their resources. This is the basis for the beginning of cultures. A group of people working with the same goals can more easily eliminate risks. After security comes social acceptance. Liberated from the fear of death or destruction, humans seek value for themselves from among those in their culture. Finally, at the top of the pyramid is self-actualization, where the individual realizes his or her full potential as creative and productive members of society. Since most of us want self-actualization, and since cultures offer ready-made paths to that end, most of us would rather follow our cultures than risk finding our own way -- directed only by the voice in our hearts instead of the voices of the culture outside.
When a culture defines the shape of our own pyramid of needs, its limitations become our limitations, it's delineations become our castle walls. Inside the walls is safety; outside is danger.
The culture becomes our fortress, and the defense of the fortress is the defense of our very selves. Thus, when another value system, another culture attacks the culture in which we live, rushing to defend its integrity is nothing less than defending the very foundation on which our values are based. And rather than ever have our castle walls crack, possibly letting in ideas and concepts that might pollute the precious environment in which we live, we resort to violence to neutralize any opponent.
Defending our culture depends on our ability to identify who is its enemy and who is its friend. The more quickly we can determine if a visitor is tainted with values incompatible with our culture's, the easier it becomes to close the doors and call up our cache of weapons to be used in its defense. With so many varieties of people coming from different cultures, the job of identifying the undesirable would be almost impossible without resorting to a simplified, though not always correct, method of categorizing people -- stereotyping. While still at a distance, a person exhibiting any qualities of a particular stereotype will be classified as friendly or hostile, and we will open or close our doors depending on that classification. And when those deemed hostile insist on banging on our doors or striking at our cultural walls, we will use violence to terrorize them into leaving us and our value systems alone. We use terrorism as a means of self-actualization.
The sad part of using terrorism is how it seduces good people, with good intentions and charitable beliefs, into using violence as a means of maintaining their moral values. And sadder yet, much of that violence is aimed at a stereotyped group or person that if looked at more closely would reveal an ability to add quality to the life of the ones doing the stereotyping. Conversely, those they stereotype as being friendly often carry subtle but destructive concepts deep into the host culture, without a hint of suspicion by the culture's members.
For example, this happens when Christian groups stereotype on the basis of whether something or someone is Christian or non-Christian, rather than looking deeper to delineate between what is good and evil. Thus, many great truths found in songs by non-Christian or secular musicians are rejected outright, while bad art and shallow theology is embraced with open arms because it falls under the label of Christian music. Many hardcore kids, hippies, and anarchists are more closely aligned with Christ's teaching in the "Sermon on the Mount" because they have already rejected the materialism of our culture -- something a lot of Christians don't want to address. With their stereotypes, many Fundamentalists will reject a person with deep faith in Christ and a giving spirit because he or she smokes and drinks, but they will pay homage to a "great" believer among them who gained wealth through immoral business practices. And we can easily see how Protestants and Catholics are still fighting the wars of the Reformation based on stereotypes as old as Martin Luther. Because they base their value on the culture of the church in which they worship rather than on the teachings of Christ, many well-meaning Christians extend the hand of terrorism rather than the hands of grace and peace to other hurting people in this world.
But Christians aren't the only ones who suffer from their own terrorism. Politicians use terrorism as a means to eliminate the liberal or conservative competition, but in the end they also damage the greater culture of democracy by giving voters a choice between the lesser of two evils rather than the better of two goods. Corporations use the terrorism of advertisements aimed at undermining our feeling of social acceptance and then offer to remedy the problem with their product. While this may increase sales, it also leaves the company open to the pitfall of shifts in the definition of social acceptance. Consider the schizophrenia of the United States Government subsidizing the tobacco industry in order to prop up the sagging economies of tobacco producing states while at the same time restricting smoking in government buildings. Also, our government has used terrorism to keep the Communists at bay -- those "mislead" or "bent" people who want to take away our liberties -- while overlooking and even helping third-world dictators guilty of the same evil designs but who fit the stereotype of being anti-communist.
So how do we achieve self-actualization without resorting to terrorism? How do we find security and social acceptance without bringing violence to bear on those we've stereotyped as hostile? And how do we shift away from needing to stereotype others in the first place?
The answer is not through rejecting a particular culture and accepting another. It is not through jumping from one culture to another until we find the optimum one, because by nature the make up of most cultures is defined some part by what it rejects. And to base our value solely on those cultures is to become people who reject, people who stereotype, people who terrorize.
The answer is simple, but most of us reject it because it's not easy. Instead of relying on a culture to define our value, we must risk losing social acceptance long enough to build our value on who we choose to be in our hearts rather than who we're told to be by our culture. We need not reject our culture, but we need not embrace it either. If we've discovered our worth from within our hearts and minds, then, when our culture is threatened, we need not cringe at every crack that appears, and we need not terrorize those whose values are creating the threat. What we must do, however, is put in the hard work of evaluating the threat for what it really is. Then we can gain from the values of the outsider that we find useful and reject what we do not want based on our own desires rather than on the limits of our culture. And by not leaving our chosen culture, when the people in it realize our differences do not threaten their own security, we will once again receive social acceptance and even gain ability to broaden the culture's values through our participation in it.
Indeed, violence improves the value of life but only when a person's value is based on a culture rather than on the true desires of the heart and mind. Indeed, terrorism can defend self-actualization, but not without the threat of also diminishing lives in the process. Indeed, cultures and their stereotypes are easier to function within than climbing the pyramid alone, but if we make the choices of where and how we climb, we will ultimately find ourselves standing on a foundation less easily destroyed by the terrorism of others.
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