amalgams, ISIS, modernity, morality, religiosity, social space, tribalism

ISIS is a baffling phenomenon. It practices public beheadings and deliberate and exuberant mass killings of enemies that modern Westerners associate with primitive tribalism we left behind many centuries ago. From our Bible we read about King David exuberantly slaughtering two thirds of the Moabites – and tell ourselves, “this sort of thing, once sanctioned on supposedly religious grounds, is really a form of ancient tribalism”, long forgotten and left behind by Modernity, with its far greater reverence for life. Now, surprisingly, we discover that religion-grounded tribalism is currently embraced and practiced by contemporaries calling themselves ISIS.

Yet the members of this same ISIS also practice the most sophisticated social media techniques we associate with the height of modernity – where the brutal, religion-grounded tribalism has surely been surpassed long ago.

I have been trying to help us get a better understanding of the Social Space in which we humans live – the subtitle of a book of mine is “How we Cope in Social Space” (*). One of four attributes of that Social Space is that we humans often live in a Closed Moral World. It gives us our sense of who and what we are; it provides us our moral moorings. Yet such Closed Moral Worlds sometimes become totally impervious to other beliefs, to other perspectives of what is decent and worthy. This characteristic of Closed Moral Worlds is surely at work among contemporary ISIS adherents. Its practitioners seem totally shut off from Modern sensibilities about human life, yet imbued with the passionate sense that they are acting Morally.

Nonetheless, the ISIS phenomenon teaches us something new about the nature of Closed Moral Worlds. It is that within such Closed Moral Worlds there can develop unique amalgams that defy the external world’s ideals about human life. This, it seems, is what is happening in the ISIS phenomenon. It amalgamates ancient tribalism with selected parts of Modernity.

(*) The full title of that book is “Our quest for effective living: A window to a new science / How we cope in Social Space.” For a description of that book, including the Closed Moral World construct, see,