Coping behavior, Crusades, extremism, higher power, ISIS, Jews, persecution, social space, Ultimates

In today’s New York Times (February 15, 2015) Susan Jacoby presents an enlightening essay, “The First Victims of the First Crusades”. She reminds us that Catholic Crusaders, in 1096, entering on their journey to free Jerusalem from Muslims singled out Jews for their first extremist target. Jews must convert or die. Her essay, along with President Obama’s recent speech point to similarities between the ISIS type of extremism and the extremism of the Crusades. To be sure not all Muslims share in the ISIS murderous extremism, in fact they are appalled by it, just as not all Catholics shared in the murderous extremism of the Crusades, and were appalled by it.   And yet, these actions deserve serious analysis – not merely labeling the participants as crazy terrorists, or violent lunatics (as Susan Jacoby does). Just what is going on? What is the appeal of such supposedly “medieval behavior” that’s happening in our time, highlighted by the actions of ISIS members?

For some time I have been studying how we humans cope with the fact that we live in Social Space. (*) Within that space we often find ways to “transcend” our immediate circumstances. I began this work by interpreting Viktor Frankl’s famous book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” In it he describes how, in the Auschwitz concentration camp, a young, dying women was able to transcend the horror of her present situation, convinced that she had gained access to a HIGHER POWER, some sort of  Ultimate Reality, and thereby achieve sublime insights that made her declare that she was now happier than she had ever been!  She was convinced that she had brought that HIGHER POWER, that Ultimate Reality, INTO HER HERE AND NOW! It gave her the tools to deal with the horror in her present situation.

I am convinced that this is not as unique as it may sound. We humans practice Transcendence quite often — in mundane ways when we pray, when we “declare allegiance to the flag”, when we are enraptured by a guru and, even, when decent Germans followed a charismatic Hitler. In each case we are convinced that not only do we have a glimpse of some sort of Higher Power, an Ultimate Reality. We may believe we have access to it, and even more importantly, that this Higher Power, this Ultimate Reality, comes into our life, here and now.   That LURE OF THE ULTIMATE  is surely at work in the actions of ISIS extremists – just as it was for Crusaders in 1096. They feel empowered by the conviction that the ULTIMATE is with them. They are its agents. They must implement its vision.  It is their highest calling.  Their greatest reward.

The basic issue is that the ISIS extremist actors are using the human capacity to connect to a supposed Ultimate Reality and bring it into one’s personal life, here and now. Their actions are appalling. But they make use of an ordinary, commonly used human attribute. This is what we must look at if we want to fight their evil actions.

(*) In my book, “Our Quest for Effective Living: A window to a New Science / How we Cope in Social Space.”


ABOUT THE BOOK “IMMEDIACY: How our world confronts us & How we confront our world”

Immediacy, social field, social psychology, sociology

At birth we humans, if left to our own devices, would not survive very long. Perhaps only a day. Much of our upbringing consists of learning to cope with the immediate circumstances we encounter in daily life. Our survival depends on it. Our happiness depends on it. Our effectiveness as human beings depends on it.

These immediate circumstances – the IMMEDIACY — is what this book is all about. It flows from my conviction that immediacy – any immediacy in which we humans find ourselves – has a distinct, identifiable character. That beyond the flux and flow of everyday life, and even beyond the bewildering multiplicity of events and circumstances that come our way, there is an orderliness in every Immediacy. And that orderliness can be identified and understood. This is the challenge I am trying to address in this book.

The book focuses on four dimensions of Immediacy – Transcendence, Constriction, Impinging, and Transformation. While doing so, the book illuminates the seductive appeal of cults and false messiahs; ways in which morality can turn out to sponsor social horrors; a hidden side of our personal careers — to list just a few out of several more issues that get illuminated.

I won’t go into each of the four dimensions of Immediacy. But to give you a taste of one of them, Impinging, let me just say that it grows out of the fact that social structures have the peculiarity that they are not only separate and distinct entities, yet they also INTERPENETRATE one another. This holds for every social structure – be it our family, the place where we work, the religious organization to which we belong, or any one of many other social organizations or institutions that exist in our society. They all interpenetrate one another, and they do so in quite specific ways. I describe that interpenetration as the “Rider phenomenon”, namely, how one context makes an imprint on another context. Here is an illustration:

We all know that in modern marketing, sex is frequently used to sell just about everything, from toothpaste to furniture to cars. It is a case of one sphere of our personal and social existence, such as one’s sexual identity and concerns impinging on quite another sphere, namely the sphere of commercial activity, of buying and selling goods and services that are not part of our sexuality at all. Sex, in the marketing of goods and services, is a silent “Rider” to much commercial activity, where it may act as a catalyst that promotes a particular business transaction.

RIDER is a phenomenon in its own right:

It can be silent (not openly acknowledged) but active, as in the sex rider to commercial activity.

It can be dormant for a period of time but available for full activation later, sometimes quite suddenly. (Examples: Anti-Semitism and other racial and ethnic prejudices and hatreds. These periodically erupt after periods of seeming disappearance.)

It can exist in veiled form, as in America’s anti-Obama racism.

It may flourish; and it may fade into oblivion. Some events, such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor (“Remember Pearl Harbor!”) flourish at some times as very loud and palpable reminders. At other times they fade, and are rarely mentioned.

Here, then, is a set of Rider attributes that have impact on the very nature of Immediacy. This makes them components of a science about Immediacy in our human social existence – which this book tries to generate.