Every sham may have a patina. Our obvious species progresses in technical and scientific realms still has no discernible counterpart in cooperative human relations. Yes, we can certainly manufacture advanced jet aircraft, send astronauts into space, and even communicate by "Twitter" or "tweet" (whatever that means), but before we are allowed to board commercial airline flights, we must first take off our shoes. The plan is not to enhance our personal comfort, but only to ensure that we don't blow up the plane.
What kind of self-defiling habitat have we erected here on earth? This is a reasonable and plainly urgent question. How have we managed, in such perversely steady increments of willful disregard, to so blithely scandalize our own creation? Why do world politics continue to bear the grotesquely injurious stigmata of our most egregious individual failings?
Much as we like to cast ourselves as a "higher" species, the veneer of human society remains razor thin. Although largely inured to civilizational horror, we must still witness matter-of-fact accounts of child soldier atrocities, rampant slavery, proliferating terrorism, human trafficking, rape camps, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Somehow, although suitably conversant with statistics and science, entire nations still manage to glance smugly over mountains of freshly eviscerated corpses, and to declare, unashamedly, "Life is good."
Mass societies, the voracious product of our all-consuming human desperation to belong and to fit in, greedily suck out the marrow of human wisdom, reverence, and (above all) compassion. In the Islamic Middle East, true Jihadi power now has little to do with land or territory or armies. Here, instead, the most sought after form of power is power over death.
For the Jihadists, as we should be learning from the anthropologists, terrorism is only superficially about politics or ideology. At its heart, it is rather the newest and most efficient form of human sacrifice, a convenient path to both personal belonging and life everlasting. What could be better?
Until this vastly underestimated calculation is finally understood in Washington, all of our current and future American wars will remain beside the point. Indeed, if this indispensable insight had been understood earlier, few if any American lives or treasure would have been wasted in Iraq or Afghanistan. And if this insight is not understood soon, we will likely suffer similar losses in such presently expanding war zones as Yemen, Syria, Sudan, and Somalia.
Hope exists, to be sure, but it must sing softly, so as not to become a source of frustration. The "blood-dimmed tide" creates a deathly pollution, but it is still possible to search for transient signs of grace and purity. We must all learn to pay rapt attention to our personal feelings of empathy, anxiety, restlessness, and desperation. While they may remain unrecognized as causal elements of a wider world politics, these intimate and innately human feelings are actually determinative for all international relations.
Oddly enough, even at presidential election time, we Americans still don't really understand that life must ultimately be about the individual. In essence, the time for "modernization," "globalization," "artificial intelligence," and "new information methodologies" is already over. To survive together, cooperating residents of this endangered planet must finally learn to discover an authentic human existence, one that is detached from concocted and corrosive tribal distinctions. Here, too, we require detachment from a suffocating ethos of banal conformance, shallow optimism, and an always conspicuously contrived happiness.
Lesson No. 3. It is only in the vital expression of an awakened human spirit that we can ever learn to recognize what is most important: that is, that agony is more predictive than astronomy, that cries of despair are more urgent than the disembodied powers of technology, and that our solitary tears have far greater social significance than assorted Facebook ramblings.