Demystification Guru

Just because we don't understand something, doesn't mean it isn't understandable.

My Photo
Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Sunday, August 20, 2006

on terrorists

I've been thinking about terrorists lately - I wonder why? Someone compared them to a cancer and then a subsequent letter to the editor criticized this on some spurious medical basis. So I've been working on the analogy.

A cancer is a cell in the body that "goes bad". It starts replicating itself (dividing) oddly and sometimes becomes a growth or tumour. Sometimes it affects the cells around it and they start replicating incorrectly. Sometimes, it floats off to other parts of the body and then makes those cells start going bad. Eventually, the cancer, because the cells don't behave like normal cells, causes that part of the body to stop functioning the way it was intended. And sometimes, this causes the whole body to die. When this happens, the cancer also dies, because it has relied on the host body for life. But then a cancer cell doesn't think - it just reproduces.

Let's use Lance Armstrong as an example because his fight with cancer is so well known. It started in a testicle but then it spread to his lungs and brain. The doctors cut the cancer out of his testicle and brain but they used chemotherapy to kill the cancer in his lungs. Different location, different cancer cells - different treatment. In his case, the cancer cells died and he lived and the rest is history.

Now, before the terrorist analogy, we need to discuss "society". The cancer cell lives in a human body. The terrorist lives in a society. It's harder to kill off an entire society than it is to kill off one human body but it is possible to try. What does a society need to "live", to prosper? A family is the smallest unit that could be called a society I suppose. A family chooses to live together and there is a certain amount of cooperation so that essentials get done. Same with a country, really. We all live together and cooperate so that certain things get done.

So can a terrorist be likened to a cancer cell? Except for the fact that a terrorist is a whole person and therefore chooses his actions, I think we can. A terrorist doesn't want to live in society with everyone else and acts to destroy the society. It doesn't seem to matter to him that he might destroy himself in the process. And like a cancer, a bunch of terrorists can form their own sort of society (the tumour) -- which is presumably their goal, to form their own society -- but they really can't survive without a properly functioning society off which to feed. Terrorists don't produce anything except other terrorists. They don't make food or shelter or garments or anything really. A body's various parts work together to help the whole thing survive - the lungs bring in and convert oxygen, the blood pumps it and nutrients around, the guts digest nutrients, etc. A society does that too. But a society of terrorists can't survive without a host.

I think we are justified as a functioning society in treating terrorists like a cancer. We have to get rid of them because ultimately, they will kill us and themselves. And even if they don't kill us all (because societies are a lot more resilient than a single human body), they may reduce our society to something that barely functions.

Some societies are more successful than others, if success is rated on a scale of contentment of its members, financial prosperity, tolerance and the ability to leave others alone -- things like that. There is a really great book on what makes a prosperous society called "The Birth of Plenty" and the author posits that you must have Property (private property rights), Reason, Capital, and Communication (transportation, power, light). It is obvious which societies have all four components - North America, Europe, Japan. If terrorists succeed in knocking out parts of the complex machine that make up a successful society, then I think we had better resign ourselves to living much more primitively than we now do. That's not something I want to contemplate.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

on gay marriage

I would find it refreshing if an opponent of gay marriage would come right out (pardon the expression) and state the real reason for his opposition. He should say, "I'm a social conservative and I like things to be the way they've always been, at least in my memory. I don't want any changes to society, even if they might actually improve things. That's why my predecessors in spirit opposed women voting - it was a change to society. In fact, just because women have the vote now doesn't mean it is a good thing. It wasn't long enough ago that women got the vote to make me comfortable with it. So while I recognize that eventually there may be gay marriage, I don't think it should happen here until all the other countries in the world have had it for at least 100 years and then I'll be dead so it won't matter to me."

Monday, August 14, 2006

the middle east

I've been thinking a lot about the past month's troubles in Israel and Lebanon. I even got a book from the library on a history of the holy land - and I have two more requested that haven't arrived yet. From my first reading of the first history book, it looks like nothing has changed over the past 4000 years or so. First one group and then another fight for power and control and who gets to charge taxes. The strongest group gets control for a while. A lot depends on the personality of the leader of the strong group. When that changes (he is often assassinated no matter what his origin or culture) then power changes.

My understanding of the present problem is that Hezbollah fired rockets into Israel and then kidnapped some soldiers so Israel fought back. It reminds me of a playground fight - one kid picks on the other and then there's a fight. Does it matter who started it? Sure it does, both in the playground and in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, innocent civilians in Lebanon are paying the price because Hezbollah hides in Lebanon. I thought back to the late 60s and early 70s when I was a kid living in Quebec. Quebec had a lame sort of terrorist organization called the FLQ. I say "lame" because they weren't violent much, thank goodness. They did kill a man but they didn't have suicide bombers targeting marketplaces like Hezbollah does. Anyway, what if the FLQ were violent and the army was called on to quell the terrorism? But what if the FLQ had rockets and fired them at Ottawa? Would the army be justified in firing rockets back at suspected FLQ locations? And what if civilians were killed in the cross fire?

I understand it's not a direct parallel but if the legitimate army stood down and stopped trying to kill the FLQ, there would be nothing to prevent the FLQ from continuing its attacks. Should the army track down the FLQ terrorists one by one and arrest them, all the meanwhile suffering bombing attacks on the rest of Canada? So what happens in the Middle East when Israel stops firing rockets at Hezbollah? Will Hezbollah stop too? And what if it doesn't? What should Israel do if (when) Hezbollah attacks it again?