On “taking sides”

Imagine being in the Taliban, or in ISIS. And you’re there because there’s nothing else worth doing.

You want your life to be important.

Your tribe is poor and suffering. Improving life for your tribe would make you important. Helping the group gives you the highest objectivity. If you help the group, all group members would agree that you were a hero.

The weak person is the most socially-minded because he recognizes his dependence on others, the importance of the group to its members, and the dependence of the “group” on the interdependence of its members. So the group really is more important than any member. So dying to help the group is noble.

There are three kinds of socially-minded person:

  1. The weak—The weak and poor person who feel immediately his dependence on others and the benefits of meeting others with a wanting-to-please attitude.
  2. The wise—The wise person who knows the ontological interdependence of humans—for language, meaning, reality, production, and happiness. Knowing that aloneness is misery, the wise person deposits value into as many people as possible in order to gain their support.
  3. The hero—The hero thinks that 3D > 1D, or the 3D self is the greatest (see On “taking sides”). Or don’t look it up. It just means that self as group is more important (to the hero) than self as body. The group objectively or divinely just is the final cause of human a life.

That was a tangent. Now, for whatever reason, you join the Taliban. You live in Afghanistan. Your parents were herders and since leaving home your jobs have included cleaning stuff, organizing stuff in a store, and cutting colored glass. In short, your life has been non-heroic. Then one day you watch an ISIS video and are moderately inspired by what you saw. You find the local leader and joined.

Meanwhile, your friends have already joined other groups. Your best friend fights for a different one—the Taliban, say.

Now, leaders are as effective as they believe in their cause, and a leader believes in his cause to the extent that the cause meets valid shared human needs or realizes human freedom by overcoming some actually present obstacle. For this reason, one leader’s program may actually be better than another’s.

So one day he sends you a video and you realize that the Taliban leader in the video is much “better” than the local one you’re fighting for. His vision is more inspiring, or his goals will benefit you more, or his cause is more touching. Or he is just more convincing or charismatic. In any case, he wins your confidence.

The next day you are called out to join an attack on an encroaching group of Taliban fighters. Your cadre jeeps out and you realize: it’s the charismatic Taliban leader’s outpost. You fight, but you think to yourself, “What am I doing? I don’t really believe in my leader’s cause. I mean, it’s OK, but this other guy’s mission is far superior.”

Then a bullet comes and you realize, “I should probably let it hit me.”

You don’t want to die, but you also don’t want to live a dead life, which in your world is more humiliating and, so, more painful. In the same way that life in prison without parole is worse than execution.

And by letting the bullet hit you, you do the right thing.