What have airstrikes, beheadings, and Ebola got in common? Of all the reports that have dominated the international media during the past few months, perhaps the fearsome Ebola disease outbreak in West Africa, the gruesome beheadings of three Western citizens by Islamic States of the Levant (ISIL) and the US-led coalition of the willing devastating airstrikes against ISIL stand out.
These three events are testing our collective humanity and inhumanity at the same time. The conflicting reactions to these events are stretching to the limits our collective sense of compassion and responsibility for fellow humans in times of adversity and need. But the same events are exposing our proclivity to avenge and destroy those who we perceive to be the “other.”
While governments, non-governmental organizations, civic society organizations, as well as brave and selfless individuals are expressing “man’s humanity to man,” fighting the dangerously spreading Ebola disease in the West African sub-region, ISIL militants are busy showing “man’s inhumanity to man” in gory acts of beheading innocent Westerners, just as the USA is leading deadly retributive airstrikes against ISIL targets in Iraq and Syria, killing hundreds of innocent Iraqi and Syrian civilians, including women and children.
Despite decades of financial hardships, Cuba is reportedly sending a contingent of 165-strong army of doctors and specialists to West Africa to help in the effort to stop the spread of the Ebola disease. Following on the heels of Cuba’s announcement, the Obama Administration in the USA announced its own significantly enhanced aid package of 3,000 military personnel and 1,700 beds brings to help in stopping the spread of Ebola, while Obama sought Congress blessing to carry out air strikes in Syria against ISIL.
While the Canadian government is mulling upping its military contribution to the war against ISIL, aka ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham), it announced September 25, 2014 it would increase its anti-Ebola assistance package from a paltry 2 million Canadian dollars to a whooping $30 million. China, for its part, has pledged 32 million US dollars to help West African nations to stem the spread of the disease. Pledges of help keep coming from nations around the globe just as nearly 50 countries have joined the “coalition of the willing” to “degrade and destroy” ISIL.
If there is anything these acts of beneficence and maleficence teach us, it is that the human being is very flexible, capable of both good and evil. Social thinker and founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud saw two sides of human nature: selfish and pleasure –seeking with a sensual drive, a “pleasure principle” constantly urging us to take what we would and a self-destructive and aggressive drive, urging us to reject and to hate, pushing us to destroy others and ourselves.
Freud wrote, “Aggressive cruelty always lies in wait”, and, when it is not inhibited, it will be expressed and reveal us as ”savage beasts to whom the thoughts of sparring[our own kind] is alien.” Civil society, he said, is perpetually menaced with disintegration through this primordial hostility of men towards one another. He further wrote: “Aggressive cruelty always lies in wait” and when it is not inhibited it will be expressed and reveal us as “savage beasts to whom the thoughts of sparring [our own kind] is alien.” Civil society, he said is perpetually menaced with disintegration through this primordial hostility of men toward each other. As a sociologist, I disagree that aggression is innate. Far from being pre-wired to aggress, we learn to aggress in the same way we learn to love. That said, I am keenly aware that biology does play some role in human hostility. To discount the role of biology or genes in human tendency to aggress is tantamount to stupidity. There is always and ongoing interplay of genes and the social environment, but what constitutes social behavior in humans is quite powerfully impacted by social learning.
Again, unlike Freud, I take the more optimistic view of the human race. I share the positive stance taken by the Psalmist in the Bible: “That hast made him a little lower than the angels and hast crown him with glory and honour.” It has been demonstrated again and that we as human beings, after all, are infused with noble ideas of kindness, forgiveness, tolerance, and compassion. Let’s therefore brace ourselves for the future armed with the lessons of nobility, forgiveness, and tolerance, not forgetting, of course, the pitfalls of our vile excesses and our proclivity for destructive selfishness.
But forgiveness and tolerance should neither be misconstrued to mean pacifism nor support for the status quo ante. Forgiveness and tolerance must mean the readiness to act promptly and unequivocally to prevent the repetition of the crimes against humanity and working ceaselessly to bring justice to the legions of the disenfranchised, poverty-stricken, disease-stricken, war-ravaged peoples of the world. What is clear from the so-called religious and anti-terrorism “campaigns” are masked economic wars. In other words, they are struggles over scarce economic resources and scrambles to control political power. Religion and terrorism are mere fronts for deep-seated grievances over economic deprivation. Politics is the concentrated expression of economics, as V. I. Lenin, chief architect of the Russian Communist Revolution rightly noted.
By Charles Quist-Adade, PhD
President Obama Speaks at the U.N. Meeting on Ebola
“We will not stop, we will not relent until we halt this epidemic once and for all.” —President Obama to world leaders at the United Nations on the #Ebola epidemic in West Africa