What sense to make of Sri Lanka?
On Easter Sunday a domestic radical group in Sri Lanka killed more than 200 people, using 7 suicide bombers.
There was some advance warning. Intelligence agencies got wind of the planned attack in early April, and warned, or tried to warn, the appropriate authorities. Unfortunately the government in Sri Lanka is “dysfunctional”, according to the Globe and Mail. In any event, the terrorists “succeeded” (more on this below). You can read about it here.
Terrorism is not a new thing. It’s been around since the first century of the Common Era. Generally terrorists oppose change, and believe that force is the way to effect their own desired change.
According to anthropologist Bruce Malina, force as a change agent went out of style nearly two thousand years ago. More effective change agents in our modern world are knowledge and money.
The rise of populist governments reflects the frustration that people have toward using knowledge as a source of influence. What passes for knowledge these days is inflated: through social media, “knowledge” is readily available and not worth much. A lot of it is fake news. We don’t have the patience to sift through knowledge. We voted for Doug Ford.
And not everyone has money. Not much influence there. And so people are scrambling back to before the Dark Ages, when the size of your club and the size of your family were the change agents of choice.
Here’s the rub: terrorism makes the news, but it doesn’t really work. According to Oxfam, terrorism is the lowest cause of death in the world. Smoking is more than 450 times more dangerous . Terrorists achieve only 7% of their objectives . Think about it. Terrorists get a score of 7 out of 100 in their work. I did better than that in organic chemistry.
Violence is for dinosaurs. But some part of our brain – the amygdala, which has many wonderful survival functions but, alas, some of them very archaic – persists in suggesting violent means to desired ends.
Violence persists because of the short-term reward. It feels good to get angry. It seems to achieve results, in the short run. People pay attention. They are scared. They might even do what we want.
But after the brief reward of anger comes the damage and the consequences. People avoid you. People shame you. You shame yourself. Shame cuts you off from community. Anger isolates you from the very people you were trying to influence. As a relationship tool, anger is an oxymoron.
There are only four ways to change the world: knowledge, money, power, and family. Any given society uses two as their dominant influencers. We use knowledge and money. Ancient societies used power (i.e. anger, violence) and family (commitment).
I’m still a big fan of knowledge (and money, when I can get it), but these days a change may be in the wind.
Family may be the dominant change agent of the future. Relationships. Commitment. Family writ large. Family, not just to whom you are genetically related, or to whom, through your parents, you are forced to relate, but family as you define it for yourself: the people to whom you choose to relate. This could be your hope for survival, if you choose wisely.
We are, after all, mammals. We survive better in herds.
Relationships are difficult to maintain when you’re scared but they are, in fact, one of the best responses to threat. Change breeds fear and there is so much change today. Our bodies are hardwired to respond to this threat. But in two ways.
The emergency response is fight or flight: anger or fear. Terrorism or terror. Not very effective except when you are alone and being attacked in a dark alley.
The other response is, in fact, relationship. To seek the support of one another. Form a herd. Form a community. Share resources. Share knowledge – the real stuff. Communicate. Make a measured and communal response to threats. Vote. Influence. Have a voice. Care for one another.
You may be so mad that you want the instant gratification that comes from anger-power-terror but – wait a minute. Don’t be a dinosaur. Breathe. Look to your neighbour. Go out for coffee and plan a peaceful response instead. You will be more effective.