Justice Broadens the Mind, Jamming, 17/11/2015

Before my weekend organizing the Syria Film Festival, I was looking forward to writing a post celebrating the optimism and the movement for peace and acceptance that brought so many people from so many different arts and charitable agencies together.*

* I also had to catch up on Doctor Who, and I did that first.

SYFF was an enormous success, better than any of us among the organizers had thought we’d do. But the weekend tasted bitter to me, because of da’esh suicide bombings in Paris and Beirut

The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, where more than
200,000 people live, who'd prefer to be in a community
with more than a bare subsistence economy. Like
Toronto, so they can live in relative dignity.
Monday morning, I got even angrier at the news when I heard about the arson at the only mosque in Peterborough. Many Canadians were having the worst possible reaction to the news of the Paris attacks. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall joined the chorus of American state governors announcing that he'd allow no Syrians to settle in his province.

But I ended Monday and began writing this post with feelings of hope. It wasn’t just because within just over a day, the crowdfunding project to repair the Peterborough mosque had collected nearly $110,000, more than enough to repair and refurbish it. Though that was nice.

I was thinking about how the different sides of the dispute over refugees in the West unfolded. It makes me suspect that the mind guided by progress and justice is epistemically superior to the mind guided by fear, conservatism, and hatred.

It has to do with adaptability. Let me explain.

Living in a contingent world, strength and resilience is a matter of adaptation. We have to adjust to a changing world, changing circumstances. The habits and traditions that have been useful and benefit to us in the past won't be so forever. Eventually, the world will change in a way that our traditions harm us.

This is the centrepiece of my Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity. The habits of consumption and thought that enable our ecological destructiveness are finally biting us in the ass, and if we want to survive as a civilization and a species, we'll have to change.

The same holds for our politics. We can no longer afford to live in a world where we distrust people who are different. Our weapons have, for the last hundred years at least, been too destructive for us to split into tribes (or ethnicities or nations) and wage war on people who are different than we are.

Justice isn’t only the most ethical path. It’s the path that best enables human survival. The arc of justice requires change.

When I listen to conservative arguments after the Paris attacks, they repeat the same ideas they have for decades. We must defend ourselves from our enemies. We must close ranks and ostracize the foreign and other. This mentality doesn't change. It’s frozen.

I could criticize such people about this. They’ll say that what’s right doesn’t change, that the true is universal and true for all time. I’ll say it isn’t. We'll call each other deluded. 

They'll drown as the oceans rise and burn in a nuclear explosion, all the time saying that the world is as it should be. I’ll desperately try to save us from catastrophic climate shifts and global war. Well, not just me. I don't have time for all that myself.

But the progressive reaction to successive terror events has shown, well, progress in its thinking. The peace-minded evaluation of the situation changes. Our collective intelligence develops new insights.

When the current ongoing catastrophe of the Middle East began, with George W Bush's invasion of Iraq, the general opposition reaction focussed on how the invasion would only fuel the radicalism that generated the Sept 11 attacks in the first place. The pro-invasion side focussed on revenge, self-defence from violent radicals, and othering Muslim people.

Nearly 13 years later, the progressive reaction to the Paris attacks evaluated da’esh’s motives. We understand immediately how turning Westerners against refugees plays into da’esh’s hands

We know that virtually all of Syria's refugees are fleeing a brutal war and Assad's Stalinist government. If we turn them away from our borders, they’ll have no future. Cast adrift, more poor refugees will be consumed with resentment against the West that turned them away when they fled barrel bombs and the secret police. 

Da’esh will have a whole new generation of radicals, both among the Arabs and Europeans & Americans, ready to kill each other and push humanity toward their ultimate goal of an apocalyptic war.

Our understanding of the situation has adapted to the new world. When your mind is on justice, your concern is to figure out how to help those who need it. So you’re able to understand how the world has changed, what’s gone wrong and what has to change for it to go right.

If you close your mind to everyone, they won't be able to call you to pay attention to the world beyond your own thoughts, and the like-minded. The mind is never challenged, so it atrophies. You forget how to learn the nuances of a world that's different from your own, or a world that changes.

Justice keeps the mind limber.

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