A World Out of Touch With Itself:
            Where the Violence Comes From

                by Rabbi Michael Lerner
                Editor, TIKKUN Magazine

  There is never any justification for acts of terror against innocent
civilians--it is the quintessential act of dehumanization and not
recognizing the sanctity of others, and a visible symbol of a world
increasingly irrational and out of control.

 It's understandable why many of us, after grieving and consoling
the mourners, feel anger. Unfortunately, demagogues in the White
House and Congress have  manipulated our legitimate outrage and
channeled it into a new militarism and a revival of the deepest held
belief of the conservative world-view: that the world is mostly a
dangerous place and our lives must be based around protecting
ourselves from the threatening others. In this case, terrorism
provides a perfect base for this worldview--it can come from
anywhere, we don't really know who is the enemy, and so everyone
can be suspect and everyone can be a target of our fear-induced
rage. With this as a foundation, the Bush team has been able to turn
this terrible and outrageous attack into a justification for massive
military spending, a new war and the inevitable trappings: repression
of civil liberties, denigration of "evil others," and a new climate of
fear and intimidation against anyone who doesn't join this misuse of
patriotism toward distorted ends.

 Of course, the people who did this attack are evil and they are a
real threat to the human race. If they could, they would use nuclear
weapons or chemical/biological weapons. The perpetrators deserve to
be punished, and I personally would be happy if all the people involved
in this act were to be imprisoned for the rest of their lives. But that
is quite different from talk about "eliminating countries" which we
heard from Colin Powell in the days after the attack. Punishing the
perpetrators is different from making war against whole populations.

 The narrow focus on the perpetrators  allows us to avoid dealing with
the underlying issues. When violence becomes so prevalent throughout
the planet, it's too easy to simply talk of "deranged minds." We need
to ask ourselves, "What is it in the way that we are living, organizing
our societies, and treating each other that makes violence seem
plausible to so many people?" And why is it that our immediate response
to violence is to use violence ourselves--thus reenforcing the cycle of
violence in the world?

 We in the spiritual world will see the root problem here  as a growing
global incapacity to recognize the spirit of God in each other--what we
call the sanctity of each human being. But even if you reject religious
language, you can see that the willingness of people to hurt each other
to advance their own interests has become a global problem, and its only
the dramatic level of this particular attack which distinguishes it from
the violence and insensitivity to each other that is part of our daily lives.

 We may tell ourselves that the current violence has "nothing to do" with
the way that we've learned to close our ears when told that one out of
every three people on this planet does not have enough food, and that one
billion are literally starving. We may reassure ourselves that the hoarding
of the world's resources by the richest society in world history, and our
frantic attempts to accelerate globalization with its attendant inequalities
of wealth, has nothing to do with the resentment that others feel toward
us. We may tell ourselves that the suffering of refugees and the oppressed
have nothing to do with us--that that's a different story that is going on
somewhere else. But we live in one world, increasingly interconnected with
everyone, and the forces that lead people to feel outrage, anger and
desperation eventually impact on our own daily lives.

 The same inability to feel the pain of others is the pathology that shapes
the minds of these terrorists.  Raise children in circumstances where no
one is there to take care of them, or where they must live by begging or
selling their bodies in prostitution, put them in refugee camps and tell
them that that they have "no right of return" to their homes, treat
them as though they are less valuable and deserving of respect because
they are part of some despised national or ethnic group, surround them
with a media that extols the rich and makes everyone who is not
economically successful and physically trim and conventionally "beautiful"
feel bad about themselves, offer them jobs whose sole goal is to enrich
the "bottom line" of someone else, and teach them that "looking out for
number one" is the only thing anyone "really" cares about and that anyone
who believes in love and social justice are merely naive idealists who are
destined to always remain powerless, and you will produce a world-wide
population of people feeling depressed, angry, unable to care about
others, and in various ways dysfunctional.

 I see this in Israel, where Israelis have taken to dismissing the entire
Palestinian people as "terrorists" but never ask themselves: "What have
we done to make this seem to Palestinians to be a reasonable path of
action today." Of course  there were always some hateful people and
some religious fundamentalists who want to act in hurtful ways against
Israel, no matter what the circumstances. Yet, in the situation of
1993-96 when Israel under Yitzhak Rabin was pursuing a path of
negotiations and peace, the fundamentalists had little following and
there were few acts of violence.  On the other hand, when Israel failed
to withdraw from the West Bank, and instead expanded the number of
its settlers, the fundamentalists and haters had a far easier time
convincing many decent Palestinians that there might be no other

 Similarly, if the U.S. turns its back on global agreements to preserve
the environment, unilaterally cancels its treaties to not build a missile
defense, accelerates the processes by which a global economy has made
some people in the third world richer but many poorer, shows that it
cares nothing for the fate of refugees who have been homeless for
decades, and otherwise turns its back on ethical norms, it becomes far
easier for the haters and the fundamentalists to recruit people who are
willing to kill themselves in strikes against what they perceive to be an
evil American empire represented by the Pentagon and the World Trade

   Most Americans will feel puzzled by any reference to this "larger
picture." It seems baffling to imagine that somehow we are part of a
world system which is slowly destroying the life support system of the
planet, and quickly transferring the wealth of the world into our own

 We don't feel personally responsible when an American corporation runs
a sweat shop in the Phillipines or crushes efforts of workers to organize in
Singapore. We don't see ourselves implicated when the U.S. refuses to
consider the plight of Palestinian refugees or uses the excuse of fighting
drugs to support repression in Colombia or other parts of Central America.
We don't even see the symbolism when terrorists attack America's military
center and our trade center--we talk of them as buildings, though others
see them as centers of the forces that are causing the world so much pain.

 We have narrowed our own attention to "getting through" or "doing well"
in our own personal lives, and who has time to focus on all the rest of this?
Most of us are leading perfectly reasonable lives within the options that
we have available to us--so why should others be angry at us, much less
strike out against us? And the truth is, our anger is also understandable:
the striking out by others in acts of terror against us is just as irrational
as the world-system that it seeks to confront.  Yet our acts of
counter-terror will also be counter-productive. We should have learned
from the current phase of the Israel-Palestinian struggle , responding to
terror with more violence, rather than asking ourselves what we could
do to change the conditions that generated it in the first place, will only
ensure more violence against us in the future.

 Luckily,  most people don't act out in violent ways--they tend to act out
more against themselves, drowning themselves in alcohol or drugs or
personal despair. Others turn toward fundamentalist religions or ultra-
nationalist extremism.  Still others find themselves acting out against
people that they love, acting angry or hurtful toward children or
relationship partners.

 This is a world out of touch with itself, filled with people who have
forgotten how to recognize and respond to the sacred in each other
because we are so used to looking at others from the standpoint of
what they can do for us, how we can use them toward our own ends.
The alternatives are stark: either start caring about the fate of
everyone on this planet or be prepared for a slippery slope toward
violence that will eventually dominate our daily lives.

 None of this should be read as somehow mitigating our anger at the
terrorists. Let's not be naïve about the perpetrators of this terror.
The brains and money behind this operation isn't a group of refugees living
penniless in Palestinian refugee camps. Many of the core terrorists are
evil people, as are some of the fundamentalists and ultra-nationalists
who demean and are willing to destroy others. But these evil people are
often marginalized when societal dynamics are moving toward peace and
hope (e.g. in Israel while Yitzhak Rabin was Prime Minister) and they
become much more influential and able to recruit people to give their
lives to their cause when ordinary and otherwise decent  people despair
of peace and justice (as when Israel from `1996 to 2000 dramatically
increased the number of settlers).

 So here is what would marginalize those who hate the United States.
Imagine  if the Ben Ladins of the world had to recruit people against
America at a time  when:
    1. America was using its economic resources to end world hunger and
        redistribute the wealth of the planet so that everyone had enough.
    2. America was the leading voice championing an ethos of generosity
        and caring for others-leading the world in ecological responsibility,
        social justice, open-hearted treatment of minorities, and rewarding
        people and corporations for social responsibility.
    3. America was restructuring its own internal life so that all social
        practices and institutions were being judged "productive or efficient
        or rational" not only because they maximized profit, but also to the
        extent that they maximized love and caring, ethical/spiritual/
        ecological sensitivity, and an approach to the universe based on awe
        and wonder at the grandeur of creation (what I call an Emancipatory

 We are trying to develop this kind of  "New Bottom Line" in Tikkun. To
build support for this approach we are now starting what we call "The
TIKKUN COMMUNITY"--both as a vehicle to raise money for the magazine,
and as a way of taking some steps to acknowledge the reality that we have
been functioning not only as a magazine, but as a kind of movement. The
TIKKUN COMMUNITY will be a cadre of people who agree with certain
basic principles. The founding statement can be found in this very issue of
TIKKUN magazine (Nov.Dec, 2001) and on our website. We hope you'll join

Think it's naive and impossible to move American in that direction? Well,
here are two reasons why, even if it's a long shot, it's an approach that
deserves your support:  a. It's even  more naïve to imagine that bombings,
missile defense systems, more spies or baggage searches can stop people
willing to lose their lives to wreak havoc and capable of airplane hijacking,
chemical assaults (like anthrax), etc.   b. The response of people to the
World Trade Building collapse was an outpouring of loving energy and
generosity, sometimes even risking their own lives, and showing the capacity
and desire we all have to care about each other. If we could legitimate
people allowing that part of themselves to come out, without having to wait
for a disaster, we could empower a part of every human being which our
social order marginalizes. Americans have a deep goodness-and that needs
to be affirmed.

  Indeed, the goodness that poured forth from so many Americans should
not be allowed to be overshadowed by the subsequent shift toward militarism
and anger. That same caring energy could have been given a more positive
outlet--if we didn't live in a society which normally teaches us that our
"natural" instinct is toward aggression and that the best we can hope for is
a world which gives us protection.

 The central struggle going on in the world today is this one: between hope
and fear, love or paranoia, generosity or trying to shore up one's own portion.
In my book Spirit Matters I show why there is no possibility in sustaining a
world built on fear. Our only hope is to revert to a consciousness of generosity
and love. That's not to go to a lalla-land where there are no forces like those
who destroyed the Word Trade Center. But it is to refuse to allow that to
become the shaping paradigm of the 21st century. Much better to make the
shaping paradigm the story of the police and firemen who risked (and in many
cases lost) their lives in order to save other human beings who they didn't
even know. Let the paradigm be the generosity and kindness of people when
they are given a social sanction to be caring instead of self-protective. We
cannot let war, hatred and fear become the power in this new century that
it was in the last century.

 And it's up to us. We can't expect the Left to be able to organize a successful
movement, because they will define it in the most narrow terms. They will
talk about the rights of the oppressed and make everyone believe that they
don't really care about the terrible loss of life and the terrible fear that
everyone now how to endure about our own safety. Their justified anger at the
way capitalist globalization has hurt people around the world will make them
play down the outrageousness of this particular attack--and hence be
disconnected to the righteous indignation that most the rest of us feel. Rather,
we need a movement that puts forward a positive vision of a world based on
caring--and a commitment to rectify the injustices that the globalization of
selfishness has wreaked on the world-- while simultaneously making it clear that
we have no tolerance for reckless acts of violence and terror such as those which
Israel has had to experience this past year or those which the U.S. faced in
September. It's only with that balanced view that we can say that it is a
huge mistake to make war or violence the primary way we respond to this
situation. It's about time we began to say unequivocally that violence doesn't
work--not as an end and not as a means. The best defense is a world drenched in
love, not a world drenched in armaments.

 We should pray for the victims and the families of those who have been hurt
or murdered in these crazy acts. We should also pray that America does not
return to "business as usual," but rather turns to a period of  reflection, coming
back into touch with our common humanity, asking ourselves how our institutions
can best embody our highest values. We may need a global day of atonement and
repentance dedicated to finding a way to turn the direction of our society at
every level, a return to the notion that every human life is sacred, that "the
bottom line" should be the creation of a world of love and caring, and that the best
way to prevent these kinds of acts is not to turn ourselves into a police state, but
turn ourselves into a society in which social justice, love, and compassion are so
prevalent that violence becomes only a distant memory.

  --Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of TIKKUN Magazine and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun
Synagogue in San Francisco. He is the author of Spirit Matters: Global Healing and
the Wisdom of the Soul  and most recently (Sept 2001) editor: Best Contemporary
Jewish Writing


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