Bigger-Picture

Windows on the world

Essays  


The Modern Caveman
(published at Light Millennium May 2010)

The caveman obeyed the law of the jungle, where survival depended on being strong enough to take what you needed.   As we evolved we developed the ability to discern right from wrong, to reach out in compassion and help others, to nurture and protect the weak and vulnerable, and to respect the environment that provides our unique habitat.  But we are the sum total of our experiences, and we still have caveman urges. 

In the 21st century those urges are kept in check by our finer instincts, by social pressures to behave in a certain way, and by the fear of discovery and punishment, but the caveman is always looking for a way out.   When we get an inflated sense of our own power and invincibility, or when we feel a sense of injustice, he emerges, wielding his club and ready to take what he wants.

Over recent years a sense of injustice has grown in disaffected young Muslims.  They felt that the West had fallen into decadence and was inflicting its way of life on Islamic states.  Greed and lack of moral judgement spread to more and more levels of western society, and leaked into the Middle East along with our US dollars, music and fast foods as we slaked our thirst for oil.  Muslim cavemen, enraged and self-righteous, emerged and attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.

Western caveman responded, seeking to destroy his enemy, which he identified as Al-Qaeda.  In fact, this mission was relatively successful, and Al-Qaeda if not completely destroyed was considerably weakened.  Unfortunately, however, President Bush chose not to differentiate between actual terrorists and those who harboured them, and having dealt with Al-Qaeda he thought he could destroy the ruling regime in Afghanistan, The Taliban, and replace it with democratic government.  Even more unfortunately, he chose to take a side-swipe at his old enemy Saddam Hussein, although Iraq had no involvement with the attacks on US soil.

Bush launched what he called a crusade against terrorism, which was seen in the Middle East as a renewal of The Crusades, when Christian Europe waged war on Islam in an attempt to seize control of the Holy Lands.  Ordinary Muslims everywhere, whilst not condoning the Al-Qaeda attacks, became alarmed.  Western invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan seemed to prove the point; this crusade was about territory and oil, and the harder America pushed, the harder became the resistance movement.  The West was now engaged in a costly and unwinnable war.  Lessons of Vietnam had been forgotten.  The experiences of British invasions of Afghanistan in the nineteenth century were ignored, as were the invasion and failed occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet troops in the late twentieth century. 

Since 2001 we have allowed ourselves to be dominated by cavemen.  It is time to reclaim our rich heritage of evolution, starting with rational thought.  The West has no right to exert influence in Middle Eastern countries, whether commercial, political or military, and should withdraw its troops and oilmen.  Time apart is needed before both sides can begin to learn to trust each other again.  Conflict in the Middle East will remain, between different tribal factions and different religions, but those conflicts need to be resolved locally.  There is no role for the West unless she is invited to act as mediator.

Meanwhile, the two sides would do well to look to their own agendas.   It is not helpful that some Muslims claim to want to convert the world to Islam.  It is not helpful that the USA continues to lend support to Israel.  And it is not helpful that the West has such an urgent and desperate need for Middle East oil, because the caveman will always find justification to take what he wants.

Climate change already has a high political profile, but the issue is usually looked at in isolation. To reduce carbon emissions the world has to reduce the use of fossil fuels, but not only can this slow the rate of global warming, it will also defuse the tension in the Middle East.  Without oil revenues, without the muscle of superpowers to call on, the various tribal factions will have to learn to live together, as they did for centuries in the past.  Without oil the Middle East will cease to be the most politically sensitive place in the world, so letís turn our backs on fossil fuels and embrace renewable energy.  Beat your weapons into wind turbines, Mr President. 

Of course, watching a windmill isnít very exciting for the caveman, he would rather wear a big hat, drill holes in the earthís crust, and watch the oil gush forth.  But itís time for the caveman to go back to sleep in his cave whilst we remember all those other things we can do.

 

 

© Harvey Tordoff
Nov 2009