It’s Not Too Late

With the news that Alexandre Bissonnette was sentenced to 40 years in prison, I wanted to go back to one of the more moving speeches I’ve heard in a while, which I don’t think should be forgotten. Bissonnette pleaded guilty to the crime of murdering six Muslim people and wounding nineteen others in a Quebec City mosque in January 2017. Shortly after the shooting, Imam Hassan Guillet tried to salvage something good from the horrific act, by describing the lives of the deceased and the loved ones they left behind, as well as Bissonnette himself:

“Khaled, Aboubaker, Abdelkrim, Azzedine, Mamadou and Ibrahima chose the place they wanted to live in. They chose the society they wanted to be theirs. They chose with whom they wanted their children to grow. And it was Canada. It was Quebec.… It is up to the society to choose them the same way they have chosen this society. They had their dream to send their kids to school, to buy a house, to have a business and we have to continue their dreams. We have to continue their dreams the same way they extended their hands to the others. It is up to others to extend their hands toward them.

Now unfortunately, it is a little bit late. But not too late. The society that could not protect them, the society that could not benefit from their generosity still has a chance….


The hands that didn’t shake the hands of Khaled or Aboubaker or Abdelkrim or Azzedine or Mamadou or Ibrahima, that society can shake the hands of their kids. We have 17 orphans. We have six widows. We have five wounded. We ask Allah for them to get them out of the hospital as soon as possible.


Did I go through the complete list of victims? No. There is one victim. None of us want talk about him. But given my age, I have the courage to say it. This victim, his name is Alexandre Bissonnette. Alexandre, before being a killer he was a victim himself. Before planting his bullets in the heads of his victims, somebody planted ideas more dangerous than the bullets in his head. This little kid didn’t wake up in the morning and say ‘Hey guys instead of going to have a picnic or watching the Canadiens, I will go kill some people in the mosque.’ It doesn’t happen that way.


Day after day, week after week, month after month, certain politicians unfortunately, and certain reporters unfortunately, and certain media were poisoning our atmosphere. We did not want to see it. We didn’t want to see it because we love this country, we love this society. We wanted our to society to be perfect. We were like parents, their kids [are] smoking or taking drugs and your neighbor says that your kid was taking drugs, I don’t believe it, my son is perfect.

We don’t want to see it. And we didn’t see it, and it happened.

Actually here my friends in Quebec, you know a couple of months ago, a certain period of time ago, someone came and put a head of a pig in front of the mosque. The [person] responsible for the mosque they said ‘No, it was an isolated act.’ Nobody is against us and we aren’t against anybody. They acted very generously and I am proud of them and this is what it should be.

But there was a certain malaise. Let us face it. Alexandre Bissonnette didn’t start from a vacuum. For political reasons, and what is happening the Middle East and unfortunately, for ignorance, a lot of things happened.

This guy was empoisoned. But we want Alexandre to be the last one to have a criminal act like that. We want to stop it. One of the definitions of madness is to do exactly the same thing and expect a different result.
If we do exactly the same thing, my friends, we will have exactly the same result. Are we happy with the result? Are we happy with six dead, five wounded, 17 orphans, 6 widows and a destroyed family which is the family of Alexandre Bissonnette and maybe his friends too?
We don’t want that. So let us change. I am getting encouraged with what we have heard from our Prime Minister and Premier, from our mayor yesterday, from a lot of our leaders, I am very proud and I thank them, and I am not surprised.

But all I am saying, we should start changing words into actions. We should build on this tragedy. God gave us a lemon, let’s make lemonade out of that. Let’s make lemonade. Let’s build on this negative and have a positive.

Let’s go from today to be a real society, united. The same way we are united today in our sorrow and in our pain, let us start today to be united in our dreams, our hopes and our plans for the future.


Let the future that our friends planned for their kids, let us build this future ourselves too. In this way we will respect their memory. Revenge will do nothing.”  

 

Hate Seeps In

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela

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In 2014, Stanford anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann conducted a cross-cultural study of people with schizophrenia who experienced auditory hallucinations, such as hearing “voices.” Not all people reported having the same experiences, however. People in Ghana and India said that their voices tended to be positive and benign, even playful and entertaining, and that these voices often came from God, spirits, or family members. By contrast, Americans said that their voices tended to be more violent and hateful, and they were more likely to perceive the condition as a disease. Luhrmann proposed that Americans’ emphasis on individual autonomy could predispose them to seeing voices as an “intrusion” on their self, whereas Ghanaians and Indians were more likely to interpret their voices as relationships. 

The point is that culture can have profound effects, even for a condition like schizophrenia. There is a tendency in a biomedical model to perceive health and diseases solely as physiological conditions, but it is important to remember that we are situated in a grander context beyond just the individual body. Something similar may happen with inebriation. As Craig MacAndrew and Robert Edgerton wrote: the way that people in any society “comport themselves when they are drunk is determined not by alcohol’s toxic assault upon the seat of moral judgment, conscience, or the like, but by what their society has taught them” (1969: 165). Just as patterns around alcohol consumption itself may be socially molded (how much to drink, and where and when), so is behavior while intoxicated. There is no single way for a brain to respond to schizophrenia or intoxication; rather, they are influenced by the ecology of ideas in which they find themselves. Ideas seep in.

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Weapon$ over Civilians

President Trump’s made some more controversial comments this week, this time in a statement downplaying the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which the intelligence community said likely came at the behest of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Instead, he emphasized that the United States would maintain its business relationship with Saudi Arabia, including the importance of KSA’s oil supply and their desire to purchase weapons from the United States.

President Trump’s made some more controversial comments this week, this time in a statement downplaying the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which the intelligence community said likely came at the behest of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Instead, he emphasized that the United States would maintain its business relationship with Saudi Arabia, including the importance of KSA’s oil supply and their desire to purchase weapons from the United States.

I’ve seen a lot of public criticism of these comments, and rightfully so, but they seemed to focus primarily on Trump’s willingness to overlook the ability of a head of state to order a murder of a single person. However, I wanted to focus on a bigger problem, which is the cold calculation of the desire to profit from the sale of weapons and military equipment. He wrote:  

After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries – and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!

I’m not that naive. I understand that the sale of military equipment is a business. In this case however, the crass prioritization of profit is happening at the very same time that civilians of Yemen are dying by the droves, to a large extent from weapons sold by the U.S. to Saudi Arabia. An estimated 85,000 Yemeni children may have starved to death as a result of the war (so far), with the wider population on the brink of famine. It is a pattern of war that civilians consistently bear the brunt of it all, dying at a higher rate than combatants.

A 10-year-old Yemeni boy suffering from severe malnutrition. (Photo: Ahmad al-Basha/AFP/Getty Images)

It seems to me that the celebration of military contracts worth billions of dollars while the very source of that profit inflicts incalculable suffering on actual lives is extremely callous and obscene. The emphasis on the injustice of letting people get away with Khashoggi’s murder is well-placed. But I think there could be much more emphasis in our public discourse that American companies are profiting by inflicting pain and death on innocent people. It is dirty money.    

Thinking of California

I’ve been watching the news on current events around the world, including the massive wildfires in California that so far have killed at least thirty people and displaced hundreds of thousands. I know a number of people in the area, and even though they are not in the direct path of the fires they’ve been on my mind for the past several days. We’re still due to arrive in San Jose in just a few days for an anthropology conference, but it seems surreal to travel so far to talk about anthropology while there are many people suffering not too far away. From what I understand the smoke has traveled far and wide across the state. In fact, we just got an email from the American Anthropological Association reaffirming that the conference will proceed as planned, but also warning us that the air quality may not be suitable for older adults, young children, and people with health problems. Maybe that’s what we’re supposed to do—try to live life as normally as possible in times of stress. I’m not sure that it feels totally right, but I also donated to help some of the people affected (some suggestions here ).

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Human Evolution in 6 Minutes

The American Museum of Natural History just released a video “Seven Million Years of Human Evolution.” I think it’s very well done.

The Centre Will Hold. It Has To.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.

-William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

 

 

To a large extent, this blog has been an exercise in finding reasons to be hopeful about humanity. I’ve written about finding perspective even during periods of death and loss, about finding commonality even during times of war, about reconciliation after conflict, about the evolutionary unity of humanity, about the logic of cooperation, about altruism in other species, about the complexity and flexibility of human biology and behavior, and the fact that we are not fated to war and conflict. I even tried to cling to the idea of truth at a time when some are promoting discord and confusion.

I have to admit that it’s hard to find much of that optimism right now. As a kid, I used to think that the world would always get better. Previous generations were racist, held slaves, and committed genocides, but they did those things out of ignorance. My generation was more enlightened, integrated, and tolerant. Then as a young adult, gay people started to gain more acceptance, and it seemed like progress was inevitable. With the rise of the Internet, I thought greater connection would mean wider sharing of views and greater empathy and tolerance, that those anonymous strangers “over there” would become real people who weren’t all that different from ourselves. I thought the best ideas and truth would rise to the top. It seemed inevitable.

Now I think I was profoundly naïve. I see a world succumbing to division and the intentional, cynical fomenting of hatred. I see people putting selfish interests that hurt the many for the benefit of a few. I see cruelty and malice being portrayed as virtues. I see vulnerable people being disregarded, left out in the cold, and painted as the scum of the world. Children are being thrown in camps.

Powerful people don’t relinquish their privileges easily, and they often prioritize private profits over the greater good. They sometimes deem people expendable, including entire groups of people. Now I see the Internet as not inherently bad or good, but a tool that can be manipulated, either bringing people together or splitting them apart. White supremacist movements, including neo-Nazis are growing around the US and Europe. Inequality has grown. It is all pretty depressing. I haven’t given up hope completely, but things seem pretty bleak right now. Keep fighting the good fight, everyone.

samwise

 

 

Neuro-feedback and Love

This is an interesting video on neuroscience and one individual’s story of getting over a relationship. A while back, I did a series titled “Humans are (Blank)-ogamous,” including romantic love. What I find intriguing about the video is the idea that someone could possibly look at their own brain in operation and use that as a way to intervene and improve someone’s mental state. 

It reminds me of a fortune cookie I once read: “Love is like war; easy to begin but hard to stop.”

By the way, Skunk Bear is the best.