The ‘canary in a coal mine’ was a primitive technology used before the age of sensors: The bird can sense the presence of noxious gases far earlier than humans; thus, when the canary starts to gag, it’s time to run for the top. The canary, being more sensitive, is the first to go.
Illnesses work the same way. They first affect those most susceptible, or live in environments where the virus (or bacteria) can thrive and be easily spread. The first attack most susceptible, the aged, the immuno-depressed, the already sick: Such victims are the ‘canaries’.
I’ve been thinking about the similarity between such viruses and the ‘virus’ of ideology, which does not affect thebody, but the mind. Such as we witness with Islamic radicalization, a fanatical adherence to Muslim ‘ideals’ (as my last blog mentioned, it is difficult, if not impossible, to discern the true ideals of Islam, not having an official teaching authority). Those most susceptible to such radicalization are those in a more weakened state, the mentally fragile, the outcast, the loners, those who have lived for too long within the confines of their (usually mis-educated) minds.
What we witnessed here in Canada a couple of weeks ago were the actions of a couple of ideological canaries: Two individuals with troubled histories who succumbed to the virus of ideology of radical Islam. Yes, I am aware that, unlike ebola victims of the physiological virus, who are blameless for their condition, the killers of the two soldiers may well be more culpable for allowing their minds to be so affected, and the actions that flowed therefrom, but we must leave their judgement to God.
Were they terrorists? It depends on how one defines that term. Yes, they attacked representatives of the government (soldiers) in an act of rebellion, in some attempt to get a message across, and they have instilled fear into a certain segment of the populace (soldiers were told not to wear their uniforms in public, an ironic act of ‘submission’ to Islamic ideology). Let us hope that they were nothing more individuals who went on a brief, poorly planned, apparently impulsive rampage, before being quickly subdued. Imagine if, instead of one assailant armed with a deer rifle, or a car, there were five men with automatic weapons, carefully planned and staged, with military training; imagine a thousand such men, and the harm and fear they could inflict. Such was the testimony of the killer of the three RCMP constables earlier this summer: As he claimed, if he alone could wreak such carnage, what could a cadre of like-minded men accomplish?
One may define an ‘ideology’ as a set of principles that are immune to rational analysis, or any sort of criticism. Being infected with an ideology more or less shuts down one’s reasoning faculties. Now, we will disagree until kingdom come on whose belief system is an ‘ideology’ and whose is not, but we must at least have a basis for disagreement (and, of course, agreement). That is why Pope Benedict, in his Regensburg address of 2006, asked that we as human beings, regardless of our religion persuasions (natural or supernatural), always remain open to rational dialogue and discussion. It is reason that makes us human, and it is on this basis that we can lead each other towards the truth.
Yet ideologies maintain some aspect of reason in the host, much like the virus. Ideologues think they are acting rationally, even when their principles and actions fly in the face of reason. They are locked within their own brains. G.K. Chesterton once wrote that the insane have not lost their reason, they have lost everything except their reason.
Arisotle and Saint Thomas define truth as ‘adequatio rei et intellectus’, an adequation or conformity between the mind and reality. Our thoughts are only true to the extent that they conform to what actually is. We should always be humble (that is, rational) enough to compare what we think to be true with the reality outside of us. This is the whole basis of scientific experimentation and verification, but also applies to moral principles. When we act, we should think: Is this how I would want to be treated? Could I make my action a universal premise to guide all behaviour? Is what I am doing building up society, or tearing it down? Do my principles lead to the flourishing of human beings, or their degradation? And so on…
We are all prey to some form of ideology, holding on to principles that are dear to us, but perhaps false; we are all, to some extent, a little tiny bit ‘in-sane’, or unhealthy in our thoughts, and life is an ongoing process of becoming more grounded in the truth. Such a foundation in the truth is the best immunization againt ideological infiltration. But some ideologies are really bad, and deviate from reason in a radical way (sawing off the heads of innocent journalists and kidnapping underage girls come to mind). There is a point wherein ideologies must be confronted with the full force and power of law to minimize the damage they cause.
A virus, physical or ideological, that is very deviant eventually burns its host population out, and the same will eventually happen to ISIS (or ISIL, or whatever they call themselves nowadays). The same happened with Nazism and Communism. Like a ‘house divided against itself’ they could not stand, for their anarchic principles could not maintain a long-term society.
We can hope that most of their members return to normality soon, so the havoc they wreak can be minimized. And we should do what we can, when we can, to ‘convert’ ideologues back to the truth.
November 3, 2014