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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Sunday, 14 June 2015



If you watch Game of Thrones and have somehow avoided hearing about some of Season/Series 5's most heart-breaking moment, don't break that trend now.  Walk away.

For everyone else, here we go.

There are apparently 400 or so Canadians known to have travelled to the Middle East, fought for ISIS, and since returned to Canadian soil.  Whether this number is accurate or not (and doesn't include Canadians who've travelled to the Middle East to fight against ISIS in today's equivalent of foreign volunteering vacations), one can safely assume there are countless unknown others that have fought for ISIS and come home without being tracked.

In the most alarmist version of this account, there's a massive, long-game conspiracy at play with Muslims gaining skills, waiting for the signal (the lighting of the greatest fire the North has ever seen, perhaps?) and all times, ready to strike.  Proponents who support this vision will slap your wrist if you suggest that, say, the niqab ban is an unnecessary partisan ploy that's more about vote getting and therefore, a confrontation that could and should have been avoided.  

"You might say they're few in number now," such a proponent will say, "but just wait.  You know what happens when you sit back and allow evil intentions to fester."  

This is a typical Other narrative with a particular modern twist.  To paint all Muslims - or all Christians, for that matter, with one brush is simplistic, asinine.  There's no small bit of irony to the fact that it's often those who promote liberty, freedom and individuality the most who vocally portray those who differ from them as threats.  

When it's someone else's kids, it's indoctrination - when it's yours, however, it's responsibly preparing youth to engage in the real world.

Beyond the simple fact that it's beyond ignorant to view those you fear as a hive-minded zombie hoard in their stewing hostility, there's the fact that broad-scale conspiracies don't work.  

People are people, all individuals with different perceptions of the world and themselves.  I laugh when I hear big political conspiracy theories - especially considering how many big-name political people I know who will talk shop in public spaces over drinks because they never consider for a moment that anyone would tune in.

As for an ISIS conspiracy with global reach, come on - they can't even keep their people from posting selfies to the Internet.  Human nature will keep worldwide conspiracies from ever happening - but that doesn't dismiss the fact that horrible things happen on a massive scale, right in the open.

We're starting to loop back to Stannis.

ISIL can kill without hesitation or remorse for the same reason horrors have ever been done to Others - dehumanization (or, often more accurate, non-humanizing).  We can step on an ant without a second's thought.  With creatures like centipedes or spiders, we often feel compelled to go out of our way to kill, they feel so uncomfortable to us.  While we may respect and admire the hunting abilities of a predator or the strength or speed of an animal like a moose or deer, hunters can still kill them without shedding a tear because they aren't human.

Real people don't look like that, or speak like that, or act like that.  They aren't like us - if anything, they are taking away from us.  Like vermin, they will infest our world until it's ours no more - are we going to stand for that?

When you feel about a fellow human the way you do about a creature like a moose, or a lion, or a centipede, killing them may not be hard and might even be more desirable than letting them live. There's no secret to this; the notion of "humanity" - people being people, doing unto others, etc. - is an entirely social phenomenon.  It may trigger biological responses and solidify more empathetic responses, but animals of any species removed from acculturation are more likely to be anti-social and less considerate of their peers than those who are acculturated.  

Empathy is, by and large, more prevalent in humans and allows us to think about the concerns of others we relate to as being like ourselves, or withhold frustrations to move beyond communication, mobility, etc. barriers.  This, in turn, allows us to ask "how might we" and start building bridges of opportunity.  If they are like me, then they can be reasoned with and probably have something of value to offer.  

Might makes right?  God favours the strong, trial-by-combat style?  Tough leaders are the best leaders?  That's our evolutionary past tugging at our cognitive present in ways far more pervasive than we might like to think.

That's killing strangers.  No biggie.  But what about killing loved ones?  

We're back to Stannis.

In Game of Thrones, magic is a real thing - Stannis knows this for a fact, because a smoke-monster killed his brother and because he's seen visions in the fire.  He knows that there's an evil force creeping over Westeros - winter is coming - and he genuinely believes that only he, the proper heir to the thrones through the blood line of his family (though his brother took the throne by force - he seems to forget that part) can stop it.  

All of Westeros is counting on him, really.  With responsibility like that, surely there are sacrifices to be made.  Stannis believed that killing his daughter would bring him power to get over the little hump in front of him (the Boltons) so that he could get back to the bigger fight that he is meant to fight.

Now walk back from this a bit.  

In our own world, devoid of magic but still full of politics, we have seen more than our share of sacrifices made over smaller battles so as to keep one's eye on the prize.  Think Trudeau sacrificing his Senate caucus, or Harper sacrificing Nigel Wright, or Mike Duffy, or any number of other Ministers.  

These kinds of sacrifices, we're used to and comfortable with.  Destroying careers or abandoning people who've done questionable things to your benefit, that's not the same thing as murdering your own kid, is it?

Well, the stakes aren't quite as high.  As the rhetoric ratchets up, though, centralized partisans sound more and more like they're the only ones who can save us from winter, or the zombie hoard.  It's a hefty responsibility resting on fewer and fewer shoulders.

I've said this before - if you plucked our politicians out of our social setting, removed them from the legal structures that kinda guide behaviour and set them down in Westeros, I'm sure many would fit right in.

Perspective, ideology and fanaticism aren't seperate buckets - like all things, they lie on a spectrum. 

We all lie on that spectrum.

What would Stannis do? isn't quite as upbeat a morality reminder as WWJD, but it's probably more in line with what really gets asked - how far are you willing to go to win?  If you're not willing to go all the way, why should anyone follow you?

I don't fear that one religion or one cultural group, gender preference group, whatever is secretly plotting to take over the world and remove those who aren't like them.  

I do often wonder about humanity at large, though.

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