Confronting acts of delusion

WHAT is the individual to do in the face of some of the deluded actions taking place today? In the United States, we are approaching the sixth anniversary of the Jonestown (Guyana) massacre, in which 900 people perished because of a deluded cult leader they had naively followed. But the day's news brings evidence of still more actions stemming from a blurred sense of the only stable long-run basis of human relations and the self-righteousness that such an incorrect view encourages.

In Egypt, undercover agents foiled the plot of Libyan strong man Muammar Qaddafi to have a former Libyan premier murdered. In the US, unidentified people bombed a planned-parenthood center and an abortion clinic in a Maryland suburb. And in Britain, a group concerned about the misuse of animals in laboratory experiments falsely asserted they had put poison into a popular candy bar made by a manufacturer allegedly making use of animals in experimental situations.

The incidents themselves are not to be savored; but they need to be faced up to for the common, dangerous ingredient in them all - the lack of respect for law and even for the life of those with whom one does not agree. It is particularly distressing in the United States and Britain, given their centuries-long development of democratic institutions, to see such self-righteous acts take place. Without the restraint, the self-discipline, that a democracy requires of its citizenry, the rights of no one would be safe for long.

What can the individual do? First of all, each one of us needs to practice in thought and action the respect for other people and other groups that we want accorded ourselves and the causes we espouse. If there were a stronger consensus within society about the role of individual self-restraint, and if we were more modest about the importance of the particular social causes we find most worth fighting for, this climate of civility would make even the planning of uncivilized acts of terror less likely.

Second, we can see that it is a sense of life that denies the unity deriving from a common spiritual creator that is most prone to the supposition that one has the power to take life into his own hands - a belief as old as the biblical account of Cain's slaying of Abel. Each affirmation that individual life is the gift of the creator of us all will hasten the day when life will be so valued all over this planet that the delusion that one man can even think of doing violence to another will no longer appear in any person's thought.

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