Wednesday, March 05, 2008

the "f's" of freedom and fanaticism (cont.) or, the human operating system

I have been looking at the question of identifying suspicious internet behaviors lately, wondering if a crazy new concept I have about search could have an application in this field. Probably not, even if it seems otherwise.

Two sources inform me: The New York Police Department (NYPD) Intelligence Division, Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat, made public August 15, 2007, 90 pages, also available in macromedia flashpaper format online, and
Haruki Murakami, Underground: the Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (translated from the Japanese by Alfred Birnbaum and Philip Gabriel), Vintage International, 2001, 366 pages

I read the Murakami book first, finding it in a bookstore after first reading his novel, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. The NYPD report was found not within the first results of a web search for suspicious criminal or terrorist internet search behavior. To be blunt, both sources are non-fiction and both come around pretty much to similar assumptions about the kind of people in Japan or the West who end up in or leave terrorist cells: these are normal and middle or upper class people who find within their acquired new ideologies something missing within mainstream society. As Murakami says, it is exactly these "who should be most critical of our 'utilitarian society' who use the 'utility of logic' as a a weapon and end up slaughtering masses of people", that "language and logic cut off from reality have a far greater power than the language and logic of reality - with all that extraneous matter [confusion and contradictions - traintalk] weighing down like a rock on any actions we take".

The NYPD report is controversial on several levels and mostly because some believe it should have stayed classified. I disagree: the incisive moments of radicalization - the stages of wandering, world view rebuilding, and enabling are the precise suspect shadow activities that are the red lights of the process which occurs but which also happens on the internet. Ideally, finding this thread and locating these people in early incubation stages could conceivably prevent future tragedies. My thought on making this report public is that it makes these potential future terrorists members of society again - it says, read this and know thyself and implicitly it says, we know the kinds of things you are doing and the kinds of things you are going through, even if you actually go through with it to the end and we never find you. Without saying it, it has the potential to create a mental dialogue and I believe it is one of the first attempts I have seen at saying in different words, you're really ok (and when you're not ok is a fine line) until what you are doing is illegal - look, we're really ok too, that even if we might both be a little screwed up (or very or not screwed up at all), we can still find a way to put this behind us and move forward together.

It doesn't say the following but it could have: "Oppression, suffering, revenge, or desperation" for some - the report is referring to Palestinians - is the same as confusion, contradiction, hard knocks and identity crisis for others. Or, in more direct language, we who made aliyah as individuals can have it just as hard but for different reasons as those who came in large numbers to Israel because they had to. As it happens, it is likely everyone has problems. For whatever its worth, we are the same stuff. Some end up on death row in prison, some die and some are Fortune 500 material, and some can be any of the above.

Some time ago, on a late arriving train no less, I had the privilege of speaking with a person who told me that the entire world is based on the same human operating system and that this was this person's basis for believing in ultimate understanding, a la Thucidydes, his hope for world peace. At the time I disagreed, arguing that, due to what seem to be perversions and mutations, that people can not and will not see eye to eye. I offered a compromise: factor in "klipot" and I will accept that we are all on the same operating system. He agreed, although we had made a few stops and many people stood between us, packed inside the door, and then soon, he arrived at his stop, we made sign language for thank you and farewell and he left the train. If I recall correctly, my basis for this discussion was The World is Flat and an excellent critique against it. However, if indeed , we are all on the same human operating system - it is this that makes the world flat from the start.

What is missing are the narratives that remind us. Perhaps better - the narratives that speak to us where we are.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

mishkan and marriage

I came up with a great vort this shabbos and I wanted to share it with you. I was at sheva brachos for a couple I don't know and I was thinking about the mishkan. The mishkan is a fascinating subject because it defines exactly how God wants us to serve him. The essence of God is in the details, as we are commanded to build it exactly according to specification. There is no room for someone to say, I will worship God in my own way, without the framework of religion.

How is building the mishkan connected to marriage?

בלבבי משכן אבנה - In my heart I will build a mishkan.

Matters of the heart relate to spousal relationship. Building a mishkan in my heart means that in order to have a successful marriage, you need to follow an exact plan in how you act. there is no room for a person to decide that I am going to show love in my own way that is not in the framework of a Jewish marriage. When your wife is sad, you need to give her a hug, but only when it is allowed. During other times you have to show her that you care in other ways.

ולמשכן מזבח אשים - In the mishkan I will put an altar

ולקרבן אקריב לו את נפשי - For a sacrifice I will offer my soul

Spouses have to be prepared to sacrifice for one another. Things won't always go your way and very often you will need to compromise and to give up things that you want. In the framework of marriage, you have to be prepared to completely give your soul to your spouse.

There were 2 other points of building the mishkan that are related to marriage:

1) It takes a lot of hard work, but the end result is a sanctuary

2) Both men and women have to put in the effort, but not on the same things. There are jobs for the wife and jobs for the husband, and very seldom do they overlap. Marriage is not 50%-50%, it is 100%-100%, each side has to do their job 100%.