Moral Clarity Amidst Moral Fatalism

In the aftermath of the horrible shootings in France, and in light of this post last week, I rejoiced to see real moral courage and clarity from Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayadd.  After the terrorist Mohamed Merah claimed to act on behalf of Palestine, he commented.

It is time for these criminals to stop marketing their terrorist acts in the name of Palestine and to stop pretending to stand up for the rights of Palestinian children who only ask for a decent life. This terrorist crime is condemned in the strongest terms by the Palestinian people and their children. No Palestinian child can accept a crime that targets innocent people.

Walter Russell Mead has a great perspective here.  I wouldn’t change a thing.

Alas, Fayadd’s words stand in contrast to esteemed Moslem scholar Tariq Ramadan who stated,

[The shooter’s] political thought is that of a young man adrift, imbued neither with the values of Islam, or driven by racism and anti-Semitism … A pathetic young man, guilty and condemnable beyond the shadow of a doubt, even though he himself was the victim of a social order that had already doomed him, and millions of others like him, to a marginal existence, and to the non-recognition of his status as a citizen equal in rights and opportunities.

…he was French, as are all his victims (in the name of what strange logic are they differentiated and categorized by religion?), but he felt himself constantly reduced to both his origin by his skin color, and his religion by his name.

Again, thanks to the esteemed Mr. Mead.
Neither I or Mead seek to overlook French treatment of their Moslem population and the real problems it has caused.  Nor do I wish to be unduly harsh on Mr. Ramadan, because unfortunately, many far worse things than Ramadan’s words have been said in France in the aftermath of the tragedy.  But Mead rightly notes that, while Ramadan in no way approves of the shootings, he does not see (or perhaps he does all too well?) that he provides a kind of exoneration for the killer.  Society allowed him no identity, thus he possessed no real will to resist the urge to some perverted form of imaginary revenge.
So many issues could be raised here, but with no disrespect to the victims intended at all, I immediately thought of the issue of fatalism.  With so much focus on the “will of Allah,” Islam has always had fatalistic strands imbedded within some of its varied expressions.  One could say the same thing about certain strands of Protestant Calvinism.  But I do not think Calvin himself fell prey to this fatalism.  And that is the point.  The fatalism came later, with Calvinism in decline.
This is the way of fatalistic ideologies.  They are passive, not active, and manifest themselves when civilizations/religions have played their last cards.  So Babylonian dream interpretation finally covered every facet of life by Nebuchadnezzar’s time, as this partial list shows:

‘If a date appears on a man’s head, it means woe. If a fish appears on his head, that man will be strong. If a mountain appears on his head, it means that he will have no rival. If salt appears on his head, it means that he will apply himself to bald his house….If a man dreams that he goes to a pleasure garden, it means that he will gain his freedom. If he goes to a market garden, his dwelling will be uncomfortable. If he goes to kindle a firebrand he will see woe during his days. If he goes to sow a field, he will escape from a ruined place. If he goes to hunt in the country, he will be eminent. If he goes to an oxstall, (he will have) safety. If he goes to the sheepfold, he will rise to the first rank.’

 And so on, and so on.
The Romans turned to Stoicism only in their empire phase.  Soviet Russia followed the doctrines of economic class fatalism blindly off a cliff.  Even Austrian economists, with whom I often agree, have to be careful that they don’t say, “The market made me do it.”
But some might object.  “The Babylonians reached their territorial peak under Nebuchadnezzar, as did the Romans under Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic emperor, as did the Soviets under Stalin.  So how can fatalism represent decay?”  Hitler talked about being a mere tool of “providence,” and certainly strove for expansion.   It happened with the Soviets, who took all of Eastern Europe.  The most rapid period of expansion in the U.S. also matches the time when markets were at their freest,or most laissez-faire, ca. 1870-1900.
Radical Islam (which is the most fatalistic) today wants a restoration of Moslem power at its medieval apex, a significant expansion of power.
Maybe this connection is purely coincidental, but I think not.  But that means we have to offer some kind of explanation for this paradoxical idea that a passive approach to the world results in territorial expansion.
I myself have no magic bullet, but will tentatively offer a personal theory.  G.K. Chesterton noted that children have the capacity to delight in monotony.  The world is fresh and life-giving in their eyes.  Give them a ball or three blocks, and they are content.  Their world can be small because everything delights them.  Life is one continuous party.
The fatalist tells the sad tale of boredom.  Small things in life no longer delight.  For them, the world must grow larger in a desperate search to fill the void.  But this search for more ironically detracts from their humanity.  For soon they exhaust their own ‘inner man’ and, like bugs drawn to porch lights, they seek the collective, the ‘force,’ the vast bowl of tapioca pudding.  They find meaning in having no purpose, an end to their boredom, an end to themselves.  As Eric Hoffer noted, it is the bored, not the poor, that are primarily attracted to all-consuming mass movements.
I can do no better than quote Chesterton:

The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life.

The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.

It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.

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  1. […] (present in both Germany and Japan) and its relationship to the individual, something I touch on in this post, if you have interest.  Totalitarian society’s absorb individual identities into something […]

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