, ,

During the last few days of August, 20014, we often heard TV news castors’ startled reactions to the revelations of the identity of the brutal ISIS murderer of American journalist James Foley as British and a recent death of an American jihadist from Minnesota in Syrian armed conflict as an ISIS fighter. They wondered why and how some American young men would ever want to fight for an alien ideology. Many considered explanations were given by specialists: that these young men were disaffected or alienated from their respective societies both economically and socially, and that Syria is an easy to place to get to for the Americans. These psychological and logistical explanations are more or less believable. However, it seems to me that there is a more fundamental reason to explain such a sudden and violent ideological conversion. I think it is caused by the nature of our time and society that is saturated with media, technology, and rampant consumerism. The daily onslaught of media and consumerism creates a sense of radical sensory fragmentation and emptiness in people’s cognitive and spiritual life. People may feel unarticulated sense of alienation and meaninglessness more or less constantly in their waking hours. They may feel trapped in their puny selves that are empty inside. They want to be connected to something larger, more solid (larger political and religious movements, for instance, but religious movements are probably viewed as more authentic due to its perceived stability and righteousness) where they might “find” the meaning and purpose of their existence. People who are endowed with material and creative wealth might be able to cope with such a psychological emptiness by focusing on things that are considered laudatory by their respective communities: they might become great philanthropists, artists, educators, etc. to be connected to the larger humanity in a positive manner. But those who are not thus endowed have only their bodies to use to get a sense of meaning. So they use physical violence – the most destructive, thus powerful bodily expression – to eke out the purpose of their existence. They are “happy” now that their lives have clear “single” meaning. Death does not deter them. In our post-nuclear age where killing machines are ubiquitous, death became ever-present event that can be caused suddenly and randomly by any arbitrary agent. By becoming the agent of death they even have control over death, theirs and others.