The Heretic & the Cross!

Throughout history and in our constant attempt as species to do what is right and heroic, we more often end up doing what is totally wrong and downright foolish,because we often confuse what is sensational with what is right, and what is purely selfish with the common good. In order to avoid this unfortunate pitfall, we have to constantly remind ourselves that doing right is more often a punishable crime, at the least in the societal if not the strictly legal sense, than a celebrate act of heroism, and that selflessness is often interpreted as stupidity and weakness and the selfless will more often become victim of his very penchant to do good.

Therefore, if we cannot do good for good’s sake, we will forever remain miserable as the wait for the eventual rewards could last a lifetime. Else, we will all too easily stumble into doing what is purely selfish, regardless of our original intentions. Good should always be its own reward, and heroism should more often be sought in the daily victories that one can achieve over his baser instincts and the chronic temptations of daily subsistence in the age of crass consumerism. And if salvation is to make an appearance in our life, and if it is indeed part and parcel of it, we should know that it will not be heralded by some heavenly trumpet calls, but will rather creep upon us at a pitiful pace and will never be the glorious affairs that we think it or want it to be. Heroism is more often lackluster and subdued, and the heroes are ordinary people that can be encountered every day, all around us, bearing no distinguishing marks but that of their goodness, if we are still willing to see it, that is, and have not grown too cynical about its all too real presence among us.

The souls of these heroes are often riddled with guilt and even a sense of defeat, for all the daily victories that they have accumulated. For, to them, every failure is a failure too many and the price of most victories is often too high. And what is accomplished will forever fall short of even their most modest expectations. This is the price for having a living conscience, I guess, and for striving hard to learn how to listen to it as closely as possible. This is also the natural price for having an inborn drive for achievement and for seeking to strike some sort of balance between the calls of it and the dictates of one’s conscience. The heroes might appear saintly to us, but they remain sinner to themselves. And so they should, lest they become megalomaniac and nullify the effect of every good they have done.

Does all this sound all too pretentious on my part? Perhaps it is. But then, which one of us does not really harbor such righteous pretensions within him/herself? We need these pretensions to keep on believing in ourselves and in our ability to distinguish right from wrong and to do some good in this world. True, these pretensions might be a bit overblown in my case, but then I never denied the reality of my Messiah Complex. But I also never used it as an excuse to ignore the possibility that I could be wrong with regards to almost everything I believe in. I go on because I keep on doubting myself, though hopefully at the right time, and I do not see in my ability to pull myself out of harm’s way in a timely fashion, or to recover so quickly after a mishap, any justification for what I do or believe in. I believe that I have always been lucky, but I long stopped taking my luck as some clear sign of divine favor. My inadequacies and mistakes are too numerous and I have become all too aware of them for me to believe in such a nonsensical notion anymore. My Messiah Complex has more often served to save me from me, because no one else will likely be so interested or inclined.

Yet, I am as interested in self-redemption as I am in the redemption of humankind, but I do believe that each one of us is ultimately responsible for making his/her own destiny. We can help each other, yes, and we should, but, in the final analysis, each one of us has to choose separately if he/she wishes to help or be helped. Our redemption as a species is both an individual and a collective responsibility, and is an all too human undertaking, and a never ending one. And yes, for all the oppression in the world, we do have a choice, and we do have the power to choose. But as to whether we have the courage, the will, the backbone, the moral fiber, the adventurous spirit, the principled stand, the knowledge base to choose, not to mention make an informed choice, well, this is a different matter all together. Unfortunately though, it is also quite relevant to the crisis at hand.

There are indeed too many clashing interests around, too much greed, too much ignorance, too little gumption, too radical and xenophobic visions, for anyone to accommodate anyone these days, for anyone to make any rational choice. Indeed, I seriously doubt that humanity has ever made a rational collective choice by design. It is always in the aftermath of a major disaster, in those few and rare moments of tragedy-induced sobriety that people and states can actually make some rational choices, albeit on the most limited scale imaginable. Too much reason dulls the human spirit it seems.

But to put things less cynically we should probably say that too much reason impinges on the enduring interests of the ruling regimes, strains the forever limited imagination of the masses, who will forever be preoccupied with their basic wants and needs, and disturbs the basic belief systems of the religious and intellectual elites, whose very neuroses will continue to be premised on the need to feel and be and claim to be, as vociferously as possible, righteous and right. As such, accommodation rather than acceptance is the best arrangement that can ever be achieved at any given time. And these are not very accommodating times.

So, what could people who suffer from a deeply-rooted Messiah Complex do in such troubled times? What they do in all other times, I guess – carry their crosses and plunge right ahead. What other choice for them is there really? Silence and quiet contemplation of the madness around them/us might work for the acetic but not for the heretic, for the angels but not for the messiahs, for the luminaries, but not for the tortured souls. I think the world needs both. And pretension or not, presumption or not, I think I know where I fit in all this. I always have.

8 thoughts on “The Heretic & the Cross!

  1. Ammar, just a few observations on your post:(1) Your idea that selfish acts are necessarily opposed to the common good has been challenged by many and obviously supported by some. The major challengeis embodied in the idea of Adam Smith whose concept of the “Invisible Hand” is regarded as one of the single most important principles in a free society. He stipulates, as you well know, that each of us are in constant pursuit of what is good for us as individuals and that as we pursue our personal welfare we act in such a way as to increase the common good; we act as if we are guided by an invisible hand. This idea that the private good is in harmony with the common one is the basis for free markets and capitalism. (2)Your point about who is a real hero is an excellent one. We always need to be reminded of the fact that heroic acts are looked upon as being just par for the course by those who commit them. One does not go out to seek heroic acts because if you do then these acts will not be heroic.(3) Yes “heroes are often riddled with guilt and even a sense of defeat” as they should be. If they they are not then there is no need for their heroic actions. Heroism is needed only in a world riddled with injusticeand uncaring. The more we become atuned to the signs of the times, the more we note the “bads” of this world then as Leopold said we sentence ourselves to live in a “world of wounds”. (4) And finally I believe that humanity will cease to exist if it does not make rational choices by design. We have no choice but to do that if the specie is to survive. Furthermore I disagree with your implication that a rational choice must not be one in reaction to a difficulty or development that has arisen but must be done in a vacuum. Is it possible to choose a fork in the road if that fork did not exist?

  2. Hi Ghassan, and thanks you for you thoughtful comments. I am actually not opposed to the idea of the individual pursuing his self-interest, but I do have a problem with the idea of the Invisible Hand, because such belief is exactly what creates confusion in the mind between self-interest and the common good. Unless there is a certain amount of willfulness and design meant to balance between the two, one is bound to clash with the other. The belief in the Invisible Hand is a way for us is to shun our responsibility in undertaking such a balancing act and monitoring our motives, actions and their results, be they intended or not. If history has taught us anything about ourselves it is that a healthy amount of skepticism and suspicion vis-à-vis our own motivations and basic drives is mandated by our own tendency to examine the world through the prism of our own self-interests and prejudices without giving much thought to the possibility that the Other might have a different way of looking at things, due to his/her own particular prejudices and views. This situation could easily lead to a clash of interests, not to mention personalities, and unless some thoughtfulness is applied here, no Invisible Hand is going to resolve the situation. S for your second point, I did not mean to suggest that we should make choices in a vacuum, but my point is that oftentimes, societies and states wait unnecessarily for disaster to strike before they make adjustments in their structure, beliefs and choices. Disaster can often be averted and one can see them a mile coming, but here is exactly where the irrational tendencies and our greed serve to cloud our judgment. Disasters are not prerequisite for rational choice, vigilance is, and that constant struggle to balance individual interest with collective interest, and the collective interest of various groups with the common good of all.

  3. Ammar-I will have to re-read your comments, but just a couple of responses for now:1. It is nice to wax a bit more philosophical/universal and less political now and again.2. A professor once told me, “courage is doing what frightens you and then not getting any credit or recognition for it”. 3. Hero’s. Hmmm. You see, I could not agree with you more. Most of our heros, present and historic, typically had a salient momement or period of time. To me…a hero is a decent man who strives for decency…day in and day out, who doubts himself, challenges himself, does not get much credit and “does good for the sake of doing good”. To me…good and evil often blur into various shades and this is what makes my life so hard. You remember “Fiddler on the Roof”…”on then other hand..and then on the on the other hand”. People often love people who have great certainity and faith in their cause and belief. Very certain people scare the hell out of me. Life is really so clear? I would make a horrible leader…I would spend all my time with “gee…he sure has a point” and “yep…can’t deny that”.Basic tenets…YES; freedom, kindness, generoisty, fairness, caring. Don’t murder, don’t torture, don’t grab 100x more than you need…share with others. These are pretty clear to me.Anyhow…I loved the post.

  4. Ammar, I’m not sure I understood everything in that challenging post.Discussing politics is easier.But I feel like saying something anyway.Balance is optimal.One can not act like a hero everyday for the rest of one’s life.Occasionally, you’ll need to do “selfish” things that you enjoy, otherwise you will question if being a hero is wise, or if you can sustain acting the role, or if you are being effective in that role…Sometimes people do not need a hero to save them from a tough lesson, sometimes they would benefit more if they go through the lesson and learn something from it.Ghassan, I’m not sure I agree that the private good is necessarily in Harmony with the common one … If society was homogenous and if everyone had identical values, maybe, but since there are infinite variations in our goals and values, then our private good might overlap with, or be harmonious with “common good” of another similar group of people, but not with a generalized common good.Ok, I’m sleepy, if I did not make any sense, jump to the next post.

  5. This is some powerful stuff man!!!I just hope that ‘carry the cross’ does not have religious connotations.

  6. Hi Ammar,I listened last Wednesday to your interview on public radio on Dick Gordon show, the story. I was more ready to hear about the oppression and the tyranny in Syria but I was disappointed that Mr. Gordon made out of it a family affair. I hope in the future you will have the chance with other venues and programs to have a chance to show a voice for the opposition and dissident on the air in this country so we can start think that we are not afraid to say what on our minds.

  7. Don’t worry, Quest, there is will be more occasions in the future. I needed to do something different for once. In fact, I will be traveling extensively over the next couple of months touring many campuses and communities, and talking about dissidence and leadership, and development – all the issues that I believe in.

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