Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Where will the Madness take us?

I still remember a world in which being ‘mad’ meant: having fun, making jokes, provoke, stirr – all of this essentially to the benefit of our mental health, nothing less – nothing more. But in our present time a madness has emerged that seems vicious rather than funny and that has firmly infiltrated the minds of so many people – in many parts of the world – to the point where we seem to have lost all ability for reason and normal human restraint.

The M word
The totally unjustified outrage directed at the Pope for remarks which under normal circumstances would have passed entirely unnoticed, is only one example. "What should he apologize for?" someone asked. "There is freedom of speech, and what he said is objectively true." It is almost as if calling the M(uslim) word in itself is accepting the risk of some wild and vicious revenge. Why? I was proud, many years ago, to live in a Muslim country, showing normal curiosity (and respect) as to the customs and lifestyle of my Muslim friends, having normal discussions about our similarities and differences, taking a point here and giving a point there. But these days I have to tiptoe my way through the subject.

And the M(uslim) word is not the only madness visiting us. In my own country, The Netherlands, people lost their mental sanity some four years ago when a popular politician was assassinated by a mentally disturbed and very isolated single individual. Obviously, it was a horrible crime, and personally I greatly regret the loss of this politican. But ever since that fateful shot, a distinct madness has governed our public life that only very few firm minded and reasonable people have been able to counter.

In a way, it is not always easy to pinpoint exactly what the madness is, and this – in my mind – only illustrates the gravity of the situation.

Fear of complexity?
Perhaps my bewilderment about the prevailing atmosphere of our time has everything to do with the expectations which governed my youth and which for a long time have guided my sense of progress. To me, our present day hysteria and lack of reason but also the ease with which our world leaders are prepared to resort to irrationality and simple solutions to complex questions is at great variance (to put it mildly) with the reasoned development of policies and of public debate as it prevailed, say, two to four decades ago. In my own mind, madness struck right at the time when every sense of the ‘Res Publica’ was lost to individualism and materialism gone out of hand.

A spoiled child has awakened in us that can only respond to immediate rewards – or the lack of them –, that harbors fears (and silly joys) without the actual capacity to distinguish between the real and the unreal, between the rational and virtual. It is that same child that resorts to intimidation and the use of violence; the child that has become a US President and a President of Iran; it is the child with guns and explosives in Iraq, the child who wants to believe in some Great Designer of Life and Dreams, the child who thinks that mobile phones grow on trees and who thinks he simply has a right to use them in abundance, regardless of need and actual contribution.

New leadership
There is, obviously, a great need for reason and restraint to regain control of our own minds and for new – well structured – visions of a good future that can inspire all of us, at left and right, as Muslims and Christians and everyone else. But most of all we should wish for decent leadership that will put the spoiled child to rest; we urgently require leadership that can set the right example and create a new agenda for the ‘Res Publica’ that interests all of us, without fear, without ignorance, and above all: without the desire to satisfy just oneself. Only then will madness again be fun and health inspiring.


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