From Calm to Chaos: Human Perception and the Inflation of Conflict

Four years ago, I wrote a brief reaction to a CNN news report about yet another deadly attack in Iraq. It was just one of many similar attacks since the 2003 invasion. At the time of publication in 2012, ISIS, as we know it today, did not exist. The continuous deterioration in Iraq (and later Syria) over the subsequent years became a breeding ground for Al-Qaeda in Iraq to evolve into ISIS. The rest, sadly, is familiar history.

In the original post, I argued that exposure to repeated events tends to gradually shift our moral standards and our perception of the status quo. The human mind absorbs and internalizes repeated impressions from the outside world, which can result in decreased responsiveness to repeated stimuli. During times of peace, real or perceived, a single act of violence can affect our collective psychology, prompting efforts to restore the situation back to its original state.

Conversely, during periods of war and conflict, acts of violence may neither trigger surprise nor warrant corrective action in the minds of the general population. Violent events can become expected, and in some cases, indirectly accepted. When reflecting on global conflicts, we often ask ourselves: How did we transition from peace to war so quickly? How could millions of seemingly normal, peaceful citizens support a dictator and take up arms? Why did we allow violent trends to escalate beyond our control?

Some answers to these questions lie in our nature and our patterns of perception, thought, and behavior. There are both conscious and unconscious forces that can desensitize us, making us less empathetic or responsive to unnatural, unsustainable, or undesirable outcomes. I believe we need to acknowledge a few fundamental facts of life to avoid falling into complacency and to ensure that peaceful trends do not fade without our conscious participation.

Everything changes. The future will never be a complete replica of the past, nor will it be determined solely by present implications. The universe will continue to evolve, and the question is how much we can intentionally bend this evolutionary trajectory to our advantage. By our advantage, I do not just refer to humanity, but to our entire ecosystem, which we inherently depend upon. We must continue to explore the world and each other with an open, humble mind.

My hypothesis is that the more knowledge and wisdom we can extract through science (the outer world) and spirituality (the inner world), the better equipped we will be to manage ourselves and our fellow living beings on this planet. In simple terms, we need to invest in education and create sustainable environments where individuals can receive the physical, emotional, and psychological “nutrition” necessary to function optimally and learn effectively. It is evident that fear, wars, and greed must cease for this goal to be fully realized. We need to build bridges and tear down walls that separate us, especially those in positions of power and influence.

So, what should the rest of us do? Engage in open, honest, and direct conversations about the observations and challenges you see. Understand that truth and knowledge exist in layers, and that even seemingly contradicting observations can be true, depending on the observer’s perspective. Each observation can be viewed as a piece of a complex puzzle. Find where that piece fits instead of discarding it. If we foster a culture of openness, transparency, and cooperation, it will make it easier for those in power to succeed on our behalf. Our leaders typically reflect the collective consciousness of our society. Sometimes a leader will deviate from the societal norm, where the people evolve, but the leader remains stagnant, leading to social resentment or revolutions. Other times, albeit less frequently, a society may have a leader who embodies a level of development and aspiration that it cannot match or accept.

We need to strive to be worthy of our best leaders by realizing the best in ourselves. A culture steeped in fear and mistrust is less receptive to calls for love and cooperation, even if it’s “the right thing to do”. This ties back to the original point of this post: we must remain mindful of forces that have the potential to lower our moral standards, which may require exceptional restraint in periods of increased tension.

A final point I would like to make is that we have enough challenges as it is: natural disasters, disease, poverty, environmental degradation, and unequal distribution of wealth and opportunity, to name a few. It is absurd that we have to manage the everyday burdens of life while also undermining our own progress. This just makes everything harder and is wholly unnecessary.

Nation states and their leaders must prioritize the well-being and integrity of all people, regardless of their geographical location. Every living being is fundamentally the same; if we value one, we need to value all. We need to align state objectives with this vision and transcend the outdated, short-sighted view that the world is, or should be, a zero-sum game. We are stronger together, as one human family.