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The Reason for Everything 2 April 2006

Posted by EDITOR in GUESTS, Philosophy, Politics, Psychology, Spirituality.


Our guest contributor this week is Haroon Moghul, a New York-based writer and student of Middle Eastern history. This piece originated as a response to an Ali Eteraz post, and can also be found at Haroon’s own blog, avari/nameh.

I can remember when I first came across the idea that everything everyone does, says or thinks is in some form an exercise of power. It was a shattering, upsetting, deflating, depressing idea: All of morality, all of spirituality, was no more than the attempt of one person to get the edge over another. It came down to control; there were various, complicated, absurd methods of control — some of them obvious and blunt, others subtle and twisted and nearly invisible. But in the end, everyone was trying to empower himself or herself against someone else. Against everyone else. Groups were created to give power to one class of individuals against another. It was a dark vision of the world. But as we grow up, our naivete is swiftly punctured.

Maybe I’m too much of an old-school conservative to believe that any such theory can explain the world anymore — that is, the world of “human interaction,” as Eteraz puts it. He overcame this vision with a more poignant view of the world as marked by the search for beauty. Well, part of me thinks that our philosophers and thinkers and ideas are the products of our own wishes and fears. If you look for beauty, you think everyone else does. If you think everyone is trying to gain power, it’s because you want to gain power. (Or feel unable to gain power, and because you desire it so deeply, you see it everywhere, and in everyone.) Is this correct? Maybe even a little bit?

But part of me thinks that everything everyone does is, at bottom, motivated by a pervasive insecurity. The fear of death, the fear of insignificance, the fear of being forgotten, ignored, trampled upon or sidelined, inspires even contradictory behaviors: From the lily-livered who run from the world, afraid of trying but failing, to the self-serving and arrogant, who attempt to immortalize themselves and their legacies — we are, all of us, caught and often times overwhelmed by the need to overcome insecurity. This need is incredibly powerful, perhaps even inescapable, which is why religion, and extreme religiosities, have and always will be with us. Fundamentalism of the black-and-white variety is one of the most misleading so-called answers to our insecurity: We cocoon ourselves in an impregnable fortress of doubtless salvation. I am secure, because I am saved, not by my means, but by God’s. What better consolation can there be than that?

But Islam is about recognizing one’s imperfection, and living with the painful reality of enduring uncertainty: We don’t know what will become of us, and we don’t have any guarantees of simple salvation. To accept that insecurity, by way of the promise of God, is a way of handling our insecurity without suffocating it. (Which often, in the end, fails, and is harmful not only to the self, but to others.) Maybe one reason Islam sees marriage as half of faith is because marriage demands we subordinate the desire of the self for security to the desires of another for security; the need for compromise, the need to recognize the individuality, dignity and frailty of the other.

Maybe everything everyone does is somehow dealing with this insecurity.

This fear of death.



1. ABD - 6 April 2006

very thought-provoking. what you say about theories as a reflection of the personalities of their theorists is quite nietzschean. but your conclusions are the opposite of his. he wanted us to assert ourselves, champion our particular vaues and reach for strength. you want us to feel our weakness. what implications does this have for the attitude we should have toward other people (when they make demands of us) and to society in general (when it imposes itself on us)?

by the way, i’m fundamentally convinced of what you’ve said here. i’m just wondering where it leads us.

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