George Monbiot writes: It is a blow to the heart: an atrocity whose purpose was to kill and maim as many children and teenagers as possible. No parent, hearing the voices of those still seeking news of their children, could fail to imagine the frantic play of hope and despair, the terrible wrenching of attachment. The person or people who did this meant to hit where it hurts most, and they succeeded.
The purpose of terrorism, whether perpetrated by lone attackers, organisations or states, is not only to change political outcomes: it is to demoralise the people at whom it is aimed, to erode and degrade their humanity. Attacking a concert crammed with happy young people, detonating a bomb apparently stuffed with nails and bolts, is the clearest possible statement of such intent.
It also allows us to see how we should respond. The terrorists want to drive us apart, to sow suspicion and fear, to oblige us to replace liberty with security and answer them with bombs and bullets of our own. For a terrorist organisation any of this, if implemented, would mean mission accomplished. So we should do the opposite. We defy them by proving that this is not what we are. And the proof is everywhere.
Human cooperation and reciprocity are so normal that we scarcely seem to notice them. We hardly see the daily acts of kindness that mark our species: people helping strangers to lift their suitcases on to a train, carrying pushchairs up flights of stairs, giving way to each other in traffic and on the pavement, listening to friends, volunteering for charities, giving their money to causes from which they cannot possibly benefit.
We might stop to notice the remarkable people who foster children or who take refugees from halfway round the world into their homes, and treat them as members of their families. But we see their tendencies as exceptional, rather than as unalloyed examples of the way that humans are naturally inclined to behave.
Because our minds are attuned to danger and difference, events like the attack on a concert in Manchester dominate perceptions of our species. We look back on the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris in January 2015 and, remembering the perpetrators, tell ourselves that there is something evil lodged in the human mind. Less salient in our memories are the 3.7 million people in France who took to the streets to march in solidarity with the victims, and the millions who did the same elsewhere in the world. These people, not the few terrorists, represent the human norm.
This norm – cooperating with unrelated members of our own species – is, as a review article in the journal Frontiers in Psychology notes, “spectacularly unusual when compared [with] other animals.” It is a norm that is also innate. [Continue reading…]