Yet again this is one of my many attempts to comprehend the nature of hate and social aggression. Just two chapters in and I am already blown away by how much Staub’s every precise word is saturated with insight into the psychological inclinations in conflict, on an individual and societal scale.It is a manifestation of the irony of our times, of the declaration of the mantra that we as a human species are the utmost epitome of civilized, advanced beings.

So far the most intriguing element that I’ve broken down is this:

-Continuum of Destruction: The reason extreme “evil” is possible, that even seemingly “regular” people are capable of committing atrocities towards another outgroup in a conflict, is not because they commit it outright. But because there is a gradual accumulation of minuscule, less harmful acts, which builds slowly until it reaches an ultimate form that no longer feels unnatural to the individual, but natural; until it reaches an established systemic proportion. Because we must remember that such things do not occur simply by the machinations of a power structure/government/system but functions precisely when it is enabled by and carried out by other people within the society.

This can be applied not only to the larger scale of forms of conflict that Staub attributes to such as genocide (which we must remember is not merely in the past but still continues to this day in such as with the Rohingya people and other similar forms). But it can be attributed to other systemic persecution as well such as systemic racial injustice- gradual, slow accumulation until reaches grand systemic proportion. In some ways this to an extent can be similar to the birdcage metaphor that Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow) mentions, where a few different bars, brought together in a certain structure, creates the overarching systemic structure of oppression. 
One of the other things that I find most interesting about this Continuum point that Staub makes is that this is described in the Hadith (Islamic narration) as one of the major concerns of Prophet Muhammad s.a for his ummah (people)- not that we would be committing massive large-scale wrongs and sins, but that gradually, slowly, minuscule sins that we would brush off as nothing would accumulate and build until it changes our hearts and our souls until we feel dead inside, until it becomes the norm. And this happens to so many of us. This is such a reality for us now from this perspective as well.

I totally veered off but this concept is applicable on so many levels. 

Just as when I attempted to read Philip Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect, I know this will be a difficult, excruciating read for me. But even as I try to comprehend the nature of hate, I will always be seeking for the corners and crevices where love and compassion hide as well. 


“I scanned my eyes furtively over my fellow patients. There was a woman in about her late 40s, with soft, dewy-looking eyes that seemed like they were ubiquitously watery, like she was always on the verge of tears. She was sitting there, looking down and fidgeting with her hands. Mid-life crisis? Anxiety? Depression? Or the latter two as a result of the former, or vice versa? You never can tell, these emotional and psychological things can get quite tricky. At least, I think so. If biological factors get in there too, it gets trickier. You never can tell where the personality ends and the illness, disorder, disease, whatever you wanna call it, begins. That’s the real reason why people find mental stuff so scary, I tell you. That’s the real reason why they don’t understand it, don’t want to understand it, or are in denial when someone they love or know begins to crumble underneath the weight of whatever chaotic mess the chemicals in their brains become entangled in. Because when the invisible, phantom illness begins to mesh with the personality, and you can’t tell one from the other anymore, people begin to define you by the phantom. The phantom becomes you.”

We live in our secluded worlds, our phones, our houses, apartment buildings, and every day rush through the door, down the stairs, and about our daily lives. It is incredible that many of us do not know the very neighbors around whom we live. And yes, I am guilty. As an introvert all my life, it is something that rarely occurred to me when I was younger. But I regret not interacting with my neighbors now that I’ve gradually come out of my shell a bit more now.

In my building, there is an elderly lady who lives alone, across from my apartment. I’ve said my hellos and how are yous and in middle school once asked whether she wanted to buy any sweets for my school fundraiser. That is about it. For the first time today, I had the opportunity to help her with some groceries, and she invited me inside. 

The commonly held notion of “old people” is that they ramble on about their times, the good old days, meandering words that seem arbitrary and people say/think “What is he/she even talking about?” Because we never take the time to really listen. If you listen closely, it is usually always about the aspects of their past that they are most proud of, their accomplishments and their kids’ accomplishments, and so on. And what I noticed today is that it is an attempt to retain the life you had – the life you lived. It is an attempt to retain a sense of dignity and pride when you are at a stage of your life in which you’re incapable of or feel deprived of “dignity” and a fulfilling life brimming with activity. It is an attempt to grasp onto those memories and accomplishments when you live every day with the knowledge that at any moment, you will expire and all of it will be gone. 

Lately I’ve been becoming more cognizant of the transient nature of life. I mean, really aware. Not just understanding the mere words, the mere concept. The extent to which the entirety of our individual lives are merely one short life in the midst of time. In the pages of history, we are all but merely just a blip in time. 

When we’re on the threshold of being/starting a new stage of life where everyone and everything changes, it all seems to be happening all at once: getting a job/starting a career, getting married, starting a family and all of that – at the same time seeing your parents/grandparents age. Right now for those 20-somethings my age, it feels like we’re already getting older and haven’t accomplished enough, but at the same time it also feels as if we have so much time left, like we are just beginning to really take on life – yet the older generation must have felt that way too when they were our age. But time crept up on them before they knew it. One generation withers away while another generation replaces it, over and over and over again throughout history, for all of humanity.  

Listening to my neighbor made me realize just how much we neglect the elderly – they who are testaments and witnesses to history and to a life lived. We neglect their words. They hold such rich histories within them, such rich stories – like a treasure trove of memories. And I think acknowledging them is so essential, for the sake of being human, and for the sake of recognizing what such a transient existence means.


From the ashes of decayed ink and dusty fluttering leaves

From the long-dried pages

Of hesitant words hiding behind their walls of fear

Tiptoeing in trepidation from page to page

Of lines riveting in a glance and mortifying the next

Should I? Will I? Can I? –

I hope they can survive

Past the cages of my brain

And onto a stage, a world, a page,

A seat on a bench next to a stranger,

From which they can communicate

(And whisper and laugh and tell their tales – and even scream if necessary)

With the creatures of the realm of three dimensions –

A world itself not always so dreary.

What realm, I pray, do the creatures of thought exist in?

If not one or two or three or more?

They must, surely, if we can weep and laugh with them and for them

And converse between one dimension and another,

Between worlds and realms vying to comprehend

How? What? Why?

The ever-revolving, ever-inscrutable questions of existence

The ever-elusive, ever-boggling wonders and horrors

Of the nature of man



And beat on, whether you stumble or stagger or falter

Onto the next word, the next line, the next page

And the next

For religiously inclined individuals, this is a question that instantly incites exclamations of “Blasphemy!”, and for Muslims, “Astagfirullah!” For atheists and agnostics it is a “philosophically reasoned question,” but also a question with which to challenge those who believe in a higher “Creator.” However, despite the fact that believers usually have an instant reaction of eschewing these kinds of questions as soon as they are raised, (“You shouldn’t be asking questions like that!”), the reality is that when someone challenges them with that question, of course there’s at least a split second in which they wonder too. This is one of the reasons, in fact, why Muslim and Christian theology admonishes against asking these kinds of questions – because of course they are dangerous to faith.

But the reality is that this question does not even have any actual basis. The term of being “Created” implies that there is a definitive time frame in which the created thing exists – that there is a Beginning and an End for the existence of the thing. When man asks about God being created, he does so because the only kind of reality and world that he knows is one in which everything has a beginning and an end. Man is born, and then dies. Flowers and leaves bloom from trees in the spring, and then slowly wither away into nothingness by winter. Civilizations are built from the ground up, and then destroyed by another. In the galaxies, stars are born, and then die out. Even technology, the very great “feat” of man itself, is not capable of subsisting on itself without an energy source and “dies” without it sooner or later (phones, etc). And because this world that we live in functions on a system in which there is a beginning and an end for everything, because this is the only reality that we know, the only way in which we can think is through a time-constructed frame. Thus, the question of the “creation” of God. When man asks “Who created God,” he assumes that God’s existence functions the way that everything in our world does – that God, like everything else, also must have had a beginning. Otherwise, where did God come from? Our brains and our thinking are limited to the reality that we know, so we can’t even begin to comprehend the notion of something existing outside of time and space. (This hearkens to the question of how the Big Bang could have occurred from nothing). So because we can’t imagine anything being able to exist beyond a beginning or an end, we can’t fathom how it would be possible for God to exist without being “created.” And there lies the very illogical flaw in asking this question – the limitations of our own world and thus our thinking. Let’s halt over here for a bit for those who will declare, “But that’s an empty answer meant to pacify religious people!” But is it really? Does this limitation of our thinking apply only to concepts of God?

Let’s think about the incredible advances we have in science currently that allow us to further this analysis. The most important scientific advance of our time right now is that of string theory – more relevant to this discussion, how research on string theory  implies the existence of more than three dimensions. But we cannot even fathom what in the world a fourth or fifth or sixth dimension could be like, because we simply do not live in it, and thus do not know it. To illustrate, semi-sci-fi author Edwin Abbott wrote a novella in 1884 called “Flatland” about a world of two-dimensional characters – flat shapes without any volume, who can only see things in 2D – for example, a flat character such as a square looking at another flat square would only be able to see the side of the square, only as mere line like this: | , because obviously they have no volume. When a 3D figure lands in Flatland, the 2D figures cannot see the whole 3D figure (let’s say a sphere) except for a cross-section from their view; the sphere for example would appear as a dot. Because the squares cannot see beyond their 2D view or 2D reality, they cannot even comprehend the notion of a 3D world in which something with volume like a sphere could exist. Its not just that it seems impossible, but that it is literally beyond the reality that they know and live in. Historically renowned scientist Carl Sagan perfectly and easily illustrates this concept in this YouTube video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnURElCzGc0.

So although string theory posits that additional dimensions must exist beyond the third, we can’t even begin to imagine how such a world could exist or function, in the same way that Flatlanders in Abbott’s novel are unable to see or understand the 3D world. Here’s a virtual simulation of what a 4th dimension would be like:


If something as simple as one more dimension beyond our own is so insanely, mind-bogglingly difficult to grasp due to our own limited perceptions of reality, is it logically flawed to say that this is also the reason that we are unable to perceive the functioning existence of God in a whole different reality in which God did not have to be created to exist? Thus, when man asks that ever-so-blasphemous question, what that reveals is that he does not comprehend the NATURE of God.

“Know ye all, that the life of this world is but play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting and multiplying (in rivalry) amongst yourselves, riches and children…” (Surah Al-Hadid, 57:20)

Although I’ve read this verse numerous times, I recently encountered a slightly different translation that caused me to think about the insight it provides into the nature of humanity, particularly the bolded words.

So, yes, we have heard numerous times the comparison/description of this current world as a place of mere indulgence in the follies of life. But the “mutual boasting” and “in rivalry amongst yourselves” part exhibits something much more insightful about the human condition in this world. One of the most significant contradictions and problems of the notion of a Utopia on earth has always been that, if everyone is equal, then there is nothing for humans to strive towards (I don’t mean spiritually, but sociologically) – the world would be stripped of all sense of any necessity for ambition. There are two ways this could happen:

1. If everyone is simply equal in socioeconomic status and is given the same position in occupation – (which is realistically impossible anyway)

2. If an Utopian world runs on technology that does everything for us and abolishes the need for jobs altogether (which would also create the problem of sheer boredom with idleness).

This is where the verse sheds more light. Humans are innately ingrained with 1. the necessity for some form of occupation 2. the desire to strive higher, to reach further, the ambition to be better than others. Especially when considering the modern world, we are always striving socioeconomically or personally. You might say the latter is not necessarily always true, for example, serfs in Medieval Europe who did not have any semblance of an opportunity to strive higher, or for people who are content with a simple life and means of living, like farmers – but the point is, they still had/have an occupation – they still have some form of meaning, some work by which they are occupying their lives. Without either of these two factors, society itself would become listless and feel meaningless (again, I’m not talking about spiritually, I’m talking about sociologically, the natural structures by which the society of this world functions). This is also of course where such ideologies of Capitalism and Socialism comes into factor, but that’s a whole other long conversation.

Thus, in such a supposedly Utopian society, we could never truly be happy (not on earth anyway) – which is of course why the concept of Utopia becomes paradoxically and ironically a “Dystopia.” This is why in verse 57:20 Allah equates the “the life of this world” to the ambitious nature of humanity – we are always “in rivalry among ourselves,” and that is the very nature of the life we live, because without it, the earthly life would not truly exist. This gives us a mere glimpse into the sheer understanding and knowledge Allah has of the nature of humanity, since he is the One who created us – and thus this provides a whole different understanding of how and why Allah knows what is better for us than we do ourselves. This is further exhibited through the next part of the verse:

“Here is a similitude (to this life): The rain and the growth which it brings forth, delight the hearts of the tillers; soon it withers; thou wilt see it grow yellow; then it becomes dry and crumbles away…And what is the life of this world, but goods and chattels of deception?” (57:20)

Ultimately, Allah reminds us that the the ambitions of this world will not matter – all of it will, eventually, some day, “crumble away” – because this is not the world to which we truly belong. The natural structures by which this world functions will never enable it to be where we truly belong, for the same reason why a Utopia on earth could never exist. It will never be where we truly belong because no matter what we have, where we are in life, we will always want more, strive for more, crave for more – and it will never be enough until we reach the very world for which we were created.

In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, the intrusion by foreign forces in the town of Macondo spurs into motion a domino effect of political shifts. With the introduction of political parties and the ruthless massacres by the military occupation, Macondo becomes the battleground of a colonized land. The revolution which eventually erupts from these tensions strives to overthrow colonial forces and reclaim their original identity. However, the face of the revolution Colonel Aureliano Buendia’s downward spiral towards corruption and his eventual failure in the struggle for liberation exemplify Frantz Fanon’s idea that a post-colonial nation never truly reclaims its liberty.

            In The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon writes: “The masses, by a kind of infantile reasoning, are convinced they have been robbed. In certain developing countries, they…realize two or three years after independence their hopes have been dashed: “What was the point of fighting if nothing was really destined to change?” (34). Although the immediate aftermath of independence may give the post-colonial nation a sense of long-sought-for liberty, the effects of the colonial process impacts and changes the nation too much for it to ever truly recover its original state. The influences from the colonial country seeps into the colonized nation.

In Macondo’s original pre-colonial state, the lack of a sense of political disposition is almost an attribute of Macondo “culture” or social structure. The imposition of politics by the foreign forces, however, changes this social structure. Jose Arcadio Buendia’s initial reaction to Don Apolinar Moscote’s attempt at establishing government in Macondo demonstrates that they considered politics unnecessary to them: “In this town, we do not give orders with pieces of paper…we do not need judges here because there’s nothing that needs judging” (56). His phrasing and tone suggests that it is as if the very concept of such matters is foreign to Macondo.

There are two ways by which Marquez illustrates Aureliano’s original “uncolonized” mind. One is through his response to the concept of politics. Marquez emphasizes that at this stage, before Aureliano is completely “assimilated” into the political culture, he is actually apathetic to and innocent of any knowledge of politics, and thus was initially unaware of the concept of any political sides such as the “Conservatives” or the “Liberals.” This is shown by his words, “If I have to be something, I’ll be a Liberal,” (96) – as if it is a novel concept he is just discovering and assimilating to. The second way in which Marquez establishes Aureliano’s original character pre-war is through his initial motives for joining the Liberals and inciting revolution. As Macondo was plunged into political strife, with martial law the only law, and with the military occupation inciting chaos, terror and murder throughout the town, Aureliano finally declares “We’re going to war” (100). The incidence that ultimately incites him is that of the senseless killing of a woman, for which he then gathers men and “executed the captain and the four soldiers who had killed the woman” (101). This depiction of Aureliano shows that at this stage of the colonization, he had sincere inclinations to reclaim Macondo’s “independence” and seek justice for his people. Marquez juxtaposes Aureliano’s initially “uncolonized mind” – his untainted lack of disposition towards politics – to the political opposition which he is inevitably forced to join in the face of colonialism.

The turn of the revolution, however, gradually shifts – Aureliano becomes the very enemy he is fighting against. Fanon states “What must be avoided…are the espousal by the masses of an enemy doctrine and radical hatred by tens of millions of men. The colonized peoples are perfectly aware of these imperatives which dominate international politics. This is why even those who rage against violence always plan and act on the basis of this global violence”(39). Even though Aureliano initially “raged” against the injustice of the violence around him, he gradually comes to “act on the basis” of that same violence. He senselessly sacks a widow’s house and “reduce[s] it to ashes” (165); condones the murder of a man who challenges his position and rank, who is then violently hacked to death; orders the execution of a young officer, and even orders the execution of his own long-time comrade Gerineldo Marquez, simply for objecting to him. He becomes so utterly “intoxicat[ed]” (166) by power that he is “Lost in the solitude of his immense power, he began to lose direction” (166). He no longer possesses any sense of direction as to what purpose he is fighting for anymore – after twenty years of revolution, he declares: “The important thing is that from now on we’ll be fighting only for power” (168). Whereas in the beginning, before he was immersed in being “colonized,” Aureliano fought for justice, rights, equality, and liberty for his people – and yet he has been so changed by the process that he has no recollection of these values and intentions, and values only power. While fighting against tyranny, he becomes the tyrant, as Gerineldo Marquez says to him: “I’d rather be dead than see you changed into a bloody tyrant” (170), and as his own mother Ursula condemns him for his decision to execute Gerineldo: “It’s as if you were born with the tail of a pig” (169). Instead of changing the colonized state of his people and achieving liberty for them as he set out to, he is the one who is changed by colonization.

The third stage of colonization Macondo endures further contributed to its transformation: the “gringos” and their banana plantations. With this new form of foreign intrusion, Macondo attempts to retain the Macondo they knew before the colonization began: “The banana fever had calmed down. The old inhabitants of Macondo found themselves surrounded by newcomers and working hard to cling to their precarious resources of times gone by…” (284). Marquez utilizes the introduction of technology, specifically the train, as a means of foreshadowing of the extent to which these final foreign forces change Macondo forever: “The innocent yellow train was to bring so many ambiguities and certainties, so many pleasant and unpleasant moments, so many changes, calamities, and feelings of nostalgia to Macondo” (222). When discord erupts between the colonized workers and the colonizing “gringos” and the workers begin to strike, the colonizer uses a summons of all workers to gather in Macondo as a means of imposing their utmost power over them. In the resulting massacre, Jose Arcadio Segundo becomes the only living witness to the truth of the colonizers’ atrocities: “He realized that he was riding on an endless and silent train…and only then did he discover that he was lying against dead people…he saw the man corpses, woman corpses, child corpses who would be thrown into the sea like rejected bananas” (307). And yet, the reality of the truth he witnesses is denied by every single person he comes across in Macondo. This scene begins to question the significance of truth as power, as Fanon relays: “Truth is what hastens the dislocation of the colonial regime, what fosters the emergence of the nation. Truth is what protects the “natives” and undoes the foreigners.” (14) This manipulation of the truth by the government, or the colonizer, to the extent that the lie becomes the truth, the reality, implies that the possessor of the truth, and thus the one to possess the power of manipulating the truth, is the one who holds the power. Because the colonized Macondo relinquished the truth, they were incapable of what Fanon calls “dislocation of the colonial regime”; because the people had come to believe the lie, they were unable to “undo the foreigner,” but instead themselves were “undone”:

“He had read an extraordinary proclamation to the nation which said that the workers had left the station and had returned home in peaceful groups…The official version, repeated a thousand times and mangled out all over the country by every means of communication the government found at hand, was finally accepted: there was no dead, the satisfied workers had gone back to their families, and the company was suspending all activities until the rains stopped.”  (309)

The ultimate ruin that this series of events thus leads to Macondo refers back to Fanon’s first statement: “The masses…realize two or three years after independence their hopes have been dashed: “What was the point of fighting if nothing was really destined to change?” (34). Ultimately, even after their attempts at revolution and independence, they never truly achieved liberty because the constant bombarding intrusions and occupations by foreign forces tainted the fabric of Macondo forever: it set off a chain of influences, one after another, that made it impossible for them to not only reclaim their culture, their identity, but also influenced it to such an extent that the true story of their people, their history, and their plight for independence was distorted into a lie – merely a legend, a tall tale.

Fanon, Frantz, The Wretched of the Earth, Grove Press, 2005.

García, Márquez Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. New York: Harper Perennial Modern. Classics Edition, 2006. Print.