Fanaticism and Ambition

Listening to the news today that another suicide bomber has attacked Israel and that another missile has been fired at the Palestinians made me shake my head and wonder whether we will ever see peace in the Middle East. The event prompted more thoughts about the fine differences between ambition and fanaticism. When do our beliefs and the actions we are willing to take to defend those beliefs become fanatic or even lunatic?

In college I met a number of people who seemed filled with clarity about their future. Whether it be the study of medicine, music, physics, or the law, they seemed to have a quality that I was missing. They knew what they were going to do when they grew up. I started college thinking I might be an astronomer but then turned away from that and studied English and philosophy. When I was done with college I expected to go onto graduate school and become a professor. But life has taken a different path. Ten years after graduating I’m working as a technology project manager for a financial printing company. But even now the uncertainty about my future remains. Last fall I almost completed an application for graduate school but held back at the last moment and I’m still asking myself whether that is the right choice for me.

Even some of the people I knew in college who seemed to have the determination and ambition to make their avocation into a vocation have taken different paths. Inevitably our dreams run up against the hard reality of the world. What makes some people accept these disconnections between their beliefs and the world, while others are willing to die for them? Is it a matter of opportunity, freedom, education or some other unknown factor? For every explanation put forth there seems to be a counterexample. The reasons for fanaticism, fundamentalism, and other insanities seems to be as diverse as the human race.

What then can be done? Can we really hope for a better world? I think that the distances between the edges of sanity and insanity are growing. Today the gaps between rich and poor worldwide are larger than they have ever been. And the very technology that allows the rich to succeed can be turned against us on a cataclysmic scale.

And yet that certainty that comes from absolute belief is very tempting and necessary for all of us to succeed. Sometimes we have to plunge onward despite what the rest of the world tries to tell us. Those of us who are filled with doubt about the correctness of our actions need to reject the fanaticism we see around us. This is probably the biggest weakness of liberals versus conservatives in today’s political climate. The conservatives seem to be convinced they know the truth, while the liberals are stuck offering questions and caveats.