What role do we play in our own fate? How much power does society have in our lives, and what is our complicity in it?
These are some of the questions Ali addresses in his essay “The Second Element”, dated December 3, 2003. Provoked to reflection by a reader’s remark that “you guys deserved (Saddam Hussein)”, Ali explores the forces that shape individuals and society. The first element is genetics – our natural predisposition. The second element is society itself. Ali observes the role of the media, both in Iraq and in the West, in shaping opinion.
But beyond society – the “second element” of the post’s title – there is
“a 3rd. element that forms and shapes the ultimate course of the life of an individual, and let me call it “the free zone”, a zone of free will that neither the genetics nor the environment and not even God have any influence whatever, and as this zone is free, it is liable for frequent changes throughout its short course on earth.”
Ali makes it clear that the first step in exercising our free will – and sometimes the only step left to us – is to use our capacity for critical thinking. In America we have the choice of what to watch on TV, what books to read, what to view on the internet. In Ba’athist Iraq these choices were nonexistent. But the people did have one choice: whether to take the hateful propaganda of the regime into their own minds, their own lives, and their children’s lives, or to reject it.
This is the choice that all of us – free and not yet free – still have. We can decide who we are, and who we want to be.
Ali said it better than I can. Read the whole post here: