Since World War II, human behavior has manifested in a classic example of a human paradox. One side of this puzzle is that we possess the intellectual and technical ability to create nuclear weapons capable of global human annihilation. The other side is that, after four generations of nuclear-armed nations aiming those weapons at each other, the value of life ultimately proved more compelling than the potential for political or strategic conquest. What became known as MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction – prevailed. So far.
But eighteen years ago this week, the belief that preservation of life as the highest human value would deter unprovoked, murderous attacks on thousands of innocent people turned into an illusion. On September 11, 2001, civilization was blindsided by an ironic form of barbarism. Without respect for any international convention or moral standard, 19 evil humans took the lives of almost 3,000 innocents and declared war on the rest of us.
This barbarism was ironic because these followers of a radical form of Islam employed to their murderous advantage one of the icons of the very society they claimed to hate – technology. Indeed, the same humans who would take 21st-century civilization back to the Stone Age, adopted some of our most advanced innovations to coordinate and conduct their evil deeds. And then the rest of their coward co-conspirators claimed those crimes with more modern technology as they communicated their demented, Dark Ages worldview.
But just as technology became the ironic lever of those who place no value on innocent life, it’s still a powerful lever for those who do. When tolerant, civilized humans use technologies like the Internet and associated applications, they do three very important things: communicate, conduct business and share values.
The carcinogens that give rise to the disease of terrorism are ignorance and intolerance. But those vectors can be eradicated, little by little, when an eBay seller in Kankakee, Illinois trades with a customer in Kabul, Afghanistan and when a small business owner in Bangor, Maine uses YouTube to share a best practice with his peer in Baghdad, Iraq. I know people in both Kabul and Bagdad and have witnessed business relationships evaporate xenophobia quicker than a puff of steam, leaving behind a beautiful discovery of shared values and trust. All because someone said three words, “Let’s do business.” In Arabic: “Daeuna nafeal al’aemal.”
The 19th-century French economist, Frederic Bastiat, said, “When goods cross borders, armies don’t.” Thanks to digital technology, never in the history of humanity have goods – and values – crossed so many borders so efficiently as today. E-commerce – micro-trade – across borders is one of the awesome benefits of the 21st-century’s most powerful offering: digital leverage.
The 18th-century Irish philosopher, Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” In a post-9-11 world, there is no greater army of good people than the global small business sector leveraging technology to trade and share values across borders.
The symbiosis of business and shared values naturally transmogrifies into a most powerful weapon against the iniquity of intolerance and hatred. Let’s create more of that symbiosis by promoting more business among the world’s small businesses.
Write this on a rock … The most enduring weapons against terrorism are tolerance, shared values, and commerce.