Does War Have To Be Inevitable
by Ian R Thorpe
I recently entered a comment thread under a post that asked "Does War Have To Be Inevitable" on a Liberal blog. I should have known better of course, on a liberal blog people who think for themselves asnd express opinions of their own rather than parroting the usual knee jerk response prescribed by the academic - political elite are about as welcome as a fart in a space capsule.
The person who posted the question was merely reproducing the transcript of an interview and began like this:
In "The End of War", veteran science journalist John Horgan applies the scientific method to reach a unique conclusion: biologically speaking, we are just as likely to be peaceful as we are to be violent. So what keeps humans bound by a seemingly never-ending cycle of ... ?"
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In the interview Horgan reveals himself as a pompous windbag who never uses one word when a hundred will do. He also repeats many "progressive liberal" dogmas as if he has learned them by rote. The scientific method? In the end he says very little, in fact his whole case can be summed up as "War can become a thing of the past if everybody in the world will just change their consciouness." Here is his final paragraph:
"I mention somewhere in the book and would like this to be discussed among progressive activists: What should your priorities be? You know, do you work on environmental issues, against global warming? Against poverty and world hunger? Do you work on the advancement of women's rights? I mean all those are worthy causes. But I actually think that in terms of leverage, of focusing on one thing that can then have a cascade of other positive effects, focusing on militarism and war should be the priority. Because if we can really reduce the militarism of this country, really cut back on our military budget, get rid of nuclear weapons and create a more rational international policy, then I think that a lot of these other things will be much easier to address. Environmental issues, economic injustice issues, female inequality, all those sorts of things. "
The conclusion then is unbrelievably naive as are all those hippy dippy sacred cows that include the notion, either implied or spelled out, "If only everybody would just ..."
It's a pipe drem and few people will have much trouble guessing what the pipe these people suck on is filled with.
Is war inevitable, given the human condition? What causes human agression? For Socrates, according to Plato, it comes from innate tendencies present in all of us but nurtured in the wrong way.
So must we think then that war is inevitable and perpetual peace a utopian pipedream? This subject has been the centre of debates about international relations for centuries. Do those of us who take a realist's view submit to being accused of relishing and glorifying war and being vilified for being right? And do those who claim war can be abolished have any rational arguements to suport their case or are they as full of crap as the guy above?
Political theorists, constructivists and social scientists hasve given us some insights, but we see the issue more clearly if we concentrate on the great debate between Utopianism and Realism and of course we should first equip ourselves with an understanding of human nature.
But before we even do that we ought to be aware of how profound the folly of those airy idealists who believe war can be abolished "if only everybody would just ..."
Here's a snipet from an article by Alice L Mayer
Einstein’s letter contained a statement that I kept reading over and over throughout the course of the day. He wrote, “Is it possible to control man’s mental evolution so as to make him proof against the psychosis of hate and destructiveness? Here I am thinking by no means only of the so-called uncultured masses. Experience proves that it is rather the so-called ‘intelligentsia’ that is most apt to yield to these disastrous collective suggestions, since the intellectual has no direct contact with life in the raw but encounters it in its easiest, synthetic form – upon the printed page.”
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It is worth noting that the article can be found on a website called changing our consciousness. I am entirely comfortable with the idea that individuals can change their consciousness, some individuals at least, we must not forget the old joke that goes ...
Q:"How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Only one but first the lightbulb must want to change.
For an individual to change their consciousness is relatively simple once the mind is set on doing so. To abolish war however would require everybody in the world to change their consciousness, to set aside self interest and start living for the wider community and that is a very different matter. An old management maxim says "Managing people is like herding cats." The difficult part of abolishing war is getting everybody to want to do it.
Sheeple are the most easy to manage but the least likely to change their consciousness. They rely on the feeling of security that comes from being part of the crowd thus they are easily manipulated by media campaigns orchestrated by charismatic leaders and extremist political groups. Again there is a problem of comprehension for hippy thinkers here. For no good reason they have managed to go through life without ever gaining any understand of the phrase "If voting changed anything, they'd abolish it."
Realist assumptions about humans, from Hobbes to Spinoza to Machiavelli share one common trait: that humans are by nature bad, that human nature is base. According to Spinoza, people are led not by precepts of pure reason but by their passions. He was right as recent scientific research has shown, we are animals and while we have a veneer of reason and objectivity, emotions play a bigger part in our decision making. Emotion leads to irrationality, to selfishness, fear and panic, mob mentality (don't ever pay any attention to talk of the wisdom of the crowd, mobs are mindless) and the raw aggression that draws men and nations into conflict.
In Politics Among NationsHans Morganthausays "it is man's 'ineradicable' lust for power that results in frictions and wars among states." If man's nature is the primary cause of war, does it imply war could only be abolished through the enlightenment of man? And if so how? There has been talk in the meetings of the G20 nations of global government and the creation of a common culture but at what price could that be attempted? And who is fit to arbitrate as to what is good consciousness and what is bad. Orwell and Huxley took different views of this, Orwell's brutal tyranny embraced the idea that "Freedom is slavery, war is peace, Ignorance is strength," while the regime that controlled Huxley's Brave New World was a suffocatingly matriarchal Nanny State that nurtured her subjects from cradle to grave and demanded in return only absolute, unthinking obedience.
Power, the most addictive and potent drug of all then is what motivates those who rise to leadership. Now we are getting somewhere in our effort to understand the impulse to war. Morganthau nails it with that phrase about ineradicable lust for power. Voter don't vote for war, the masses don't clamour for war unless they are manipulated into doing so by an elite. And the elite, being educated and steeped in a sense of supereiority that eliteism breeds, are not going to be manipulated by fools and dreamers. If anything threatens their grip on power they will start beating the war drum and use fear and panic to whip the masses into line. The technique is as old as civilisation itself.
Unlike realists, idealists believe in the optimistic definition of man being naturally good. Conflicts and war break out because of a few malicious or misguided people. Peace would prevail were a superior authority able to seek out such renegades and reform them in the etiquettes of politically correct conduct, a kind of cuddly Maoism. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, "Were half the power that fills the world with terror, were half the wealth bestowed on camps and courts, given to redeem the human mind from error, there was no need of arsenals or forts." As with all the glib solutions to problems that perpetually trouble humankind, it is much easier to say it than to make it happen. Ah well, as someone more famous than me once said, poets are fools and dreamers.
Based on the logic of education, several approaches within the behavioural sciences have attempted to address the problems of wars and their causes in international politics. According to psychologists like James Miller, Allport and Cohen, these all assumed that improved social adjustment of individuals would decrease feelings of frustration and insecurity thus reducing the likelyhood of war. Similarly, increased understanding amongst the people of the world meant increased peace. This has become the basis of the global government, global nation solution first proposed in the hippy dippy songs of the 1960s. Lovely idea but it is just not going to happen. We in the developed world might think of war in terms of global or multi - national conflicts like World Wars One and Two or localised bloodbaths like Korea or Vietnam but really war starts much smaller, tribal conflicts of which there are many currently going on in African despite all the money the west has pumped into that continent, the kind of low level war or terror campaign the IRA waged against Britain from the 1960s to 1990s or the Basque separatists have contucted in Spain, turf wars between street gangs. Get down to this level and we see why war is inevitable.
James Millar remarked that ignorance of the desires, aims and characteristics of other people leads to fear and is consequently one of the primary causes of aggression. Does a better understanding someone else's culture translate to increased levels of peace? Can familiarity with a culture or religious tradition reduce envy and mistrust? Gaining a clearer picture of how communist societies worked did not bring the Cold War to a halt not did communism, for all its inclusive, egalitarian, touchy - feely ideology create the utopian society it promised. Even nations with close cultural affinities have gone to wars in the past, Britain and France have more in common than citizens of each care to admit and yet for almost a thousand years were at war at least once every century. This pattern is repeated throughout the history of Western Europe since the fall of Rome's western empire. Realists argue this is so because the assumption a bouthuman nature is fixed. It is a given constant. No amount of idealistic notions about education, establishing a common culture and the peace bringing effects of everybody joining hands and singing Kumbiya being able to change consciosness a is going to change this fact. War is inevitable.
Idealists argue that if war was inevitable, why were there long periodst among the natives of peace? As I said above, war is more than global conflict. In the period known as the Pax Romana the Roman Emire was always involved in putting down uprisings, quelling unrest and defending the borders of the empire. A hundred miles north of where I live the Scots spent almost 400 years snapping like bad tempered little terriers at the Imperial ankles. The same applied in the shorter period dubbed the Pax Britannica, British naval power many have prevented major conflicts but the Empire was always busy defending it's interests with military force.
The Pax Americana has given war a different face. It is no longer practical for vast armies to confront each other on the field of battle. Modern military technology can reach deep into the heart of an enemy's homeland. This would suggest even bloodier wars that ever but the certainty of mutually assured destruction in such a war dictates other ways are found to fight for supremacy. Major powers sponsor terrorist groups, guerrilla armies, dissidents and malcontents covertly back by rival governments conduct wars by proxy against unpopular or histile regimes and technological warfare in cyberspace threatens to bring to a halt the national economies of developed nations that have foolishly put all their eggs in one basdket by making themselves dependent on a single, deeply flawed technology.
Appeasement, the foreign policy of caving in to the demands of hostile powers is no more likely to bring peace now than it was in 1939 when the fools and dreamers deluded themselves that Adolf Hitler was a reasonable man. War is not just inevitable, aided and abetted by the dippy hippys who think we can all be persuaded to don diaphanous kaftans made from tie dyed cheesecloth and build a brave new, conflict free world, it is evolving from a dinosaur into a sophisticated, supernatural shapeshifter that will envelope everything within its aura.
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