Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Terrible Love of War

General Patton was visibly anxious as the Second World War came to an end with no more Nazis to kill and physically relieved when he realised that there was a new Soviet enemy.

Kant believed it was ingrained in human nature.

Apparently sane, middle class children from sound backgrounds hasten to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State to perpetuate murderous mayhem in a perceived 'good cause'.

What is this all about - this strange attraction of violence?

Whatever it is about, there is obviously no simple solution, nothing is going to 'eradicate' it any time soon (whatever we may need to do, in the moment, to protect ourselves)?

It appears to be something that at a macro level virtually everyone deplores (or participates in reluctantly) yet at a micro level - at the textural level of our lived lives - all too many hastily throw themselves into it.

That haste is perhaps a clue - the very haste of quick decision making that may make or break a fight or a battle or a war is the very impulsion that drives us into conflict in the first place, replacing a contemplative: 'do we really want to do this' with a 'it must be done'!

Thus a George Monbiot, writing in The Guardian, and suggesting that bombing Islamic State may not be a solution is accused in the running underneath commentary of condemning people, here and now, to an untimely end. It is not clear, however, whether the strategy of simply bombing has, in fact, saved anyone (and even the more prolonged and complex expedient of 'boots on the ground' leads to remorseless unforeseen consequence). The war to end wars has not yet been devised. The war to perpetuate war is always with us.

What is striking is that the resources we deploy in trying to figure out what is going on, whether material or imaginative, are remarkably small (indeed insignificant) when compared to the resources deployed going deeper into our entanglements.

Will this always be the case? Is it, as Kant suggests, simply an ingrained ingredient of human nature?

That it is an ingredient is a truism, it's inevitability is not, I think. It is perfectly conceivable to imagine communities that, painstakingly, have constructed ways and means of imagining themselves beyond a lot of violence, who think in terms of shame and restitution rather than guilt and punishment. One thinks of the Amish and shunning or certain Native American groups and their practice of restorative justice or indeed medieval Italian city states fighting wars of theatrical display, limited casualties, and the to and fro surrendering of a castle here, a village there.

Thinking about a common thread, it occurs to me that they were places where people are (or were) (relatively) clear and content in their identities, practiced lives that are (or were) relatively leisurely and lived within (relative) abundance. They, also, live(d) with a vivid sense of the reality of evil - not as the possession of some 'other' people or group but of a force capable of possessing all (including themselves) against which you maintained a certain vigilance.

We neither know who we are (and there is no coherent pathways of initiation) nor grant ourselves leisure because we imagine we live in a world of scarcity, created by our continuous needs (for emotional presence as well as goods).

This is where peace begins, as Aldous Huxley noted in his utopia, 'Island'. In an upbringing that anchors us in an emotional security that allows us the leisure of abundance. Huxley's portrayal of his (threatened appropriately by oil exploration) utopia is compelling by its overwhelming practicality. It emphasises proper childhood attachment that we know reduces aggression, extols the virtues of spiritual practice that enhance mastery, identity and security and a social system that recognises that we have enough, to quote Gandhi, to meet everyone's need but not their greed. What it lacks perhaps, and which Native American cultures knew so well, was the liminal edginess of initiation and some extreme sports but no utopia is perfect! But that would be a reality worth not fighting for...

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