No One Ever Does
The danger that we sense, as we approach the close of the first quarter of the twenty-first century, is like the danger a gazelle senses in the moments just before the lion pounces. It is a steady, creeping danger. It does not alarm; it simply innervates. It is danger that has not yet revealed itself completely and definitively. We sense it, but we do not know what it is or where it is coming from, and we experience it as if it were all around us. When the lion finally pounces, the danger to the gazelle becomes specific and, because of its specificity, the gazelle can act. We cannot manage an ill-defined danger easily. Where is it? What is its nature? What can we do about it? Only when it reveals itself and shows its location and its nature can we act to thwart or mitigate it. The gazelle leaps and runs out of range of the predator. If we are to act as the gazelle acts, then we must know the danger that creeps upon us.
Several generations ago, at the beginning of the twentieth century, our forebears faced a formidable impending danger. It pervaded the minds of people across Europe and America. The danger was not quite clear, and the people placed a great deal of trust in the leaders of the day. Our ancestors assumed that cooler heads would prevail, and that the delicate balance of diplomacy would resolve the tensions. There is a fine line between diplomacy and brinkmanship, and the leaders crossed the line, entangling themselves in alliances that formed a web that snared them. Thus ensnared, the European nations and empires could not prevent the destructive war that wasted the lives of millions of people. However, they did not remove the snare even after the war ended. The devastation was not enough to compel them to change their ways. Resentment and a desire for revenge (the two go hand in hand) propelled them towards a second, more destructive war. Did they learn from the second war? It seemed that way, outwardly at least; yet, in the absence of direct confrontation there was the Cold War and the many proxy wars that resulted from it. No, there was no learning from the past, and no change in the way leaders thought or acted. There was just exhaustion. The Europeans had worn themselves out, and in so doing left a gaping void for others to fill.
Is the danger war per se? Humans have warred against each other for as long as there are historical records, and likely longer. There is no sign of wars becoming extinct, and yet we have a sense of the obsolescence of war, its needlessness. Some people believe war is essential to the ongoing development of human culture and that it is in war that humans, men in particular, find their identity. Fascist ideology, for example, assumes there to be a metaphysical imperative to engage in conflict and war. It not only makes room for the people to occupy, but it stimulates their biological and spiritual perfection. It is an alchemical process of turning base metals into gold. Traditional religious ideology perceives earthly war as a shadow of the spiritual war going on in invisible realms where angels and demons battle for supremacy. The human front is just one of many fronts on which these non-human intelligences fight the cosmic war. War as an extension of political diplomacy, even for secular civilizations, becomes inevitable because leaders consider it a viable solution to disputes. War is on the human mind constantly, not just when actual wars exist, but in simulations on television, the movies, and video games. War is political violence on a mass scale, and once leaders attached war to industrial corporate power, they assured the means to industrialize destruction and death. However, is the danger war? War is the outcome, not the cause. War is what we make, and so something must precede the making of war.
Some people argue that wars are inevitable because it is human nature to fight. The nature of any organism, including the human organism, is to perpetuate its existence. This means consumption of food, replication of cells through procreation, and protection from danger. It is in the latter that war becomes possible, but war is not inevitable because of this. The possibility of human violence does not equate to the inevitability of it. Just because we can act violently does not mean we must act violently. Fighting is not our nature; it is a feature of survival. Our nature is to live and to extend our lives. The natural instinct to fight is a response to danger and threat, and so people can manipulate it. All they need to do is stimulate the sense of danger and threat in us, even where there is no such danger or threat. Our brains are not clever enough to detect deception automatically, and so all of us are susceptible to manipulation. Wars are not accidental. A triggering event may be happenstance, but leaders and their allies purposefully and over time stimulate tensions leading up to the eventual fighting. Humans, under normal conditions are cooperative (if not wholly polite). It is the tensions created by pundits and politicians that shorten our tempers, make us suspicious of others, and drive us on to physical confrontation. The ideologies at work are just the glamour used to conceal the psychological practices at work. A demagogue directs your attention to immigrants, or people with different religious beliefs and stirs your imagination about how they disrupt your way of life. Have you not heard the humbug repeatedly; “They hate our lifestyle,” or “They hate the American way.” Says who? Perhaps it is they, the pundits and the politicians, who hate the lifestyles and the ways of those other people. Why do they want conflict? Why do they want war? Why do they want to change cooperative and generally polite Americans into killers?
All the while, our pundits and politicians are riling up our senses, making us mad at things we hardly understand, there are pundits and politicians amongst the other nations of the world doing the same. Sometimes we are the targets of that rhetoric, just as we target some of them. If we put aside all the rhetoric, then what is left? We would have to acknowledge that all humans share the same basic lifestyle and ways. We would have to recognize that we do not want to fight each other, and that we do not want to frighten each other. We would have to admit our repulsion for the consequences of violence, if not of violence itself. Who wants to see mangled and brutalized bodies? Who thinks there is value in decapitations and amputations? Who admires the destruction of young lives, or the murders of the elderly? It does not matter whether you are on the side of the angels or the demons, if you bring to bear violence against other humans, if you shoot that rifle, or you drop that bomb, or swing with that sword, then it is you murdering them. You can distance yourself from the consequence of violence but you cannot erase the consequences. If you fire that rifle, or you drop that bomb, then you are the killer. So again, we ask, why do our leaders want to transform cooperative and relatively polite humans into killers?
The creeping danger is not a threat from without, but one from within us. It is the effort to turn us into killers, and to reduce us to obedient soldiers, who will die and spill blood for the benefit of others. How do you end a war? You choose not to fight it. You choose not to kill others. It is easy to end a war, because it is the choice to do nothing. Fighting and warring require you to do something, to take up a weapon, to aim it, and shoot. So do not take up the weapon. If you take it up, do not aim it at anyone. If you aim it, do not shoot it. Who says you have to take up a weapon, aim, and shoot it? Who has the authority to turn you into a killer? “I want to defend my country.” That is the first act of a trained killer. Playing on your desire to protect your family and friends, and of your property and liberty, you step up and make yourself a willing participant in acts of murder. Note that even if you are never deployed, never have to face the enemy directly, your insistence that it need to happen makes you an accomplice. It is not just you, but every human who takes up the weapon, who imbibes the rhetoric that the enemy is threat to their way of life, is an accomplice to mass murder. All you have to do is reject the notion that there is an enemy. If you reject this notion, then the “need” to fight dissipates. Is it not strange that you never knew who your enemies were until someone else told you. You never knew you had enemies until then. You never knew.
If you think this is nothing but peacenik humbug, then there is no hope for you. You submit yourself to the ancient tactic of rhetoric that plunges civilization after civilization into senseless wars. You make yourself into a willing accomplice to other people’s agenda to create space to occupy, to undermine the safety and security of others, to take lives, to destroy property, to devastate liberty. Perhaps this story will help you grasp my meaning:
Once there were the two greatest samurai in all of Japan. Neither had ever lost a duel. The Emperor decided to hold a contest between them, to see who the greater champion was. He called them to his capital and arranged for a festival. The two duelers entered the arena to the cheers of thousands of bloodthirsty onlookers. The Emperor was ecstatic and gave the blessing for the contest to begin. The two samurai stood across from each other, their eyes locked. Then they approached one another and knelt. The onlookers murmured. The Emperor was puzzled. There the two samurai knelt across from each other, looking into each other’s eyes. This went on for hours. Soon the crowd dispersed, leaving just the Emperor and his court to observe. Night fell and torches illuminated the arena, but there the samurai knelt still. The morning came, a cock crowed, and the two samurai stood. They bowed, turned from each other and went their separate ways, to the Emperor’s astonishment. The champions were never seen again in the capital. The Emperor never understood what happened. No one ever does.