Aggression, War, and Human Nature, Part II
So What Are The Causes Of War? (Applying The Deep Approach)
Additional Points: The Omnipresence Of The Psychological Element
Solutions To Aggression And War
So What Are The Causes Of War? (Applying The Deep Approach)
All of the theories discussed till now - psychological and sociobiological - seem capable of shedding light on some of the deeper causes of war. See how they are able to take us one level deeper than many of the typical explanations we have heard throughout human history:
People fight because their rulers seek wealth, glory, and power. Let’s use this common explanation as an EXAMPLE. In many cases, this assertion has proven to be on the money, whether one is speaking of a system dominated by knights and lords, or political and business elites. Of course, it is only ONE of many possible cause-of-war scenarios. But we'll concentrate on it, for the moment, just to illustrate how much such an explanation can be deepened (and made useful to us). Let's begin by asking: why do some rulers seek and want these things?
More than physical comfort, it often seems to come down to an issue of self-esteem. Wealth, glory, and many forms and levels of power, enhance one’s self-esteem by boosting one’s sense of one’s own capabilities, qualities, and worth, at the same time as they frequently elevate one’s status in society. Many psychologists believe that it is difficult for an individual to maintain his sense of self-esteem when isolated or cut off from the love or admiration of others, so achievements which attract the respect or love of others to oneself are an important way of building up one’s love for oneself. The terrible pain of feeling worthless, an affliction which preys upon many of us, sometimes due to the indifference of parents, or society, is avoided by becoming "great", and turning oneself into a magnet for the love and respect of others, which fills up our inner emptiness. As Nietzsche said: "Ye cannot endure yourselves, too little ye love yourselves: now seek ye to seduce your neighbor to love you and to gild yourselves with his error." (Thus Spake Zarathustra, translated by A. Tille and M.M. Bozman.)
These powerful rulers, or drivers of society, may therefore seek war as a means of winning this love, either through the glory of the warrior (Cyrus, Alexander, Caesar), or the adornment of wealth and riches (wars for markets, business, etc.), which are like glittering lights hung upon an empty soul. Like the feathers of a peacock, used in his mating dance, human wealth may "beautify" a man, make him stand out from others, and turn him into an object of devotion, bringing the "love" to him that can wash away his pain, the pain of feeling he is nothing - or not enough. (If he senses that this love is not genuine, it may only drive him to conquer or create more wealth, to make himself "bigger" still, and more "desirable.")
Forms Of The Mating Drive
Speaking of the inborn mating drive, when once asked why it is that men go to war, T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) replied, "Because the women are watching." Being a natural-born poet, and a true warrior, he may have known what he was talking about. Certainly applicable to many tribal societies and raiding cultures, this desire to make oneself attractive to the opposite sex through displays of valor - the act of capturing horses from the enemy, for example - and through the physical evidence of one’s abilities - the captured horses, themselves, offered to the girl’s father - probably also apply to our own culture. In our case, the valor is less, the physical evidence more. Whereas an old man, inflated and illuminated by wealth, may not be able to properly "utilize" the women attracted by his "mating display" - and even, in cases, be socially blockaded from the possibility of mistresses - he may still bathe, not only in the general admiration of the public, but in the sexual energy of admiring young women, which, even without physical contact, is capable of creating a kind of sensual electricity in his life, a form of wealth that brightens the heart and seems to make life more worth living. More than having a big house, or a big car, it is these emotions of life and self-worth that drive the "man of ambition", who drags his society behind him, to attain his wealth and power.
Dehumanizing Victims By Means Of Projection And Displacement
And yet - how is it that these rulers are capable of sacrificing so many of their own people, and so many of the enemy, in order to win this power for themselves? And how is it that their people are willing to follow them, to be led by them into war, into the slaughter, to become pawns on the field of death, so that those who sent them to die may wear crowns of gold upon their heads?
Regarding the first question - how the leaders are able to countenance building their happiness upon the death of others - that is only evidence of our terrible human ability to dehumanize and devalue others, so that we may "use" them for our own psychological gain. Various psychological mechanisms and processes may be at work. We may, in cases, "project" feelings we have about ourselves onto others. Whatever feelings of worthlessness, self-hatred, and fear and mistrust of oneself that may inhabit one’s own psyche, one may "project" onto, or transfer to, others, as a kind of psychological defense mechanism (to try to clear oneself of the poison, and bolster one’s own life force, by driving away the forces which could diminish it, and planting them in external subjects.) This act of projection is, in fact, a well-recognized psychological phenomenon. By means of it, one may turn perfectly innocent people into threatening, dangerous, evil beings, undeserving of compassion or mercy. This unconscious emotional process may be consolidated, at the level of the intellect, by our masterful powers of self-deception, by our brilliant ability to cloak irrational psychological imperatives with rational excuses and justifications that fortify those misperceptions which are most convenient for us.
Besides projecting elements of our own self-loathing onto others, which allows us to hate people and peoples who have done us no harm, we are also able to transfer (displace) negative emotions we have about others within our social group, who law and custom shield from our wrath, against others outside of the social group. In the case of rulers, the origin of the anger which they eventually displace against other societies could be problems in their relationship with other members of the ruling class, their parents, their family, and their people (for not loving them sufficiently).
The result of "painting" one's enemies with the blood of one’s rage, with the blood of other wounds, is that one is enabled to hate them for no reason, as a prelude to taking what one needs from them, whether it is seizing their resources, or using them as tools for reconstructing one’s own psychological sense of worth. This same process also allows one to sacrifice one’s own people, who one does not really love. Though one may pretend to love them, and be "doing it all for them", one has really also turned them into targets of one’s aggression, subtle targets who are murdered by one’s "defense" of them, turned into vehicles of one’s own psychological self-aggrandizement, the same as the enemy.
To illustrate some of this on a concrete level, take the case of the homeless man. Why do so many people in our society manifest or admit to feeling intense anger when confronted by a homeless man asking for money? Although there are different circumstances, different reasons, different personal dynamics in each case, for many, the answer lies in the fact that by asking for a handout, the homeless man is making us feel guilty for having more than he does, for making us feel somehow selfish, even for damaging our view of our society, which we somehow identify with as though it were a part of ourselves. He causes us pain and the deep hurt of self-recrimination, conscious or unconscious. We may hate him for this, just as if he had attacked us on the street and stabbed us with a knife; and also hate ourselves. Rather than enduring, and being eaten from within, by feelings of self-hatred, however, we may choose to hurl it back at him in the form of contempt and loathing, despising him for "failing", and reassuring ourselves that he is to blame for his own misfortune, and would probably misuse the money he is asking for, anyway, to buy drugs or alcohol. By not helping him, we are, therefore, doing the right thing, being "good people" - and we are able to leave him to die in the street, without in any way diminishing our self-esteem. If we are capable of even blaming "one of our own" who we, as a society, have wronged, how much easier it must be to blame someone who lives beyond our borders, beyond our knowledge.
The Conscience Tricked
As you see, this case also illustrates how we may trick our conscience into letting our crueler, more violent emotions through the gate. Unexamined, powerful emotions, wearing the armor of ideas created to disguise and protect them, pass through from the dark sectors of our mind into the real world, without being detected or stopped. Seemingly continuing "to adhere to our moral codes", we maintain the sense of self-esteem that we would lose by openly rejecting our moral beliefs. Self-deception preserves us, in the midst of our crimes.
Psychological Disorders And The Loss Of Feeling
In addition to the dynamics discussed, some rulers, some leaders of society, may occasionally suffer from psychological complexes or disorders, which, in fact, may drive them to seek positions of extraordinary power (consider the "will to power" of Hitler or Stalin). In cases, individuals may become desensitized, "disassociated", lose much of their ability to feel, as a defensive reaction, a withdrawal, from the unbearable pain of childhood abuse, humiliation, and mistreatment. Then, the emotional distancing from others which took place as a means of escaping pain - like the flight of a fugitive to a secret island in the sea - may persist as a callous attitude towards human life. As a result, the suffering and tragedies of human beings, as they are used as the expendable instruments of one’s own personal redemption, can no longer be felt, and war becomes merely a game of chess, a desert of squares, and wooden pieces, and moves, without mourning.
Dehumanization As A Result Of The Size Of Social Units
And then, of course, there is the fact that as small tribal units were replaced by larger and more complex civilizations, an inevitable process of "depersonalization" took place. Individual human beings began to matter less, the more of them that there were, and the less directly each one was involved, face to face, with the other. Divisions within the social group began to appear. (Tribal cultures also had such divisions - chieftains, councils, warrior societies in Native America, for example - but there was still a great deal of personal contact, interdependence, and solidarity.) In these newly expanding cultures, characterized by burgeoning populations, and economic specialization and differentiation, classes arose - in cases, castes - until the social group really ceased to be a social group at all, and became something more of a collection of different social groups, linked to each other in a hierarchical structure that simultaneously maintained and violated principles of the original social group. Of course, this change was another crucial factor in enabling leaders to expend their people so liberally, in wars, for now, the ones one sent to die were no longer tribal brothers, but strangers, really, members of other groups, within the group, peasants, farmers, and "inferiors", or just unknowns, whose deaths did not strike close to one’s heart. (Although this description is, doubtless, an oversimplification, since in many ancient conflicts kings and warrior elites did pay a high price in combat, it does, nonetheless, contain the truth of certain times, and add another layer of insight to our understanding of the problem of aggression.)
If these, then, are some of the psychological drives, motives and mechanisms which have led social leaders to make war upon their neighbors, and to conceive of their own people as tools for their psychological enrichment, what of the pawns? What of the people who fought and died for them? What psychological forces were at work to bind them to the leaders who, so many times, cared so little for them?
Sociobiology And The Submission Of The Follower
According to the sociobiological perspective, the human genetic tendency to form positions and rituals of dominance and submission within the social group may have become institutionalized, in larger social groups (where other, modifying factors had less of an effect), in the form of classes and castes, disempowering many, and enabling the leaders (dominant individuals) of society to drag the rest of society ( the submissive strata) along with them on their wars. The dominance would have been consolidated by a political-military elite, better trained and better armed than the rest of society. (In many societies, this superiority was aided by the expense of superior armaments, not available to the common man, and sometimes facilitated by legal bans on weapons possession among the common classes - in China, and Japan, during certain historical periods, for example.) A paradox of this system was that the same military superiority which enabled the elites to hold power over their own people, made them indispensable in wars against neighbors, and so they often paid a heavy price in the wars they unleashed, unlike today, when wars depend more upon wealth and technology, and elites can therefore send "the masses" into battle for them.
Of course, if the dominance of the elites within their own societies had depended only upon weaponry and battle, it would have been very hard to maintain, indeed. Instead, as the sociobiologists claim, the psychological dynamics of dominance and submission may already be a part of our genetic structure, in which case those who were less powerful in a society would be biologically prepared to accept the safety of the submissive role, as long as the level of submission did not compress and demean them to the point of driving them to revolt, and shatter the social order. For those leaders unable to hide their domination behind the myth of solidarity, or to provide compensations for their privileges - for those leaders unable to balance their power with some minimum degree of respect for the submissive elements of society - for those unable to approximate the "fair hierarchy" described by Confucius, in which the subject’s duty is to obey, but the ruler’s duty is to govern well - the whole system of dominance and submission might be upended by the desperation and rage of the powerless, whose psychological and physical needs were no longer being met within it.
Psychology And Submission To The Parent Figure
While sociobiologists tend to envision social hierarchies in this manner, psychologists often describe the power of leaders as an extension of the power of parents over their children, introduced into the realm of politics. They say that we are accustomed, as children, to obey the authority of parents, and that this childhood submission to parental authority is deeply ingrained into our consciousness, becoming the basis for our subsequent acceptance of the authority of teachers, policemen, generals, and rulers. We are said to frequently transfer the fear, respect, and/or devotion we felt for our parents to these new figures of authority, recreating the child-parent relationship in our new relationship to our leaders, whose punishment we fear, whose love (by being "good children and doing as they say") we crave, whose "protection" we cling to, even as we march off to die for them. This perspective, though somewhat different than the sociobiolgical theory just mentioned, nonetheless, also explains the sometimes incomprehensible tendency of human beings to "follow leaders" and "accept a submissive role", even when the end of the road is their own disempowerment and destruction.
Religion As A Tool For Control And Domination
Naturally, rulers throughout history have sought to build upon this raw psychological framework for maintaining their power, by enlisting the power of religion to further control the people from within. The process began by identifying themselves with God, or with Gods, either as divine beings, themselves, or else appointed agents of the divine. (Consider the pharaohs of Egypt, the Incas of Peru, the priest-kings of the ancient Minoans and the pre-Columbian Mayas, the Chinese emperors with their "Mandate of Heaven" and the European rulers of the Middle Ages, with their "Divine Right of Kings.") The religious beliefs of the people were then used to shield the rulers from popular resentment, and to justify their earthly authority as some kind of reflection of divine will. Once this had occurred, one could no more revolt against one’s leader than revolt against God; and the possibility of "throwing off the yoke of bondage" became as horrific to contemplate as the violent attempt by Lucifer and his band of treasonous angels to overthrow Almighty God, the Father. With the people’s minds controlled in this way, by religion - sometimes by great religions, which were nonetheless given a political dimension and turned into instruments of counterrevolution - the task of suppressing rebellion was further internalized, and far more likely to be carried out by the subjects, from within, than by the rulers, from without. (Of course, there were limits. The "Mandate of Heaven" could be lost, and revolts against "religious hypocrisy", as in the Protestant Reformation, could turn the rebels from being outlaws against God, into redeemers of the faith and champions of God.)
Propaganda: War-Maker Par Excellence
Finally, to this potent mix of psychological forces leading to the submission of the people, must be added the ability of the government, once its power is entrenched, to manipulate the people by means of propaganda. Lies can be used to create a threat where there is none, to arouse fear when there is no need for fear, to unleash hatred and loathing when they have no place. If the people have entered into the psychological dynamic of being the children of the rulers (parents), then they may more easily accept the false realities which they are fed by their government, just as we may be led to believe in Santa Claus when we are young and in our parents’ grip, or in darker ways, be convinced that some races are to be feared or despised. Propaganda may terrorize us with bogeymen and phantoms, and then give these nonexistent demons the bodies of real people: the people who our rulers wish us to attack. In this way, sadly, whole nations and peoples have, at times, been singled out for aggression, and become victims of "mistaken identity."
Identification And The Nation
But, of course, there is much more behind the people’s willingness to follow their leaders into battle than all of this. The people, also, hunger for self-esteem, and for love. Not on the top of their society, they frequently compensate, to some degree, by identifying with their nation or people, whose power, once it is identified with, "becomes their own" and helps to overcome their feelings of personal powerlessness. Though very little of the power of their nation, or benefits of its power, may trickle down to them, as they sweep its streets, or clean its bathrooms, there is still the psychological experience of receiving power by belonging to something that is powerful. This enhances self-esteem, and the sense of being alive. Therefore, when their nation is threatened - in reality, or in the imagination - in truth, or in the manufactured universe of propaganda-fantasy - they feel bound to rush to its defense, for what they are defending, more than a nation that is indifferent to them or even exploiting them, is a crucial personal source of life-energy and self-respect. Strange to say, personal powerlessness, rather than turning them against the country or system that has deprived them of power, may drive them to defend that very country or system, since much of their sense of worth and life is vicariously experienced through it. This phenomenon, in fact, played a major role in the development of World War I, in which giant masses of people, many poor and not well-treated in their own lands, rose up on behalf of their nations to fight a war that was quite unnecessary, producing horrific carnage in the process. (As Eric Bogle wrote in "The Green Fields of France", a "whole generation was butchered and damned.")
Another drawback of this process of identification, of course - or, perhaps I should say "overidentification" - is the fact that peace and justice often require that one keep one’s eyes and ears open to the truth, which may sometimes come to one in the form of criticism. But the overpowering psychological need to preserve the "greatness" of one’s country, as the last spot of dry land left for one’s drowning self-respect to stand upon, often drives away the truth, which peace needs in order to grow. The pain of realizing your country has made a mistake, or might not be perfect, is unbearable for such a deprived and needy soul which has taken refuge in it. Meeting the enemy halfway would be tantamount to admitting that one was half-wrong, which, for many, would represent a psychological loss far more grievous than anything that could possibly be lost in the war. No wonder so many peacemakers have been killed, through history, from Gandhi, to Martin Luther King, to Sadat, to Rabin.
War’s Offer Of "Real Life" To The Common Man
War, of course, also offers to people the possibility of attaining the psychological wealth of "glory", which is not the exclusive domain of the rulers. In peacetime, it is not easy to win that level of admiration, love, or respect. Working in a factory, operating a train, loading a truck, sitting in an office, all lack the mesmerizing aura of facing life and death on the field of battle, standing heroically among bullets in "defense" of one’s people. Many individuals are, therefore, willing to face the risk of death for the chance to put some meaning back into their lives. In cases, "what is being fought for" may not really matter, outside of the psychological dynamics of the individuals who are fighting; for the land, the resources, the political and economic considerations, may only be shadows of the need to feel important, to matter to somebody, to pass a test which permits one to respect oneself again, after years of living in a society where there is very little room for developing that respect.
Displacing The People’s Anger Against An Enemy
Then, there is the dynamic of aggression, generated as a response to the humiliation, frustration, and exploitation of daily life. Wounds from the family. Wounds from strangers. Wounds from the workplace. Wounds from landlords and bill collectors. Wounds from indifference, powerlessness, the lack of closeness, love, and understanding. Wounds from rejection. Wounds from being told no. Wounds from being ignored. All adding up, filling the individual’s psyche with the desire for revenge. As I have stated, the act of revenge need not be directed against its source. Inhibited by his education, his conscience, and the law from the expression of aggression against family, fellow citizens, rulers, society, and God (if he is sick or unfortunate) - even though these are the true sources of his rage - he may be guided to strike, instead, against foreign "enemies" who become substitutes for the real sources of his anger. Propaganda, abetted by ignorance, helps to clear a path for his rage to travel to these victims, who become living symbols of everything that is threatening and destroying him. (As the pillar known as the Jamrah al-Aqaba at Mina, in the vicinity of Mecca, is attacked by Muslim pilgrims, who hurl stones at it in a ritual meant to symbolize their killing of the Devil in their own hearts and lives, so these foreign peoples are demonized - turned into the living "pillar of evil" of the world - then inserted into a ritual of individual and national purification and rebirth.) And the beauty of the system for the ambitious ruler is that, if everything is managed skillfully, the exploitation of his own people at home, which enriches him, creates the fury that allows his people to be manipulated into fighting wars abroad, against people who are not really their enemies: wars which protect and expand the ruler’s domains, enriching him still further.
Besides these dynamics, the possibility of powerful suicidal tendencies rising up within the heart of nations, cannot be lightly dismissed. Where life becomes so degrading and meaningless, death may be actively sought; or, if not sought, at least so little feared, that the desire for life that is often behind the rationality and restraint which limit war, and keep it from flying off the tracks of some comprehensible objective, are lost. That is certainly one way in which war can degenerate from partial madness into total madness.
The Enemy Turns The Propaganda Into "Fact"
Naturally, once the fighting itself is underway, the enemy who was "created" now becomes quite real. He is forced to accept his role in one’s myth, and to begin killing one’s friends, seeming to back up the propaganda that brought one into his land, in the first place. Of course, one’s hatred and desire for revenge is deepened. In some places, some cultures, and some times, these feelings of revenge, coupled with an overexposure to abuse and violence, have hollowed out people’s ability to emotionally feel the impact of killing, and led to the commitment of monstrous atrocities and genocide. Most always, the conscience does not completely abdicate at such times, merely exclude the victim from its domains. The victim is "dehumanized" - I have said this before - and, just like a cockroach, mosquito, or poisonous snake, he is left outside the doors of our human morality. Our conscience no longer applies to him; and he is destroyed without mercy or remorse, just like a bug who is stepped on.
The Joy Of Killing; The Beautiful Art Of Death
One more point that could be made about the sometimes horrifying propensity of people to kill and make war: sociobiologists and ethologists might claim that human beings are endowed with a certain innate capacity to actually enjoy killing. This does not mean that they always enjoy it - but in cases where the conscience can be swept out of the way, there may linger a dark passion for murder, just waiting to come out (which may, nonetheless, produce subsequent guilt). In the same way that the cat seems to derive pleasure from pouncing on a mouse, batting it around with his paws and letting it run for a moment, before catching it again, so we human beings may have a certain potential to enjoy hurting and overpowering others. In the case of the cat, this love of hunting and killing is no doubt part of his genetic heritage - for the passion and avidity which he brings to the hunt, has surely made him a better, more successful hunter; just as our love of sex has played a major role in inducing us to "mate", and perpetuate our species. Pleasure is, in other words, many times a pathway to developing and maintaining experience and competence in a field of endeavor. In the case of humans, these students of animal behavior demand, why should it be any different? Evolved from hunters, why should we not expect to find a love of stalking, tracking, outwitting, ambushing, pursuing - hunting and killing - in our blood; a passion which could easily be transferred from the art of hunting, to the art of war, which, as the short story The Most Dangerous Game suggests only too well, is merely a more challenging variation of the hunt. In this way, General J.C. Davis once described the U.S. army’s war against Kintpuash ("Captain Jack") and his band of Modoc Indians in 1873, as "more of a chase after wild beasts than war, each detachment vying with each other as to which should be the first to finish." (Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, p. 233.) Naturally, as the quarry becomes more dangerous, the hunt is able to elicit greater levels of skill and genius from the aggressor, until the primitive pleasure of hunting and killing is transformed into a genuine, if horribly dark, art form, capable of producing "masterpieces" such as Leuctra, Arbela, Alexander’s victory against the Scythians, Cannae, Hatten, Crecy, Blenheim, Vicksburg, Rommel’s victory at Knightsbridge-Bir Hacheim. No quote better illustrates the intrusion of the artistic sensibility into the act of killing than this one, attributed to Vittorio Mussolini: "One group of horsemen gave me the impression of a budding rose unfolding, as the bombs fell in their midst and blew them up. It was exceptionally good fun." (Norman Corwin, Thirteen by Corwin, p. 55.) While Robert E. Lee, the brilliant military leader of the Confederate insurrection during the American Civil War, expressed the dark allure in a more morally restrained tone, evidencing the struggle between his "moral" heart and his "artist’s" heart. "It is well that war is so terrible, or men might grow too fond of it."
Powerful Weapons And The Illusion Of Personal Power
It may be added that for the powerless - the rank and file sent to kill and die - there is some measure of emotional resuscitation in being entrusted with the power of life and death over others - a power that is embodied in the weapons which war bestows upon one, suddenly seeming to amplify one’s existence, to transform one from a weak and insignificant being into a God, on one’s small patch of battlefield, who can spare life or crush life, who can create man out of dust, or throw him into the flames of Hell. In the same way that children and teenagers delight in the hugeness, the loudness, the presence that firecrackers can give them, as they light them up and explode them, or send them hissing upwards into the night sky, erupting in dazzling patterns of sparks that hypnotize and awaken neighborhoods, so the magic of weapons empowers and magnifies those who use them. No one is small or disrespected who carries a machine gun. No one who rides down a street in a tank, or can blast homes to rubble with an artillery piece; no one who roars above the ground in a jet airplane that can obliterate anything which offends it.
These, too, are factors that might be considered whenever we ponder why it is that men go to war. Back To Top
Additional Points: The Omnipresence Of The Psychological Element
Of course, this lengthy discussion is not a methodical, complete, or definitive explanation of the deeper causes of war, it is only an exposition of some of the factors which sometimes may be involved. Naturally, there are also many other ways in which conflicts can develop. There are legitimate issues of self-defense (for example, if the Nazi Wehrmacht rolls across your border, it does not seem too much trouble needs to be spent psychoanalyzing your response). Sometimes, the leaders of society, rather than drawing their people behind them, are driven by their people, who push them to fight against their better judgment. Sometimes, issues of resources may truly be pivotal, after all.
And yet, back to this question of resources, I insist that the struggle to obtain resources really does, almost always, contain deeper psychological dimensions.
First - what are the resources needed for? Survival, really? Or are they part of the material compensations which Freud talked about, to try to cover over the emotional poverty of the people’s lives with the glittering promise of economic wealth? Fuel for economic growth, to make the painful present bearable with dreams of an upwardly-mobile, different tomorrow? Bribes, like the Roman elites gouged out of foreign lands, to give to their own life-starved masses? Or merely sources of wealth and continuing prestige for the owners of a system built upon the use of those resources? - (Even if survival really is at stake, 99% of the time sharing, instead of killing, could solve the problem. So why aggression, instead of compassion? The physical/survival need for resources is rarely the only root of war in resource-related conflicts.)
Resources Are A Factor, But Only Part Of The Equation: The Case Of Japan’s Overreaction
On the other hand, perhaps the resources are REALLY needed, after all. As Japan discovered in 1853, when Commodore Matthew Perry led an American naval contingent into Tokyo Bay to demand that Japan "open up" to foreign trade, weakness in the international arena is a magnet for abuse. Soon after Perry’s act of bullying, foreign powers were swarming about like flies, seeking to exploit Japan in the same way that they were exploiting China. Japan responded with a period of intense development (the Meiji Restoration), recreating itself into an industrial and military giant able to stand up to Europe and America. The material keys to its power were iron, coal, and then, oil. The need for these resources, which were essential if it was to create and maintain the might necessary in order to hold its own against aggressive and domineering Western powers, eventually drove it into an imperialist phase of its own, invading and conquering other lands in order to gain control of the resources needed for its military and industrial machine; and also to capture markets for its continued economic growth, which was an important factor of its self-defense. As this dynamic shows, in a dangerous, uncertain, and often unfair world, the control of resources is often the difference between freedom and slavery, if not life and death.
But, of course, this struggle for resources usually does come down to psychological dynamics of aggression in the "aggressor" nations; and very often to forces of fear, distrust, paranoia, and aggression, also, in the "defensive" nations. Take the case of Japan, just mentioned. It was very clearly threatened in the mid-19th -century, and found itself pushed by "Darwinian" principles of survival to "evolve" into a military-industrial power so as to prevent itself from being ingested by international predators. However, it could have sought to guarantee its resource base by developing an effective economic and political alliance with other Asian peoples, as it liberated them from European imperialists. Instead, while it laid a superficial claim to be doing this, it imitated, rather than transcended European imperialism, and only replaced the injustice of the Europeans with its own brand of injustice, which was, in cases, even more cruel and oppressive (consider its brutality in China, crowned by the "Rape of Nanking", in 1937). Obviously, universal aggressive forces of the human psyche, forms of aggression preserved and/or aggravated by Japanese culture (with its warrior tradition), and feelings of aggression provoked by the disrespect and bullying of European powers, all came into play during this period of Japanese history, diverting its legitimate instincts of self-preservation from the most rational and moral options of self-defense available to it, to produce a virulent and extreme reaction, instead.
The Irrationality That Sometimes Hides In Self-Defense: The Case Of A Street Crime
In much the same way, a man robbed at knife-point would be considered justified in defending himself. But if, after killing the would-be robber, he went on to kill innocent bystanders on the street - then to mutilate the slain robber’s corpse - then to go to the slain robber’s home, and tie up and slit the throats of his entire family, including children - the reaction could no longer be explained as a "rational response" to danger, but would require a deeper psychological analysis. In the case of the robbery-victim-turned-criminal, if we were to look within his psyche, we would probably find huge reservoirs of anger, traceable to abuses which he, himself, had suffered and not found an effective means to work off, or in other ways deal with; as well as tremendous levels of paranoia and distrust. First, the bystanders might have been killed as potential witnesses (in a process of "eliminating witnesses"). If so, this act would indicate that the killer did not trust other people, law enforcement, and the courts, but expected to be found guilty of murder, even though he had killed the robber in an act of self-defense. (He may have been used to being unfairly blamed by parents, or others, to being discriminated against and misunderstood by society, or borne such a powerful inner sense of guilt that he always felt himself to be guilty, even when engaged in doing things that were "right.") The witnesses must, therefore, die, to prevent knowledge of his "crime" from spreading beyond himself. The mutilation of the robber’s body would most certainly be the result of an overpowering sense of rage, an effort to destroy and disempower many unseen enemies, all placed into this one; or, perhaps, a violent expression of hatred against the robber, for "turning him into a criminal"; or even an act of ritual self-disfigurement, punishment for his crime of murdering the bystanders (or some other "crime"). Finally, the murder of the robber’s family would constitute an act of either extreme fury and revenge ("mutilating the dead robber’s corpse" still further by destroying these "other parts of his body"), or else eliminating the danger of retaliation by destroying all those who cared enough for the robber to possibly seek revenge for his death. (This destruction of entire families was, in fact, an occasional facet of the Colombian Violencia of the 1950s, and known as "destroying the seed." This behavior has, unfortunately, been present in many times and places throughout history, visible in the destruction of "royal families", in order to leave no rallying point for the old order, no one left to avenge the unthroned king, no possible source of regenerating the bloodline; and in numerous purges and persecutions, such as Stalin’s in the 1930s, in which the friends of his victims were frequently eliminated, as well; or the bloodbath of the French Revolution, in which even maids of doomed aristocrats were sometimes executed.)
Although the example of the robber’s berserk killer is rather horrific and extreme, it is well to consider the fact that what seems monstrous on the street, is often carried out, on a mass scale, in war, where it is protected by the very name of "war", which somehow legitimizes it; and where it is often hidden from our sight, done at long range and disguised by technology, which somehow makes us feel detached from the killing - "the weapon did it, not me." (Amazingly enough, bombs seem far less brutal to most people than knives, though in terms of the numbers of people killed, the damage done to the bodies, and the imprecision of the killing, which sweeps up vast multitudes of innocents in the nets of death, bombs are far, far bloodier.)
More importantly, though, the case of the robber’s killer illustrates the crucial fact that many times, what appears, at first glance, to be a rational response (self-defense), is actually laced with a powerful dose of irrationality, which may not only corrupt and poison the rational response, but even, sometimes, be the secret motivation behind an unnecessary, but "emotionally rewarding" form of self-defense, which is chosen over another, more balanced form of self-defense. (The killer could have just "given up his money", the safest way to preserve one’s life during a robbery attempt; or maybe "run away"; or left after disabling his enemy. Instead, he chose to use the situation as a means for lashing out at life, avenging himself upon countless ghosts, and/or, self-destructing.) Again, this discussion is meant to reinforce the need for a deeper study of war, even in those cases when "rational motivations", such as gaining or maintaining access to "vital resources", or even defending oneself from foreign enemies, seem to be involved.
Distrust And Its Sons: The Need To Hoard And Dominate
Obviously, when it comes to struggles over resources, distrust is a major factor. On one level, we distrust nature and distrust life, and so if we have more of something than we need, we still prefer to hoard it, rather than to share it, just to make sure that we will not come up empty if nature lets us down, or conditions, or our needs, change. This hoarding tendency is facilitated by our emotional distancing from others, and sometimes by walls of hostility which we put up around ourselves, our class, or our nation, in order to shut out those whose presence could make us feel guilty. By hating, blaming, or despising those who we deny - as in the example of the homeless man discussed earlier in this article - it is easier to justify not sharing what we have with them. This distrust, this fear which generates the hoarding impulse, is one element which often intensifies the effects of scarcity in our world, turning it into a cause for war.
Then, there is the distrust of other people, and peoples. We sometimes feel that it is not possible to rely upon them, and that is the death blow, for sharing, to be most effective, depends upon a sense of reciprocity and reliability; you need to know that I will give you what you need, when you need it, just as I need to know that you will give me what I need, when I need it. Not trusting others, we feel that the only way to guarantee that we will have what we need is to possess it, to own it, to control it, ourselves; and so, we are driven to cast our military shadow over the oilfields, over the iron and coal deposits, over the copper mines and tin mines, over the beds of uranium, over the strategic metals deposits, over the major trade routes, the canals, the highways, the mountain passes, and the shipping lanes that guarantee us the wealth of trade. Like the man who fears that his woman will run away from him, or betray him, or invite someone to steal her with a wink or a smile, hides his woman behind a veil, or locks her in the house so that he will always have her for himself, so we who are afraid of losing the things we need, attempt to gain absolute mastery over them, to lock them up "in our home", to overcome our need to depend upon the goodwill and compassion of other people. Which is, of course, very dangerous. For once we no longer depend upon the goodwill of others, it is easier to discount them, to walk over them, to mistreat them; just as the process of trying to gain this level of control may alienate, embitter, and frighten others, provoking responses of aggressive revenge and/or self-defense. Therefore, strange though it may seem, our human efforts to grow powerful and self-sufficient may often backfire. We seek to hoard. Others resent. We seek to grow in power, to feel safe. But our size, and our desperation to grow, frightens others, and sometimes harms them, as the branches of a tall tree may block out the sunlight from the plants trying to grow beneath it. Thus, as we seek invulnerability, our fear creates fear in others, who are driven to become our enemies. And our very effort to rise above danger turns us into a target, as Carthage and Rome became targets for each other, once their strength caught the other’s attention. It is in this way that fear so often translates scarcity into war, rather than cooperation.
Naturally, the "rational factor" cannot be excluded. This must be emphasized. Human history is filled with examples of aggression, betrayal, the drive to dominate, the will to conquer, the quest to be all-powerful. Even if one’s own "psychological house" is in order, and one’s own motives perfectly rational, one still cannot risk being a "babe in the woods", or ever afford to treat psychologically unbalanced and dangerous nations without a strong measure of distrust. In the same way that you would not jump into the water to go swimming among sharks, or pick up a cobra in your hands, or walk into a cage occupied by a Bengal tiger, some distance, some caution, some prudence, some "realism" is needed at such times. Some wars, most likely, simply cannot be avoided. (Nor can one overlook the fact that, for the psychologically-unbalanced, locked in their world of fear and anger, acts of kindness, moderation, and reason may often be mistaken for signs of weakness, giving off the same signal as a limping deer, or bleeding swimmer, transmits to a lurking predator.)
However, very often, wars begin as the result of two unbalanced nations, two unbalanced peoples, two unbalanced leaders meeting head-on; and very often, just a little respect, just a little comprehension, just a little level-headedness, by one or both of the prospective belligerents, could defuse the situation, and turn the proximity of the conflict into an opportunity for reappraisal and transcendence. In such cases, the key role of the irrational component - whether it is naked, or clothed within the pretense of rational argument - really does become evident. For it is this which makes the difference between war and peace.
Besides the disturbing legacy of human history, which certainly fans the flames of paranoia and fear, and even seems to give our worst fears a rational basis, we also have the fear of our own internal darkness to fuel this sense of acute distrust. And here is one of the main avenues by which the irrational enters the control room of our behavior. Knowing, consciously or unconsciously, the capacity for cruelty, treachery, violence, aggression, resentment and hatred which we, ourselves - which all human beings, to one extent or another - harbor inside - tendencies which we ordinarily try to contain within the cage of our morality, but which we can, nonetheless, feel pacing about inside that cage, vigorous and untamed, eternally seeking a way out - it is not easy to trust others. For we suspect that others are endowed with the same dark possibilities and awful yearnings which rumble deep within our own souls. As, on one level, we fear and do not trust ourselves to keep these forces under control, so we are compelled to fear and distrust others. This in one of the major factors which stands in the way of cooperation, edging us always closer to conflict. This is what breeds the irrational fear and distrust that have so often sabotaged peace on our planet: this noxious, frightening, probably unconscious sense that we, ourselves, are potential monsters, which we project onto the rest of the world, while leaving it untouched by our countervailing, life-giving reservoir of beauty, warmth, and love. (Perhaps if our own self-development could lead us to become more "trustworthy" ourselves, we could begin to trust others more, though trust would probably still have to come gradually, one step at a time.)
Is it possible, with all of these powerful, deep goings-on inside of us, that we can ever find a way to reach peace on this turbulent, embattled planet of ours? Back To Top
Solutions to Aggression and War
As I stated once before in this article, which began as a letter, the discussion I have just provided is neither methodical, nor complete. It is meant to illustrate an approach, a way of thinking about human aggression and war that goes far deeper than the usual explanations of political scientists, economists, and philosophers, which so often leave us on the surface of the issue, or only penetrate to a "middle depth." This article is built upon the work of S. Freud, G. Rochlin, C.G. Jung, K. Lorenz, R. Ardrey, E.O. Wilson, L. Mumford, J.F.C. Fuller, and others, as explained, embellished, and applied by my own thought. Again, the article does not pretend to offer a definitive or comprehensive explanation of the roots of human violence and aggression, but rather, to provide an introduction to the deeper levels of the subject, which is aimed at you, C.R., whose question provoked it; at the motivated reader who is just beginning to travel on this road, or else who would like to compare these ideas to his own; and at myself, for it never hurts to consolidate and restate one’s views, as a starting point for taking the next step.
In terms of solutions - for I am a person who does not like to stop at the stage of describing problems, but, rather, feels driven to go on to the next stage, that of conceiving solutions, and the next, that of implementing solutions - I must confess there is no simple answer. No magic formula. No 1-2-3 path to peace. If, many thousands of years after the development of civilization, and tens of thousands of years since the appearance of our species upon the earth, we are still fighting each other, and still killing each other, there can be no doubt that the work of bringing peace to our wounded world will be very difficult, indeed, if not impossible. However, what choice do we have but to try? And to keep the hope that keeps us from giving up, alive? Following are some of my ideas, many of them described in the Rainsnow books:
We must deepen our study of the roots of human aggression and war. We have to learn all we can. We must study, refine, keep open minds; seek truth, not comfort, so that we will be better armed in the battle to know ourselves. We must avoid becoming committed to just one model of understanding, and then locking it shut against enriching challenges generated by other systems, and defending it with our egos and our pride. Our actions to overcome aggression must be based upon foundations of truth, not wishful thinking, not rigid ideologies, not the fear to be controversial, or the desire to be controversial. Truth. This is what we must seek, this is what we must find, and build our future upon.
Weapons of mass destruction now threaten to obliterate us, yet also provide us with a new incentive to overcome war, the curse of the ages. Probably, without this sword of Damacles hanging over our heads, it would be very hard for a stable and peaceful world system to evolve. But the threat of total annihilation - the possibility of war becoming so destructive as to make it utterly counterproductive - provides a strong new bulwark of rationality to help hold back the force of our darker passions. (As the sociobiologists would insist, rationality, or Reason, is also a part of our genetic heritage, and, in fact, played a vital role in our survival in the days of the saber-toothed tiger and woolly mammoth, when it enabled us to outsmart and outthink creatures infinitely more powerful than us, to develop clothing, fire, tools and weapons. Now, it seems, Reason should be able to find some way to deter the aggressiveness which, unchecked, could destroy us.)
Reason needs Emotion’s help. However, as I have shown, we human beings are also capable of extremely irrational and self-destructive behavior, so that it seems to me that the promising bulwark of Reason, alerted to the fact of the overwhelming deadliness of our weapons, must still be reinforced by powerful elements of emotion in order to hold. For I firmly believe: in a battle between Reason and Emotion, Reason will lose out; emotion is just too strong for it. Reason, to "hold the line" against the emotional power of our self-destructiveness, must, therefore, be alloyed with powerful life-giving emotions and also show itself capable of creating and shepherding a world that satisfies us on a deep emotional level, so that it does not become "our enemy." (The desire to live, strong though it is, will not, by itself, empower Reason to "hold the line" forever, for in certain times, and in certain places, the will to live may be overpowered by other even stronger emotions - emotions which psychologists might call the "quest for love" at any cost; or even the human "death wish", when life has been allowed to become too barren. Sociobiologists, from their perspective, might call these beyond-survival behavioral traits the genetic reservoir of altruism and self-sacrifice which some social creatures, including we humans, are endowed with. For species, of this type, in which individuals are able to sometimes overcome the instinct for personal survival, and to sacrifice themselves on behalf of the group, will have a greater evolutionary success rate than those species where pure egotism and cowardice undermine the group’s defense. Unfortunately, it is a small step from this admirable capacity of the individual for altruism, to more massive and less beneficial visions of self-sacrifice.)
Let it also be recalled that Reason is sometimes delicate, like a sensitive mechanical device that may be jolted and thrown out of kilter by events. Once that destabilization occurs, destructive emotions may creep in to take it over - if it is not protected by life-giving emotions already infused into its texture - destructive emotions which could cloud its judgment, corrupt its objectives, and induce it to make fatal mistakes. This is why I say that our human future, though it can be partly sheltered by our powers of Reason, and our gift of rationality, must never be entrusted to rationality alone.
Is it possible for me to be more specific on this issue? Yes. Reason must clearly show us the consequences of all-out conflict in an age of devastatingly powerful weapons. It must then link itself to our emotional instinct for self-preservation (which must be revitalized by visions and realities of a worthwhile life); and linked to other emotions, as well, including constructive forms of altruism, compassion, love, self-respect, the desire "to be men, not killers" (as Schindler told the German guards of his Jewish workers in Schindler’s List). Fortified with this emotional content, our Reason must then be prepared to ward off the incursions of darker emotions: to "hold the line."
The Imperial Solution is dangerous, unfair, and probably unviable. Unfortunately, one of the main solutions to war that has been envisioned, through history, is peace by means of the elimination and/or disempowerment of one’s enemies. In olden days - the days of the Roman Empire, for example - this situation depended upon: conquest, submission, and tribute; sometimes "inclusion" and tolerance of conquered peoples, pacified by trade and "divided" by the cultivation of collaborationist elites, sometimes pacified by sheer terror and intimidation; the establishment of garrisons and colonies, to militarily control or transform the makeup of conquered areas; the consolidation of "defensible borders" to shut out all enemies remaining, once one’s powers of expansion had been exhausted. In today’s "shrinking world" - interconnected and increasingly accessible, within the range of the great nations’ airpower and seapower, and characterized by growing technological disparities, which enhance the aggressor’s ability to subdue, and diminish the defender’s ability to resist - the idea of "the imperial solution" continues to excite many (though, naturally, it is not stated in exactly this way).
However, no matter how well-meaning the imperial solution may be - to end war through the dominance of a "benevolent superpower", creating an empire of peace that embraces the entire world - the solution is not likely to succeed, for weapons of mass destruction have already proliferated enough to, in cases, enable the losers of a war to take the "winners" down with them. Naturally, the effort to establish such a "benevolent empire" would be likely to provoke fear, anger, and resentment, stimulating aggressive responses, and making violence and war far more likely - especially if the "benevolent empire" were really not so "benevolent", after all, but merely the hypocritical or unexamined concept of a morally flawed nation, masking darker psychological forces of fear and desires of domination.
Although the solution to the world’s future may, indeed, one day be a global government, it does not seem that this state is likely to arrive - in this day and age - through the ancient practices of conquest and empire-building. Rather, it seems that its formation will depend upon the voluntary cooperation of nations which have first found other means to curb their aggressive tendencies.
The first step towards world peace is "cleaning up" our psychological house. If the human race is to survive this challenging phase of its history, it will have to somehow learn to master the psychological dynamics (including biological-genetic tendencies) which - connected to issues of territory, resources, culture and faith, race, trade, etc., etc. - so often drive it to war.
The first step in "cleaning up" is gaining psychological awareness, and diffusing that awareness throughout society. Right now, our overall awareness, in society, of the psychological dynamics which underlie our behavior, is very poor. We tend to live on the surface of our reality, manifesting what comes up from below, without truly recognizing or understanding it. We are like ships, floating on the surface of the ocean, strangers to the vast world of the deep, which dwarfs our surface view. Now, the imperative of our society must be to penetrate to the depths, to get to know the fullness of the ocean, of which the surface is just a tiny fragment.
General knowledge of psychology must be diffused throughout society. This general knowledge must contain handles for personal application, and be supported by some form of social or cultural movement which provides motivation and resources to the individual, whose knowledge and self-work is essential if he is to ever gain control over the psychological dynamics which so often turn him into a perpetrator of destructive aggression, an instrument of violence, and a pawn of the unjust.
Spirituality must be introduced into the equation. This is my view, at least. I say this because without a deeper connection to spiritual laws, and the morality which they contain, our understanding of psychological dynamics might simply be applied to building up and transmitting certain forms of immoral behavior. For example, knowing where aggression comes from does not imply that we will put that knowledge to use to end aggression, for we might, alternatively, use that knowledge to enhance our aggression, socially engineering a culture more capable of violence. Spirituality - or parallel systems of agnostic philosophy - are needed to provide a moral framework within which our psychological awareness will be able to be developed and applied. Spirituality is needed to keep our inner knowledge from, once again, being misused, the same as our outer knowledge.
At the same time, our spiritual systems must be enriched by psychological awareness, for too often, our religions have been corrupted and undermined by our lack of understanding of our human motives, our human needs, our human contradictions, and our human dilemmas. This is what has made our religion, at times, so oppressive, so tyrannical, so cruel, so unjust, so unappealing, so difficult or impossible to follow. As Jesus said in the Bible, "Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?" If our moral systems have lost their morality, what shall be left to keep us on track?
Psychology needs spirituality to orient it, and provide it with moral guidance; just as spirituality needs psychology to rescue it from ignorance of the human forces which frequently corrupt its interpretation of the Divine, its interpretation of man and life, its visions of what is "good" and "evil", and its methods.
Spirituality, to be useful to our future, must also struggle to develop tolerance, for "spirituality", lacking tolerance, will do more harm than good. Spiritual practices and religions must be sources of healing, not conflict. Ways of empowering human love, not hate.
Civilization must be redesigned to promote greater psychological balance. The keys to getting control of our human aggression, which does not mean eliminating it, absolutely, but which does mean preventing its unnecessary destructive and immoral manifestations, are: promoting a widespread understanding of the psychological dynamics which govern our behavior; inspiring a widespread commitment, on the part of large numbers of people, and society, as a whole, to oversee and manage these dynamics with the objective of producing constructive results; further empowering our knowledge, moral beliefs, and individual will, by means of redesigning our social environment, in such a way as to promote psychological balance and health.
This is important, whether one takes a classical psychological approach, or a sociobiological approach. For according to the theory of evolution, our basic human nature should have emerged as the result of processes taking hundreds of thousands of years. The recent development of weapons of mass destruction, which may well alter the survival value of our ancient genetic endowments of aggression, is something which we do not have time to cope with on a purely "biological" level; for long before we have any chance to react to the changed environment produced by our new technology, we may well be destroyed by it. Unless we want to impose a totalitarian state (the only conceivable vehicle), to begin directing a massive program of genetic engineering designed to biologically "pacify" ourselves - which would most certainly cause more problems than it solved, since the aggressive instincts required to direct such a process would most likely preserve themselves in society’s leadership, elite, and military elements, and be reflected in the behavior of the newly resulting state - we must find a "non-biological" solution to the dilemma of our human aggression. Most assuredly, that non-biological solution must be cultural, in nature.
Culture, which springs from our human nature, also helps to shape it. It channels and directs our innate biological drives, blocks some impulses, encourages others, and diverts some from one behavioral path to another. Culture, intelligently designed - informed by psychological understanding, and oriented by a moral system - can help to bring our positive biological endowments to the forefront, while finding ways of neutralizing our more negative traits.
Regarding aggression, the sociobiological view is that it is an innate human potential, whose emergence and manifestation is stimulated by the environment. Just like a land mine is inert until it is stepped on, so the explosive force of aggression (in the sense of life-taking violence) lies dormant in the human "heart", until it is triggered by something which elicits it. For the sociobiologist, the key to peace is reducing the stimuli which trigger aggression. This perception is deepened by the psychologist, who understands that much of the stimulus for our aggression comes from our own personal relationships, and from negative experiences within our own society, which build up an exaggerated aggressive charge within us, which may then cause us to misinterpret and overreact to things going on in other lands, driving us to fight when there is no external need or reason.
At this time in our human history, far more than a culture designed to produce material abundance and technological efficiency, we need one designed to "produce" psychologically-balanced human beings. We need a civilization which is more emotionally satisfying, less frustrating, less degrading and humiliating. We need human beings who are more alive, happier, richer in self-esteem, and better able to relate to others. Although individual growth and self-understanding, and new and improved relations with others, will play a major part in developing this new culture, many external cultural and institutional forms will have to change, in the coming years, as well, to give room for this development to take place and enable it to express itself. The changes will have to be massive, inspired by a new conceptual awakening, and a new vision of life.
Most likely, given the nature of our society, this culture will have to be built up from within the boundaries of a sustainable counterculture, which will gradually expand, then influence, then transform the mainstream culture.
The Message of Rainsnow goes into much more detail regarding some of the foundations of this culture, and its creation.
Cultural outlets will be needed to divert all remaining destructive impulses from political activity, and to safely vent all "leftover" aggressive energy. Even after civilization is restructured, to make it more accommodating to human beings, and to diminish the amount of destructive aggressiveness that is produced inside us, it is possible that new institutions, rituals, practices, and/or activities may have to be devised, or expanded, to allow certain amounts of unavoidable aggression to be "worked off", before they are able to connect to political or military agendas.
Although some might fear that such a move would destroy our society’s ability to defend itself, by denying it the aggression needed for self-defense, it is important to note that our purpose is not to destroy our capacity to be aggressive (which is, anyway, impossible), but only to gain control of it, and manage it in a rational and humane way. Naturally, when severely threatened by outside forces - when provided with a legitimate and alarming stimulus - our innate capacity to express aggressiveness would be triggered, and kick in.
The "outlets" idea, an important one for the future of our civilization, is further discussed in The Message of Rainsnow.
A key element of the drive to curb aggression depends upon the de-materialization of our civilization. This means, our society must also "lighten up", and become less dependent upon material resources. Massive overconsumption, and an infatuation with material overdevelopment, can only increase our exposure to threatening, aggression-producing stimuli. The "hoarding mentality" will be exacerbated, and more of the world will have to be controlled or dominated, creating more enemies, and more conflict. Envy and/or justifiable resentment will also result, encircling us with more aggressiveness, and eliciting our own. Although a material level adequate for our self-defense must be maintained, unnecessary material excesses must gradually be reduced. The possibility of psychological deprivation as the result of this de-materialization, is to be countered by the development of new layers and textures of satisfaction, built upon "nonmaterial" pleasures, centered on human relations, and human experience.
This process is also discussed in The Message of Rainsnow.
The process of reducing aggression should be international. Obviously, the effort to reduce aggression and limit wars will be greatly benefited if the processes described can be internationalized as much as possible. Of course, the process should be voluntary, initiated by inspiration, and not coercion; and it should be culturally flexible, respectful of the great diversity of our globe. Whereas even one major, psychologically-balanced nation could do much to calm and rationalize the international arena, it would obviously be a great help if other significant "players" were also to develop a high level of psychological balance, reinforcing the positive effects of the first. Alliances of enlightened nations - the beginnings of a world government, or true world community - might slowly begin to isolate the "miscreants" of the earth, and to draw the rest of the world towards the energy of peace and transformation. Certainly, these nations would have to promote a fairer system of international political and economic relations, as part of the move towards peace.
Realism must never be forsaken in the midst of idealism. When idealism loses touch with reality, it dies.
The world we live in, today, is far more unstable than the essentially "bipolar" one of the 1970s, in which there was the American Empire, the Soviet Empire, and their allies. Today, power is more fragmented, weapons of mass destruction are in more hands, and terrorism has become more audacious and far-reaching. The old "nuclear deadlock" which terrorized the Cold War era, but also paralyzed the superpowers, forcing them to channel their "war energy" into indirect confrontations in the "Third World", no longer seems as capable of "keeping the peace." In these times, there will most likely be occasions in which conflict will not be able to be avoided, even by evolving and conscientious nations which are doing everything they can to escape the historic cycle of aggression which has enslaved human life on our planet. However, for nations which have achieved psychological balance, the required responses are likely to be rational, morally appropriate, and ultimately constructive.
Challenges looming on the horizon of our world which will test our ability to pursue ideals in a realistic way, include surviving the threat of terrorism - implementing effective new security measures, as needed, without destroying our civil liberties and respect for human freedom; developing effective measures to curb the spread, and prevent the use, of weapons of mass destruction by terrorist organizations, "rogue states" and "unstable players", without provoking catastrophes by "botching the job", or turning the effort into a front for domination, imperialism, or exploitation; de-materializing and restructuring civilization to reduce our own aggression, without transmitting signals of "weakness" to aggressive players still hovering outside of our system; managing all major transitions with appropriate timing, not exposing ultimately beneficial and necessary changes before their time, in the midst of conditions which will only discredit or destroy them. (For example - many idealists through history have argued that peace begins with disarmament. Not just arms reductions, valuable to everybody’s economy, but total, or near-total disarmament. But I say that first, the human desire to fight must be ended. For while that desire is there, disarmament will only be a pipe dream - a masquerade and facade, a warrior’s game, a form of strategic deception intended to gain a military advantage under the flag of peace. The innocent who lays his weapon down while he is still living among the wolves, will only end up being destroyed by his premature and overly ambitious move towards peace. Step by step, fear must be overcome, trust must be built. The goodness that blossoms in the hearts of the first peacemakers, must never deceive them into thinking that the rest of the world thinks and feels as they do. Their compassion must also have objectivity. Goodness must bear its proofs. And time must be used, just to make sure.)
The Rainsnow Project is one effort to promote world peace. Certainly, there are many efforts to promote world peace which are being made today. The Rainsnow Project, promoted by this web site, is one of them. (It is only in its beginning phases, but you can help to change that! Please refer to the Rainsnow Project and the Rainsnow books.)
The Rainsnow Project seeks to embody the ideas presented in this article and to launch a campaign for world peace, based upon the psychological and spiritual development of individuals and cultures, which are the starting point of wars, and must, therefore, by the starting point of peace.
It also seeks to establish contact, and to find means of cooperation, with all genuine and realistic peace movements, throughout the globe.
Hopefully, C.R., this article, which your letter inspired, has more fully represented my views to you. And to all other readers, I likewise hope that this article has proved of value to you, and ask you to contact me with your comments, and consider joining up with the Rainsnow Project.
- J Rainsnow
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Aggression, War, And Human Nature, Part I
Rainsnow Thought Contents
Rainsnow Project Contents
Rainsnow Books Contents