“A myth is a unit of imagination that makes it possible for a human being to accommodate two worlds. It reconciles the contradictions of these two worlds in a workable fashion and holds open the way between them…
“Myth makes it possible to live with what you cannot endure.
“And if the myth has been learned well, it becomes a word—a single word that switches on the whole system of comforting delusions…
“The function of a myth is to provide a logical model capable of overcoming a contradiction. The myth proves that things have always been like this, that things will never change.” Antjie Krog, Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa, Times Books, Random House, New York, 1998, p. 250.
You might find the following conclusion alarming. Our most cherished social truths are weapon myths opposed to peace. The weapon/peace dialectic corrodes human conscience, the way sugary saliva melts tooth enamel and acid rain dissolves marble.
As I toss these myths up and bat them out to you, track their trajectories fearlessly and step under them; don’t duck your head. Only your reasoned intuition can replace the measured platitudes of weapon mentality.
We have a book called On War, but no On Peace. That lop-sidedness betrays our collective ignorance, apathy and stupidity.
According to Karl von Clausewitz, author of the respected text On War, (that ultimate exercise in weapon pedantry): “War is a continuation of diplomacy (foreign policy) by other means.” Might as well conclude that agriculture is a continuation of candy bars by other means. Check out the fortune spent on preparations for combat, even in peacetime, versus the pittance paid to professional diplomats. Warfare is a continuation of weapon technology in its purest form, the conversion of society’s potential energy into kinetic mayhem.
He concluded as follows in his chapter, “The Purposes and Means of War”:
“We may occupy a country completely, but hostilities can be renewed again in the interior, or perhaps with allied help. This of course can also happen after the peace treaty, but this only shows that not every war necessarily leads to a final decision and settlement. But even if hostilities should occur again, a peace treaty will always extinguish a mass of sparks that might have gone on quietly smoldering. Further, tensions are slackened, for lovers of peace (and they abound among every people under all circumstances) will then abandon every thought of further action. Be that as it may, we must always consider that with the conclusion of peace the purpose of the war has been achieved and its business is at an end.” On War, Oxford Classics, p. 32.
If even the great Clausewitz was forced to conclude that every war must end with a peace treaty, then we are forced to conclude that World War will never end without almost everyone’s signature on a global peace treaty.
“In peace time, the relations between two diplomats are like relations between two merchants. While the merchants trade in copper or transistors, the diplomats’ transactions involve boundaries, spheres of influence, commercial concessions and a variety of other issues which they have in common. A foreign minister or diplomat is a merchant who bargains on behalf of his country. He is both buyer and seller; though he buys and sells privileges and obligations rather than commodities. The treaties he signs are simply more courteous versions [Author’s note: and much less well regulated] of commercial contracts.
“The difficulty in diplomacy, as in commerce, is to find an acceptable price for the transaction. Just as the price of merchandise such as copper roughly represents the point where the supply of copper balances the demand for it, the price of a transaction in diplomacy roughly marks the point at which one nation’s willingness to pay matches the price demanded by the other. The diplomatic market however is not as sophisticated [well regulated] as the mercantile market. Political currency is not so easily measured as economic currency. Buying and selling in the diplomatic market is much closer to barter, and so resembles an ancient bazaar in which the traders have no accepted medium of exchange. In diplomacy each nation has the rough equivalent of a selling price – a price which it accepts when it sells a concession – and the equivalent of a buying price. Sometimes these prices are so far apart that a transaction vital to both nations cannot be completed peacefully; they cannot agree on the price of the transaction. The history of diplomacy is full of such crises. …
“… In a diplomatic crisis the currency of one nation or alliance is out of alignment with that of the others. These currencies are simply the estimates which each nation nourishes about its relative bargaining power. These estimates are not easy for an outsider to assess or to measure; and yet these estimates exist clearly in the minds of the ministers and diplomats who bargain.
“A nation facing a payments crisis can measure the extent to which it is living beyond its means. As the months pass by, moreover, it can measure whether its remedies have been effective, for the statistics of its balance of payments are an accurate guide to the approach of a crisis and the passing of crisis. On the other hand, a deficit in international power is not so easy to detect. A nation with an increasing deficit in international power may not even recognize its weaknesses. A nation may so mistake its bargaining power that it may make the ultimate appeal to war, and then learn through defeat in warfare to accept a humbler assessment of its bargaining position.
“In diplomacy some nations for a long period can live far beyond their means: to live beyond their means is to concede much less than they would have to concede if the issue was resolved by force. A government may be unyielding in negotiations because it predicts that its adversary does not want war. It may be unyielding because it has an inflated idea of its own military power. Or it may be unyielding because to yield to an enemy may weaken its standing and grip within its own land. Whereas an endangered nation facing a currency crisis cannot escape some punishment, in a diplomatic crisis it can completely escape punishment, so long as the rival nation or alliance does not insist on war. Thus diplomacy may become more unrealistic, crises may become more frequent, and ultimately the tension and confusion may end in war.” Geoffrey Blainey, The Causes of War, The Free Press, Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, first published by Macmillan in London, 1973, pp. 115-117.
[NOTE also, in the opposite sense: a dominant empire (like the USA and its predecessors) with superior means of waging war, might resort to it in situations where it cannot resolve anything].
“The real cause of war, on the contrary, is seen most clearly when it is studied in correlation with the decrease in profits, which, of course, may itself be due to the increase in population and to the diminishing productivity of the soil, but which may also manifest itself independently of these two phenomena as a direct effect of the diminishing productivity of labor [or current technology] … In other words, as Proudhon remarks, war is always the result of an economic strain which cannot be remedied by less costly and less complicated means, such as commerce or a commercial monopoly. Benjamin Constant also truthfully observes: “Men have recourse to war only when they feel that commerce is unable to secure for them what they seek to obtain by force.” Achile Loria, The Economic Causes of War, John Leslie Garner, Trans., Charles H. Kerr & Company, Chicago, 1918, p. 55.
So imagine yourself entering a convenience store with money in one hand and a pistol in the other. Everyone would act that way all the time. Should anyone buy so much as a bubble gum, both they and the proprietor would have to decide whether money was going to change hands and, if so, how much, based on their assessment of who would win a firefight.
Would that be a sane way to run a business – or an entire planet – if any other alternative was available?
Now, to simulate the reality of shrinking petroleum reserves and bloating weapon technologies, imagine that both parties had children freezing and starving to death back home, and, instead holding of a gun, everyone grasped the detonator to bandoliers of dynamite wrapped around their body, wired to detonate their own plus everyone else’s.
Would any sane witness stick around – this city or this planet – to see what happened? Could there be a less surreal alternative?
First off, let’s dispel the following pair of weapon myths―the most powerful, common and pernicious.
First weapon myth: World Peace will not happen until a community of saints has unanimously repented its prior sins. Nothing but this unworkable caricature could define Peace to the satisfaction of these mythmakers. I wonder if the majority of people felt the same way about the end of cannibalism and slavery before those were stamped out. Everyone had to become a true saint first. Sure.
On the contrary, PeaceWorld is likely to be messy, contentious, very ‘political,’ quite corrupt, potentially heartbreaking and subject to periodical failure, perhaps on a massive scale, perhaps enough to be lethal for humanity or this civilization. Human happiness and unhappiness would have the same impact on PeaceWorld as they do on WeaponWorld.
The only difference would be that organized murder would be illegal and that law, grimly enforced. War would become less frequent, extensive and mass-produced; it couldn’t be peddled as something honorable and glorious. In its absence, every other form of human conflict would expand to take its place. Get used to that.
The second weapon myth: that a Peace advocate must aspire to sainthood or be a certifiable saint, first (depending on how the auditor wants to condemn him). “Are you human in your actions, weaknesses and failures? Are you yelling at me instead of seducing me into Peace, the way a real saint would? You may not speak of it. Do you claim sainthood by speaking of Peace? You are too ambitious, too smart-ass; afflicted by a Messiah complex and not fit for the task. In any case, no need to heed your talk of Peace.”
Peace advocates are human animals who stink when they don’t bathe; who breathe fresh air and exhale CO2 and at times bad breath; who experience needs, fear, hatred, greed and ambition like anyone else. No saintliness is needed for that kind of work. Might help, but would not be mandatory.
Elsewhere, I talk about the massed saints of PeaceWorld. Simply put, the first do not lead to the second, rather in the opposite order: sainthood would easier if we inhabited PeaceWorld. On the other hand, mass sainthood is impossible (though required by every religion) on WeaponWorld. Weapon mythology transposes these requirements and results; the peace version simply sets them in their natural order: PeaceWorld first, sainthood thereafter.
These two myths are just as well founded, as they are harmless. Their spokesperson is just another weapon liar trying to muddy the waters; whoever holds to them satisfies warmonger prejudices and forbids peace for as long as he can.
Get used to that, too.
Regardless of your preference, you will be made to swallow war and war will be made to swallow you. Yet we buy into this other nonsense: “If you want peace, prepare for war.” This quote, just another Latin contaminant in our constellation of political metaphors.
Vegetius, a 5th Century CE Roman, coined that phrase. A total of 150 copies of his De Re Militari, (“On Military Matters”) made it through the Dark Ages. This, despite a hecatomb of peace literature during the same period, (per Arther Ferrill’s article “Vegetius”, p. 487, in Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker, Eds., The Reader’s Companion to Military History, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, New York, 1996).
Like other disasters, war serves no other purpose than its own. It just exudes more and more consequences dire and unforeseen. The only consistent output of warfare is deadlier and deadlier weapon technologies.
Wars are never short; warfare is perpetual. Some wars have been shortened by stagey statecraft: Desert Storm, Panama and Grenada, for example. This homicide interruptus just decreases their decisiveness. Long wars are trivially conclusive; short wars, even less so.
Weapon mythology ennobles wars no more noble than latrine buckets on death row.
Somehow, war gets credit for breakthroughs in literacy, freedom, social harmony, equality and other social benefits that elites have to cough up, sooner or later—if only with the utmost reluctance. Even though they benefit the most from this exchange, in the long run. Somehow, wars constitute the only acceptable form of male bonding; they turn boys into men and render invisible the cripples, mental vegetables and cadavers resulting from it.
Haven’t we heard these weapon myths a thousand times? Memorized them hypnotically and recited them to each other for a hundred generations?
Instead, we should dedicate the Virtual Agora to peace mentality and saturate the collective superconscience with its myths. We should familiarize these phenomena for anyone interested in them. No longer would we offer up in error all those sinister thoughts, writings, dramas and outcomes on the altar of weapon mentality. Then we could determine how much we could improve the common lot with this altered point of view.
We should emulate the wisest of primal shamans. In their ancient wisdom, they consigned survivors of combat to elaborate rituals of social withdrawal and purification. No warrior could rejoin the peaceful community until he had completed these ceremonies. In the modern world, we ignore this subliminal venom. Unacknowledged, it curdles veterans’ psyches, turns them into walking dead: the last casualties of wars long forgotten.
Meanwhile, Simon Gardner of Reuters (8-19-2004) writes that over three hundred Argentinean veterans have killed themselves since the war—perhaps denoting the therapeutic benefits of Latin passion over Anglo-Saxon emotional reserve when it comes to post-traumatic stress; since there were a lot more Argentinean veterans and since they suffered military defeat and its psychological aftermath.
Victorious or defeated, combat veterans are heart-broken because they survived beloved peers. If they find no permissible outlet for their grief, their adrenal-grenadier internal monologue runs something like this. “Since I had nothing better to do, I let the armed (Harm) Forces squander my golden youth in contempt, regimentation, brutality and terror. Myself, beloved companions and countless innocents were forced to run this gauntlet of defilement, disfigurement and death. Just by participating, we endorsed all this suffering. We survivors bear a fearsome bloodguilt. Those who refused to go are even guiltier in our eyes.”
Peace activists are the guiltiest of all, as far as they’re concerned. We reject the utility of war without experiencing it. As if we had to catch the plague in order to seek its cure? In so doing, we render intolerable each warrior’s burden of pain and shame. After all, shouldn’t we be grateful for the burden they shouldered? Is that not the least we could do, honor them and their pain?
No way. Warriors have been honored to death for far too long. There has been no improvement in sight for us or for them. It is time humanity resumed ancient rituals of warrior decontamination and psychic decompression, instead of glorifying those who have dealt intimately with abominations and failed to purify themselves. It is time we joined together, reluctant warriors and confused peaceniks alike, to resume the ways of peace.
What little good comes from war, a well-run peace could produce sooner and better. Those who suggest otherwise are running a con, consciously or otherwise. If they assert that war promotes creativity while peaceful societies stagnate, they’re living in a nightmare hell.
“We may be sure that wars will continue on the earth. War may be a biological necessity in the development of the human race – God’s housecleaning, as Ella Wheeler Wilcox calls it. War may be a great soul stimulant meant to purge mankind of evils greater than itself, evils of baseness and world degeneration. We know there are blighted forests that must be swept clean by fire. Let us not scoff at such a theory until we understand the immeasurable mysteries of life and death. We know that, through the ages, two terrific and devastating racial impulses have made themselves felt among men and have never been restrained, sex attraction and war. Perhaps they were not meant to be restrained.
“Listen to John Ruskin, apostle of art and spirituality:
“‘All the pure and noble arts of peace are founded on war. No great art ever rose on earth but among a nation of soldiers. There is no great art possible to a nation but that which is based on battle. When I tell you that war is the foundation of all the arts, I mean also that it is the foundation of all the high virtues and faculties of men. It was very strange for me to discover this, and very dreadful, but I saw it to be quite an undeniable fact. The common notion that peace and the virtues of civil life flourished together, I found to be utterly untenable. We talk of peace and learning, of peace and plenty, of peace and civilization; together; that on her lips the words were peace and sensuality, peace and selfishness, peace and death. I found in brief that all great nations learned their truth of word and strength of thought in war; that they were nourished in war and wasted in peace; taught by war and deceived by peace; trained by war and betrayed by peace; in a word, that they were born in war and expired in peace.’” Cleveland Moffet, The Conquest of America at http://www.knowledgerush.com/paginated_txt/etext05/7conq10/7conq10_s1_p10_pages.html .
[Author’s note: All this would be perfectly true on WeaponWorld where war and preparation for war corrupt and eradicate every trace of peace. On PeaceWorld, where it flourished and war was equivalent to gagging over a plateful of shit, luxuriant peace would surpass war by thousands of times.
As past peaceful tribes must have managed to do, we could find dynamic means to endure and neutralize the harmful effects of egotism, idleness and opulence: mythical reasons to perpetuate mass killing which is forbidden by God, while the other three are not—in case some people had forgotten.]
I recall one bellicose author who asserted how much more advanced, enlightened and brilliant international conflict had made the world. This is another pet weapon myth. Fearlessly (I must admit with some admiration), he visited Kosovo, Kigali and like military pestholes to fuel his otherwise insightful journalism. He collected important friends and powerful contacts at each stop. He could have chosen any one of these sites in which to settle. Instead, he is raising his kids in some quiet backwater of Western Massachusetts. Presumably, what he really meant to say was that war is creative and enlightening―for other peoples’ kids.
Weapon managers view real creativity and serious Learning with tremendous suspicion. At best, such attributes are effeminate and debilitating liabilities; at worst, treasonous assaults on long-cherished traditions and idiotic protocols.
As for the stagnancy of peace, well: “95% of everything is crap,” as a wise guy once put it; and 95% of the people are mindless drones doomed by current ‘education’ to intellectual inertia and the rote repetition of banal futility. Meanwhile, 5% or less of the population does and says anything of consequence, good or bad.
Learners alone, in a truly peaceful setting, could reverse these ridiculous percentiles through serious applications of Learning.
The list of weapon myths is endless and we recite them endlessly to each other. No real peace will emerge until we halt this ceaseless invocation—until we challenge, recognize and defy every weapon myth on the spot.
Two more myths allow people to act like ostriches, their head stuck in the sand to hide from lethal hazards.
The first is the epithet ‘paranoid’. These days, commentators use the adjective paranoid to describe anyone who discusses controversial and potentially dangerous topics without paying due reverence to the rotten status quo. ‘Paranoid’ is their shorthand for: “I was too distracted and indifferent to study seriously what he had to say. His content isn’t worth looking into; trust my spineless prejudice.”
The second is ‘conspiracy theory.’ People keep lecturing me that a complex conspiracy involving more than a handful of individuals is virtually impossible, especially if they hail from different backgrounds and hold diverse priorities.
The American U-2 program of spy planes, that surveilled Russia and China at very high altitude, went on for a half-decade, unreported by the Press and strictly denied by everyone from the President on down. This program employed hundreds of industrial contractors, thousands of military personnel from line cooks to base commanders; hundreds of government bureaucrats and intelligence technicians; and many more foreign officials whose cooperation was required to keep these planes based overseas and flying through foreign air space. Yet it “didn’t exist” until the Soviets literally shot one out of the sky and staged a show trial of the pilot, Francis Gary Powers.
Such “impossible” conspiracies are routine in the military-congressional-media complex. So why not others, more devious and criminal? Especially those that leave behind a trail of dead and/or terrorized witnesses?
In America, there is only one kind of conspiracy, the failed kind. Bumbling amateurs commit a massive crime in broad daylight. They leave a giant paper trail no rookie journalist could miss. They are too softhearted to kill and terrorize many witnesses who will give the whole story away without worrying about their family’s safety. That is the only definition of a conspiracy accepted by pop culture and its media tyrants.
Unfortunately, there is another sort: one in which cunning, powerful and merciless malefactors are skilled at perpetrating their own crimes and exposing those of their enemies. They and their mentors have practiced for centuries; they are experts. They can call on enormous institutional memory of criminal and police procedure, and hire the best professionals to do their dirty work. Their dirty laundry is stamped Top Secret and protected by the full force of the law. They are so rich and influential; they control the mass media. They have no conscience: killing witnesses is a minor inconvenience. They have enough patience to clean up after themselves, and many eager subordinates to take the fall if necessary.
Classical Greeks, at the height of their power, used to brand this practice as oriental, effeminate and degenerate despotism. They spat on it and crushed it almost effortlessly. A few thousand of their free citizens could route the largest horde these gangsters could bully into the front line—no matter if it were ten times more numerous. They didn’t surrender to the Roman Empire until they had become dominated by like-minded gangsters at home.
Note this almost automatic decay over time, regardless of chronology, creed or geography. These gangsters rot out their own armies, by definition. Their transparent gangsterism (Submit to our obvious wrongdoing, or else!) is all that our vibrant freedoms have degenerated into. We should be ashamed of our limp-wristed tolerance of this corruption.
Once the deed is done, there is no paper trail. There are no surviving witnesses except those terrified into silence. There is an overwhelming accrual of circumstantial evidence, obvious lies and loose ends no one can explain, and a pile of dead bodies instead of key witnesses, but no evidence that would stand up in court. Anyone who uncovers that evidence, after a lifetime’s investigation, gets quietly eliminated. Blackmail and extortion endure for decades, even the threat of civil war if word gets out. Archives are sealed and incriminating evidence is confiscated and ‘lost’ by the bushel load. Most official investigators are supervised by these conspirators and their allies. They find nothing wrong, seemingly through unbelievable incompetence, which earns them their next promotion.
In the USA, this is never a conspiracy. A successful conspiracy is not a conspiracy; it is official policy, perfectly legitimate, or nothing at all. Anyone who says otherwise can be branded a conspiracy theorist and dismissed without a hearing. What a reassuring and effortless way to mollycoddle powerful, well-connected and influential criminals. How convenient for them. What moral cowards everyone else turned out to be, in their pay and at their mercy!
As for the conspirators, success begets success; they are tempted to outdo themselves the next time around, and do so gleefully. Criminal conspiracy is their ace in the hole, their ultimate backup argument. It is perfectly legitimate, protected by popular convention, official sanction and media repression. Nothing stops them.
We live in an age when no-one well connected is personally responsible for anything and every misdeed is someone else’s fault. Weak individuals get crushed, whether they are guilty or not; and powerful ones are free to behave badly, in perfect anonymity and with perfect impunity.
What a perpetual train wreck on instant replay; what pure Zola! Except Zola himself would be branded a conspiracy theorist and strictly forbidden to accuse anyone of anything. [Note: Emile Zola wrote a book called I Accuse that blew wide open an infamous French scandal, the Dreyfus Affair].
I would rather be branded a paranoid conspiracy theorist and left sans dime and audience, than pocket the paychecks of twenty slimeball turncoats well-paid and much-admired to shield gangsters.
A strong case can be made, that the ultimate achievement of hierarchical politicians may be to induce mourning and suffering among their enemies and to force their own people to endure additional misery. After all, the dead don’t vote or need submit to law and order. Only poor, grieving survivors must choose between surrender and continued resistance under unimaginable stress. Armies don’t collapse until their suffering has reached intolerable levels of grief and agony. Casualty counts are the only valid quantifiers of the misery that armies must generate and their victims, endure.
It is fortunate for us that our DNA took millions of years, prior to recorded history, to perfect itself in the form of intimately peaceful pack scavengers. Any deviation from the purest of ethics, any cumulative mayhem, unfruitful criminality or misallocation of scarce resources would have destroyed violence-contaminated packs. Operating on a razor-thin margin of survival, they had no leeway to drift away from moral excellence.
It may seem that we are sealed in an armored carapace of thousand-year military history. But this is just a skim, rancid icing on a much thicker, sweeter cake of behavioral excellence. Up to us to shave off the bad part and enjoy the remainder.
The freedom we seek is not based on some fantasy utopia (as weapon mentors keep insisting), but on the perfect freedoms our ancestors carried around in their hearts, guts and brains for hundreds of thousands of years. Paleolithic hunter-gatherer freedom is the political context we crave, regardless of the fear weapon mentors have acid-etched with adrenalin onto our mind.
The spread of peace would not affect Learners alone in a vacuum. When we confront an aggressor nowadays – whether lone thug or military-industrial complex – we expect the Other to share our fears and weapon myths. They dictate that we hesitate to extend an overture of peace to him and that he reject our attempts to do so, unless one of us is down for the count. Weapon mythology whispers the same prejudices into everyone’s ear. According to its prejudices, every attempt at peacemaking is a token of weakness and betrayal that should ignite universal suspicion, hostility and aggression.
If peace mentality prevailed in our constellation of political metaphors, we could dissipate this aggression (bilateral or unilateral) with common gestures and accepted formulas of reconciliation. These would not be considered tokens of weakness, but dependable signs of wisdom and trustworthy power. Any child could defuse a firefight in an instant―the same way a beta pack scavenger would expose its defenseless underbelly to shut down an alpha-dominant’s lethal punishment.
This capacity for spontaneous peacemaking is hard-wired into every healthy adult. We have merely forgotten it temporarily, deprogrammed it from our minds and driven ourselves crazy in the process.
Once Learners respond to the worldwide rally call, we will form an inarguable majority: one so overwhelming, it will neutralize, therapeutically, tiny minorities too badly traumatized to control their aggression.
Thereafter, we will study and institutionalize many new talents and capabilities previously hidden. We may unleash enormous psychic energies held in check up ‘til now. We have repressed these talents out of a rightful sense of self-preservation. After all, if we had loosed those energies prematurely on WeaponWorld, they would have annihilated us. We are limited, today, to hurling dead matter and powdered manure at each other. Like our ape ancestors, we throw shit at each other. Despite this fecal constraint, we have achieved global levels of devastation and are tap dancing on the edge of a mass extinction of our own making.
It is only on PeaceWorld that we could secure orders of magnitude more energy without feeling compelled to blow everything away with it.
LEARNERS: On the Move from WeaponWorld to PeaceWorld