St. Augustine watched the Roman Empire dissolve before his eyes. The Goths had invaded it from East to West; they annihilated every legion flung against them, sacked Rome and spread devastation wherever they went. Eventually, they overran Spain. Then the aptly named Vandals crossed the Med into North Africa, 80,000 strong. They took St. Augustine’s hometown, Hippo, the year after he died.
He felt powerless to prevent the destruction of everything he held dear. Can you imagine his psychic torment? Suffering from pathetic helplessness, this ultimate hand wringer etched the worst weapon myths on our bedrock constellation of political metaphors. He carefully certified the validity of innate human evil, submission to armed authority, the divine right of kings, irresistible slavery, the surrender of personal accountability and, most perniciously, the superiority of good intentions over adequate results. We have accepted his weapon myths and their unacceptable results, ever since.
Don’t ask me whether Christ would have endorsed all this BS (or that of the Apostle Paul, or of the Pope, or of other Christian Fundamentalists, for that matter). I believe Christ summed up his trust in Christian institutions and their weapon mentors when he concluded that Peter would betray him before the cock would crow three times; and “Upon this rock will I found my Church.” His delicate sense of irony was lost on unsmiling churchmen.
The Vandals might have done us a big favor by sacking Hippo twenty years earlier and silencing St. Augustine forever. Better yet, they could have taken Hippo while he lived. That would have shown him that life goes on, for better or worse, no matter what our apprehensions are of the future.
I thought Christian faith was supposed to defuse these panic attacks. Wasn’t the Bible supposed to make us fearless in God and therefore heroic lovers of our fellow men? It turns out that Christian officials are among the most fear-crazed weapon mentors and therefore our most dangerous political philosophers. Fascism and communism grew up as rotten offshoots of Christianity. Christian states compare favorably with the others for mass brutality, but not much more.
Thanks to this weapon mentor’s Confessions and other publications in a similar reactionary vein, most people cannot bring themselves to challenge weapon management. They consider any invitation to do so a personal insult—not to mention a very scary proposition.
As for Christian reactionaries who find their doctrine perfect; how do they account for the misery and exclusion it has generated – two thousand years of torture and damnation – when Christ’s message of love is so perfect and universal? We need to make fundamental changes for the better, just to clean up our act a little, much less become worthy of our Savior. Any satisfaction with current practice is insane.
Every thoughtful child undergoes a systematic peace-aversion brainwash. So proposing PeaceWorld to someone is like challenging his potty training. Indeed, most people treat conversational gambits on the topic of world peace as if someone had farted in public. They ignore the originator if they’re polite, smile and try to move away as fast as they can. And they ridicule him outright or attack him if they’re really crude.
I spent a half hour talking to two people about my project. Almost by reflex, they proceeded to recite a half dozen of the most common weapon myths that all of us knew by heart and had accepted as rockbed truths, indisputable. I replied to each of those myths, as well as I could, showing how it distorted the truth and how its exact opposite was closer to the truth and more conducive to peace—to which they could only agree, upon reflection. These were Unitarian church congregants in Seattle, Washington, a setting that should have produced enlightened individuals completely at ease with the idea of world peace. Yet they were imbued with the same weapons myths I had encountered among those least comfortable with that idea. Aversion training against peace is universal, even among the “lovers of peace.” Even in my head and yours.
They must have wondered what kind of lunatic they’d come across.
Everyone knows that even the most ‘sophisticated’ nations practice immoral, destructive and suicidal weapon management. We may recall comparable past-practice humanisms: cannibalism, live sacrifice and slavery. Once upon a time, they were hallowed human institutions acclaimed in our constellation of political metaphors. Anyone who challenged them would have been considered a nut.
Incredibly, there is no record of a well-known classical Greek philosopher (apart from the ex-slave and murdered fabulist, Aesop) who opposed slavery categorically.
These notions were condemned, more or less publicly, by the still, small voice of private conscience, and then abandoned. Anyone who backed them thereafter was deemed a nut and silenced. Might there have been deviants still holding out for slavery or cannibalism? Sure, plenty. But more often than not, disgusted majorities controlled them by providing outlets for their destructive tendencies. War, for example. That may be the only one left, a routine but none-too-advantageous way to regulate and divert those tendencies.
Just like those humanisms, weapon management only seems inevitable. We could uproot and forget about it, for the most part – just like the others – in one short generation. It would be a question of becoming smart enough to do so, rather than reacting blindly to its blinding influence.
We assume that government is evil because government officials are corrupt. “Power corrupts—absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Lord J.E.E. Acton. He should have known better.
It is not so much power that corrupts, as the execution of power in ignorance. More evil emanates from neglect, ignorance and unforeseen consequences, than from any deliberate intent to do harm. Even the takeover of leadership by evildoers is a function of social ignorance.
The gleaming-eyed psycho of popular narration is usually an incompetent weapon bureaucrat who’d act more wisely if given half a chance. Otherwise, a real psychopath should have been identified and diverted long before he assumed power. It would be easy to mass-produce the bungler’s nimbler opportunity. Let me explain how, below.
Think of yourself blindfolded and crossing a blacked-out room. It’s likely you’d stumble over the furniture, trip and come to harm. Assuming your body cells could reason among themselves, they might conclude that you enjoyed doing them harm, even though that would be the last thing you wanted. Wouldn’t matter; they’d accuse you of sinister intent in any case. Whether you wanted it to happen or not, inadequate sensory input would make this damage inevitable. As long as you stumbled around in the dark, the damage would accumulate. Eventually, you’d shrug it off, dismiss your pain as just another cost of doing business, even after it had reduced you to a crawl or to cowering in a corner and renouncing further activity.
Our info elites operate under the same kind of constraint. Their diminished awareness forces them to commit evil and miss good, as a result of ignorance and the accidents it induces.
In defiance of the 1984 Syndrome, Learners will develop a clear-sighted, alert and responsive government. It would consist of a network of locally elected Administrations that were rich, attentive, and productive—seeing to the empowerment of each individual; the whole overseen by a hyper-vigilant central government whose forceful interventions, however, would be curbed by constitutional law and paltry tax receipts.
Once we removed the blindfold and turn on the lights, we’ll be surprised how many ‘inevitable’ catastrophes, personal outrages, wasted opportunities and unforeseen consequences could be avoided. We’ll discover that we can take extraordinary risks, in pursuit of Learning, and get away with many more of them. Avoiding most of this trouble will translate into a lot more wealth and a lot less ill will.
Our info elites maintain class privilege and economic imbalance. Everyone understands the eye-popping hypocrisy involved, the blatant contradictions we must nurture, the splendid opportunities we’ve cast aside and the tremendous stakes at risk when such policies fail. Everyone knows that they must fail, sooner or later, by their very nature. Immediate perks and personal privileges, however, silence the voice of conscience in all but a sacrificial few.
In the same way, concentration camp guards and death squad toughs require elite status, fancier uniforms, stricter discipline, more time off, better rations, more cigarettes and alcohol—or they’d burn out on the job, poor dears. Guards foolish enough to raise objections, fed the crematoria in turn or got dispatched to a slower but just-as-certain fate in Penal Battalions on the Eastern Front. Who knows how many bad-Germans-turned-good died this way, forsaken by everyone?
Expert small-unit leaders and terrorists require the same set of talents and skills. Both must embrace a Cause, (whatever Cause that may be), enough to sacrifice themselves and their charges for It. Both must care for their subordinates, but not about them. You know, the way we might care for valuable livestock before butchering it? Both must categorize everyone else as expendable underlings, better-dead targets or unquestioned superiors. Both must manipulate with skill and ease the behaviors and attitudes of their inferiors; both must enforce their orders with violence, fatal violence if necessary. They would rather be respected (read “feared”) than admired by their subordinates.
Paul Lackman reminds us of behavioral studies that correlate leadership skills among children and college students with a talent for lying.
If they do their jobs correctly, both leaders earn the utmost devotion from their charges. Call it esprit de corps (espree duh core, team spirit) where individuals sacrifice everything for their military unit, or call it sadomasochistic Stockholm Syndrome where hostages identify with their captors and defend them. Take your pick. The same doglike devotion arises, from soldiers and kidnap victims alike. It’s as if we were hardwired for it.
“… Combat leadership, particularly at junior levels, involves a mixture of forceful character and a certain indifference to consequences. Lieutenants and captains are never expected to have long life spans once the shooting starts. No army can contemplate with equanimity the thought of stable, settled, emotionally middle-aged men leading platoons into enemy fire [author’s note: even though venerable garrison states often produce this kind of flabby leadership]. The German army had to walk a consistently fine line between the Scylla of emasculating its junior leaders by converting them into bureaucratized good citizens and the Charybdis of allowing panache and enthusiasm to degenerate into publicity-generating hooliganism.” Dennis E. Showalter, Tannenberg: Clash of Empires, Archon Books, Hamden, Connecticut, 1991, p. 109. By permission of Shoe String Press.
Similarly, the ultimate basic training takes place in concentration camps. Death camps are just boot camps worked out to their logical extreme, that don’t need to produce soldiers in large numbers except as guards—that always need more guards than they can produce. Many death camp survivors became Israeli war heroes during the fighting in 1948. They threw themselves willingly into suicidal attacks that would have pinned or routed the Israeli militia, never noted for its cowardice.
In Dark Nature, Lyall Watson reviews two moral codes. The first, “genetic morality,” evolved three basic rules of animal behavior during millions of years of adaptive survival:
· do good to relatives;
· do ill to everyone else; and
· cheat whenever you can.
Struggling against this genetic morality and the unspeakable horror it unleashes with boring predictability, is the basic morality of higher civilization, called “Tit-for-Tat, Plus”:
· do good first; thereafter
· do whatever the other guy just did to you (for good or ill); and
· when in doubt, revert to good. Despite the risks involved, the more often you obey this third precept, the likelier you will hook up with fellow tit-for-tat-plussers. In so doing, you will outlive gene-moralists who tend to burn out, both themselves and their neighbors, much faster.
These two moralities don’t seem very spiritual, compared to Jesus’ much more demanding injunction: “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to evil.” – St. Luke 6-35, the Bible.
And finally, the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
This tit-for-tat has another pitfall, according to Roy F. Baumeister’s Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, (W.H. Freeman and Company, New York, 1997).
A perpetrator’s assessment of the evil he has committed is much milder than his victim’s assessment of the same evil endured. This lopsided perception induces escalating spirals of retaliation.
Let’s say that I inflict (what I perceive to be) one unit of pain on you; you perceive it as two. You inflict three units on me, to get me to stop. I feel six units and inflict a payback of seven on you … Thus murderous clan feuds ignite over mere trifles, last for generations, and spiral out of control until some outside power crushes them. Many the tyrannies grew up this way: fanning up, juggling and selectively suppressing the feuds of their subordinates.
In addition, if we have been subject to multiple abuses for long stretches of time (or imagine we have), we feel entitled to cause harm in return, even to innocent victims, and resent any attempt to prevent us. Laboratory rats become lethargic and fatalistic when administered too many random punishments; many humans replace this fatalism with rage and a tendency for serial aggression.
This is the reason our legal system removes vengeance from the hands of crime victims and their surviving family members, and entrusts it to rich, well-insulated judges instead. The victims' appeal for punishment usually exceeds what an impartial third party would consider fair, assuming such a fair level of retaliation exists at all. By ‘fair,” read: “reciprocally interruptible without further escalations of violence.”
It is not surprising that humans adhere to military behaviors like well-trained dogs. Throughout history, those who defied weapon mentality have suffered greater and greater refinements of ostracism, confinement, torture and murder.
One social group was picked for elite aggression and brutality; another, larger, for proletarian submission and empty heads. One way or another, the smart, stubborn moderates in-between were systematically neutralized: silenced always and killed off whenever necessary.
LEARNERS: On the Move from WeaponWorld to PeaceWorld