Christmas reading: The inevitability of war. Conflict is in our nature
“While people are saying peace and safety, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” Are you man or woman of Christian and European heritage, aware of this prophecy or do you prefer to live in a fancy world of happy-clappy wishful thinking that the brotherhood of men is about to put an end to human conflict once and for all? Though Christmastide is a time of merrymaking, it may also be a period of reflection. The Birth that we celebrate on Christmas Day was perceived by some as such a threat as to justify the Massacre of the Innocents. Peace and good will were closely intertwined with discord and hostility. Do you think we are living in better times? Do you think we are living in Fukuyama’s end of history?
War has persisted throughout history ever since the dawn of mankind. That’s probably the best indicator that it will persist for all eternity. Why should it cease? War for the purposes of this text is not merely the outright hostilities, the firing guns and resounding battle cries. It is a constant strife that is being played out on a day-to-day basis which now and again erupts into its dramatic form of opposing armies acting on the theatre of war. Why do we broaden the definition of war? If only because casualties – and we mean loss of lives – are not necessarily the highest during the time of roaring guns. Those sustained during the periods of peace may be just as high or even higher. Case in point: the Yeltsin era in Russia lasting for roughly ten years. Within that decade, life expectancy plummeted from 70 down to 60, which means that the country’s loss of lives amounted to the magnitude comparable to that during any war, which is in the millions. This loss of life was brought about by social and economic reforms, i.e. steps taken supposedly to make the living standards better, and these were demanded or suggested or advised by the powers outside Russia. The result? Closed down factories, laid off employees, poverty and the attendant disease and demise of many. Were these not regular hostilities?
War has persisted throughout history in one form or another, though we are only made aware of it acutely when we can smell gunpowder, see ruined buildings and maimed bodies. Yet war is the pith and core of existence. We live by it, we draw from it, and, on a more positive note, it tests our character. The Iliad, Beowulf, Chanson de Roland, Das Nibelungenlied, Jerusalem Delivered, El Cid, the Battle of Kosovo epic circle, and, and, and, to mention only European literary monuments, they are all about adversity, combat, heroic deeds or cowardly misconduct. Why haven’t our poets and bards composed works of goodness, peace and harmony? Being one of us, they knew the human psyche and they knew that we wouldn’t feel attracted to stories of goodness and love and charity; they knew that if we had paradise on earth, peaceful coexistence and tolerance of everything, we would have nothing to write about or, to put it in modern terms, nothing to make films about.
Think about it. All literary and religious stuff is about conflict, serious and bitter conflict. Our play and entertainment are all about conflict. Look at the popularity of computer war games, at the popularity of sports which are but epitomes of battles and rivalries; look at the popularity of crime stories, at the popularity of – mind you – Star Wars movie series, as if world wars did not fully satisfy our militant fantasizing! We are hardwired for experiencing conflict in one way or another, although nowadays we are trying to convince ourselves that the opposite is true. Medieval Christian chroniclers, who most often were Christian priests, i.e. preachers of love and charity, rebuked princes for idly staying at home rather than leading their warriors and knights on conquests. Islam was no better in this respect. The first two or so centuries from its inception were characterized by militant conquests: there were no apostles of Good News but rather mounted warriors wielding curved swords. It is only now that we are squeamish about armed conflicts and frown upon crusades or the conquest of the Americas. And yet we do it in a hypocritical way: we have removed words like war, military campaign or intervention from our polite vocabulary and we call these phenomena spreading or saving democracy, preventing humanitarian disasters, defending prosecuted minorities and what not. Nonetheless, by whatever name a rose is known, it is still a rose.
War runs in our blood. We are biologically designed for conflict, for struggle, for overcoming adversity. No globalization, no unification of nations, no removal of class, religious, racial, economic differences will ever do away with war.
Conflict in general and war in particular is a result of (i) biology which manifests itself in (ii) economy and (iii) ideology.
(i) The otherwise scientifically-minded Western Man knows it very well as he firmly believes in the evolutionary mechanism i.e. the differentiation of species and struggle for existence. The animal world – and we are part of it, just an extension – is all about fight for survival, competing for females, guarding one’s breeding and hunting grounds. Genetically related individuals (individuals related by blood, as men of old would have said) form in-groups (families, clans, tribes, nations), where loyalty to its members has a top survival value. Heroic literature exploits the motif of loyalty and its moral counterpart, which is treason, to the full. That is how the biological mechanism of in-group loyalty and out-group exclusion has sublimated into ideas, and these have found reflection in works of art and, broadly, ideology, and in all this which is generally referred to as culture. Nations are a biological phenomenon. Ethnicity, not only race, can be determined by looking into genes! No wonder then that ethnic differences are the main fault lines along which conflicts arise.True, different human groups may from time to time exist as neighbours, never really merging with each other, but inevitably their coexistence must end in an eruption of hostilities.
A note here. Some say humans behave according to the dictates of the culture they live in or are born into, hence a change of cultural surroundings will result in the change of the individual’s behaviour, as if man were a piece of malleable stuff to be shaped at will. Wrong. Culture in its broadest sense is the sublimation of biology, not the other way round. Man creates culture; culture does not create man. Islam practised by white Europeans would look entirely different than Islam practised by Arabs and, similarly, Christianity practised by Arabs would not resemble that practised by Europeans.
(ii) In their daily struggle for survival, human groups compete for the scarcity of resources and land. This economic competition is yet another powerful source of conflict and, eventually, war. Economy, i.e. the struggle to survive on a daily basis, brings into conflict also the interests of the members of the in-group. Some are employers, others are employees: some make a living from capital, others from labour. There arises a clash between the haves and the have-nots, ending up in violent revolutions. The dispossessed or simply less affluent members of society attempt to rid the well-to-do of their property, the latter defend themselves. A dream of a peaceful coexistence dictated creating a classless society where everybody’s income had to be levelled. That led to civil wars and ultimate impoverishment of whole nations, from Cuba to North Korea. The French revolutionaries, once they launched guillotining people, including their co-revolutionists, just could not stop doing it. Much the same was true of the Russian Bolsheviks: on one hand they started murdering themselves (Comrade Stalin had Comrade Trotsky killed in far-flung Mexico where the latter had spent years in exile) and purging the party ranks; on the other they starved their own people, peasants and workers, on whose behalf they began the revolution in the first place. The “achievements” of the notorious medieval inquisition pale in comparison to the millions butchered, tortured and imprisoned in concentration camps in Soviet Russia. Think of it: all that was done for the happiness of future generations of a classless and nationless society.
(iii) Ideology, as said above, is the expression of biological instincts. If it takes the form of a religion, it becomes a weapon by means of which a nation’s dominance, conquest, or privileged position is most powerfully explained by the will of a god or gods. To a believer this religious reality is stronger than the physical one. Consider Muslim suicidal attacks or Christian executions of physicians in front of American abortionist clinics. The survival value of a religion may raise one race above others to the status of a chosen people with all attendant consequences; it may create social strata like a caste system in India which, as it has a blessing from a godhead, it is unthinkable to change; it can fossilize the relationship of dominance and subservience. Western Man tends to disregard religions as superstition so much so that he does not accept the fact that believers of whatever faith are ready to sacrifice their life for a cause.
Some of the systems have been advanced for the sole purpose of blessing the whole of humanity with a pretense of introducing an age of eternal peace and brotherhood. Recall the French and Bolshevik revolutions, globalism or economic and political unions of all types. They are all doomed to fail as they run counter to biological reality, which is constant differentiation and the resulting strife. A new ideology (religion) must first overcome the resistance of the followers of the old one(s), and then or even while ousting the old beliefs, it itself splits into new sub-movements of the first original one. Consider Christianity with its many denominations and the socialist or communist movements, Christianity’s archenemy, which ended up with as many heresies. The movement of whatever kind begins with conflict with ideological out-groups and ends up as a house divided against itself. And then, again, the biologically-conditioned in-group loyalty and out-group exclusion prevail: Catholic, Muslim or communist nations are very often bitter enemies. The shared faith or ideology lose to blood ties.
Is there a solution to wars? Everlasting peace? None, really.
Consider uniting the peoples of the earth in one “nation” (globalization) in the hope of achieving everlasting peace. Quite apart from the feasibility of such an idea and the fact that there will be resistance to it, one nation is no guarantee of a life without conflicts. After all, all homogeneous nations have experienced civil wars. Just one example: the English people were torn apart by the War of the Roses, then the Cromwellian revolution, then a part of the nation settled down in North America and rebelled against their brothers on the old continent only to wage a fratricidal war of secession among themselves. Much the same story can be told about all other nations around the globe. So, if a nation’s life is rife with conflict, how much more so the life of an artificial one, like the Soviet or European Union?
Consider uniting the peoples of the earth by imposing on them one religion, ideology, or a universal lack thereof or indifference (which nowadays goes by the name of tolerance) to all beliefs. Again, we know from history such an attempt is doomed to fail. Remember the initially universal Christianity: one did not have to wait long till it produced Arianism and other heresies, then it split into Orthodox and Western branches; the Western branch gave rise to a number of heresies and split into Catholics and Protestants, who in turn gave rise to numerous denominations thereof. Much the same held good for political ideologies (a form of lay religion) where the socialist or communist movement kept dividing itself into opposing and hostile factions, like national or international socialism, communism, Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Maoism, Eurocommunism (Gramscians), liberation theology (social Christianity)… Russian Communists used military intervention to quell the aspirations of Czechoslovak communists; Comrade Tito was hated by Stalinists, and Chairman Mao was insulted by Stalin for a purpose. Any global ideology with all-encompassing tolerance is sure to follow that way. No doubt about it.
Man thought that religion would overcome national sentiment. Man thought lay ideologies would overcome national sentiment. Both failed miserably. Supposedly suppressed or eradicated national feelings all of a sudden revive as was the case at the outset of the First World War, when socialist parties previously renouncing nationalism turned out to be patriotic; when international soviet communism adopted national colouring during the Great Patriotic War and so on.
Consider uniting the peoples of the earth economically. That, too, will inevitably lead to differentiation in the level of affluence and the resulting tensions between the top and the bottom dogs, sparking social unrest, violent clashes and then revolutions. And we should not forget that also here we may have a hard time deciding whether we develop our global economy according to free market ideas of Austrian school, Keynesian economics, socialist welfare and, and, and…
Eternal peace is not only impossible but also undesirable. Eternal peace and brotherhood of men would mean stagnation, lack of development, death. Yes, there is life because there is death.
All these factors – biological, ideological and economic – are prime movers behind conflict and war. Nations or social classes, ideologies or economic interests, they all exist, and keep splitting and competing with each other. When present-day democracies come to blows with regimes as they call them, they only prove that war is inevitable and do not even see that those ‘regimes’ fight against democracies with precisely the same amount of conviction of waging the righteous, if not holy, war.
The modern Western man may laugh at the medieval methods of suppressing dissent or at the fatwas issued by ayatollahs, thinking himself above such measures, but he is no wiser. He moves in the same biological treadmill of eternal – internal, ethnic, sectarian, political, religious, social and even marital! – strife. The enemy is called names – heretic, fascist, racist, imperialist, colonizer, dictator – is burnt at the stake, excluded from polite society, judged by a court or becomes anathema. His right to free speech is denied by the Index Librorum Prohibitorum or political correctness or you name it. War rather than brotherhood. To feel good we all need the bad guys somewhere around. To combat the bad guys gives us a purpose in life. Come to think of it, only very few of us realise that we ourselves are the bad guys (kafirs, infidels, aggressors) for those whom we regard as bad guys. In a noble attempt to impose our righteous ways on others we meet with resistance. Resistance means conflict and conflict ultimately results in war. That’s the eternal circle of life and death described in The Iliad, Beowulf, Chanson de Roland, Das Nibelungenlied, Jerusalem Delivered, El Cid, the Battle of Kosovo epic circle. We have not been born for a life of liberty, equality and brotherhood. These words only reflect sentimental fantasizing enshrined in the wishful thinking of human rights, but have nothing to do with reality.
To forestall Christian believers’ opposition to the observations described above, let us remind them of Christ’s words, which read: “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen.” If they are true believers, they had better repeat after the psalmist: “Praise be to the Lord, my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.” The realist atheists and agnostics as scientifically-minded people should not stand in need of being convinced that war is part and parcel of our earthly existence.
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