“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 what follows alarming. Our society’s most cherished assertions 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 flight and step under them fearlessly; don’t duck your head. Only your reasoned intuition can replace the platitudes of weapon mentality.
The whole world knows about a book called On War but no equivalent On Peace. This cultural gap reveals the extent of our ignorance, apathy and stupidity.
According to Karl von Clausewitz, author of the proverbial 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 reached the following conclusion 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 the incomparable Clausewitz was forced to conclude that every war must end with a peace treaty ; then we must conclude likewise, that perpetual World War will never end until almost everyone has counter-signed a global peace treaty.
In The Causes of War, The Free Press, Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, first published by Macmillan in London, 1973, pp. 115-117, Geoffrey Blainey explains that negotiations between two diplomats resemble those between two merchants who trade privileges and obligations instead of merchandise. While supply and demand may regulate merchant trades, diplomatic transactions are more like a barter whose rate of exchange rate must be determined as the process unfolds. Diplomats carefully study their relationship to determine who is buying and who is selling and at what rate. However, they can misjudge these values for several reasons, to such an extent that no agreement can be reached except a faulty one whose only corrective action is war.
“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 picture yourself entering a convenience store with cash in one hand and a pistol in the other. Everyone would act that way all the time. Should anyone purchase so much as a piece of bubble gum, they and the cashier would have to decide whether money was going to change hands and how much, based on their assessment of who would win a fire fight otherwise.
Would that be any way to run a business – or an entire planet – if some other alternative presented itself?
Now, to simulate our reality of shrinking reserves of fresh water and good soil, and bloated inventories of weapons, imagine that both parties had children starving and freezing at home and, instead of a gun, everyone grasped the detonator of a bandolier of dynamite wrapped around their body, wired to set off their own and everyone else’s.
Would any sane observer stick around – be it on this block or on this planet – to find out what happened? Could there be an alternative somewhat less surreal?
Let’s deal with the following pair of weapon myths ― the most common, powerful and pernicious ones.
First off: World Peace will not occur until a unanimity of saints has repented of its sins. Nothing less than this unworkable caricature will define Peace to the satisfaction of these mythmakers. I wonder if the majority of people had to undergo the same transformation before cannibalism and slavery were stamped out. Everybody would have had to become a saint first.
Sure thing, buddy.
On the contrary, PeaceWorld is likely to be messy, contentious, “political,” corrupt, tragic and subject to periodic failure perhaps on a global scale, perhaps lethal for humanity or its civilization. Human happiness and misery would have similar sources on PeaceWorld as on WeaponWorld; in others words, from the influence of the rich and powerful.
The only difference would be that organized murder was illegal and that law would be grimly enforced everywhere. War would become less frequent, extensive, falsely profitable and mass-produced; it would no longer be peddled as something honorable, gainful or glorious. In the absence of war, every other form of human conflict will mushroom to fill the void.
The second weapon myth: that a peace advocate must first aspire to sainthood or be a certifiable saint already, (depending on how the auditor seeks to condemn him). “Are you human in your actions, weakness and failures? Does your sales pitch upset me and my prejudices? You may not speak of Peace. Do you claim to speak on its behalf like a saint? You are too ambitious, a wise-ass with a Messiah complex and unfit for the task. In any case, no need to heed to your talk.”
Peace advocates are human beings who stink when they don’t bathe; who breathe fresh air and exhale CO2 and at times bad breath; who experience needs, fears, hatred, greed and ambition like anyone else. No saintliness is required for this kind of work. Might help, but would not be mandatory. Anyone could try.
Elsewhere in this book, I talk about the massed saints of PeaceWorld. Simply put, saintliness would not lead to PeaceWorld, rather in the opposite order: it would be easier to achieve if we lived in PeaceWorld. On the other hand, sainthood is impossible on WeaponWorld even though it is demanded by every religion. Weapon mythology has transposed these requirements and results; the peace version would simply set them in the right order: PeaceWorld first, sainthood later.
These two myths are just as reasonable as they are harmless. Weapon liars have upheld them to muddy the waters, satisfy their warmonger prejudices and set back peace for as long as possible. We have blindly followed their lead.
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.
The 5th Century CE Roman Vegetius 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 from 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 dire consequences unforeseen. The only predictable output of warfare is even more lethal 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 is credited with 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, in the long run, they benefit the most from this exchange. Somehow, wars constitute the most acceptable form of male bonding; they turn boys into men. Plus those mentally and physically torn apart by war become voiceless and invisible as if by magic.
Haven’t we heard these weapon myths a thousand times? Memorized them hypnotically and recited them to each other for a hundred generations? No longer would we offer up so many sinister thoughts, texts, dramas and outcomes on the altar of weapon mentality. Instead, we could dedicate the Virtual Agora to peace mentality and saturate the collective superconscience with peaceful myths. Anyone who’d been paying attention could adopt this unfettered point of view and use it to improve the common lot.
We should emulate the wisdom of primal shamans. They consigned survivors of combat to elaborate rituals of social withdrawal and purification. No-one 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.
Simon Gardner of Reuters wrote (on 8-19-2004) that over three hundred Argentinean veterans had killed themselves since the war ― perhaps denoting the therapeutic benefits of Latin passion over Anglo-Saxon aloofness 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 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 fearsome bloodguilt. Those who refused to participate are even guiltier in our eyes.”
As far as they are concerned, Peace activist are guiltiest of all because 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’ve shouldered? Is that not the least we can 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 them or for us. It is time humanity took up ancient rituals of warrior decontamination and psychic decompression instead of glorifying those who have dealt 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 more quickly and much more effectively. Those who suggest otherwise are running a con, consciously or otherwise. If they believe that war promotes creativity while peaceful societies stagnate, they’re living in a hellish nightmare.
As peaceful tribes managed to do in the past, we could find dynamic means to endure and neutralize the harmful effects of egotism, idleness and opulence. Their elimination became a mythical reason to perpetuate mass killing forbidden by God, while the other three are not ― in case that’s been forgotten.
I recall one bellicose author who asserted how much more advanced, enlightened and brilliant international conflict made the world: 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 places to settle down. Instead, he’s raising his kids in some quiet backwater of Western Massachusetts. Presumably, what he meant to say was that war is creative and enlightening for other peoples’ kids.
Weapon managers are suspicious of real creativity and serious Learning. At best, such attributes are effeminate and debilitating liabilities; at worst, treasonous assaults on long-cherished traditions and idiot protocols.
As for the stagnancy of peace, well: “95% of everything is crap,” as one wise guy put it; and 95 out of one hundred people are mindless drones doomed by current “education” to intellectual inertia and the rote repetition of futile banality. 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 by serious applications of Learning.
The list of weapon myths is endless and we have recited them endlessly to each other. No real peace will emerge until we have halted this ceaseless invocation ― until we have resolved for the next few years to 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 put lethal hazards out of sight.
The first is the adjective “paranoid.” These days, pundits use it 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 make a serious study of what he had to say. His proposal isn’t worth looking into; trust me and my spineless prejudice just like yours.”
The second is “conspiracy theory”: first proposed by the CIA to replace the more pertinent “assassination theory” after Kennedy’s assassination, then sopped up by the Press. Now used every time info elites get away with murder.
People keep lecturing me how impossible it is to carry out a complex conspiracy involving more than a handful of individuals, especially if they hail from different backgrounds and hold diverse priorities.
First, a single acronym: NSA (National Security Agency), that snake pit of conspiracies.
Second, a paragraph. The American U-2 spy plane program of high altitude surveillance went on for a half-decade, unreported by the Press and 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 needed to allow these planes emergency landing rights overseas and transit rights through foreign air space. Yet those planes “didn’t exist” until the Soviets literally shot one of them out of the sky and staged a show trial of its pilot, Francis Gary Powers.
Such “impossible” conspiracies are routine for the weapons complex that includes the military, the industrialists, Congress and the media. 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 and digital trail no rookie journalist could miss. They are too softhearted to kill and terrorize many witnesses who would give the whole story away without worrying too much about their family’s safety. The media’s pop culture will accept no other definition of a conspiracy.
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 patrons have practiced for centuries; they are experts. They can call on enormous institutional memory of criminal and police procedures. They hire the best professionals to do their dirty work. Their dirty laundry is branded 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 eager subordinates to take the fall if necessary.
Classical Greeks at the height of their power used to call this kind of habit 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 like-minded gangsters had subjugated them at home.
Note this almost automatic process of decay over time, regardless of chronology, politics, creed or geography. These gangsters rot out their own army by degrees. Their gangsterism (Submit to our obvious wrongdoing or else!) is all that remains of our vibrant freedoms. We should be ashamed of our tolerance of this corruption and wary of its ultimate consequences.
Once the deed is done, no paper trail exists and no surviving witnesses except those terrified into silence. There is an overwhelming amount 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 last for decades, even the threat of civil war if word gets out. Archives are sealed and incriminating evidence is confiscated and “lost” by the truck load. Most official investigators are under the supervision of 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 misbehave in perfect anonymity and with perfect impunity. At least for the time being…
A strong case can be made, that the basic achievement of hierarchical politicians is to cause mourning and suffering among their enemies and to force their own people to endure additional misery. After all, the dead don’t vote or submit to law and order. Only poor, grieving survivors need choose between surrender and unrelenting resistance under unimaginable stress. Armies don’t collapse until their suffering has reached intolerable levels of grief, hunger and agony. Body counts quantify the misery that armies must generate and their victims, endure.
Fortunately for us, our DNA took millions of years, prior to recorded history, to perfect its ethics among internally peaceful scavengers operating in small packs. Any deviation from the purest ethic, any cumulative mayhem, unfruitful criminality, false signaling 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 off from moral excellence.
It may seem that we are frozen in the rusted shell of thousands of years of military history. But this is just the corroded outer coating of a much stronger, more flexible framework of behavioral excellence. Up to us to sand off the rusty part and act better in what remains.
The freedom we pursue is not based on some fantasy utopia (even though weapon mentors insist it is), but on the perfect freedoms our ancestors bore for hundreds of thousands of years. Paleolithic, hunter-gatherer freedom is the political context we crave, regardless of the fear weapon mentors may 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 a lone thug or a 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 and that they reject our attempt to do so unless one of us has already been knocked down for the count. Weapon mythology whispers the same prejudices in everyone’s ear. According to its prejudices, every attempt at peacemaking is “appeasement – like Lloyd George did with Hitler”: a token of weakness and betrayal that must validate the universal reactions of suspicion, hostility and aggression.
If peace mentality prevailed in our constellation of political metaphors, we could dispel this aggression (bilateral or unilateral) with common gestures and accepted formulas of reconciliation. Those wouldn’t be considered tokens of weakness but dependable signs of wisdom, trustworthiness and power. Any child could defuse a firefight in an instant ― the same way a beta pack scavenger exposes its defenseless underbelly to shut down an alpha-dominant’s lethal punishment.
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.
Thereafter, we will study and institutionalize many new talents and capabilities previously hidden, and unleash thereby enormous psychic energies held in check up ‘til now. We’ve 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 sling shit at one another. Despite this fecal constraint, we have achieved global levels of devastation and are tap dancing along a precipice of 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.