St. Augustine witnessed the Roman Empire dissolve before his eyes. The Goths had invaded it from East to West, annihilated every legion flung against them, sacked Rome and spread devastation everywhere they went. Eventually, they overran ancient Spain. From there, 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 loss of everything he held dear. Can you imagine his psychic torment? Suffering from pathetic helplessness, this ultimate hand wringer etched the worst weapon myths onto the bedrock of our political metaphors. He carefully certified the inevitability of innate human evil, submission to armed authority, the divine right of kings, slavery, the surrender of personal accountability and, most perniciously, the superiority of good intentions over improved results. So-called “liberals” have accepted his weapon myths and their deplorable results ever since.
Don’t ask me whether Christ would have endorsed this BS or that of the Apostle Paul, or the Pope, or 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 crowed three times; and “Upon this rock will I found my Church.” His delicate irony was lost on unsmiling churchmen.
The Vandals might have done us a big favor by sacking Hippo twenty years prior and silencing St. Augustine forever. That would have shown him that life goes on, for better or worse, no matter what our apprehensions may be of the future.
Wasn’t Christian faith supposed to defuse these panic attacks? Wasn’t the New Testament to make us fearless in God and therefore heroic lovers of our fellow men? Christian officials turned out to be among the most fear-crazed weapon mentors and therefore the most dangerous political philosophers. Fascism and communism are just its rotten offshoots of Christianity. Christian states compare favorably with the others for mass brutality but not much else.
Thanks to this weapon mentor’s Confessions and other publications of the same reactionary tendency, most people cannot bring themselves to challenge weapon management. They consider any invitation to do so a personal affront — not to mention a very scary proposition.
As for Christian fundamentalists who find their doctrine perfect, how do they account for all the misery and exclusion it has caused – two thousand years of torture and damnation – when Christ’s message of love is so perfect and universal? We need to make crucial changes for the better just to clean up our act, much less become worthy of our Savior.
Every child undergoes a systematic peace-averse brainwash. 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 escape from him as fast as they can. If they’re really crude, they ridicule or attack outright.
I spent a half an hour chatting with a couple about my project. Almost by reflex, they began reciting a half-dozen common weapon myths we knew by heart and they accepted as undeniable truths. I replied to those myths as well as I could, indicating how they warped reality and how their exact opposite was closer to the truth and more advantageous to peace — to which they could only agree once they thought about it.
They were Unitarian church congregants in Seattle, Washington, a setting that should have produced enlightened individuals 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 the idea. Aversion training against peace is universal, even among the “lovers of peace.”
They must have wondered what kind of lunatic they’d come across.
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, those institutions were hallowed truths in the prevailing constellation of political metaphors. Anyone who challenged them would have been deemed crazy.
Incredibly, there is no record of a well-known classical philosopher who opposed slavery categorically, apart from the hideous ex-slave and murdered genius fabulist, Aesop.
Eventually, these old notions were condemned more or less publicly by the still, small voice of private conscience, then abandoned. Those who backed them thereafter would have been declared mad and silenced. Might some deviants have held out for slavery or cannibalism? Sure, plenty. But, more often than not, disgusted majorities restrained them by providing other outlets for their destructive tendencies. War, for example. War may have turned into the only acceptable outlet: a routine but ungainly way to regulate and redirect those tendencies.
Just like those prior humanisms, weapon management only seems to be inevitable. Just like the others, we could uproot and forget it, for the most part, in one short generation. Just a question of becoming smart enough to do so, rather than reacting blindly to the blinding glare of its influence.
We assume that government is evil because government officials are corrupt. “Power corrupts — absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Lord J.E.E. Acton. He, at least, should have known better.
It is not so much power that corrupts as the execution of power in ignorance of the facts. More evil emanates from neglect, ignorance and unforeseen consequences than from deliberate intent to do harm. Even the handover of leadership to evildoers is an outcome of collective ignorance. If we knew better, we’d do better.
The gleaming-eyed psycho of popular narration is usually an incompetent weapon bureaucrat who’d do better if he were given half a chance. It would be easy to organize a nimbler opportunity for that bungler. We could just as easily identify and sidetrack diagnosable psychopaths from positions of responsibility. Let me explain how.
Imagine you’re blindfolded and crossing a blacked-out room. It’s likely you’d trip over the furniture 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 anyway. Whether you wanted it to happen or not, inadequate sensory input would make the damage inevitable. As long as you stumbled around in the dark, your hurt would accrue. Eventually, you’d shrug off the pain and dismiss it as just another cost of doing business, even if had reduced you to a crawl or to cowering in a corner and giving up.
Our info elites operate under just the same type of constraint. Their muffled awareness forces them to commit evil and forego the good, ruled by ignorance and the accidents it induces.
In defiance of the 1984 Syndrome, Learners will develop a clear-sighted, vigilant and responsive government consisting of a network of locally elected Administrations that are affluent, attentive, and pragmatic — empowering each individual at what they do best. The whole network would be overseen by a hyper-vigilant central government whose forceful interventions, however, would be curbed by constitutional law and paltry tax receipts.
Once we remove the blindfolds and turn the lights back on, we’ll be amazed how often “inevitable” catastrophes, personal outrages, wasted opportunities and unforeseen consequences can be avoided. We’ll find we can take extraordinary risks in pursuit of Learning and get away with most of them most of the time. The neutralization of most of these difficulties will translate into a lot more wealth and a lot less ill will.
Info elites sustain class privilege and economic imbalance. Everyone understands the eye-popping hypocrisy involved, the blatant contradictions nurtured, the splendid opportunities cast aside and the tremendous stakes at risk when such policies fail. We know 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, fancy uniforms, strict 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 were fed to 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 were killed in 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 prized livestock before butchering it? Both must categorize others as expendable underlings, better-dead targets or unquestioned superiors. Both must manipulate with ease and skill the behavior and attitude of their subordinates; enforce their orders with violence, fatal violence if necessary. They must be respected (read “feared”) by their subordinates rather than liked.
Paul Lackman recalled behavioral studies that associated a talent for lying among groups of children and college students with their leadership skills.
If they do their jobs correctly, both leaders expect the devotion of 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 to the point of defending them. Take your pick. The same doglike devotion arises from soldiers and kidnap victims alike, as if we had been 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.
In the same vein, 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 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 tiresome regularity, 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 doing good. Despite the risks involved, the more often you obey this third precept, the likelier you will be to hook up with fellow tit-for-tat-plussers. In so doing, you will outlive gene-moralists who tend to burn out faster, both themselves and their neighbors.
These two moral principles don’t seem to be 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.” Keeping in mind that you must always reckon with their wish that may not be the same as your own under the same circumstances.
This tit-for-tat strategy 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 commits is much milder than his victim’s of the same evil endured. This lopsided perception induces an escalating spiral of retaliation.
Let’s say that I inflict (what I perceive to be) one unit of pain on you, and 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, which you feel as fourteen … Thus murderous clan feuds can ignite over mere trifles, last for generations, and spiral out of control until some outside authority puts a stop to them. Many tyrannies have grown up this way: fanning up, juggling and selectively suppressing the feuds of their quarrelsome subordinates.
In addition, if we have been subjected to abuse over long stretches of time (or imagine that we have been), we feel entitled to do harm in return, even on innocent victims, and resent any attempt to prevent us. Laboratory rats become lethargic and fatalistic when given too many random punishments. Many humans replace this fatalism with a furious desire 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. By “fair,” read: “reciprocally interruptible without further escalation of violence.”
It is not surprising that humans adhere to military behavior like well-trained dogs. Throughout history, those who defied weapon mentality suffered greater and greater refinements of ostracism, captivity, torture and murder.
One social group was selected for elite aggression and brutality; the other, larger, for dumb proletarian submission and the escapism of empty minds. One way or another, the moderate, stubbornly inquiring minds stuck between were methodically neutralized: silenced more often than not and killed when its was thought necessary.