Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Root Causes of War

                                             The Root Causes of War

     Historically speaking, a number of theses have been proposed to explain why  societies go to war with one another.  The reasons proposed can be classified into a number of general categories; i.e. Economics, Nationalism, Social and Cultural, and Religious.  I believe that all of these reasons for warfare are accurate and contain a grain of truth, but taken together they still do not entirely explain why people are willing to kill each other in large numbers and by any means available.  Think of the causes of warfare as a sphere with the aforementioned causes as lying on top of the sphere.  To fully understand warfare, we need to get inside the sphere to ascertain why problems in these areas reach the point where their only resolution is in extreme violence.  I believe that mass warfare comes about when the two sides have fundamentally different beliefs about the nature of reality.  In short, they think differently.  It is these differences in metaphysical perception and epistemology  that lead to a breakdown in communication and thus the impossibility of rationally resolving the differences in dispute.
     If we go back too far into the historical record, it becomes difficult to make accurate assessments, as we simply don’t know how people though in ancient times.  However, we can make some general guesses.  In the Peloponnesian War the conflict was between Sparta, a rigid hierarchical society, and Athens, a somewhat more democratic and egalitarian society.  It is quite possible that these social and political differences are a reflection of a deeper philosophical rift between the two parties.
     The conflict between Rome and Carthage is usually taken to be a war between two expansionist powers fighting over the same territory.  However, the Romans were influenced by Greek civilization and had a certain interest in the arts and the human condition.  The Carthaginians were descended from people who worshipped gods who were almost daemonic in nature and engaged in human sacrifice of children.  It is quite possible that the Romans desire to utterly destroy Carthage was based on their repugnance toward the Carthaginian Weltanschauung.
     In more recent times we have the Thirty Years War.  Although this was clearly a religious war, fought between Protestants and Catholics, it is clear that the world view of Protestantism was rapidly diverging from the world view of Catholicism and it is quite likely that it was these divergences that fueled the extreme violence of the conflict and kept it going for such a prolonged period of time.
     To begin a discussion of modern warfare, I’d like to start with the American Civil War.  From the date of inception, the United States began diverging into two separate societies.  The north was influenced by British Empiricism and capitalist economic theory and developed into a relatively free and egalitarian society based on upward social mobility.  The south, developed into a feudal, agrarian society with a rigid hierarchical structure and a solidified class structure.  The north was increasingly influenced by “enlightenment thought” and thus radically diverged from the south in their perception of reality.  In a recent biography of Alexander Hamilton, the biographer said that towards the end of his life, Hamilton realized that his insistence that everyone participate in a monetary economy was laying the groundwork for a great civil war to be fought sometime in the future.  It may be said that it was the theories of Adam Smith as put into practice by Hamilton that caused the civil war.  This is true as far as it goes and the differences in economic development explain why the north won, but the deeper reason for the conflict lies in the fact that the two sides diverged with regard to their ideas about the fundamental nature of reality.
     World War I stands for the greatest mass slaughter known to the historical records of the human race.  The number of volumes written to explain the causes of this war is probably uncountable.  Of the ones that I have read the causes are usually given can be classified under a number of different headings: Nationalism and the Quest for Colonial Expansion; Economic Competition; Balance of Power Politics; German feelings of inferiority; British smugness and arrogance etc. etc.  (Probably the main proximate cause was the Haber Process of making ammonia.  Without it, Germany was dependent on importing nitrates from Chile in order to manufacture explosives.  Given British control of the seas, this would have made war an impossibility.)
     What I consider the root cause of the conflict, I have never come across in my reading.  If we go back to the eighteenth century and what is now known as “The Age of Enlightenment”, we can see that English and German metaphysics and epistemology were already beginning to diverge.  British philosophy, starting with Hume, Locke, and Berkeley went in the direction of empiricism, utilitarianism, and pragmatism.  The British were not so interested in the fundamental nature of being as they were in finding out how things worked.  As a result the British were much more interested in practicality than in essence.
     On the other hand, the Germans developed a philosophy based on idealism with a touch of mysticism.  Beginning with such figures as Kant, Meister Eckhart, and continuing with Hegel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, German’s became far more interested in the exact nature of being and far less interested in external manifestations of being.  As Kant put it, the Ding an Sich is what was of interest to German philosophy.
     As we can see, these philosophical positions are almost mirror image opposites of one another.  In hindsight, it seems that any rational beings could have solved the problems confronting these two nations without resorting to the wholesale slaughter of millions of their citizens.  I believe that what precluded any kind of rational solution is the fact that these two peoples had entirely different ways of looking at the world.  They had very different fundamental beliefs about the nature of reality.  Since one of the prime definitions of a psychotic is, “someone who’s fundamental beliefs about the nature of reality lie outside the consensus of the society in which he lives”, it would not  be stretching the point to say that both sides viewed their enemy as being swept up in some kind of mass psychosis.  It also gives us some insight as to why the British ultimately prevailed.  Espousing a pragmatic and utilitarian point of view, they were willing to do whatever it takes in order to prevail.  Idealists view their beliefs as an essential part of their being and would rather be defeated than act in a manner contrary to their beliefs. (During World War II Hitler continued his program of Jewish extermination despite pleas from the bureaucracy that they were extremely short of labor.)

                          Why the West is at War with Islam, and not Terrorism

     Whether we realize it or not, we do not experience the world directly.  Reality is filtered through  perceptual mechanisms known as cognitive structures.  Consequently, what we perceive as reality is a combination of what exists outside ourselves and prior experiences and learning that exists inside ourselves.  In the west, there are a number of  ideas that have so permeated the culture that they can be considered shared perceptual mechanisms.
     Modern cultural ideas probably begin with enlightenment philosophy and humanism.  Today, we are dismayed to realize that a mere three hundred years ago, young children were hung for stealing a piece of cloth.  The west has evolved from hierarchical and authoritarian societies to a state of egalitarianism, and it is through these egalitarian ideas that we now view the world.
     Perhaps the most important and most pervasive filter in western perception is the language of psycho-analysis.  Psycho-analytic concepts and language have become so much a part of the way in which we view the world that it is impossible for us to conceive of how the world would look to someone whose perceptual system lacks these reference points.
     Another pervasive concept is that of Relativism.  Adapted from Einstein, we now take it to mean that there are no fixed reference points.  The concept has now been applied to culture, religion, social structures etc. and has done a great deal to undermine and destroy our notions of hierarchical values.
     Marxist concepts and language also pervade western thought, leaving large numbers of people with the notion that society is at heart a conspiracy of the rich against the poor.
     The cultural filter that probably most distinguishes the west from the rest of the world is that of existentialism.  This is a philosophy developed by Heidegger largely as reaction to the horrors of WWI.  It takes the position that life is essentially random and inherently meaningless and that the universe exists through a random act and is thus morally neutral.  (It is important to keep in mind that Heidegger was a Nazi who believed that the state is the ultimate moral authority.)  This kind of thinking is now beginning to pervade western thought with dire consequences for the moral, social, and cultural well being of Western societies.  If we think of the twentieth century as the age of “nihilistic idealism”, then the twenty-first century may well become the age of nihilism without the idealism.  (“Nihilistic Idealism” may be defined as the notion that the world can be perfected by destroying something, not by offering some positive program for the betterment of mankind.  It really begins with the French Revolution where the revolutionaries decided the world could be improved by killing all the aristocrats. However, the concept reached its peak in the twentieth century when Lenin decided that killing the capitalists would make the world a better place.  That didn’t work, so Stalin said, “let’s kill all the Kulaks”.  Then Hitler chimed in with, “Let’s kill all the Jews”.  Later on in the century the American feminist movement decided that what we really needed to get rid of were masculine values; so they worked on destroying the nuclear family.  In the last part of the century, the Islamists jumped on the bandwagon and decided that what they really needed to do were to rid themselves of Western influence and meddling so they could form the “perfect Islamic State”.  Many years ago a community activist named Saul Alinsky was asked what he had to offer in place of the existing social and political structures that he was working so hard to undermine.  His answer was that when the existing power structure was destroyed, the people would come up with their own program.  In short, these people know what they don’t like and what they want to destroy, but they have no idea of what they would put in its place.)
     People raised in Islamic societies share none of these perceptual mechanisms ands cultural referents.  They are moral absolutists who believe in the rectitude of their cause and their beliefs.  In dealing with malefactors their punishments are untinged by “humanistic softness”. They have an essentially medieval, pre-enlightenment view of the world.  Consequently they view western values with a mixture of contempt and horror.  They have no desire to understand their enemies; only to defeat them.  The west’s unwillingness to punish criminals, the tolerance of any and all life-styles and beliefs, the willingness to embrace one’s enemies, the contempt for authority, and the lack of loyalty towards it’s leaders are all seen by Islamic people’s as weakness and degeneracy.  The existential viewpoint is seen as a sign of moral bankruptcy.
     The perceptual mechanisms and cultural referents of Islam are absolutist.  They believe in God and also believe that they know God’s will.  Their mission is to convert everyone else on the face of the Earth from infidels to believers.  Believers are seen as morally superior to non-believers and since Islam is a masculine religion women are seen as inferior to men.  (Thus in Islamic courts the word of an Islamic man is worth that of two women or three infidels.)  In dealing with non-believers and in spreading Islam all
 stratagems and devices are considered morally acceptable.  Consequently, this is the only religious culture that recommends lying, deceit, treachery and murder as moral methods of dealing with one’s enemies.  At many muslim rallies people can be heard chanting, “Khaibar, Khaibar”.  This refers to a strong city that the prophet’s armies were unable to conquer by force.  So he made peace with the inhabitants and after gaining admittance to the city he ordered his forces to slaughter them all for resisting him. For Islam, peace is a temporary state that exists until they believe they are strong enough to prevail. 
     Given the disparate nature of beliefs of these two peoples, it is doubtful that the Hegelian paradigm will prevail as it has in the west between the United States and Germany.  (Our current economic system can be considered a synthesis of American free market economics and German state capitalism as practiced by the Nazis.  Politically, we have abandoned our libertarianism in favor of a gigantic bureaucracy regulating almost every facet of our lives.  We also have a “top down” versus a “bottom up” political system with those at the apex totally unknown to and unaccountable to the general population.. Instead of the Gestapo and concentration camps the general public is controlled by the mass media.  Should those in control ever feel sufficiently threatened those things could be made to appear rather quickly.)  It would appear that the west is always ready to compromise and “try and work things out” but this time they are up against an enemy that sees this as a life or death struggle.  It may take centuries, but I believe the Islamic peoples will continue the struggle until a final decision is reached.
     The source of this conflict lies in the post war settlements of WWI.  Until that time there was little contact between the Islamic world and the west. It was with the discovery of oil and the western need for it that induced western nations to begin meddling in the Islamic world.  The deeper conflict came about not so much from the political interference as from the cultural contacts.  As Essad Bey points out in his classic volume “Ali and Nino” cultural contact with the west may well be the death of Islamic culture.  Western values are so antithetical to Islamic values that exposure to them may well undermine, subvert, and ultimately destroy Islamic culture.  The thing that they cannot do, is to “modernize” Islamic culture in such a way as to make it “tolerant” in the western sense and thus able to co-exist with other value systems.  (Seen in this context, Islamic hostility towards Israel is not so much racial, religious or economic but cultural. Israel is basically a country of western values and as such is seen to be undermining and contaminating the Islamic world.  If Israel had been created as an orthodox Jewish state, the level of conflict and hostility may well have been the same, but the disputants would  share enough values so that they would be able to communicate with each other at a much higher level of understanding.)
     It appears that this conflict will continue either until the oil runs out, or the west no longer needs what remains.  At that point there will be no need for western nations to interfere in Islamic politics and cultural contacts can be kept to a minimum.

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