Political and social developments over the past year or so have had a troubling effect on me. One impulse to which I finally yielded was to pick up and read again a book I bought in 2003 at the time that the United States was launching its invasion of Iraq. I had heard Chris Hedges talk about the horrors of war on Amy Goodman’s radio show Democracy Now! And felt an urge to delve into the matter further. I recall that at that time the incisive and unrelenting honest presentations of the facts of war and the trenchant analyses of the processes that lead war to be embraced as an inescapable instrument of salvation made for a frenzied but ever so harrowing read. And they beckoned me on to reread the text, as if we had to open our eyes, brain and mind once again to rediscover what we have all along known.
Well, the reread was equally eye opening and harrowing. With the advantage of an additional decade and a half of experience and psychological exploration, the themes raised by Chris Hedges ‘War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning’ (click here for a link) hit me as more relevant today as ever they have been. I am now hoping that I will be able to bring some fragments of those themes into my posts and that we will together be able to gain some insight into the destructive forces that lead to war, maybe enough to help keep ourselves humanly sane amidst threats of catastrophic climate change, apocalyptic fears of nuclear annihilation, and mortal terror of any other stranger.
Today, I would like to take on the title and meditate a moment on it. I was tempted to write to meditate on its meaning and the meaning of its meaning. For indeed, I consider that we are all humans in perpetual search for meaning, the meaning of our existence individually and collectively. And if we cannot find it on our own, then we need some greater being or force to give it to us. The paradox is that we want it above all else but also feel that we cannot afford on our own. Indeed, we need each other and the humility to accept the implied loss that we will never get there.
Now back to the title of the book: should it not rather read as “War is a destructive force that begets us meaning”. A destruction that promises an ideal, constructive outcome we yearn for, in addition to safeguarding our safety while we get there. War is waged to attain an ideal that it is incapable of making come true. This is why I find the nuclear saber rattling of our President over the person he has named in a comic book style the Rocketman positively terrifying for our collective sanity and survival. Likewise I find his denial of the human agency driving the forces of global warming and climate change is alarming to the highest degree. What can we do to rehumanize the world we live in, to foster positive bonds of mutual recognition capable of generating loving, creative and productive outcomes for us all?
How does war give us meaning? By enjoining us to buy into a cause, a utopian vision of what we might all become and by fanning up fear, hate and contempt of the others who fail or choose not to buy into the cause championed by war. Once we buy in, we become militants for the cause, and our militancy is seen as being noble, glorious and praiseworthy. We also view adherents to other causes than our own as enemies as obstacles to be eliminated in our march to glory, honor and contentment. Speech fanning fear, hatred and abject disregard for these others who are often abased into being less than human then becomes the fuel by which adherents are captured by the cause. The call overcome resistance to the cause in turn calls for sacrifices, including the loss of liberty and eventually life, as the necessary means to the desired end. Yet what the sacrifices entail is essentially the deconstruction and destruction of our (pre-war) culture. Our civilization is destroyed as a condition for destroying the enemy civilization but once ours is destroyed we become helpless against our leaders/strongmen, all too often sociopaths, who then become untrammeled despots and tyrants.
In sum, when we go down the path of war, when our leaders adopt principles analyzed by Naomi Klein in her book ‘The Shock Doctrine” (link) it is we ourselves who end up ravaged by the process. Our quest for meaning, which begins in glory and hope, begets us in the end only destruction, despair and damaged psyches for generations to come. And what we can say about war can be applied with equal validity to the proliferation of nuclear power and continued consumption of fossil fuels.
So, how can we stand up for human connectedness to all our fellow humans, the condition for love to exist and prosper? I will try to address that topic in future posts.