I’m not quite yet done with the idea behind this post, namely, that certain insidious ideas permit problems that more wizened thinking might avoid. If I were less judicious, I might say that lousy ideas generate many of our problems, but cause-and-effect and correlation links are too subtle to draw unambiguous conclusions. Along those lines, I’ve been puzzling the last few weeks over the Middle East, including (of course) Israel and North Africa. Everyone seems to have a pet theory how to put an end to endless violence and mayhem in the region. Most theories call for (further) bombing, strategic or otherwise, of one faction or another. Clearly, that’s not really a solution, since wreaking even more havoc and violence solves nothing, and it’s equally obvious that no pat solution exists. The situation has become a multigenerational, multinational conflict that perpetuates itself, the original provocation(s) having been long forgotten or subsumed into more recent events. Such events include no small amount of meddling and destabilization by the United States and its allies, plus economic difficulties that have people in the streets agitating for a reasonable share of what’s available, which is diminishing rapidly as overpopulation and industrial collapse ramp up in the region.

Reasons why conflict arises are many, but let’s not lose sight of our response. Statesmen of an earlier era might have been predisposed toward diplomatic and economic responses. Indeed, foreign aid and restructuring plans such as those that followed WWII might be examples of a better way to deploy our resources now to achieve desirable results for everyone (here and there). So why do today’s government policy- and decision-makers with their fingers on the buttons — those holding the presumed monopoly on the use of force — now so frequently resort to bombing and decades-long armed response, entailing boots on the ground, air strikes from carriers positioned in the region, and now drone warfare? Destroying people, infrastructure, industrial capacity, and with them means of living peaceably does not make us safer at home, unless there is something they know that I don’t. Rather, considering the apparently unlimited availability of arms to various factions (in high contrast with, um, er, well, food and jobs), it seems obvious that we’re seeding revolution while radicalizing populations that might prefer to be left alone to work out their own problems, which frankly would probably involve armed conflict. So in effect, we’re painting the bullseye on our own backs (and have been for a long time as the self-appointed World Police with strategic interests extending quite literally across the globe), uniting disparate factions against a common enemy — us.

So let me ask again: what makes this possible? In an era of psychotic knowledge and managed perception (and to a far lesser extent, managed consent), many leaders have developed bunker mentality, where everyone is a threat (even from within) and they (whoever they are, it hardly matters) all always poised to come for us and take away our vaunted freedoms (rhetoric alert). Never mind that the reverse is actually more true. I’ve argued before that bunker mentality goes hand-in-hand with Cold War paranoia drummed into the heads of folks who were children in the 1950s and 60s. Too many duck-and-cover air raid drills during primary school left indelible marks on their souls. Younger G-men and -women are undoubtedly infected by the meme now, too, by frequent security briefings that make the world look far more dangerous (to us) than it actually is, not unlike so many police shows on TV that overstate by a large margin the frequency of, say, street shootouts. (Fatalities from automobile accidents and obesity far outstrip losses from terrorism and other existential threats. Go look it up.) Fruit of that propaganda is our current fight-or-flight response: always, always fight; never, ever take flight. The mouth-breathing public is on board with this, too, always ready to throw down with reckless, half-wit commentary such as “bomb them back to the Stone Age!” Yet a few noisy pundits are beginning to suggest that the U.S. transition back to a more isolationist policy, perhaps sitting out a conflict or two rather than engaging reflexively, thoughtlessly, and pointlessly. Isolationism was our stance prior to WWII, having learned in the American Civil War and WWI that warfare absolutely sucks and should be avoided instead of relished. Living memory of those conflagrations is now gone, and we’re left instead with bullshit jingoism about the Greatest Generation having won WWII, quietly skipping over wars we lost gave up on in Korea and Vietnam.

For a long time, people have tried to draw connections between TV and videogame violence and actual crime. The same is true of pornography and rape. No direct links have been demonstrated convincingly using the tools of psychometrics, much to the chagrin of crusaders and moralists everywhere. Yet the commonsense connection has never really been dispelled: if the culture is positively saturated with images of violence and sexuality (as it is), whether actual, fabricated, or fictional (for the purpose of dramatic license and entertainment), then why wouldn’t vulnerable thinkers’ attitudes be shaped by irrational fear and lust? That’s nearly everyone, considering how few can truly think for themselves, resisting the dominant paradigm. Imagery and rhetoric deployed against us throughout the mainstream media is undoubtedly hyperviolent and hypersexual, but we’re smarter as a people than to succumb to such lures and lies? Sorry, even without peer-reviewed studies to show direct causation, that just doesn’t pass the straight-face test.

  1. Tharcion says:

    Hang on … just need to stop laughing … okay.

    Yeah, that was hilarious. I really enjoyed it. Thanks for the laugh.

    I think some of the best bits were the “statesmen of an earlier age” bits, but those are always funny to read. You do realise that most of the problems in the Middle and Near East go back to the Middle Ages and beyond, right? And in all those ages past the primary mechanism for dealing with one thing or another has been violent, not diplomatic. When diplomacy or the like have been tried, the result has usually been catastrophic. Diplomacy has resulted in much of the situation around Israel, not warfare.

    The rush to arms these days is a problem, but it’s not new, and its’s not indicative of a change in society. It’s all SNAFU, dear chap. Learn to live with the normality of it and take off your rose-tinted spectacles before viewing history. Or, better yet, read a book.

    • Brutus says:

      Thanks for your comment. So you find hilarious the suggestion that diplomatic and/or economic responses might obtain better results than bloody conflict? I didn’t say that was or is our reality; clearly, it’s not and never was. In that respect, I recognize and fully agree that human history is an endless parade of violent mayhem, punctuated though it may be. Not sure why you recommend anyone should simply chalk it up as normal without at least identifying a couple alternatives our better natures would prefer.

      • Tharcion says:

        In your about page you “recognise the fallacy of relying upon a golden age that wasn’t” and yet you seen to spend every post doing exactly that. That’s what I find funny my anonymous friend. I’m very much on favour of diplomacy, but for it to work both sides have to be interested in it, both sides have to have the same amount to lose and gain, both sides have to be playing by the rules. I’d love to live in a world where that is reality, but I recognise that that is not the case. Of you wish to stick your head on a bucket and ignore reality, be my guest. Bye now.

      • Brutus says:

        Tharcion, if you want to purposely misread and misrepresent what I wrote, go ahead. However, I won’t respond point-by-point to bad faith argumentation.

        There is some follow-up I will offer, just the same. In the marketplace of ideas, cinema reflects our obsessions and preoccupations, sometimes distilling things well enough to make current events and history more recognizable. The movie Ender’s Game seems to me on point for this blog post. The scarred older generation admits their inadequacy at strategizing and fighting what is presented plainly as a war of alien conquest, occupation, and potential annihilation. In contrast, those in their teens are prized for their flexibility of thought, though their task is narrowly defined: kill or be killed. [Spoiler alert.] At the conclusion of war games and training, the main character succeeds in destroying the enemy utterly, only to learn that what he believed to be a simulation was actual. He is immediately horrified by what he has done and angry at his superiors because, had he known it was not a simulation, he would likely have acted differently, which is to say, sought a solution that was other than kill or be killed. Though his flexibility of thought that was prized, the hardened veterans didn’t trust him.

        In the real world, no longer speaking of cinematic storytelling, the situation is not much different. Some people want a path other than continuous destruction (one lesson gleaned from history), whereas others, such as Tharcion, are content to accept the reality we have and derides (as naïve?) ideas that might suggest something else, perhaps better. Fatalism makes sense to me in a pedestrian sort of way, but I’m not so inclined to yield (or merely adapt) without principled, moral resistance to calcified thinking that makes war the obvious, handiest, and thus inevitable tool in the toolbox.

  2. Clem says:

    There does seem to be pretty good money in making armaments. This alone might partially support an argument that nothing is likely to change. But Tharcion might wonder for a moment whether it be possible for some human directed future to move beyond the typical past response of violence.

    From an evolutionary standpoint one might want to argue that violence in human hands has progressed to a point where, after ourselves, only microscopic critters really threaten us. And even the list of viruses and microbes we fear is shrinking. My point here is meant to take two threads – first, we are our own worst enemy… a reality not shared by any other living things we share the planet with (or do I need to read a book?)… and second, human on human violence has a mixed fitness effect. In the distant past hand to hand combat would select for better fighting skill, physical fitness, size, strength. But now technology controls the battlefield. In large measure the ability to control a significant confrontation depends upon marshaling massive resources for R&D and enormous military buildup. Shock and awe. Allowing for SNAFU. But these are not the resources of individuals or even small bands of people. These are the resources of large populations acting in concert. Political will is needed to marshal this level of force.

    But if there could be a way to break free the cycle… so it might no longer be Situation Normal – could we not then imagine and eventually move to a better future? There are signs this might be possible. And I think there’s even a book.

    • Philip says:

      “even the list of viruses and microbes we fear is shrinking”

      I’m not sure why you believe this to be true. Even in this area humans, and their need for immediate gratification and belief that they are supreme above all has lead us to paint ourselves into a corner.

      I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, but it appears you’re not familiar with the situation regarding super-bugs and antibiotic resistance. There are plenty of articles, videos and documentaries on this topic so I’ll leave it up to you to do a search on it and familiarize yourself with why what you wrote is not true.

      • Clem says:

        Here’s a thought Philip – why don’t you make a list of all the viruses and microbes that we have come to fear because of ‘superbugs’ and antibiotic resistance. And at the same time I’ll dig up a list of viruses and microbes that we no longer fear since say 1400. So I get to list polio, small pox, measles, mumps, rubella, etc. etc. If you’re too dense to see the direction of the thought, then please do illustrate this “corner” we’ve painted ourselves into.

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