Monday, September 1, 2008

Words Are The Roots Of War

Violence Versus War

Humans, like other animals, are by nature violent in their thoughts and actions. We respond instinctively and forcefully to attacks on our bodies, and even to attacks on our imagined "selves" if we have not grown beyond this form of ego identification. Of course, there were always those among us who were the aggressors, trying to take what wasn't theirs, or to harm others for no reason beyond the temporary pleasure, power or profit gained from doing so.

But in the past this resulted only in fighting and killing on a relatively small scale. We were violent, but only on a more personal level. Aggressors and defenders were there, but could barely conceive of large scale killing, and couldn't carry it out. In fact, it's difficult to imagine pre-language humans killing by the hundreds, let alone the thousands or millions. In other words, it is difficult to imagine our non-verbal ancestors going to war, and in fact there is no evidence of this. Why is that?

Language And The Birth Of War

No other species has conflict on the same scale as humans. In other words, animals have no war. This isn't an argument for their superiority, though. They also have no life-improving technologies, and their old, weak and disabled are left to die painfully, and they cannot overcome their basic instincts, even when the resulting actions are plainly self-destructive. But they do not kill whole populations of "enemies."

Certainly war can't be blamed on technology. There were bloody wars when weaponry was limited to simple clubs and swords and knives. Modern technology makes the killing of thousands or millions more practical, but the intention was there as soon as we had one thing: the ability to form and communicate concepts that united us in beliefs about why so many must die. Language may be one of the primary roots of war.

It isn't just that the development of communication through language made large scale conflict possible. This is also true, but it's our particular human way of using language that leads to war. It's our worshiping of words that makes war almost inevitable. We are the hypnotized species, under the spell of our words and the control of those who are most skilled at manipulating them.

Let's start with a simple example. In the past, before language, a tribe would defend its "territory." This is common to many animals, and so it is no surprise that humans share this innate response. Of course this meant violence at times. But what if a tribe of apes or pre-language humans saw from a hilltop or otherwise learned of another tribe in a valley far away, in a place which was not part of their usual hunting and foraging grounds? Unless they were starving, this would elicit no response except perhaps curiosity or a retreat born of fear and uncertainty.

Of course, with the development of language, "our territory" could suddenly be any valley or island or desert anywhere in the world. Whatever the original argument for such a claim, once a piece of land was so labeled, the members of the tribe could be easily aroused to defend it, as though it was actually important to their survival. Seen from outside the group, the words clearly appear as a form of hypnosis that is used to elicit the defensive response.

Even more, phrases by themselves, like "our way of life," could eventually elicit the same protective and violent feelings as the real "territory" upon which our ancestors relied for actual physical survival. Thus, by the manipulation of hypnotic words, over-fed "citizens" (another word for tribal members), could be lead to support the killing of thousands in response to a threat to nothing more than their supply of non-essentials, as though their physical lives were being attacked. Even the words of others can be perceived as an attack that requires killing them.

Note that an animal responds violently if another attacks its actual body or tries to steal its meal or violate its territory. Humans, on the other hand, can also get violent if called a name or told they are lying or just have a belief contradicted. Say "Jack is an idiot," and Jack will feel as though his actual person has been attacked. He has been hypnotized to see his name and his thoughts as his "self,' and so an affront to this imagined identity elicits a violent response.

Obviously, this response is inappropriate to this modern context. Jack is not actually threatened physically, and is in even greater physical danger if he does act out violently (he will go to jail). Unfortunately, his evolutionary response is triggered by mere words, because he has been "programmed" to believe that they are important, both as weapons directed against him and - in the case of his own thoughts - as an essential part of who he actually is. He feels he must defend this language-created "self" as though it is his body.

The same is true on a larger scale. Once we label ourselves by nationality, and others as the "enemy" and then say they're a threat to us, we feel the need to . We will say that we are defending "our country," which is another way to say "tribe." If the question arises as to why it deserves defending - in other words if some of the people notice that they are not a "country" - other hypnotic words are used.

"Our freedom must be defended!" This is a common sentiment at times of war, almost as common as the limiting of freedoms in the name of that war. Obviously this is a hypnotic catch phrase designed to elicit fear and the participation of the tribal members in the ensuing killing of people. The history of enslavement (the draft) and other violations of individual rights in the name of defending "freedom" shows that the goal is often the perpetuation of the powers that be, or at best the freedom of the tribe to continue its ways, whether those are good or bad. It is rarely about survival or freedom in any meaningful sense.

Consider the following: What if the "freedom loving" people of the United States had the opportunity to raise the flag of China over their land in exchange for more freedom? It is almost inconceivable that they would accept that. In fact, history shows that they would hand over their freedoms one after another to the extent that their leaders tell them this is necessary to defeat the "enemy."

In reality it is all about the instinctive defending of the interests of the tribe and its territory. But now, with language, people can be lead to see this in almost any way. For example, once the right words are used, absolutely normal people can feel that the murder of innocent millions is necessary. And by the way, if you think people who do these things are so different from the people around you, your eyes are not open. In a metaphorical but nonetheless real sense, these "monsters" are your brothers, fathers, friends and mothers. The very thought that these killers are a "different" people is the same ugly tribal mentality that leads to the routine murdering of "others."

Why do we have "enemies?" Because for many, having an "interest" in killing another is not a good enough reason to do it. Why do we have "monsters?" Because it is easier for us to than if we saw them as the teachers, bus drivers, cleaning ladies, mail men, fathers and mothers they are. Why is there "collateral damage?" Because killing children is tough to do, even for "good" reasons.

Language is one of the roots of war because language can make us see things that are not there. No country is our enemy. Yes, there are those that would harm us, and many who are mislead to follow them. No entire population has ever set out to harm another, though. That is an artifice of words. The word "enemy" is meant to hypnotize, as are many words used by the leaders of the world. If we see the enemy, we see only the need to kill. If we see the humans who are largely like us, we look for other options.

Now, you may think this an argument against war. There are good arguments against it, but this isn't one of them. This is about honestly looking at the wonderful invention we call language, and how dangerous it can be as well. When we do not see and use words as the tools they are, we become tools used by them, or by those who manipulate them. And perhaps, just perhaps, if we were to lose a bit of our reverence for the words, and wake up, we might find that most, or maybe even all wars are unnecessary. There might be a better way, out beyond the usual verbal "logic" of why we must kill people.

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