When I stood in the darkness of a railway waggon that had carried Jews to the concentration camps to be industrially murdered, I found the horror of being a human being too much to bare. I turned and ran. From then on, like many who have experienced war, I tried not to think about it and certainly never talked about it. But the experience remained.
Then came covid and the lock downs. For the first time in my life, I was stuck indoors and unable to explore the world as I pleased and I was bored. With all the fear, panic and talk of death in the air, I thought I might write something of what I had learnt during my life, so that others might read something useful, and perhaps my life wouldn’t have been a completely self indulgent (but enjoyable) waste of time.
Know Your Self
The first essay was “A history of the world of the World in a Single Object” in which that waggon resurfaced. Whilst shaking and crying with emotion. I let my mind and imagination run free and forced out what was within. (Freud would have been proud). What was it like to be an ordinary person on that train, why didn’t they resist, why did they let themselves be herded meekly like sheep onto those damn waggons? Then I imagined the guards. What motivated them to partake in such behaviour. Surely they knew what was going on - but what would I have done in their shoes?
The deep dark horrible truth is that I would have done exactly the same as them, and herded the Jews onto the waggon. It’s a horrible truth, and it still upsets me to write it now. I would have taken the easy option, not stood up to power, not challenged orders and not what was right. Herding Jews was much better for me than fighting on the Russian front, much better than being shot for disobeying orders, much better than having my family threatened by thugs. So I would have chosen the selfish easy path for myself, not the correct path that would have benefited the many.
I’m deeply ashamed of who I’m. But is this just my personal problem?
Well from what I’ve read of history, ever since people could write it’s been wars, misery, destruction, slavery, rape and murder. Tribe fighting tribe, nation fighting nation, empires against empire. religious wars, civil wars, right up to present. Historians continue to chew over the violence and tragedy without any emotional empathy for the people of the time and without any imagination of what it was like. We too, sit watching the news while seeing tanks blown up, homes destroyed, lives wrecked and then we switch off and watch cat videos and worry about our fuel bills. We choose not to think. We choose not to look into the waggon.
Is this how its going to be forever? Will it be wars forever more, as long as humans exist? The current evidence is Yes. It would appear it is human nature to do what is easiest for the self and not what is morally right. If we carry on as we are, ie choose the easy path, not the morally right path that would benefit all, the future looks bleak or maybe non existant for humans. (Perhaps that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. The planet will settle back into equilibrium and the next civilianization to develop won’t have fossil fuels available because we will have used them all up!)
(See also the experiments of Milgram 1963 which explored humans ingrained trait of following orders, although my interpretation (unscientifically tested) is that humans choose, regardless of others, the path of least discomfort or maximum gain for themselves, especially when not genetically, culturally or geographically related to those others),
Seek first to Understand
If you have read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, you will have recognised the resonances with his Congo and my waggon. Conrad saw the world as a giant absurd machine that keeps spewing out utter madness, desolation and despair and all we can do is stand and stare, powerless to turn it off or stop it. Well I agree that the world is absurd, but I don’t agree that we are powerless to change it. If we understand human nature, and why wars are fought we can use this knowledge coupled with the power of the internet, to disseminate ideas and bring about immense change and a much better future world. The Enlightenment happened after the printing press was invented, so lets get the second enlightenment underway using the world wide web.
So what is a human? Like all life forms, humans are programmed to firstly survive, secondly reproduce successfully, and additionally, as we get older, to help bring up successful grand kids and community youngsters. Then we die because the genetic mutations that affect old age cannot be weeded out by natural selection. And that’s it. Live, have kids, hang about to help, die. So why fight wars?
[Religion says this life is preparation for the next, but to me this idea is absurd. Once your body and brain stop functioning, that’s it, your time is up. So promoting atheism, gets rid of religious wars for starters. See my essay “Neurodegenerative diseases disprove the existence of a Soul and afterlife” on my blog or Richard Dawkins excellent book “The God Delusion“. ]
For most surviving is easily achievable. Because we live in social groups, we have the support of parents and others that give mutual aid, food, education, healthcare and good governance that maintains law and order in a world of plenty. Humans have been known to fight just to survive, when resources such as food and water are in scarce supply and this will become a bigger problem in the future as global warming brings about rapid environmental change, However adaptation, migration and sharing of resources will reduce the risk of these types of wars, and people are in less of a position to fight when low on the basics of life. No, the serious problems start when you have to find a mate to successfully reproduce. And this means competing with other human beings, whether you are male or female.
Males want to reproduce with the most beautiful, healthy, intelligent caring wealthy mother they can find so that their offspring are also attractive and their genes will be successfully reproduced down the eons. Also because the woman carries the child, it pays for males to fertilise as many women as possible to increase the chances of genes continuing into future generation. With men it’s quantity first, quality second.. Females want similar but because of the long time and resources it takes for mothers to bring up children, they want a long term, stable, well provisioned home with a caring father who will stick around to help in the years to come. (I can hear feminists howling, but I’m taking a biological view point to get at fundamental human motivations, not a cultural one). Also once females have got a good man and home for the kids, they can later have flings with sexy men (who are going for quantity) and this explains affairs after the first batch of kids is successfully being reared. (And why they continue to make themselves attractive after settling down with a Steady Eddie sort of chap!).
So we have males competing with males for as many of the best females as they can bed, and females competing with females for the best fathers, with a bit on the side to spice things up later.
What’s this got to do with war?.
Well I say that males competing with males leads to war, as they fight to get the most wealth power and status, which means they are in the best position to provide stable, well provisioned homes for the kids. What was Elizabeth Bennetts reaction when she went around Pemberly? Have you seen a young womans face light up when she walks around a rich mans house? Is she thinking “I can fill this place up with kids?” Well I’m not a woman so what do I know and I accept this is a gross over simplification of humans who are very complex confusing creatures. However, if you are a man who doesn’t have wealth power and status, rather than work hard to get it, why not inspire others to come and fight and take it from those who do. “Lets all go on a Viking raid, it will be fun and exciting” As a young man I would have gone. The stakes are high, you might get killed, but the potential rewards are huge - a palace and harem, servants, and all the pleasures of life. (Religious leaders con men to fight wars saying they will get this reward in the next life, whilst they continue to enjoy the pleasures of this one. It‘s unbelievable people still fall for it!).
Of course, if you are a man who already has wealth power and status, but are afraid of losing it, war is a means of holding on to power. Doesn’t this explain the current Ukraine / Russia war with Putin (whose current girl friend is a beautiful gold medal winning gymnast with excellent genes!) losing popularity and power and so launches an attack, that if successful will be popular, as his 2014 annexation of Crimea was. (Poor Ukraine - it should have kept it’s nukes).
Wealth, status and power are men’s peacocks tails, that attract the opposite sex and war is a quick way to obtain it. And women permit wars because they want a share of the booty. Would men go to war if all women shunned them and denied them sex, I don’t think so. (But they might go to war to rape instead - horrid thought)
How to stop wars - 1) Religious wars
To stop religious wars, actively promote atheism Religious people with deep beliefs will be offended but I am offended that they expect people to believe made up stories without evidence and usually forbid the teaching of other alternatives to children. It will be forever impossible to know what happens after death, because you can’t communicate with a dead person, but that is not an excuse to make up a load of stories to fill in for what is unknowable. There would be a danger of starting a new war of religion between believers and atheists, so education of the alternatives to religion is the answer and have faith that people will decide what makes more sense. There is also a danger of losing all of the wisdom and good things that the Worlds religions do but I don’t see that you have to believe in God or an afterlife to be wise and do good in the world. Educate people of humans natural selfish behaviour, but show them how much better the world would be if every one helped each other to be happy.
Once people accept there is no afterlife (which is a comforting but imagined idea) or a God to take care of things, they will value their lives much more and also the lives of others. Our Lives are a precious rare fragile thing of immense value and not something to be risked in a destructive war. We are all stuck on this planet together and we have to make it work. No greater power or being is helping or coming to help..
How to Stop wars - 2) Wars due to scarcity of resources.
As discussed above, humans must share resources, but not be greedy in their requests. Controlled migration must be accepted by every nation but we must accept that completely un controlled migration could cause more problems than it solves. We cannot ignore geographical and cultural differences. (These are my Preliminary thoughts on migration - ignorance factor high!)
How to stop wars - 3) Wars to grab power.ie invasions and civil wars
A) Democratic countries are less likely to go to war, as leaders have less power of order people around, so promotion of democracy must be continued. The uncensored internet will be a major player in getting rid of authoritarian regimes such as the Chinese Communist Party, which is a hang over from the last century, I call for the cutting of all trade with China because the CCP only stays in power because China is getting richer and the lives of the Chinese are improving. As soon as standards of living start to fall the Chinese will be looking for an alternative to the outdated ideas of the CCP. A peaceful change over is unlikely but not impossible, given the wise Chinese leadership that they possess in abundance if only it was given a chance. (An explanation for my pro democracy bias see “Why the West is Best and the evidence to Prove it” on trevorprew.blog.com
b) Promote Governments to take a longer term view. There is too much crisis management and not enough focus on important but not urgent matters. Governments should sign up to UNESCOs declaration of Responsibilities of current generations towards future generations. (Read the excellent 7 habits of highly effective people by Steven Covey If you haven’t already)
c) The idea that soldiers have no obligation to obey orders that are not for the defence of their country or are not morally right must be promoted. This will make doing the right thing easier and reduce the power of war mongering leaders to order people about. The UN should add something to the declaration of human rights, and see how authoritarian states howl in protest. However it will remain a personal responsibility to stand up to authority, and social networks must be used for brave people to stand together. This is why authoritarian states control/shut down the internet at the first sign of trouble.
d) Women must make it absolutely clear that they will have nothing to do with men who go to war or, promote war or violence in any way. It must be shameful to obtain wealth, power and status by violent means and clearly expressed that it is any way sexy.. (meme suggestion - Snag a poet not a war lord!). This principal could also be used to reduce knife and gun culture. Real men don’t need weapon to solve their problems, weapons are not sexy.
e) In cases of civil war, which are of more complex problems , use of violence must be condemned and arms sales halted. De-escalation and a return to political democratic processes should be encouraged by sending in overwhelming peace keeping forces or supporting the pro democratic side. What would have happened if the West went in to Syria? The second Iraq war and Afghan war were a mistakes by the west but so was not getting involved in the Arab spring, which degenerated into war that continues to this day. It may be that you just have to let all sides fight it out until they realize the futility of war but make it clear full support will be available to a democracy after the fighting is over. .
e) If an invasion happens, all countries of the world, all the peoples of the world must come to the aid of the attacked, and, without escalating the violence, stand with and fully support that country with hard hitting sanctions and military aid. Those inside the attacking country must do what ever is in their power to show that they do not agree with the violence. Protest on line and in the streets, hold vigils at dead pacifists graves, make it clear that the vast majority love peace. Acting together the violent oppressor can be faced down. Deign warmonger the power and status they crave and they will back down no matter how high and mighty they think they are. A flood of disapproval will wash them away.
See my essay “Putin Craves social acceptability” on trevorprew.blogspot.com
Wars happen because men want to be sexy and attractive to women, and women find wealthy, powerful, high status men sexy. . War provides an easy way to get the wealth, power status and sex.
To stop wars, recognise that humans are social animals that make selfish decisions even if they are morally wrong. They obey orders from their social group so they stay included in the group and thus maintain or increase their status, Humans, and males in particular, crave social approval and without it they are nothing and unlikely to get much sex. So deign violent warmongers the approval and status they crave and we will have a peaceful world.
It’s basic chimp psychology!
Act today. Make the world a better place.