Bahus War Diary - A personal view

The told-you-so syndrome

There are those among us who claim that the current behavior by the only remaining super-power was easily predictable, and that those who are now expressing their surprise by the US actions were living in denial. Those who didn't see this coming were keeping their eyes and their ears and their minds closed for all the signs that were there. There were, first of all, wise books, those who knew claim, that issued some veiled and some explicit warnings what was to come.

First, they say, there was Arthur Koestler, and Janus, a book in which he tried to warn us that unless we change the way we talk and relate to things, we are heading towards a disaster. In the Kosovo situation it applies to all sides. Since I made en effort to obtain this book, I will bore you with a few quotes.

"The continuous disasters in man's history are mainly due to his excessive capacity and urge to become identified with a tribe, nation, church or cause, and to espouse its credo uncritically and enthusiastically, even if its tenets are contrary to reason, devoid of self-interest and detrimental to the claims of self-preservation."

"Even a cursory glance at history should convince one that individual crimes committed for selfish motives play a quite insignificant part in the human tragedy, compared to the numbers massacred in unselfish loyalty to one's tribe, nation, dynasty, church, or political ideology, ad majorem gloriam dei."

"Homicide for unselfish reasons, at the risk of one's own life, is the dominant phenomenon in history."

"The man who goes to war actually leaves the home which he is supposed to defend. And what makes him do it is not the biological urge to defend his personal acreage of farmland or meadows, but his devotion to symbols derived from tribal lore, divine commandments and political slogans. Wars are not fought for territory, but for words. Man's deadliest weapon is language. He is susceptible to being hypnotized by slogans as he is to infectious diseases. And when there is an epidemic, the group-mind takes over. It obeys its own rules, which are different from the rules of conduct of individuals."

Koestler, who was educated in physics and psychology, calls human beings "holons", entities that can stand on their own, who have tendency to be self-assertive and urge to think only about their own interests and their own self-preservation, but are at the same time more or less integrated into society of other holons, at times putting those interests of the society above their own. "No man is an island. Looking inward, he experiences himself as a unique, self-contained, independent whole; looking outward as a dependent part of his natural and social environment."

"From the dawn of civilization, there has never been a shortage of inspired reformers. Hebrew prophets, Greek philosophers, Chinese sages, Indian Mystics, Christian saints, French humanists, English utilitarians, German moralists, American pragmatists, Hindu pacifists, have denounced wars and violence and appealed to man's better nature, without success.

"The basic fallacy consists in putting all the blame on man's selfishness, greed and alleged destructiveness; that is to say, on the self-assertive tendency of the individual. Nothing could be farther from the truth, as both the historical and psychological evidence indicate.

"No historian would deny that the part played by crimes committed for personal motives is very small compared to the vast populations slaughtered in unselfish loyalty to a jealous god, king, country, or political system. The number of people killed by robbers, highwayman, gangsters and other asocial elements is negligible compared to the masses cheerfully slain in the name of the true religion, the righteous cause. Throughout human history, the ravages caused by excesses of individual self-assertion are quantitatively negligible compared to the numbers slain out of a devotion to a flag, a leader, a religious faith or political conviction.

"In a well-balanced society both tendencies play a constructive part in maintaining the equilibrium. Thus a certain amount of self-assertiveness - 'rugged individualism,' ambition, competitiveness - is indispensable in a dynamic society; without it there could be no social or cultural progress. Only when the balance is disturbed for one reason or another, does the self-assertive tendency of the individual manifest its destructive potential and tend to assert itself to the detriment of the society. However, the vagaries of the integrative tendency which in our view are mainly responsible for man's predicament, are less obvious and more complex.

"We can distinguish three overlapping factors in these pathogenic manifestations of the integrative tendency: submission to the authority of a father-substitute; unqualified identification with a social group; uncritical acceptance of its belief-system. All three are reflected in the gory annals of our history.

"The factor which lends it cohesion is a credo, a shared system of beliefs, and the resulting code of behavior. Critical arguments have little impact on the group-mind, because identification with a group always involves a certain sacrifice of the critical
faculties of the individuals which constitute it. By identifying himself with the group, the individual adopts a code of behavior different from his personal code. He feels impelled the perform altruistic, even heroic actions to the point of self-sacrifice, and at the same time to behave with ruthless cruelty towards the enemy - real or imagined - of the group. But his brutality is impersonal and unselfish; it is exercised in the interest, or supposed interest of the whole; he is prepared not only to kill, but also to die in its name. The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to the authority. Morality does not disappear, but acquire a radically different focus:the subordinate person feels shame and pride depending on how adequately he has performed the actions called for by authority. Language provides numerous terms to pinpoint this type of morality, loyalty, duty, discipline... It is not his ‘innate aggressiveness' which transforms harmless citizens into torturers, but their self-transcending devotion to a cause. Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and
without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the internal resources to resist authority... This is a fatal flaw nature has designed into us, and which in the long run gives our species only a modest chance of survival.

"Patriotism is the noble virtue of subordinating individual interests to the interests of the nation; yet it gives rise to chauvinism, the militant expression of those higher interests. The group must be single minded if it is to maintain its cohesion. Consequently, the group-mind must function on an intellectual level accessible to all its members: single-mindedness must be simple-minded. The overall result of this is the enhancement of the emotional dynamics of the group and simultaneous reduction of its intellectual faculties, a sad caricature of the ideal of hierarchic awareness.

And now a warning: "It is not easy to love humanity and yet to admit that the paranoid streak, in different guises, is as much in evidence in contemporary history as it was in the distant past, but more potentially deadly in its consequences; and that it is not
accidental but inherent in the human condition.

Another warning: "Ethologists tell us that every animal species is equipped with instinctual controls, which inhibit excessive breeding and keep the population density in a given territory fairly constant, even when food is plentiful. When the density reaches a critical limit, crowding produces stress which affects the hormonal balance and interferes with lifespan and reproductive behavior. But in this respect too, man is a biological freak, who, somewhere along the way, lost this instinctual control-mechanism. What prevented the population from exploding much earlier in history was not the kind of automatic feedback control, which we observe in animals, but the death-harvest of wars, epidemics, pestilence, and infant mortality.

As could be expected from someone who was brought up in a middle-class security of an organized empire (Austro-Hungary), Koestler is all for modernism and enlightenment. Later we will deal with some critics of this approach. For now let us be satisfied with the notion that Koestler is right in suggesting that it is high time to recognize the deadly impact mass emotions and mass psychosis have had on our civilization.

"What I proposed was not the castration of emotion, but reconciling emotion and reason which through most of man's schizophrenic history have been at loggerheads. Not an amputation, but a process of harmonization which assigns each level of the mind, from visceral impulses to abstract thought, its appropriate place in the hierarchy. This implies reinforcing the new brain's power of veto against that type of emotive behavior - and that type only - which cannot be reconciled with reason, such as the 'blind' passions of the group-mind. If these could be eradicated, our species would be safe.

It is his idea that the unprecedented growth of neocortex, or the so-called New Brain, which endowed man with his reasoning power, and the Old Brain, governed by instinct and emotion, are at war. Sometimes one prevails, sometimes the other.

And here we are, my dear friends, at a moment in history when it looks as if the old brain is going to win once again. I mean, just look at them and tell me if they are trying to appeal to reason or to emotion. When we ask them to respect the treaties, laws, and accepted norms of conduct, they respond with their "moral duty", "moral imperative," their "need to act," and the images they are bombarding us with are calculated to appeal to emotion rather than reason.

So there are good news and bad news. The new brain and reason are going to prevail in the end. That's the good news. The bad news is that many of us won't be around to celebrate that victory.

Copyright 1999 Bahus Enterprises