by Richard Z. Duffee
My own way of thinking about this question is to study an historical sequence that resulted in one of the sources of our militaristic culture. I look for the causes of an historical change that increased militarism. Then I think about what maintains that current of militarism in the present. Then I ask what could relieve that pressure for violence. Then I ask what positive things could happen if that pressure were relieved.
I’ll go about this from different angles:
- Three Origins of Systemic Violence
- Imagining Actual Peace
- Inequality and Social Disorders
- Background for Asking such Questions
- Assumptions and Suggestions
- Extensions of this Project
Three Origins of Systemic Violence
I’ll start with three capsule summaries of origins of systemic violence:
Capsule Summary One
If we can establish genuine peace, national elites will not go on coercing citizens to believe in state religions to make them willing to wage war against each other. In the US, nearly all “Christian” sects are formed around the declarations of obedience and self-contradiction memorialized by the Nicene Creed and Paul’s declaration that the rulers of this world are chosen by God. The Protestant Reformation itself did not change Roman Catholicism’s two essential bonds to the state. The emperors who engineered the construction of Rome’s state religion required that Christianity destroy its pacifist origin because the Roman Legions had already converted to Mithraism, formerly the state religion of Persia, which argued that God loved the state and made war with all non-believers, who were ruled by Ahriman, the Devil. In 193 A.D., the Legions began killing any emperor who disobeyed them; over the next 114 years, life expectancy for an emperor was less than 3 years . The Fourth Century emperors knew the only way the could survive was to gradually persuade the Legions and Christians that Mithras was really Jesus. It took the emperors from 312 to 381 to do this. The cost to Christianity was persuading Christians that Jesus was not serious about the Sermon on the Mount’s unequivocal pacifism.
If we citizens can persuade governments to accept diplomacy without the backing of threatened violence, we can be free to reconstruct, if we wish, the non-violent Christianity before the 4th Century. In any case, we need not have violence imposed upon us and can be released from supposed obligations to inflict violence on others.
Capsule Summary Two
If we establish peaceful institutions, we can relieve the state of its hypocrisy in claiming to create and enforce peace by violent means. The state’s hypocrisy is obvious—and certainly it was to Thomas Hobbes, who created the theory of its necessity. The law claims to compel disobedient citizens to become peaceful by threatening them with violence. The genuineness of the threat is acted out frequently to prove the state’s violence is as actual as it is unjust (because its primary purpose is to prevent actions by other people who may intend violence.) Meanwhile the state demonstrates it is willing to violate the laws of other nations and slaughter citizens of other nations. The state claims its aggressions are actually defensive. This is word magic. It is no wonder that the only variety of apparent peacefulness citizens can learn from the state is the willingness to inflict violence in forms the state hypocritically approves combined with willingness to relinquish claims to rights that might lead others to violence. Establishing genuine peace can relieve us of this self-contradictory nonsense.
The state’s hypocrisy is its weakness. If we establish international peace by assisting in creating and refining international institutions that will obviate the appearance of a need to use violence to create peace both inside and outside each state, we can approach the goal the state falsely claims to serve. This can relieve us of the continuous pressure from the state to identify blind obedience to superior force with actual observance of peace and the rights of others. We can relieve ourselves of the authoritarianism that destroys the heart, the mind, and the imagination. We can retrieve the trust a society needs to promote life.
Hamlet is Shakespeare’s greatest analysis of conflict between church and state. Hamlet is called back to Denmark from the University of Wittenberg, where he’d been quite happy studying Aristotle and Aquinas. But in Denmark he discovers that, because the current king murdered his father, his obligation both to his family as a son and to the state as a prince is to kill his stepfather and those who believe his stepfather has the right to rule. He can find no way to reconcile his obligations as son and prince with his obligations according to the church, so the inevitable result is for him to accept death as the price of doing his duty as a son and prince. The moral is that, under the terms the Roman emperors forced on the church in the Fourth Century, there is in fact no honest compromise possible between church and state. This is still the predicament we all suffer, and we can only be relieved of it by substituting diplomacy for war instead of pretending to make peace while preparing for and perpetuating war.
Capsule Summary Three
If we can establish trust, we can create technology that serves actual needs instead of just enriching a few billionaires and requiring everyone else to follow their orders.
The original political purpose of Sophocles’ Oedipus was to demonstrate to the Athenians that plutocracy—rule by the wealthy—was a self-destructive form of government. Athenians knew that the constitution of Thebes required the richest man in the kingdom to be king. Sophocles portrayed the royal family destroying itself. I’ll assume you know the story, so I won’t repeat it. Instead I’ll just note that the Theban Constitution defies what Enlightenment and Utilitarian thinkers agreed was a basic law of nature, the Law of Diminishing Returns. The law states that the more anyone has of anything, the less benefit he or she gets per unit, while the less anyone has, the more benefit is gained per unit. One of many consequences of this law is that rule by the richest is stupidest form of government possible because it guarantees maximal waste. We now have such a government, so we rush toward the destruction of the world.
Imagining Actual Peace
Certainly the US has had no peace for the last 78 years—since December 7, 1941. Few of us can remember what peace once was. But we know something about how wars have affected us and other people we know and we know things we do and that happen to us because of wars. We can remind ourselves of these things and then ask ourselves what could have happened if, instead of these insane wars, we had built working international institutions that could establish effective negotiations among nations on equitable grounds.
After we do this for a while, we can begin to imagine what our lives could be like if we could rely on peace as a daily fact of life. Imagine:
- What would it be like to have friends around the world? What if you could go to any country and expect a warm and honest reception? What if people from all other countries could do that? What if we could enter into families in other countries, learn the languages, the customs, that literature, the history, the life stories, the jokes, the romances of other people?
- What if every high school spent a year in a rich country and a year in a poor one? What if we each learned to live in other countries? If it were considered a normal and necessary part of life? What if everyone you knew did this and, when each person returned, neighbors wanted to know what he or she saw and learned, and how his or her perceptions of THIS country changed because of the experience? What if people were open about such experience because there was no hostility here towards outsiders? What if everyone brought back similar stories from other countries?
- Say you went to Japan and lived with a Japanese family and you were struck by how parents talked to their children and dealt with them? You sit next to a father after dinner and he watches a “Rocket Boy” cartoon with his four-year-old son. His son climbs all over him and sits on his head. He doesn’t mind. He shares food with the little boy. He asks what his son thinks is going to happen in the next segment of the cartoon. Do you enjoy this family? How is it similar to the family you grew up in? How is it different?
- Say you go to New Guinea and live with a family that lives in the mountains and lives mainly on yams? When you come home, do you want to spend money the way you used to? Did you learn to make your own toys? Can you make toys for younger children on your block? What do you want your own workplace to be like? Do you want a say in it the way you saw New Guineans had a say in how things were made in their village?
- You can make a journal of events like these. You can write what such imaginary events made you feel and think.
- Imagine towns and cities without recruiting stations. Imagine no one needs to go into the military for the money. Everyone can get the education they want and have work they want to do because it represents themselves, their own ideas and imaginations, their own desires and needs instead of someone else’s they have to fit into. Imagine that everyone feels that other people want them to be themselves, that other people value what they are and want to be.
- Imagine that the doctor you see actually wants to know YOU.
C) Inequality and Social Disorders
Two British epidemiologists, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picket, compared rates of social disorders in the 21 richest countries and the fifty US states with levels of inequality of income (The Spirit Level). They found that the US had both the highest rates of inequality and the highest combined rate of social problems on the following parameters:
- Trust: Countries with higher levels of mistrust than USA: p. 52, in order: Portugal, Singapore, France, Greece, Israel, UK, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Ireland, Germany, Spain (“Most people can be trusted from lowest percentage (15%) to US (37%) where highest level is in Sweden and Denmark (both about 68%), then Norway (67%), Netherlands (62%), Finland (59%).
- Mental Illness: US is the highest at about 27%: p. 67: Surveys showing percentage of people who have been mentally ill within the previous 12 months.
- Illegal Drug Use: Australia is highest, USA, UK, and New Zealand equal, all others lower: p. 71
- Health Expenditure per Person: USA by far the highest, about $5,700 when next highest is Norway at about $3,700; p. 80.
- Life Expectancy: Only Portugal, Denmark, and Ireland have lower life expectancy than the US. We have about 77 years. P. 82
- Infant Mortality: Ours by far the highest at 7 per 1000 live births. Portugal and New Zealand next at 6/1000; Singapore lowest (below 3), Japan and Swe3den just above 3. P. 82
- Highest level of adult obesity: p. 92, about 31% of USA, 29% for Greece., 22% for UK, all other developed countries below 20%.
- Overweight Children: US highest, over 25% Canada next, just below 20%. P. 93. Netherlands lowest (7.5%)
- Math and Literacy Scores: countries below the US: Israel, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain in that order; all others score higher than the US, Finland the highest. P. 106.
- Percent of 15-year-olds aspiring to low- skilled work: US how lowest percentage (13%) P. 116.
- Teenage Birth Rates: US highest, (about 52%) by far: UK and New Zealand next at 30%. P. 122.
- Homicides: US highest by far (about 63 per million); Portugal next (35), Finland (30). P. 135.
- Conflict between Children: UK highest, then France, then US & Israel. P. 139
- Imprisonment: US by far the highest. Then Singapore, then Israel. (logarithmic scale). P. 148
- Health and Social Problems: US by far the highest. P. 174
In The Spirit Level, Wilkinson and Picket traced the organic causes of these social disorders to the biological stresses created by living within a steep socio-economic hierarchy. They found that while financial inequality injured people in proportion to their poverty, inequality also damaged entire societies so severely that, even if the rich wanted to live longer and suffer less disease, they were better advised to go to a more equal country than to acquire more wealth.
If you go through the 15 sets of correlations above, and think of facts you know about each social disorder, I believe you will find that more than half of these ways that the US has worse social disorders than other relatively wealthy countries are connected to problems stemming from our national aggressiveness—our national desire to dominate and exploit other countries, to manipulate their politics and economic systems, our country’s tendency to treat people according to how their ethnic backgrounds seem to our government to be connected to the relationships the current governments of their countries of origin have to our current government, and so on.
I hope the above makes you want to read The Spirit Level. The quickest way to begin is through this site:
https://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/resources/the-spirit-level anda collection of Powerpoint slides regarding The Spirit Level can be downloaded here.
Background for Asking such Questions
For nearly 80 years our country has been squandering on violence our resources, our energy, our hope and spirit, and our relationships with all the people of the world. If we stopped wasting our national life this way, what could become possible?
Even for most who remember a little peace, those memories are deeply damaged by the Depression, before that, World War I, and before that, imperial ventures beyond North America beginning in 1898. In 1989-90 our government announced a “peace dividend,” but by the time the military budget was cut by a third, a whole new array of military projects had already sprung up from “the Gulf War.” By 2001 we all knew the government claimed our fate was supposed to be perpetual war.
The fact that in the 1930s we had only 10,000 soldiers fails to inspire us because within the living memory of nearly all of us, the media, the government, and the educational system have all failed to recognize any political possibility of peace. But far from peace being impossible, the Establishment has simply taken it as a given that we are the world’s policemen: a role that has been advocated openly in elite circles by the CEO of John Deere Tractors, but otherwise has rarely been mentioned. We’re just supposed to believe there’s some mysterious agreement about this but we’re not supposed to be able to cite any details because we’ve never been told any. This only seems curious if one believes we’re supposed to be a democracy and are therefore supposed to have public debates about public issues. But since Pearl Harbor public debate about the need for us to be the world’s leader has been systematically squashed with the simple label of “isolationism.”
Originally the Bretton Woods Institutions and the UN were proposed to replace the need for the US to have the leadership role it was presumed to have between December 7, 1941 and September 15, 1945. (I say “presumed” because the Russians did far more of the fighting than we did.) But we didn’t let ourselves be replaced. Instead we treated the international institutions as if they needed US leadership too. Much of the world wondered why. When Khrushchev used his shoe for a gavel in the UN in 1962 (?) the reason there was so much noise in the chamber was that he had just said “This chamber functions as a branch of the US state department.” But he was right: that WAS how the Dulles Brothers treated the UN. Those words just weren’t supposed to be spoken because they were a mortal insult to every national representative in the General Assembly. Truth was not the issue.
Many countries recognized that the replacement that was actually being finessed was the US replacing most of the economic relations of the French and British Empires with US relations. The British used the Commonwealth structure as a face-saver. Economic relations with former European powers were replaced more gradually. No European power maintained the sole, or even the dominant, trading partner relationship many had before the Trusteeship Council dismantled official colonial statuses.
Throughout this process until now we have become the world’s greatest purveyor of violence, but much of that violence has been hidden from us while it occurred. We might be able to find out some of it later, but it would not be front-page news. We’d have to seek it out. The interest in the truth required to take the initiative was made to seem suspicious to “non-intellectuals”: “”Why would you go looking for this kind of information? Doesn’t your search imply you don’t “believe in” this country?” This anti-intellectual strand of popular attitudes was encouraged by media, the government, and, sadly, by “education.” This encouragement made interest in “the truth” look like a façade. This appearance of a “façade” was the root of the corruption of our intelligence.
So it becomes appropriate to ask what have we given up to become he world’s greatest purveyor of violence? If we spent our resources on developing the personalities and experiences of our people instead of on intimidation and destruction, what could we become? Could we become more honest people?
Consider that in the first ten years of the last century, it was Rockefeller money and direction that created the dominant plan for public schools. We were servile in our esteem for great wealth, as if we believed with John Calvin and John Knox that wealth itself signified virtue. The fact that the Establishment presumed that we all felt this—or that, if we didn’t, we should–,made it possible for the Rockefeller crew to design an educational system that would give employers the employees they wanted rather than giving children the kinds of careers and world THEY wanted. Supposedly, the only careers and world available were those employers and investors wanted to provide. Quite a coup.
Wanting to become more honest people becomes a moot issue. This made it impossible for us to ask whether becoming more honest people could actually make us happier people. That’s just the beginning. If greater honesty could mean greater happiness, why couldn’t it also mean better treatment of OTHER people? Why couldn’t it have a progressive effect?
Look at it another way: Why SHOULDN’T more honesty create more happiness because more honesty would create more opportunities for truthful interactions? In more truthful interactions won’t more people convey more information of importance to themselves and each other and so put themselves and each other in a better position to think together and to cooperate?
Wouldn’t increased cooperation among peers create a more open environment in which more inventions would become possible and those inventions would satisfy more needs and desires of more people? Do you see any reason why not? I don’t.
Why does Greece, a country with half our per capita income, have better health and longevity than we have? —and why couldn’t we live better and as long? The media frame issues as though Greece were a basket case. Yet from this “basket case” Greece got the most successful negotiation to role back the austerity the German banks wanted to impose. How was that possible except from the mutual understandings the Greeks built up among themselves?
Why couldn’t our public schools prepare us for actual life, and why shouldn’t they be as good as Finland’s? People argue that we have more diverse people than Finland has, but how do we know that can’t be turned into a virtue? Why can’t we learn from each other? Do we know that Latino students can’t teach their dialects and cultures to English-speaking students and vice-versa? How often has this been tried? One school district in Queens has students speaking 106 first languages. How many linguists should that school system hire to maximize intercultural exchange? Why shouldn’t such a school system specialize in linguistics and anthropology? Why shouldn’t the students receive scholarships to travel and study in other countries?
If we aimed for the maximum fulfillment of each of us, and thought each other’s welfare as important as our own, why couldn’t we give up racism, envy, resentment, addictions, self-sabotage, violence, suicide, depression, and despair? What sorts of psychological specialists would we need to do these things? Why shouldn’t people who suicide hotlines, child abuse hotlines, elder care hotlines, alcoholism hotlines, family violence hotlines be able to get such work? Aren’t our lives worth doing such things for? Why not? What do we have against ourselves and each other that make us believe these things are not worthwhile? What are the sources of such anxieties and unexamined assumptions? Is there really some reason to believe such things should not be done? What reasons?
What if we threw ourselves entirely into becoming the best and happiest people we can be instead of tearing ourselves and each other down and wasting our energy in striving to make wasteful rich people even richer and more wasteful? Why have we forgotten the Law of Diminishing Returns when for 200 years, the best of British philosophers—Hume, Bentham, Mill, and Russell—all believed it was obvious that as the number of units anyone had of anything—including money—increased the human value to be derived from per unit decreased? We’ve forgotten the rule because billionaires wanted us not to value ourselves because that would limit the wealth they could extract from us.
Please, just ask yourself what we could do with the trillions of dollars we waste on the military budget because we refuse to learn how to learn from, negotiate with, cooperate with, and fructify the peoples of other countries. Our military system is an inane and prohibitive substitute for justice and generosity. It serves only our foolish imagination of some jealous and vengeful demon we blasphemously call a deity.
Assumptions & Suggestions
- Three Complex Working Assumptions: I want us all to assume hypothetically that 1) peace IS possible and that the creation of the UN and the War Crimes Trials at the end of WWII began as a good faith effort to make it possible. 2) I believe that the desire of our elite to make peace possible was severely eroded by the US refusal to recognize the extreme disproportion between US and Soviet roles in WWII and our consequent inability to understand why the Soviets did not trust us after Hiroshima. 3) “McCarthyism” severely eroded the possibility of peace and the possibility itself disappeared between the Bay of Pigs in 1961 and the escalation of US forces in Vietnam in1966 and the splitting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into the two Covenants. The pair of assumptions in 1) is probably necessary to the sequence of thought I want to focus us on so long as one believes that peace is a product of international institutions. 2) and 3) are probably helpful but may not be necessary.
- Releasing Imagination: The idea of this Forum is initially to sidestep the question of whether peace is possible in order to ask instead what could become possible if peace is possible. The reason to do this is the belief that ultimately peace depends upon the sum of personal commitments to peace. If we are clear about what the world could be like if we had peace, we may be able to gain the motivation to make peace possible. If enough of us want peace badly enough because of what we believe peace can become, we can make it happen. THAT is what can make it possible to find and create the means of creating peace.
- Some Factual Routes to Considering Effects of Removing the Culture of War: To imagine concretely what peace can be, we have only to follow the chains of cause and effect relations between war and preparation for war and their many “knock-on,” “collateral damage,” and “externalized” effects. To categorize these effects it may be useful to divide them into 1) economic, 2) political, 3) social, and 4) psychological effects.
- Economic: a) waste of resources on destructive enterprise: every weapon represents expenditure that cannot benefit anyone and destroys things that can benefit people. b)Distortion of economic priorities: destructive things come to be regarded as positive and so are counted as increments to GDP while they actually decrease the value of the whole, as smoking and alcohol do, but more intensely. c) Weaponry and preparation for war prevent the promotion of beneficial relationships among groups because they make groups conceptualized each other as worthless or threatening and tend to be followed by increasing barriers to mutual benefit.
- Political: a) Politics exists to create law and the instrumentalities of adjudication and enforcement. Politics, law, the police, and the military share a common basis in force, a monopoly of force expressible by the rule that, if any force is to be used, it shall be used only with the approval of the state. b) The state divides actions into three shares: the mandatory, the permissible, and the forbidden. Whatever is forbidden tends to sink from consciousness as a real possibility, thereby focusing attention on the mandatory and the permitted, and any degree of freedom implied by the permitted tends to restrict itself under the aegis of the mandatory. c) The state justifies its existence with its capacity to make war, supposedly for the defense of a nation, and to “keep order” within the state. d) The state is now the primary obstacle to creating peace. This is primarily because international relations are still based up the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which made the maintenance of sovereignty the sine qua non of international institutions. No statesperson is willing to be seen to risk sacrificing the sovereignty of the state he or she represents.
- Social: a) Collective beliefs about prudence, and about what is believed to be prudent, are long-term outgrowths of the experience, economics, and politics of a nation. Militant nations create ideals of honor because soldiers risking their lives will only obey leaders they believe put their honor above their personal self-interest. Thought the norms of honor are in stark contrast to such religious norms as love and detachment, militaristic countries always manage to finesse conflicts with other ideals. This traditional ability to manage drastic contradictions erodes both citizens’ capacity to think logically and to be honest about feelings and motives. b) Social norms normally pass from parents to children. Thus a long time lag usually exists between the situations that created particular norms and the time when they are acted out. Familial conservatism thus creates anachronistic customs and conventions. Understanding the issues of social institutions requires knowledge of social history. c) Hence social paradoxes of peace issues emerge that make people fail to perceive accurately economic and political motives behind the institutions of war. Politicians and corporations appeal to social ideals and conceptions in order to exploit people’s vulnerabilities to persuade them to fund war and participate in it. Typically troops believe they are defending their country when they pursue the aggressive intents of their leaders.
- Psychological: a) Motives for fighting in wars are generally atavistic. Current practice facilitates such archetypal and incoherent motives. Public schools avoid both critical thinking and creative activity because both frustrate the purposes of institutions designed to streamline public support for authoritarian elites. Institutions demean as a disloyal aberration the fact that most individuals are capable of far more integrity than their group behavior exhibits. b) Warlike behavior tends to rely on identifying the state with the family: one is taught to imagine that national leaders have the same feelings towards one that one’s idealized parents had or were supposed to have had. This misperception is routine in totalitarian countries. c) Becoming a creature of the state is a failure to live one’s own actual life. If we read war diaries, letters, logs, memoirs, novels, and poetry we find personal lives emerging from the regimentation of the military and the actual chaos of war. Consider Randall Jarrell’s “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”:
From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died, they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
Extensions of this Project:
Finally, I would like to hear from you or talk to you individually, to read whatever you might write related to this project, to write a response to yours, to ask how you felt about it, and to ask you what you think of it now. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. My phone number 203-588-0161, my mailing address 341 Oaklawn Avenue, Apt. 2, Stamford, CT 06905.
Are you willing to have me come visit you, or to meet you at your home or in any other place you choose?
Hope to hear from you,
Richard Z. Duffee, Jan. 18, 2020
 2.78 years if one counts simultaneous emperors as each having half a reign; there were 8 or 9 pairs of emperors, depending on how they are counted, often one in the East, the other in the West. 23 of the 41 emperors between Commodus and Constantine were either murdered (most by the Pretorian Guard) or forced to commit suicide. Constantine could make his new state religion because pagan cults were collapsing and he abolished the Praetorian Guard.