September 21, 2015

War Is Mass Delusion

Via the Atlantic

I was thinking this weekend about war and about the rhetoric around war vs. the real reasons we go to war.

It started from a thoughtful post on Facebook friend Stephan Heard’s wall:
I just came to a startling conclusion about how I perceive delusions to work: Namely, the idea that the delusional thinking itself is safe: It is a withdrawal into the creative spaces and processes of the mind, where thought is beautifully free-flowing and the mind can conceive of alternate realities conceptual in nature, imagining things otherwise difficult to apprehend ... The struggle being that delusions cannot ultimately seem to exist outside of the consequences that occur via the delusions, nor can the delusions easily substitute for the goals and tasks a person has and can only seem to achieve though standard rationality and purposeful action. Where, then, and at what point, do the delusions become so disconnected from reality that they cease to be connected to the real world whilst yet simultaneously guiding action that exists in the real world, ultimately leading to the conflict that it leads to?
Delusions in general, while not causing harm except in bizarre situations, are dangerous, and that is what makes them so valuable, but is undermined by the traditional ways we are conditioned to think ...

I responded:
Great observation. I think it depends on the delusion. (I have relatives who believe we're descended from aliens.) I think delusion is a necessary part of the writer's process. A writer has to believe both that what he or she has to say is important and worth listening to - a certain brand of hubris - but simultaneously he or she often believes that they are worthless, and this is a driving factor in getting work done. It also takes a certain amount of delusional thinking when you start a novel - "Yes, I can write 100,000 words!" We could also talk about how war and religion are delusional and harmful, but that's a much bigger subject.
PS And I agree that delusions inside the head by themselves are harmful, even without considering resulting actions.

A delusion is an idiosyncratic belief that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by reality or rational argument.

What do we say about war?  It’s necessary. It’ll bring peace. We’re just doing it for noble reasons.  Death is a necessary cost of political interest ~ to bring democracy to the unwashed heathens. That it’s for the best.

Why do we really go to war?  Commercial interests. Political interests. Too many young men at loose ends challenging the establishment, so let’s have a draft (both the Crusades and Vietnam and probably many other wars). Because we have all this confusing and subtle frustration in our daily lives that has to be focused somewhere, and we think if life were only black and white, if we had a goal, if there was an enemy to fight, we’d have a place to release all this anger and hate.

To be sure, many of the men and women who fight in wars are doing it for the noble reasons. They risk their lives because they believe in God and country and that they are sacrificing themselves for the greater good.  This is an amazing thing.  A very laudible, if misplaced, thing. But many soldiers (I’m not trying to speak for them, of course, but I’ve read it time and again) get over there ~ wherever there is ~ and quickly become disillusioned.

But we lie to each other.  We baldfaced lie. Since it usually isn’t us or our loved ones who pay the price, it doesn’t touch us.  It’s like cheating on you diet ~ oh, I’m making myself feel better ~ but every time you take a bite, someone dies. It’s like passing a law that doesn’t do anything but make yourself feel better, but every time, a country is invaded.

War ~ an idiosyncratic belief that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by reality or rational argument.

Humans are capable of such vast and unimaginable horror.

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