From HERB RUHS
My condolences to everyone, especially those that read Orlov. Reality is not a pretty picture. In this period of human history it is natural that folks look for a diagnosis for our terminal disease. The mind demands to know WHY everything is so horrible. As a teacher in medical school and residency programs the greatest challenge was to ween people away from superficial thinking, thinking that confuses symptoms with causes. Any sufficiently dramatic symptom can lure the untrained mind into accepting it as a cause. Another confusing aspect of diagnosis is that many actual causes are not subject to treatment and ethical care is limited to treating symptoms to reduce suffering so symptomatic relief, no matter how brief, is demanded and definitive care rejected as too difficult. Continually suppressing symptoms and ignoring underlying disease is a dangerous path. This is our collective fate. We have become wedded to a survival system that is trending toward causing our extinction. Virtually everything we have been taught in our war-like culture, learned to observed as true and right, is actually wrong. Disaster is not so much a matter of scale as attitude.
If you imagine a fully developed, both physically and mentally, adult human, you are imagining the sort of person that made an early success of our species. I am currently reading Jared Diamonds new book The World Until Yesterday. The book makes the point that, from extensive archeological and anthropological data, for a hundred thousand years, more or less, we lived in relative peace. The members of such social groups took care of each other rather than taking advantage of the weak, as we are taught in our war based culture. He uses his experience with the isolated tribes of the New Guinea highlands, a sort of set of living human fossils, to make his points. The lyrics of “Yesterday” echo in my mind as I contemplate what has become of my species in the age of conquest.
Scale alone does not account for our decline and failure. Grand thinkers tend to eliminate psychological and developmental factors from their thinking as too messy, too elusive of quantitative measurement. If you do this you will end up in the error of seeing symptoms as causes in the analysis of human affairs. Large scale societies have existed in the past, the Harappan and Minoan cultures for instance, without indulging in large scale violence and conquest. Closer to our own time the Iroquois Confederacy was a large scale social organization that was quite successful and relatively peaceful. Add aggressive aggrandizing warfare to the mix, conquest if you will, and everything changes. Scale become immense because survival in a context of large scale predatory warfare demands the greatest scale possible in order to field ever larger armies to survive ever larger wars.
If you consider, as I do, that we are in the opening stages of yet another World War, the third in the span of a hundred years, it becomes obvious that war is both the cause and the effect of virtually all of humanities problems. The advent of aggressive wars, the type of wars that our nation continually is involved in, changed everything about the human condition. The Nuremberg Trials were hardly humanities greatest moment, another example of the victors naming the tune, but they did identify aggressive war as the greatest of all crimes. But then “War is the health of the state,” (Randolph Bourne) and cannot exist without it. In our day only the most aggressive societies survive to act independently and the logic of conflict wedded to the power of numbers means that the world continually finds itself divided into two waring camps of developmentally three-year-olds acting out their trauma history. We, who grew up in a warlike state, are so immersed in the logic of war that everything about our lives mimics or glorifies war. Military metaphors saturate our language. Our sports tend to be those that most resemble military conflict and are quite violent. War produces psychological trauma for the entire society. Psychologically traumatized people tend to show poor emotional and mental development. The core motivation of the society becomes military dominance for the sake of a fleeting sense of a security, an infantile reflex. Support the troops.
So scale is part of the problem but it is merely a dependent variable. Turns out that values are what matter. The good news is that much of this dysfunction is situational. It is functional to be dysfunctional in a coercive dystopia. The general attitude I encounter in people towards what they call “human nature” is negative and often frankly misanthropic. Rebecca Solnit has offered us wisdom in her recent book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. Turns out that, when suddenly released from the power of the State, we tend to emerge as very different people, much better people, our real selves.
So aggrandizement of scale is a good marker for dysfunction and is inevitable in a world conditioned to war. It is a symptom of moral and ethical decay. Life becomes nothing more than expressing values consistent with seeking survival by being bigger and more aggressive than ones neighbors. But the never quelled sense of insecurity continually demands new victims to slake its fear of being dominated. Small countries must be invaded, their resources plundered, their people reduced to slave status, not, as we are led to believe, in order for the victor to be stronger but rather as a necessary psychological lift for a traumatized and infantilized populace.
Scale in our time is just another symptom of infectious mean-spiritedness, an abandonment of the tender virtues. Our current, misanthropic dominant world view engages a terminal vicious cycle of dominance and violence that will erase our species from the earth. So, if you would like to think that you might have relatives two or three generations from now, a good place to start is to stop indulging in mean-spirited thinking. Unfortunately the heartlessness that develops in a climate of fear and mean-spiritedness is a tenacious disease that is the enabler of the aggressive State which uses every opportunity to induce more heartlessness the better to use violence against its enemies.
People can be induced to discard agency and moral sentiment in an authoritarian collective. But whether it is extreme collectivism or extreme individualism that is promoted, the effect is the same. The aggressive aggrandizing state with obedient, ignorant, infantilized citizens ready to be sent to war.
The binding link that allows our own society to be so disfigured is the myth of hyper-individualism, that belief that it is only acceptable to care about ones self, and perhaps close relatives. It is a trick that sets everyone against each other at the bottom so that a privileged elite of decision makers can act collectively to secure their positions. Individualism for the many, mutual support for the few. We could learn something useful from our oppressors. Real security comes from mutual solidarity and positive regard for others. War does not bring peace.