Veg*n Cooking and Other Random Musings: Is War Really the Force That Gives Us Meaning?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Is War Really the Force That Gives Us Meaning?

I was going to write out a whole opinion piece regarding what I have read thus far in Chris Hedge’s book ‘War is a Force That Give Us Meaning’, but decided against it. You see, my opinion, in all honestly, shouldn’t really matter to you all, it is your opinions that truly matter. And this is what I am interested in anyway, I am interested in how others interpret the things that I have read, and personally, on my own, I can assess how others’ opinions and evaluations differ from mine. You see, I am not one of those people who are completely set in my ways; I am willing to change my opinions and viewpoints on things if presented with compelling evidence and simple arguments that make sense to me. I am also a huge individualist and feel that no matter what your opinion on an issue, if you can state your reasons for feeling a certain way in a logical and rational fashion; I will accept and respect that, even if I strongly disagree. This is why I can be civil and even friendly with Christian Evangelical Republicans even though their reality and my own are very different, and our opinions on pretty much everything are polar opposites, but the individuals I know are smart, their opinions are well thought out, they just came to a different conclusion from the ‘evidence’ than I did. And I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with that, I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it again, the world would be a pretty boring place if everyone thought, felt, and acted the same, now wouldn’t it?

Anyways, I thought I would simply use quotes that I have marked in the book and follow with some questions by me. Now, any of you out there who have a psychologically oriented background could probably figure out, at least to a certain degree, my opinions on this topic merely from the information I chose to present and the questions I ask, as well as the way those questions are framed. (This might also be a little something to think about when watching the news on NBC or any other mainstream media source, just remember news anchors are people too, with their own biases, and hang-ups, and this is reflected not only in the semantics used, but the very stories covered. I’ll leave it there, but trust me; I could go on and on.) Or you may just think you know how I feel about something, how much are you willing to bet that you’re right? Knowing just a bit about linguistics, persuasion, and public opinion due to my studies, what chance is there that I am sneaky in my use of semantics so as to intentionally not let my true opinion show through? Just remember, we psychology folk are evil like that. :-)

Quote 1: “The historian Will Durant calculated that there had been only twenty-nine years in all of human history during which a war was not underway somewhere.”

Now I haven’t checked the integrity of this ‘fact’, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume that this is true. So, only 29 years in ALL of human history has there been peace.

What does this say about human nature? Does this mean that we are more like our animal relatives than we like to think? Are humans predators? To what or whom? With history in mind, is there any hope for true, lasting world peace? Is violence inherent in the human condition or are the evil few just very good at manipulating the masses? Why haven’t the masses learned from history and revolted against the ‘status quo’ of continuing conflict and violence? Are we bound to destroy ourselves because of our propensity towards violence or mere stupidity?

Quote 2: “Patriotism, often a thinly veiled form of collective self-worship, celebrates our goodness, our ideals, our mercy, and bemoans the perfidiousness of those who hate us.”

Do you agree with this? Do you think that Nationalism and Patriotism are negative qualities? Are we (any nation) really morally good and just? Why is it that, especially after a crisis, criticism of the policies of one’s nation is not accepted and ‘frowned upon’? That suddenly, by virtue of our criticism, we become one of ‘them’, the enemy? Why is it all or none? Why is it that we think the horrible things others do, at least in reference to America, are done because ‘they hate our freedom’? Do we really believe that emotion and rage of this level of intensity really stems from their ‘hating our freedom’ or being jealous of our stuff? What do you think the real root of a lot of this conflict stems from?

Quote 3: “While we venerate and mourn our own dead we are curiously indifferent about those we kill. Thus killing is done in our name, killing that concerns us little, while those who kill our own are seen as having crawled out of the deepest recesses of the Earth, lacking our own humanity and goodness. Our dead. Their dead. They are not the same. Our dead matter, theirs do not.”

What do you think of this statement? I must point out here, that I don’t think he is referring to individuals; he is referring to us collectively and that we seem to be much more affected by the death toll to our own soldiers than the death toll of the innocent civilians that occupy the area of conflict. What do you feel are the implications of the ‘us and them’ mentality? Does this give us, however thin, justification to commit atrocities since the enemy is the ‘other’? Why is it that in combat, where the mission of both sides is essentially the same, to win, that one side’s acts are moral, and the other side’s acts are barbaric? Why is it that seeing one of ‘our dead’ elicits and greater emotional response than witnessing ‘their’ dead? Aren’t we all people? Do you see animal cruely as an extension of our justification to do immoral things, the us and them mentality?

And finally, quote 4: “Just remember” a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel told me (Chris Hedges) as he strapped his pistol belt under his arm before we crossed into Kuwait (Persian Gulf War), “that none of these boys is fighting for home, the flag, for all that crap politicians feed the public. They are fighting for each other, just for each other.”

What does this say of the strength of our argument to go to war? Do our soldiers really believe in the mission of the conflict they are fighting in? Shouldn't they if they are risking their lives for it? In current times, with the above said statements in mind, do you think American soldiers are more worried about ‘bringing democracy’ to places like Iraq and Afghanistan or merely trying to survive their tour so they can go home?

Thanks to anyone who takes the time to read and ponder this. These statements really made me think and I was curious as to the reactions others would have reading them. Do they make you angry? Do you try to think about where the author is coming from, even though his views and statements seem pretty far out there? I probably didn’t ask all the right questions, but I was trying to ask the questions that Hedges may have had to ask himself before really being able to look at these statements and war in general though a different ‘lense’ or perspective. And believe it or not, I am hopeful about the future of humanity, that doesn’t mean that I think things will get better, but that I believe it is possible.

And I must add in closing that these questions are not asked to offend people. If you are offended, please tell me, and explain why, that was the point of this. I have family in the military, as many of you may have as well, and these statements do not diminish their bravery, it just merely calls into question whether or not we should be sending our brave men and women into conflicts, and whether or not, in the long term, constant conflict (with both nature and each other) will lead to our species' demise. I know how I felt about what I read; I was just curious how this resonated with others. Don’t be shy, call Chris Hedges a crazy or whatever you want, just please explain why you feel the way you do.

‘Til next time.


Welcome to the Happy Herbivore! said...

"And how in the world
Can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they'd write me a letter
Saying that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over"

this first time I hard that part of the song (dixie chicks) I cried. I get hate mail and threats from 'evangelicals' on a daily basis just because my myspace profile says I'm an Atheist. One woman told me I should kill myself because I have no reason to live. to my face. at her daughters wedding. (her daughter was the bride, I was a guest).

For a while I was open with my beliefs that I was skeptical of 9/11 and thought I had every right to be skeptical but people - even friends of mine - started telling me I didn't have a right to be in America and that I should be thrown out of here, jailed or killed.

Most people want everyone else to be just like them, or expect them to be, they fear what they don't know or what they don't understand and they hate it for no reason other than because it's easy.

When people tell me that being an atheist and/or a vegan is both irrational and an extreme lifestyle choice, they get quite perpelxed when I mention that in other parts of the world (they seem to forget there is more to the world than the US and Iraq) that have entire civilizations that are vegetarian and non-religious... that there are more atheists in america than jews in the entire world, that just because I'm different doesn't make me wrong and that whats right is not always popular and whats popular in america is usually never right.

because most people cannot and don't want to see a person that is different from themselves, they will choose to hate. and with hate we will never find peace. and without peace. I fear what this world will come to.

on another note, my friend thats in Iraq, when I asked him what he felt about the situation, his ONLY response was "I'm here for my boys, I'm hear to be there for them, I don't really care about anything else."

Jennifer said...

Those words from the Dixie Chicks song are sad, and probably should make us want to cry. I think it says a lot about the current state our, at least American society, and it's not pretty, just, or kind.

I understand what you are saying about Evangelicals. I too am an atheist, and was raised with literally no religion. I don't understand, nor accept when evangelicals try to use their faith to justify cruelty, hate, and torture. The evangelicals I know disagree with me on moral issues, but not in a militant way, they do so in a political, respectful manner (though I still wholeheartedly disagree with them), what your friends mom so rudely told you at the wedding is highly inappropriate and shouldn't be tolerated as she was being very disrespectful. When I say that even if I completely disagree with you, I'll try to understand where you are coming from, this only extends to those who bother to think through and evaluate their opinions, values, and views, which obviously this woman did not do.

I know how you feel about 9/11. I personally think that is 'un-American' and not in the best interest of those who perished for us NOT to question what happened, simply so we can try to avoid it happening again and really get to the root of the problem.

You are right too, people are uncomfortable with the unknown. Sometimes I feel when telling people I'm a vegan or an environmentalist, they shut me out, not because of what I'm saying, but because what I'm saying may force them to look closer at themselves, or feel bad about themselves, which nobody likes. They call that cognitive dissonance in psychology, and nobody is a huge fan of it, myself included, but I am trying to learn and understand my biases, so I don't let them get in the way of my understanding the world and the people in it.

How true that many don't see there being a world outside of the US. I think people of course realize there is a world beyond our borders, but I don't think they realize how different life is for others or that the reality that much of the world lives in is much different from our own. That others views of our plight and our situation are not as rosy as our own.

We need to remember that, at least in theory, our country was founded on individual rights (mostly property, but nonetheless) and self-determination. When one tries to shun you or bring you around to being more like them, they are becoming more and more like what we were trying to get away from when we separated ourselves from Britain and many of the other evils we espouse being against.

I truly understand your feeling that hate has gotten out of control to the point where our future doesn't look so good. Take for example, there was yet another school shooting in Illinois yesterday. Rather than try to look at the root of the problem, why our youth feels so isolated, alone, and without meaning, we will hire more cops, keep a closer eye on 'troubled individuals', and have a 'better game plan' to deal with the situation next time. We have a problem, humans as a whole I believe, with short-sidedness and reductionist thinking.

I'm saddened but not surprised by your friends response to the war. How sad is it that this is what people are dying for, too many on our side, and an extraordinary number on the other side, most of which are innocent civilians, doing nothing more than trying to live their lives. How sad is it that our government puts your friend in that situation to begin with? It seems we are so quick to use force. And this is nothing new, not at all.

Thank you so much for your well reasoned arguments. Glad to know that there are some out there, willing to think critically, even when it's uncomfortable, so kudos to you.

Welcome to the Happy Herbivore! said...

I have friends that are Christian and are both respectful and tolerant of me and so I am respectful and tolerant of them (even though I stanchly disagree with their perceptions and beliefs) but on a general and day-to-day basis I’d say that is not true of most people in their “group.” Everytime I get a hate letter I write back to them that they’re not being very Christian! I don’t know much about their religion but I do know that its supposed to be about love, tolerance and peace and I’ve never felt more hatred, disgust and judgment from any other group. Ever.
I am from NYC and went home just two months later and couldn’t understand why the hole in the ground was as deep as it was – it seemed far too deep for a bomb not to have gone off and the other building (the non-plane-hit one) wasn’t THAT close – sure all blgds in NYC are close but this one wasn’t that close… and then when I saw the pentagon pictures with prestine grass and a nice, circular hole I was forever a non-believer. My cousin survived 9/11 and killed himself in the aftermath from depression. As an Atheist and a human being in mourning, I would love to point to the evils of religion to justify my loss but I simply can’t. As long as I live I will deny what they tell me or at least question it. If for no other reason than to make my cousin’s death have meaning and to feel like he died for something.

& you are also right. When you tell someone you’re a vegan, atheist, tree hugger [fill in the blank] it makes them hate you because it makes them hate themselves and question themselves which is one thing Americans hate to do. I had a falling out with a friend once because she always cut me down for being skinny and a vegan (all of her friends were the opposite) and finally one day, after she spread rumors I was anorexic I shouted “my mere existance make you feel bad about yourself and your poor choices and instead of changing and reflecting you try to crap on me as some way to justify your suckiness.”
That moment opened my eyes – not just that she was clearly a shitty friend but that people are just like her. When you are different from them they get all protective about their choices and want to continue living in self-absorption and denial so they put up the hate shield immediately. I will listen to anyone’s opinion and as long as they can justify it, I accept it. Few people I find can ever do that. Present company excluded 
“ That others views of our plight and our situation are not as rosy as our own.” My mom’s friend YELLED at me for going to Africa “there are people that need help in THIS country!” she said. Yah, well let me just say – that someone in Africa would give their left leg to live ONE day on the street of the worst ghetto in America because that street is 1000x better, cleaner, and safer than where they live in Africa. I think they need my help, but thanks for being critical and then sitting on your lazy ass. (my moms friends HATE me)

“ When one tries to shun you or bring you around to being more like them, they are becoming more and more like what we were trying to get away from when we separated ourselves from Britain”
My favorite atheist defense! We came here RUNNING AWAY from religion…. And wanted to be free to run our mouths….

Jennifer said...

I agree with you that if one can justify their opinion of something, that I can accept, but if you are just accepting something on blind faith, that I can't do.

I can't believe that you get hate mail just for being an Atheist. Wow. What hypocrisy from a group that claims to be moral and just. You know, this is one of the things that has always bothered me, and I have thought about many times, why does what I do and how I live me life matter to THEM? Just briefly, it's like gay marriage, what the hell is a couple of other people, somewhere else, living their life have to do with your faith? Are you going to go to hell by virtue of what people around you do? Don't they see how ridiculous that sounds? Why would you want to believe in that? I have no problem with faith, but why does it have to infringe on my beliefs? Why do I have to believe what they do? (Sorry for the barrage of questions.) I remember being in downtown Columbia late one night after a concert and one of the 'missionaries' or what have you, coming up to me, telling me I'm a liar, a sinner, all this stuff, and I'm thinking, do you really think it's going to convert me? On a more humorous note, when talking religion, I always remember that George Carlin bit where he's talking about how jealous, angry, and vengeful god is......but he loves you. :-)
I'm very sorry about your cousin, I can't imagine what that must feel like, the hurt and betrayal you must feel. I had seen a lot of the films debunking 9/11, read the Commission Report (complete crap by the way), and read other material illustrating the inconsistencies. It all seemed very logical, and it made sense, but honestly, I just didn't want to accept it, because if I did, I had to accept the implications of what that meant. Then I saw the film Zeitgeist, and in the film they show a close up of a man falling from one of the towers, and another shot of people in towers, at the window, looking so scared. It was then it really hit me, how real it was, these are people! People! And it's not like I didn't realize it before, but I had to accept it then, it slapped me in the face in a way that I just couldn’t ignore, I'm almost brought to tears just writing about it.

Americans do not like to question themselves. I often talk with Brett about the idea of "American Entitlement", I think that most of us feel this, that for some reason god or something have ordained us to have whatever we want, to police the world, and use the earth as our trashcan. We can almost literally be faced with something that should call into question some of the very fundamental things we THINK we know, and yet, somehow, from the mall and MTV, to reality shows and celebrities, we can just distract ourselves and believe that we are pure, benevolent and just, and there is nobody out there telling us otherwise. Those that are quickly get labeled something like "liberal" or "leftist" or "socialist" or some other label that we've, over time, given a negative connotation. Doing this allows most of us to simple brush things off without ever really thinking about, justifying our looking down on others for things we should be looking down on ourselves for.

Good for you going to Africa. You comments made me think of the Democracy Now! show from yesterday, being V-Day, and Amy Goodman being the lovely wet blanket she is, decided to talk about cocoa farming and diamond mining, two things that of course happen predominately in Africa. They were showing images of very young, very thin and malnourished children with machetes working on a cocoa farm, not even able to attend school. They also had on an individual representing cocoa corporations, and he was basically justifying their conditions, pointing to programs that don't exist, and basically doing everything except raising the farmer’s wages, which is what would really help. Why? For profit of course, and that is why we can get a cheap chocolate bar from the store. We need to remember that the luxuries we have, even the poorest of us here in the US, generally come from the blood, sweat, and tears of those in the Third World, who did nothing more than live in a land that had some resource that white men decided they coveted. I'm sorry, I'm not sure if that was your point, but the ignorance (literal use of the word here) of most Americans about even our own history is very frustrating at time, this doesn’t even begin to touch on how we view modern times and our place in them.

Haha! I didn't even realize that was an Atheist defense! Let's be thankful, that at least for now, we CAN still run our mouths, at our own risk of course. :-)

Jennifer said...

Sorry about the typos, I was doing a bit of whirlwind typing. Aside from Brett, not too many people I know are interested in stimulating dialogue.

Wet Blanket said...

Ignorance begat fear. Fear begat hatred. Hatred begat violence. So, ignorance begat violence. Unfortunately, ignorance cannot be abolished. Nonetheless, a simple awareness and acceptance of our ignorance (call it humbleness or modesty if you prefer) would do just fine.

One's view of reality rests soundly on a foundation of assumptions. No matter how rational, logical, or objective we like to think ourselves to be, the fact remains that the very core of our perception of reality is based on unprovable assumptions - assumptions we will defend stongly, perhaps even to death. This, of course, is very irrational behavior and is a clear indicator that we have strong emotional attachment to these assumptions upon which our entire rationale rests. Interestingly, these assumptions are generally impervious to rational attacks. Our emotional side tells us to reject the information before we give ourselves a chance to hear the arguments.

For instance: "Should we help starving children in Africa?" Anything that follows the answer "no" will not be listened to or regarded as credible by anyone reading this blog. No challenge can be made to the assumption that helping those in need is the right thing to do.

...And that's why Christians care about what you do. It is because, in their system of beliefs, the things you do will buy you a one-way ticket to hell, or at least purgatory. It is not Christian, or even generally recognized as right by anyone, to stand idly by and watch someone you believe to be in peril.

Acts of violence and political discourse in defense of Christianity, however, still perplex me to some extent. To some, I ask, "Would Jesus have led the Crusades? Or the Inquisition? Would He support Israel in its effort to claim the 'Holy Land' for its own? Would He have supported the Conquistadors who justified killing millions of natives in South America because the were "Godless savages?" Would Jesus bomb ANYBODY? Would any self-respecting God be so vain as to send one to eternal damnation for simply refusing to believe in something they could not see? Would a good God create a species with so many inclinations that He planned to later command them to suppress, or else? What kind of cruel trick is that? Not much compared to the sense of Earthly entitlement and separation from nature that has put us at odds with the very life support systems that He supposedly created for us? And who told us that the Earth was ours to use? Who else?

God has a sense of humor, all right... ;o)

Anonymous said...

I wish I had time to reply to this entire post because it is very interesting, and I applaud you for bringing up such a controversial topic. Especially such a broad topic.

I find the problem is ignorance. Too many people are unaware of other individuals in this world. It truly is "Us vs. Them". And the media, religious institutions and even our politicians propagate these opinions. We are persuaded to believe whatever the mainstream does. And if a person does not fit this mold, they are simply cast out just as in the witch trials in medieval Europe.

Although I am an Athiest, I was brought up Roman Catholic, and attended a Catholic school. However my father taught me to see reality, and to question whatever I read, saw or heard. And for this reason I am very skeptical of anything I am told, and try to see the truth beyond it. It is difficult, and for the most part I try to ignore American media, but it is difficult because it influences Canadian media far too much. Looking in from the outside, I can see the grave situation the United States is in in the 21st century. Society is far too concerned with religious beliefs, and labeling people based on their race, religious beliefs, and political affiliations.

What I don't understand is how people can continue to fool themselves into believing that it is their duty to Christianize, moralize and democratize the world. What right does the West have in telling civilizations far older than our own (if you can call what we are a civilization, something I would debate is untrue). We pretend to know what is best for the world, yet are the world's worst enemies. Pollution and war, two problems that are being consistently propagated by Western civilization, among the atrocities of child labor in third world countries.

People live in a sterilized world where they fear every other living creature. Everyone believing that their own family members might someday turn on them and kill them. Why are we so fearful? Why are people in small towns in the middle of nowhere fearful of "terrorists"? Because they are told to! And it just angers me so much to see this world become consumed by greedy drones who question nothing and follow every which trend. Instead, people should be asking "WHO is the terrorist?" Are American soldiers invading various nations not terrorizing the people?

Ok, so I guess I had more to say than I thought I did. But it's just so frustrating how people pretend that nothing is wrong, yet there is so much wrong in the world. Everyone turns a blind eye for the sake of not having to deal with reality.

darwinwasright said...


Thanks for this post, Chris Hedges is a remarkable person and writer. I'll take a stab and replying to the quotes you've selected from his book.

Quote 1 - Lasting world peace? Is violence inherent? My short answer, it's inherent but only under certain conditions. The use of violence has a harsh evolutionary logic, as Gwynne Dyer wrote in his phenomal book titled simply "War" "Almost everyone, given the choice between watching their children starve and raiding will choose raiding" not an exact quote, just from memory. He was referring to Stephen Leblanc's thesis in "Constant Battles: Why we fight". Leblanc's thesis is frightening simple and inescapable, humans always overshoot the carrying capacity of the land, when they do they fight to determine whose children starve.

Quote 2 - Is patriotism a negative quality? My short answer is a one-liner from Andy Rooney of all people, again from memory "Whenever I hear of patriotism I always remember who were the most patriotic people ever, Germans under the Nazi's"

Quote 3 - Our dead versus their dead, - try reversing the numbers of American and Iraqi dead, ie 3500
dead Iraqi's and 500,000+ dead Americans.

Quote 4 - Why do soldiers fight? This one goes to the basic psychology of soldiers facing combat, Dyer devotes a chapter to this question in "War", I can't do it justice from memory, but I don't think it affects the arguments for or against a particular war, soldiers don't think about abstract concepts when the stuff hits the fan.

Thanks again for the post, please keep reading Chris Hedges.

Jennifer said...

I honestly thought this was going to be and entry that readers of my blog did their best to ignore. :-) Thank you all for your thoughtful posts, you took the words out of mouth and my head, I couldn't have stated it better.

I'm happy to see that others can see the interconnectedness of the problems facing our society. Your commentary does give me more hope though, as there are others out there willing to question fundamental beliefs and myths in our modern age, and to talk and think about some very uncomfortable subjects. Subjects that at times make us question some of our basic assumptions about reality. If things are to ever change, in a positive way that is, I think we are going to have to tackle these uncomfortable questions as a whole. I don't think we should expect the media to do that for us. So thank YOU ALL for being willing to take these topics on.

theexilesclan said...

It cannot have effect as a matter of fact, that's exactly what I suppose.