I didn’t start a blog series called “Philosophy Weekend” so I could write the same old shit you’ve already read. That’s what a lot of other philosophers and ethical theorists and historians seem to be good at.
I don’t know what their problem is; our universities are packed with professors and writers and academic bloggers with impressive degrees and credentials. But they don’t seem to be writing what needs to be written about real world problems that need to be solved, so I guess it’s up to me, a humble software developer with a humble bachelor’s degree, to put two and two together and ask if you agree that it adds up to four.
We’ve been discussing the causes of genocide here for several weeks, and I think we’ve reached a surprising conclusion. Let’s retrace our steps.
We began with a querulous blog post in which I proposed that we must not be thinking creatively or constructively enough, since there are obviously answers that we’re not finding. I observed that typical debates or conversations about problems of global politics tend to be packed with emotional keywords and frustrating misconceptions and sensitive “don’t go there” areas, and suggested that we try to put aside our emotional responses and try to analyze the known facts about the genocidal disasters of the last hundred years in a systematic way, with a puzzle-solver’s mentality. This is where it all began:
Observing that a puzzle-solver tends to apply a few simple methods repetitively and patiently, I laid out two principles or concepts that I think can be valuable in finding the deep root cause of large-scale atrocity and government-sponsored mass murder. This required two blog posts:
Now equipped with two powerful tools that we could apply to the historical record, we returned to our original mission of analyzing genocide with a puzzle-solver’s mentality. I now began using Rubik’s Cube rather than Sudoku as an illustrative metaphor, noting that it doesn’t matter what puzzle metaphor we employ, since it’s obviously nothing more than a metaphor, and since genocide is obviously a harder problem to solve than any simple puzzle.
But, I pointed out, we must not allow this discouraging fact to stop us from trying to think in new ways about an old problem. I tried to address my nagging feeling of self-doubt and discouragement in another blog post that pointed out the fact that genocide does appear to be a problem that can be solved, since there is no reason to think that genocide is a force of nature.
At this point, several pieces started to fall together for me. I found much value in the observation that it’s a category mistake to believe that genocide is caused by individual human emotions or motivations like hatred or prejudice or sadism or innate aggression, since these are actually (surprisingly) not the emotions or motivations that caused any of the actual genocides of the last hundred years. For some reason, we have a tendency to personalize atrocities like the Holocaust and the Holodomor and the disasters of Biafra and Rwanda and Bosnia and Sudan and explain them in terms of human emotions. But a close examination of the historical record shows that in fact hatred and prejudice and sadism and innate aggression played virtually no role in the worst genocides of the past hundred years. They were all — all, all, all, without exception — motivated by military strategy. I tried to spell this out (with a shout-out to Aristotle) in my most recent two blog posts:
That’s where we’re at today, and I think we’ve covered enough distance to justify me using this space today to wrap up our progress with a summary. But, okay, now that we’ve reached a conclusion, what do we do? It’s all too easy to come to a big conclusion on a blog, just like it’s all too easy to solve a puzzle on paper. Are we now prepared to follow up our intellectual discovery with the courage of conviction?
We have now determined that military strategy is the primary and essential cause of genocide, and that we will be stuck with the problem of genocide as long as we are stuck with the problem of war. This is the negative formulation of the big idea I am proposing: unless we can get rid of our addiction to war, we will never stop committing genocide.
The positive formulation of the same idea (which I think ought to get a lot of people as excited as I am) is this: if we can get rid of our addiction to war, we will successfully end the problem of genocide. The facts we’ve gathered and analyzed make this crystal clear: genocide always happens in the context of total war, and there is not the slightest reason to think that genocide can or would ever occur in the modern world except in the context of total war.
So, that’s where we stand today, and I think we now need to shore up our courage to take the next move. Are we prepared to speak boldly about the fact that war is the sole cause of genocide? Are we prepared to “out” ourselves as pacifists, or are we still too afraid that we will be made fun of for this, that we will be criticized for sounding foolish and naive?
The photo at the top of this page was taken in 1967, when a group of hippies including Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Ed Sanders, Allen Ginsberg, Dr. Spock, David Dellinger and Peter Paul and Mary gathered at the Pentagon near Washington DC and tried to encircle and levitate the building. The building didn’t rise, but I think it was worth the try.
There aren’t many good photos of this famous event, unfortunately. The vivid photo above doesn’t show the levitators and exorcisers, but rather shows the military police who protected the building while the attempted levitation occurred. I put the image on this page as a reminder of what a solid wall of opposition to a good idea can look like.
Today, do we have the courage to stand against strong opposition, to risk failure, to risk appearing foolish for peace again? It seems to me that this is the crossroads upon which we stand.
Myself, maybe I needed to go through this whole long sequence of blog posts in order to recharge my sense of courage and continue to write about what I’ve already been writing about. We need to think boldly and write boldly. We can’t sit back and wait for other smarter people to solve the puzzle, because they’re not solving it, and the puzzle isn’t so hard to solve that we can’t do it ourselves. Will we have the courage to take the next turn?