Philosophy Weekend: The Turn

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:

1. Ethical Sudoku

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:

2. The Ashley Wilkes Principle
3. Blood Alienation

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.

4. The Atrocity Cube
5. Genocide Is Not 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:

6. Can A Person Be Guilty Of Genocide?
7. Genocide And Drunk Driving And Causality

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?

2 Responses

  1. Hold your horses. L.A….
    I’d like to comment on this passage (at least) –

    Re: “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. That’s the negative formulation of the big idea: unless we can get rid of our addiction to war, we will never stop committing genocide.”

    There is no military strategy without two purposes – defensive strategy and offensive strategy. These two fulfill the purpose of war, not unlike any of our sports, these are inherent in our species.

    Of course full-fledged war involving several countries either aggressively attacking another country or defending their borders with the aid and assistance of other self-minded countries, think World Wars I and II which gave name to such incidents.

    Indeed in these wars military minds were called into action to stop the aggressions and on the other side the oppressors called upon their military minds to further their agendas. But these military strategies didn’t simply “pop-up” without need or reason prior to their implementations.

    The reasons behind the beginnings of war has to include emotions… will the aggressor take over the homeland and threaten the culture from which the people have lived and thrived for years? Or conversely, is the aggression itself spurred on by that same fear, but defense goes beyond one’s borders into another’s to “beat them to the punch” tactic, i.e. if they don’t act first then they will have to assume the defensive posture?

    This is the end result of emotions and reason and logic before war starts. When war develops into a military strategy of genocide, that is when the exhaustion of war and/or the frustration of a stalemate may be apparent. Then those strategists throw their frustration into the flames of battle bringing the heat of war into the frenzy of genocidal acts being perpetrated upon the opposing side to the extent anything resembling that opposition, children, women and the elderly become collectively the enemy to be destroyed.

    That act in itself is emotional behavior taken to the extreme which does not include at that point any military strategy but only the fumes of hatred to accomplish the heinous act.

    Your well-researched and studied idea that all genocide begins with a military strategy must include all genocidal acts committed at least during the 20th Century in which there were at least 54 (including two U.S.Presidents, Nixon and Johnson and the number of Vietnamese and Cambodians killed). If your theory fits all these atrocities then, my friend, I should think this theory will become closer to becoming more of a fact than theory.

    War itself is an extension of our hu’manity which is ignored by many who may be called “pacifists”, the devoutly religious, the innocence of children, the majority of women (who bring life into the world and do not favor destroying those efforts to do so), and the elderly (whom most are tired of participating or hearing about wars most of our lives). It certainly would be a miracle if war was vanquished from our planet, but that vanquishing is not without some level of force that is necessary for all wars.

    Conclusion: an observation into the natural world, one can see living is constantly at stake within all species, so strong is life’s greatest instinct, survival, it’s no wonder that even we hu’mans are participants in this necessary cycle of birth and death with survival being our sole objective in between those two inevitabilities.

  2. Thanks Mtmynd — I think I
    Thanks Mtmynd — I think I agree with everything you are saying.

    When I try to draw broad conclusions about genocide, I’m not trying to simplify or reduce the importance of all the aspects you’re talking about. All of these things are important. Still, I feel we all tend to become so overwhelmed with the complexities of historical situations that we fail to see the big patterns. So lately I’m trying to focus on the big patterns.

    Thanks for pointing out that there is a list of 54 genocides of the last century. I haven’t actually verified that my principles seem to hold true for all 54. I tend to focus on the ten or so “big genocides” as documented by, for instance, Samantha Power in “A Problem From Hell”. These are Armenia 1915, the Holocaust, Cambodia, Iraq’s attacks on Kurds, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur — as well as a few that Samantha Power’s book does not cover like Holodomor and Mao’s Great Leap Forward, as well as the Japanese invasion of China, Central America, Biafra, a few more. Plenty of genocide to go around …

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