.........................causes of war..........................commentary

....................This page written 2003

....................[for Sagan see also excellent summarised biog: http://www...]

......The Dragons of Eden
 

 

This is the title of a remarkable book written by Carl Sagan in 1977 in which he analyses the evolution of human intelligence.

brain

Outer : Neocortex

Middle : Limbic System

Centre : Reptilian Complex

 

Referring to the schematic representation of the human brain devised by Paul MacLean, chief of the Laboratory of Brain Evolution and Behaviour of the National Institute of Mental Health, he says:

"…it would be astonishing if the brain components beneath the neocortex were not to a significant extent still performing as they did in our remote ancestors… We would expect the R-complex [centre]… to be in some way performing dinosaur functions still; and the limbic cortex to be thinking the thoughts of pumas and ground sloths… MacLean has shown that the R-complex plays an important role in aggressive behaviour, territoriality, ritual and the establishment of social hierarchies. Despite occasional welcome exceptions, this seems to me to characterise a great deal of modern human bureaucratic and political behavior…

"I want to be very clear about the social implications of the contention that reptilian brains influence human actions. If bureaucratic behavior is controlled at its core by the R-complex, does this mean there is no hope for the human future? In human beings, the neocortex represents about 85 percent of the brain, which is surely some index of its importance compared to the brainstem, R-complex and limbic system. Neuroanatomy, political history, and introspection all offer evidence that human beings are quite capable of resisting the urge to surrender to every impulse of the reptilian brain. There is no way, for example, in which the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution could have been recorded, much less conceived, by the R-complex. It is precisely our plasticity, our long childhood, that prevents a slavish adherence to genetically pre-programmed behavior in human beings more than in any other species.

"But if the triune brain is an accurate model of how human beings function, it does no good whatever to ignore the reptilian component of human nature, particularly our ritualistic and hierarchical behavior. On the contrary, the model may help us to understand what human beings are about. (I wonder, for example, whether the ritual aspect of many psychotic illnesses… could be the result of hyperactivity of some center in the R-complex, or of a failure of some neocortical site whose function is to repress or override the R-complex. I also wonder whether the frequent ritualistic behavior in young children is a consequence of the still incomplete development of their neocortices.)"


Sagan's speculations are based on research. From what I, in my 54 years, have witnessed of the human world Sagan's conclusions strike me as pertinently accurate. What we most see in politicians, the elite, those defenders and supporters of corporate and imperial power, are precisely those primitive basest instincts Sagan ascribes to the reptilian cortex - that primordial part of the brain that is principally responsible for 'aggressive behaviour, territoriality, ritual and the establishment of hierarchies.'

What's more, he appropriately speculates that undue prominence of these traits suggest illness or incomplete development of the neocortex - which is the principle feature of the human brain that distinguishes us from other animals.

The implications here are profound. For if the presence of this illness, this underdevelopment - this defect - can be irrefutably demonstrated in most of those who hold public office, then doesn't that disqualify them? Shouldn't they be deemed unfit, a potential risk to the public and the wider world?

They've already more than demonstrated their unfitness. Last March, on our behalf yet against our collective will, 400 of our MPs plunged our country into an unprovoked act of mass slaughter. Our highly ritualised and hierarchical military followed the atrociously inept orders like so many brainless robots. This kind of unquestioning blind obedience, luckily, shied at the falling of the Berlin wall and at the recent government overthrow in Russia's Georgia - when huge public opposition was in no doubt. The military recognised the iniquity of their elite masters. Why not here?

The answer, I would suggest, lies in the extent to which hierarchy and ritual, so characteristic of the English establishment, are instilled into the very fabric of every part of government, particularly the MOD (or should that now be the MOI - Ministry of Invasion?). The decision of those 400 MPs who voted for war, whether or not they were manipulated by threats or brides, has created not only vast amounts of untold horror for the invaded, but has put us all at risk from various forms of possible retaliation. Quite apart from the consequential ongoing suffering or any potential material gain, it was, in short, a brutal, barefaced act of insanity - and most of us knew it.

So if we are to have any chance of transcending our subservience to the bizarre rituals and debasing hierarchies that our society is so steeped in, and if we are to break the incongruous cycle of indoctrination and deceit, then we could do worse than take advice from Martin Buber:

"…if he [Mankind] is to be a reflective creature - more than a lived body - he must launch himself into the future by breaking from mere 'thereness'. In disruption, in unease, he must begin to become."


Prejudice

How can I be anti-British when I am British myself, or anti-American when I have American relations and friends, and am extremely fond of that country and it's people? How can I be anti-Jewish when I have Jewish friends and enjoy Jewish authors? How can I even be anti-Israeli when - though a majority there support mass murderer Sharon - there are Israelis who vehemently oppose their grotesque government?

Apart from the obvious explanation of fear of difference (irrational as that is these cosmopolitan days), I have always been puzzled by prejudice against anyone for some aspect of themselves over which they have no choice or control. Skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnic origin, etc, are therefore to me absurd issues to be prejudiced about. So are cultural, religious and philosophical opinions or lifestyles insofar as they don't impinge on those who have different views, or involve any kind of cruelty or privilege - which I suppose is open to contention (esp with Jews and Muslims). But when I see how the elite operate, how by dishonest propaganda, sheer hubris or brute-force they seize power, crush and enslave the weak, brutalise and despoil our world, then I believe prejudice can be justified. Whether these elite are black, white, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, British or gay is utterly irrelevant; it is what they do that evokes distaste and prejudice. And in my view everything non-violent possible should be done to frustrate and disable them, EVERYTHING!

By doing nothing, as seems the inclination of us - perhaps less competent and somewhat indolent - ordinary peace-loving folk, we are allowing these elite to ruin what could otherwise be a world close to paradise for all.

The fact that the elite comprise rather less than 5% should give courage. If it wasn't that many of the rest of us are so easily duped, bribed or threatened into serving their interests, helping to run their sweatshops, soldiering in their iniquitous armies and slaughtering our fellow citizens abroad who may be likewise duped, bribed or threatened, then the elite would become ineffective overnight, and without a single act of aggression would be defeated.

But there are other reasons for our compliance. Many of us have been indoctrinated from an early age to distrust our own sense of justice in favour of external authority: that of government, newspaper editors or owners and various other figures and bodies of authority - teachers, military officers, etc. In addition there are those who, whether they agree with an order or not, will always conform. Either through fear or some misplaced sense of loyalty, the words 'revolt' and 'disobey' are not in their vocabulary. I repeat here Hesse's essay on Self-will (taken from 'If The War Goes On…') to emphasise the point:

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SELF-WILL (1919)

"THERE is one virtue that I love, and only one. I call it self-will. - …True, all the virtues man has devised for himself might be subsumed under a single head: obedience. But the question is: whom are we to obey? For self-will is also obedience. But all the other virtues, the virtues that are so highly esteemed and praised, consist in obedience to man-made laws. Self-will is the only virtue that takes no account of these laws. A self-willed man obeys a different law, the one law I hold absolutely sacred - the law in himself, his own 'will'

"It is a great pity that self-will should be held in such low esteem! Do men think well of it? Oh no, they regard it as a vice or at best as a deplorable aberration. They call it by its eloquent full name only where it arouses antagonism and hatred. (Come to think of it, true virtues always arouse antagonism and hatred. Witness Socrates, Jesus, Giordano Bruno, and all other self-willed men.)…


There are only two poor accursed beings on earth who are excluded from following this eternal call and from being, growing, living, and dying as an inborn and deeply ingrained self-will commands. Only man and the domestic animals he has tamed are condemned to obey, not the law of life and growth, but other laws that are made by men and from time to time broken and changed by men. And the strangest part of it is that those few who have disregarded these arbitrary laws to follow their own natural law have come to be revered as heroes and liberators - though most of them were persecuted in their lifetime. The same mankind which praises obedience to its arbitrary laws as the supreme virtue of the living reserves its eternal pantheon for those who have defied those laws and preferred to die rather than betray their 'self-will'."


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This is essentially a call to disobedience - disobedience of ORDERS. What every person should realise is that their inborn natural confidence in - and trust of - their own unquestionable feeling for what is 'appropriate' (or 'innappropriate') action has been all but crushed out of them from an early age. Responsible for this are parents and teachers who unwittingly conform to the status quo, and who, with the best of (misguided) intentions, inculcate that conformity into those within their charge. Likewise, when we as victims grow-up we in turn impose this on our offspring and the cycle of treachery continues. This is precisely the treachery from which Jesus (as rebel), reputedly, died to save us.

The increasing numbers of people breaking from this repulsive cycle of treachery is, I imagine, what inspires Bruce Kent's optimism(ie 'The CND Conference'). Indeed, government mendacity has become so complacently blatant of late that one would have to be retarded not to see it - though by all accounts many of us don't even bother to look. We are inclined to sell our souls too easily or cheaply:-

How frequently I have seen a perfectly amicable intelligent and ordinary individual mesmerised by the thought of some trivial promotion. And then, once achieved, their whole character has changed. No longer are they the friendly fair-minded person I knew, but are now a representative of management, and must therefore adopt a superior pose, wield a little authority, show justification and gratitude for the favour their 'benefactor' has shown them in making them - they scarcely realise - a more elevated and ensnared slave. By hardening themselves, becoming aloof (even, frequently, in a social setting) and obeying more than ever what they perceive to be their benefactor's will, they have become corrupted. They are no longer free. This is especially true of politicians, but applies almost anywhere.

It doesn't always happen, but why do so many react this way? Are they blinded by the esteem engendered from their boss's recognition of their potential to conform, to obey, and to ignore if necessary ethical concerns when carrying out whatever duties might be required of them? Or is it simply a matter of status? I've seen people accept a lower salary for this. It has little to do with ability to perform the task required - which usually most people are easily capable of.

Such under-managers are inclined to enforce their superior's supposed will assiduously - for fear of losing their position, or of being passed-over for further promotion. The bignuts in overall command, I've noticed, take care to select only those they believe possess this weakness to sell-out, and encourage the overtly dominant middle-management style reminiscent of a long-dead past (certainly to the extent that it doesn't result in a recruitment crisis). It's a kind of gradual resurrection of a bullying assertiveness, of 'subduing the workers', keeping them in their place - a resurgence of the browbeating and union-bashing reminiscent of the eighties.

Everyday decisions that challenge ethical judgment are made in all kinds of industries. I've seen it myself in the four industries I've worked in - and not least also in compulsory education with which we're all familiar. We can observe the power-plays - not dissimilar in some cases to those cited by Eric Berne in his 'Games People Play' which looks into aspects of everyday human relationships that we all know about and occasionally experience but rarely dwell upon. The TV soaps are solid with these everyday irrationalities, which is probably why many people find them so compelling. The soaps also subdue us into feeling comfortable about our own lives when compared with the vicious squabbles, backbiting and cheating that the soap-writers are contracted to fabricate ad nauseam.

Returning to the core of the problem we face, it is similar to the dilemma faced by the striking miners back in the eighties - or, for that matter, any strikers. Do you refuse to sell your soul and enjoy at least some psychological balance, or do you do the bidding of the elite who pay the miserable salary with which you buy food to live?

The US in Iraq pay Iraqi police officers well - otherwise there would be no recruits. This is danger money for risking the consequences of betraying their fellow Iraqis whose land is occupied, whose infrastructure is in turmoil, whose homes have been turned into rubble and whose assets are being plundered - no doubt with the assistance of other well-paid turncoats whose overriding concern, understandably, is to feed and protect their families.

And it is no wonder that people from neighbouring countries pour in to assist the resistance - as the UK went to the assistance of Poland at the start of WW2 - because if the resistance fails then Syria and Iran (in WW2, the UK) will be next; so unless they are happy to be invaded by brutal plundering corporate slave-drivers, what choice do they have? And we all know the ominous truth that further invasions can only be prevented either by defeat for the US/UK in Iraq or by the possession of a nuclear deterrent.

In previous Issues I cited a number of concerns that I believe will ultimately affect almost everyone. If, for instance, the global atmosphere is altered, as it must be by the burning of hundreds of billions more barrels of oil, and if other reckless government policies based on greed and aggression launches the world into perpetual war - and some people believe the initial stages are present now - then no-one will be immune.

Here In Summary - are some of the concerns that I think worth further reflection:

The expanding US policy of violent intervention around the world since WW2. I am aware of no other motive for this other than plunder and control.

The UK's recent involvement in unprovoked invasion of other states. Ditto.

Whether we really have democracy here in the UK. It seems that whoever we elect we end-up with the same monstrous elite: corrupt, brutal and inept.

That half the UK public apparently place violent invasion, slaughter and plunder low on their list of priorities for what concerns them in government policy.

The relentless propaganda that persuades support from - or intentionally confuses - those who take little interest in government affairs which, through taxes, they are forced to finance and which are carried out in their name.

Steinbeck's observation that the sole function of corporate enterprise is the acquisition of wealth, which it pursues with ruthless vigour (as famously documented in his 'The Grapes of Wrath'). This means that the arms industry, the oil industry - all industry - has an inherent mandate to use any method available to increase its wealth, the scale and scope of its activities, and ultimately its endeavours in total domination of government (in this instance in the UK and USA)...

'…when, as John Dewey noted, "politics is the shadow cast on society by big business", our leaders are not obliged to listen.'

The question is: When will we learn to STOP listening to them?