October 18, 2004

War: The Bestial Instinct

Why do we fight each other? Some societies claim to possess that most ambiguous of concepts, 'civilisation', but regardless, the bestial instinct for war still surfaces time after time. This primordial response for survival, continues to be a dominant force within many societies. Unfortunately, this tendency is hard to overcome, because the desire to develop beyond it is not shared by everyone, and so legitimate defence is sometimes required.

Often, the basis for conflict stems from paranoia to defend an ideology and lifestyle from some external force that challenges our status quo; sometimes the fear is more tangible than the reality of actual danger. Perhaps, the McCarthy era of the 1950's is a good example of this.

As Bertrand Russell once wrote, 'Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.'

The flow endlessly churns in either direction, where no sense can step beyond the most basic reaction to correcting an issue, which is to kill. Every side in every war in history, believes that it has correct motivation; often assumed to be blessed by a god. In Iraq, we see terrorists beheading civilians and troops draped in national flags, dropping precision bombs, but there is no difference in the barbarism perpetrated. Each death that occurs in conflict, is yet another unfortunate reminder of how undeveloped we are as a species.

The Realist's posture states that reality is a brutal arena in which violence has always been a dominant force, and will likely continue to be. On the other hand, the Idealist promotes the belief that this base state can be overcome through the development of civilisation, perhaps through spiritual endeavour; God forbid that such a spiritual endeavour should become corrupted by greed, selfishness and distortion, as has been the case with many of our so-called great traditions, that are often the central force for conflicts.

Tolerance seems such a simple word to understand, and yet, the behaviour it represents, is rarely to be found. If only we could all fully grasp the beauty of its concept: Remove bigotry of all forms, and peace will prevail. Let us remember Voltaire's wisdom: 'What is tolerance? -- it is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly -- that is the first law of nature.'

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