Friday, November 10, 2006

Wendell Berry on the war

Some thoughts by Wendell Berry, excerpted from the chapter "Peaceableness Toward Enemies" in his book SEX, ECONOMY, FREEDOM AND COMMUNITY, in response to the war in Iraq. Oddly enough, these words were written 15 years ago in regards to the war waged by George Bush the first, who didn't succeed in making a complete mess of that country the way his son W has now.

What can we mean by the statement that we were "liberating" Kuwait? Kuwait was not a democratic nation. If it was imperative to "liberate" it after Saddam's invasion, why was it not equally imperative to "liberate" it before? And why is it not equally imperative to liberate Tibet or China, or any of the other nations under non-democratic rule?

It may be true that Saddam Hussein is a dangerous madman. dealing with a madman, people of common sense try not to provoke him to greater acts of madness. How Saddam's acts of violence were to be satisfactorily limited or controlled by our own acts of greater violence has not been explained.

This war was said to be "about peace". So have they all been said to be. This was another in our series of wars "to end war." But peace is not the result of war, any more than love is the result of hate or generosity the result of greed. As a war in defense of peace, this one in the Middle East has failed, as all its predecessors have done. Like all its predecessors, it was the result of failure, on the part of all of its participants, to be peaceable...

...victory for some requires defeat for others. And those who have been defeated will not be satisfied for long with an order founded on their defeat. One such victory will sooner or later require another. In fact, this war produced not order but disorder probably greater than the disorder with which it began (Brook's note: "probably" is no longer the right word to describe the situation. "incomprehensibly" is probably a better word when talking about this war). We have by no means shown that disorder can be put in order by means of suffering, death, and destruction.

We must also consider the possibility that this war happened not because we had a purpose in fighting it but simply because we were prepared for it... It is well understood that the mere possession of any piece of equipment is a powerful incentive to use it. Our aimlessness and apparent bewilderment in the aftermath of the war may be an indication that the war itself was virtually without a purpose.

...We were evidently determined to preserve at all costs a way of life in which we will contemplate no restraints. We sent an enormous force of our young men and women to kill and to be killed in defense of our oil supply, but we have done nothing to conserve that supply or to reduce our dependence on it... We wish to give our people the impression that except for their children, nothing will be required of them.

About equally troubling is the tone of technological optimism that accompanied the war's beginning... The assumption...has been that this was a war of scientific precision and predictability, that we knew exactly what we were doing, what was involved, how long it would take, and what the results would be...Of course, anyone who uses tools can testify that results invariably become more complex and less predictable as force is increased. When our leaders talked about the results of this war, they were talking about victory and the political order that presumably would be imposed (for a while) by the victor. They were not talking about the deaths and griefs, the economic descructions, the intensified hatreds and resentments, the changed patterns of poverty and wealth, and the ecological damages that would also be the results and that would not be readily predictable or controllable. The confession, by certain pro-war politicians, that some of the disorderly and lamentable results of the war were "not foreseen" was surely the war's most foreseeable result.

The circumstances of this war made obscure such apparently simple questions as "Who is the enemy?" and "Whom is this war against?"

The enemy was said to be Iraq, or Iraq as ruled by Saddam Hussein. But in Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussein, we faced an enemy who had been armed, fortified, equipped, trained, and encouraged by ourselves and our friends. Our government gave aid to Saddam Hussein, indulged his human rights abuses and his use of poison gas, and encouraged him to think that we would not oppose his ambitions. We sold him equipment that could be used to develop nuclear weapons, missiles, and poison gas. We sold him toxins and bacteria that could be used in biological warfare.

...What about the children? we ask as our leaders acknowledge the inevitability of "some civilian casualties" - or "collateral casualties" as they put it...
We are thinking, too, of our own children to whom someone must explain that some people - including some of "our" people - look on the deaths of children as an acceptable cost of victory.

There is no dodging the fact that war diminishes freedom. This war increased government secrecy (which is at any time a threat to freedom)...and it increased governmental and popular pressure toward uniformity of thought and opinion. War always encourages a patriotism that means not love of country but unquestioning obedience to power. Freedom, of course, requires diversity of opinion. It not only tolerates political dissent but encourages and depends on it.

One thing worth the imperative to imagine the lives of beings who are not ourselves and are not like ourselves...

...there is one great possibility that we have hardly tried: that we can come to peace by being peaceable.

That possiblilty, though little honored, is well known; its most famous statement is this: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you."

In times of war, our leaders always speak of their prayers... Perhaps they believe or hope that prayer will help. But within the circumstances of war, prayer becomes a word as befuddled in meaning as liberate or order or victory or peace. These prayers are usually understood to be Christian prayers. But Christian prayers are made to or in the name of Jesus, who loved, prayed for, and forgave his enemies and who instructed his followers to do likewise. A Christian supplicant, therefore, who has resolved to kill those whom he is enjoined to love, to bless, to do good to, to pray for, and to forgive as he hopes to be forgiven is not conceivably in a situation in which he can be at peace with himself.

...Ignoring the Gospels' command to be merciful, forgiving, loving, and peaceable, our leaders have prayed only for the success of their arms and policies and have thus made for themselves a state religion - exactly what they claim to fear in "fundamentalist" Islam. But why God might particularly favor a nation whose economy is founded foursquare on the seven deadly sins is a mystery that has not been explained.

Peaceableness toward enemies is an idea that will, of course, continue to be denounced as impractical. It has been too little tried by individuals, much less by nations. It will not readily serve those who are greedy for power. It cannot be effectively used for bad ends. It could not afford opportunities for profit. It involves danger to practitioners. It requires sacrifice. And yet it seems to me that it is practical, for it offers the only escape from the logic of retribution. It is the only way by which we can cease to look to war for peace.

Let us hasten to the question that apologists for killing always ask: If somebody raped or murdered a member of my family, would I not want to kill him? Of course I would, and I daresay I would enjoy killing him. Or her. If asked, however, if I think that it would do any good, I must reply that I do not. The logic of retribution implies no end and no hope. If I kill my enemy, and his brother kills me, and my brother kills his brother, and so on and on, we may all have strong motives and even good reasons; the world may be better off without all of us. And yet this is a form of behavior that we have wisely outlawed. We have outlawed it, that is, in private life. In our national life, it remains the established and honored procedure.

The essential point is the ancient one: that to be peaceable is, by definition, to be peaceable in time of conflict. Peaceableness is not the amity that exists between people who agree, nor is it the exhaustion or jubilation that follows war. It is not passive. It is the ability to act to resolve conflict without violence. If it is not a practical and a practicable method, it is nothing. As a practicable method, it reduces helplessness in the face of conflict. In the face of conflict, the peaceable person may find several solutions, the violent person only one.

We seem to be following, on the one hand, the logic of preventitive war, according to which we probably ought to kill all heads of state and their supporters to keep them from sooner or later becoming power hungry maniacs who will force us to fight a big war to save freedom, civilization, peace, gentleness, and brotherly love.... If it is to mean anything, peaceableness has to operate all the time, not lie dormant until the emergence of power-hungry maniacs. Amish pacifism makes sense because the Amish are peaceable all the time. If they attacked their neighbors and then, when their neighbors retaliated, started loving them, praying for them, and turning the other cheek, they would be both wrong and stupid. Of course, as the Amish know, peaceableness can get you killed. I suppose they would reply that war can get you killed, too...


Brook said...

I pretty much DISagree with this part of what you say:
"A thinking mind cannot feel.
Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys the planet.
Environment can never be saved as long as cities exist.

Emotion is what we experience during gaps in our thinking.

If there are no gaps there is no emotion.

Today people are thinking all the time and are mistaking thought (words/ language) for emotion"

I would suggest that it is what you are thinking and how you are thinking that determine the emotions you do or do not feel. I don't see thinking and emotions as antithetical. I don't see how they could. the mind is always thinking. always. the thoughts you have determine the emotions you feel, not the absence of thoughts.

sushil yadav said...

Thoughts and Emotions are interlinked - but different things - totally/ completly different.

Words can be spoken - words can be read - words can be heard.

Emotion is a subjective-experience. Other examples of subjective experience are taste, smell, touch, headache, stomach pain.

One can understand the difference this way :

When we eat an apple we can feel the taste of apple. Apple can give us the taste of apple - but apple is not taste.

If we pour apple juice into a glass - the glass will not feel the taste - it does not have the ability to feel taste.

If a person eats an apple he will feel the taste - because he has the ability to generate taste from apple.

Words/ Visuals can evoke, intensify and sustain emotions - but words/ visuals are not emotions.


Brook said...

I didn't say that the words ARE emotions, but they are things that happen at the same time, not mutually exlusive to one another. Saying a thinking mind cannot feel is like saying you cannot taste the apple while you are eating it.

sushil yadav said...

A thinking mind cannot feel.

This means there is an inverse relationship between the two - when emotion is more thinking is less, when thinking is more emotion is less.

Proof of the link between pain and slow visuals / words :-

In the last century man has made thousands of movies / films on various
themes / subjects. Whenever pain / tragedy is shown in any film the
visuals ( scenes ) and words ( dialogues ) are always slowed down. In
many films tragedy is shown in slow motion. At the most intense moment
of pain the films almost become static / stationary.

Tragedy-films provide direct proof / evidence of the link between pain
and slowness.

Pain can intensify / sustain only when visual ( and verbal ) speed slows down( stops/ freezes).

Change in visual speed over the years.

One thousand years ago visuals would change only when man physically
moved himself to a new place or when other people ( animals / birds )
and objects ( clouds / water ) physically moved themselves before him.

Today man sits in front of TV / Computer and watches the rapidly
changing visuals / audio.

He sits in a vehicle ( car / train / bus ) and as it moves he watches
the rapidly changing visuals.

He turns the pages of a book / newspaper / magazine and sees many
visuals / text in a short span.

Change in verbal speed over the years.

In ancient times verbal processing was “live” in nature—ie it happened when people actually spoke.
Today there is non-stop verbal processing inside the mind through print and electronic media ( newspapers, books, magazines, radio, television, computer etc…) as a result of which the verbal content & speed has increased thousands of times.

The speed of visuals ( and words ) has increased so much during the last
one hundred years that today the human brain has become incapable of
focussing on slow visuals /words through perception, memory, imagery.

If we cannot focus on slow visuals / words we cannot experience emotions associated with slow visuals /words.

Before the advent of Industrial Revolution Man's thinking was primarily
limited to :

(a) visual processing ( slow visuals )
(b) verbal / language processing ( slow words )

Today there are many kinds of fast thinking :

(1) visual processing ( fast visuals )
(2) verbal / language processing ( fast words )
(3) Scientific / Technical thinking ( fast )
(4) Industrial thinking ( fast )
(5) Business thinking ( fast )

(3), (4) & (5) are associated with Numbers / Symbols / Equations /
Graphs /Circuits / Diagrams / Money / Accounting etc…

As long as the mind is doing this kind of thinking it cannot feel any
emotion - not an iota of emotion.

In a fast society slow emotions become extinct.

Emotion is what remains in the mind when visual/ verbal processing slows down (stops/ freezes)