Monday, January 09, 2017

The Real War

It’s Not Just Them

I
            So it now appears we’ve got to prepare for cyber war. I try to unpack that concept in my aging brain. For my generation the terrifying threat was nuclear war, horrifying enough, but if it didn’t hit your city you could still survive, unpleasant as survival might be.
            But with cyber war you’re sitting with your family at dinner some cozy winter evening when, in an instant, everything goes off. And as the invisible response-in-kind is launched, whole sections of the so-called civilized world lose their infrastructure. Electricity, gas, telephone, water, internet—all gone in an irretrievable instant.
            The elite, of course, will carry on with their generators and back-up systems. We “civilians” will do the best we can, but conceivably in this type of war the modern world as we know it will collapse, and there will be universal suffering for everyone, even the most well-stocked. And who’s to say cyber won’t come home to nuclear in a nervous breakdown of everything we’ve known?
            So of course we must mobilize. We need more geeks, more skilled hackers, more brilliant programmers, more drones, all oriented toward military objectives. A cause! At last we have a cause beyond just finding good jobs and making enough money for retirement (because we all know Social Security won’t last and never paid enough, anyway).
            Is anyone else tired of this? Why, exactly, are we attacking one another? What’s the point, when everyone suffers horrendously as a result of whatever gene causes some people to enjoy—indeed, thrive—on making enemies to defeat, capture, or kill?
            Donald Trump is saying he wants to get along with Russia. That offends even his honest supporters in Washington. Frankly, it doesn’t offend me, although Donald Trump generally does. But I read Crime and Punishment four times, on my own, before I was 21. Dostoevsky, Russian to the core, shaped my conscience and my consciousness in a major way. How can I call Russia an enemy?
            Yet the problems Obama and Putin have had getting along with one another have become problems for us all. How many thousands have died because two proud men, leaders essentially of rival gangs, get on one another’s nerves?
            In my opinion, as a person raised as a pacifist in the most violent, militarized country in the world, we need to look at the way we raise boys. It really makes a difference in how a boy thinks if he’s taught from an early age that violence committed against another is not just unacceptable behavior. It’s damage done to himself.
            But what alternative is there for a boy growing up in a world where he’s expected to be competitive and, if necessary, defend himself and others with violence?
            And now girls are ramping up their defensive skills as well. You can’t blame them. You can’t really blame anyone, violence is so ambiguous in our culture. You almost need a rule book in your pocket to double-check when it’s acceptable and when it’s not.

II
            If I had conquered my own violent tendencies, I could now give my formula for how you, too, could become violence-free. Maybe I could even charge money for sharing the secret to that exalted state. But that’s not a point I can make.
            I did realize early on, though—around the age of 12—that I had a temper which could get me into a lot of trouble if I didn’t curb it. Because I was raised to understand that violence is an inferior way of communicating, I was able to grasp that my capacity for blind rage was not productive. It didn’t resolve differences, it made them worse. But if I disabled or at least delayed that response to every situation which crossed my will, I entered a calmer state of mind. I encountered patience, a valuable skill.
            But what if I’d not been trained primarily by my mother to forswear violence (my father had problems of his own containing his temper) but learned it as a cultural standard? What if I’d been formally and culturally educated for peace, not for defense against enemies?
            It’s not visionary to say that we need a better way to conduct civilization if we want to lay claim to being a civilized world. That’s obvious. But there is vision in the suggestion that we raise our kids wrongly when we tell them to fight fight fight for their right not just to survive but to thrive.
            What if life isn’t really a fight but an inevitable process of unfoldment as we learn to know and understand ourselves and live together in mutual cooperation, not just because it’s in our self-interest, which it is, but because we want to?
            How do we learn to want to live in peace? That’s the point, I think, which needs to be addressed. To live in peace seems to be a beneficial state of being. What’s preventing us from prioritizing it?
            A big problem, I submit, is our stubborn commitment to the honor and glory of war, a serious human focus largely supported and advanced by the male sex. As a group we haven’t learned the art and, I’m sure, the science of side-stepping the passionate surge of will-to-kill every time someone threatens our quietude, crosses our interests, or has what we want but can’t get for ourselves or for our families.
            But if we would prioritize skills of self-management, I’m sure the enemy on the other side of that red line would look a lot like us.
            It takes courage to go into battle, no doubt about that. But it also takes courage to lay down your arms and walk free with no back-up plan against attack. This is not naiveté. It’s living as though peace is the universal condition and violence but a temporary disturbance, like a growing pain, on the way to realizing a better quality of life.
            And if, defenseless, you get killed or irreversibly maimed? It can happen. No path is a guarantee against tragedy and death. But the risks of death and injury are omnipresent and certainly far more magnified in a society sworn to the sacred cult of the sword.
            The question isn’t either/or but what is best for the health and happiness of our world? I’m proposing, if only for fun, that we pretend we live in a peaceful, restorative dream rather than a nightmare. If enough of us practiced that delusion, perhaps it would cease to be delusional. Or, if not, it would surely be more pleasant than a life lived in constant preparation for attacks from abroad or from thieves and killers stalking our streets at home. I speak from experience.
            The only thing worse than a knife at your throat is the fear of a knife at your throat. And there aren’t enough weapons in the world to defend you from that!
            But you can take on the fear in your mind. Careful, though. That struggle goes deep before it comes out on a sunny beach.
            Even so, it’s the real long war we could all be waging, within ourselves rather than with each other. It’s more effective in defeating enemies, too, and certainly cheaper than an outward struggle with all its waste of life and limb and howls of grief and rage.
            An angry man is his own worst enemy. And I guess that goes for women, too.


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