Wednesday, October 27, 2010

‘What the world needs now....’

In a discussion the other day with someone very concerned about humanity`s headlong plunge into disaster, -ecologically speaking -, the man opposite me was musing about how to use the psychological mind-bending techniques of the advertising industry ( and of our governments) to correct our course before it is too late. On the face of it, a logical approach to an important problem. Along the lines of fighting fire with fire and all those ‘self evident’ truths, means and solutions.

I found myself struggling to define the error contained in this concept. Confronted with the problem and the urgent need, it was hard not to agree. That is how we have always dealt with things after all. I reached for the analogy of pre-war Germany and the emergence of the Nazi propaganda machine. We think now, rightly, of its leaders as evil beings subverting the thoughts of their people and building a vast, destructive juggernaut on the foundation of a set of nasty ideals. All true, but within the thought structure of the people involved I know most must have been acting for altruistic motives; they believed their own propaganda, were in love with ideals like the purity of the people, the manifest destiny to have more ‘living space’, to take their place as a world power. Perhaps they also dreamed of some kind of world government that could force the folk onto their (ideal) track. Being good pragmatists, once the ideal was formulated, the means to achieve it was flexible. The goal was the thing, not how you got there. The more you fervently believed, the more horrible the means you could use, - war, murder, genocide, the subversion through propaganda and governance of your own people.

Having always thought of myself as a pragmatist ( the usual default North American philosophy) it came as a surprise for me to be saying that the means is important, in fact more important than an end goal. Attractive as finding a psychological tool and altering the way people think about their world may be, it is the tool which is suspect, just as it was in Germany or in many nations today. Good results do not come out of bad action, never did. It is ourselves who are the ‘enemy’, if we think that using the tools of the competition is the way to go. The world may well ‘go to hell in a hand basket’, but let us at least begin to act from day to day as if good can only come from good, - that love is the only way, and that the way is important, not a goal.


Something has been bothering me about my own argument. If, having tried appeasement with Hitler, the liberal democracies had continued a pacifist stance and not rearmed and fought and eventually won, then where would we be today? Where does ‘love is the only way’ meet another really destructive way? When do we say ‘no passera’, and pick up the same weapons as the foe and beat him at it?

There is no doubt that wars, either tribal conflicts or world wars wreck havoc on societies not only during the actual conflict phase but for many, many years after; within succeeding generations of families whose members participated and were brutalized, or within societal attitudes that were carried forward into the future. Although we may not recognize it, much of our problematical attitudes towards the earth, seeing it as a commodity to be ripped up by our muscular technology, has the last century of warfare behind it. But I still think that, given all the difficulties, following a way of harmony is the final cure for conflict, though it may take more generations than we really have time for to accomplish it.

Forget about achieving the goal and live it in our own lives right now.


Ernst Göran Westlund said...

I agree with you about the means and the end. In fact, the means are an essential part of the end, even if the one using the means sees it in a different way. Your example about the holocaust is, in my view, too theoretical. There is no meaning in judging those who made war against Hitler. They did what they thought best. We don't live in that time, so we can only speculate in other possible courses of action. When Hitler started the war, it was probably to late. But if you go back to the time immediately after WW1, then probably many opportunities were overlooked. In the light of that, the Marshall plan after WW2 was surprisingly provident. And a good example of what can be done to prevent further conflicts and wars.

If you want to change the world for the better, you have to start with yourself. That is what really matters.

Bill said...

Thanks Ernst, I agree in practical terms about the disaster of the Versailles treaty and its punative nature being the root of National Socialism and WWII. I don`t think I was criticising those nations that fought against Germany.That`s what my 'afterward' was about.

Coming from a 'warrior' family myself it interests me to think about alternative way of dealing with world problems rather than simply going to the default position of" You hit me, I`ll hit you!"
Who knows, maybe 'Peace and love' is the best battlefield strategy of them all.