Doug has questioned whether it is possible to get rid of militarism, in a comment on the Sri Lanka piece below. This deserves a detailed reply, so I have brought it forward to today's blog.
He writes, "you won't get rid of the root causes of "militarism" because they are intrinsic parts of human nature, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the individual, culture, and a variety of factors".
Aggression is indeed an intrinsic part of our make-up. There are four basic emotional states, happiness, depression, fear and anger. Happiness and anger are extravertive, producing activity, and fear and depression are intravertive, causing withdrawal. Anger and fear are based on a perception of threat, depression and happiness on the perception of (un)fulfilled desires.
Aggression is the activity arising from anger. In clinical psychology we aim to transform destructive aggression into useful constructive activity, named assertion. We aim to change the behaviour pattern that is produced.
The argument that aggression is "intrinsic" in human nature, if it is carried forward to the position that it is useless to try to change it, is a species of determinism. The deepest form of determinism is Calvinism, where everything is preordained by God, but genetic determinism is equally rigid, where everything is preordained by our DNA. Another common form is biological determinism, where we seen as irredeemable territorial predators.
Many thinkers and workers choose to reject determinism, for many reasons. Basically it reduces the vast array of human behaviours to as simple, single principle, whether God, DNA, or one facet of biology. It is far more accurate to view human "nature" or character as the summation of an infinite number of individual behaviours, which arise from within the individual and also from the interplay of the individual with her social, biological and physical environment.
A vast amount of economic activity is devoted to changing human behaviour. Philosophy, religion (fwiw), politics, economics, sociology, medicine, psychology, education, and parenting are just a few activities that come to mind where the aim is to modify human behaviour. To say that these are all wasted activities because human nature is unchangeable is a pretty bold position to take.
You say, "social identity theory seems pertinent here. It has also been noted, I believe, that aggression towards out-groups correlates with solidarity and close bonding within the in-group".
Absolutely right. Well, not absolutely right, because nothing is absolutely right, but I fully agree. This is the problem with the BNP, or any other nationalist or exclusivist grouping - political, ethnic, religious or familial. Social identity is an extension of the individual ego. The process of maturation should end with the individual realising that s/he is a part of a larger social whole, so learning to act in harmony with the needs of society, while retaining due individual freedoms. So also social groups need to attune themselves to the need of the whole human community, and with the constraints that the physical and biological environment imposes on us.
Doug writes"You won't get rid of "militarism" without taking out "militarists" - power-mongers, and political idealists like Prabhakaran (Tamil Tiger leader, RIP) and his commanders".
"Taking out" needs clarifying. Prabhakaran has been "taken out" in the Clint Eastwood sense, but it would not do any good by, say, trying to "take out" Gordon Brown in the same way, on the grounds that he is ready to kill millions by using his weapons of mass destruction. Another person, even more deluded and paranoid, would simply step into his place. War-mongers are not separate kinds of people, they are ordinary people whose thinking has been distorted by an irrational political system. They are voted into place by ordinary people who are taken in by the argument that we must have weapons of mass destruction at our disposal, otherwise the Russians...no, hand on a minute...the Islamists will come and get us. Well, if not the Islamists, someone in the future might threaten us with their own WMD. The snag with this argument is that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, since the Someone will be driven to acquire WMD because we have WMD. We live in an inter-active system, and military top brass are not intrinsically bad people, it is just that they are unable to grasp the effect that their decisions have on other people.
Doug says "I've enjoyed many happy months living in Tamil Nadu in India myself, and Tamils are just like any other people: there's good and bad everywhere".
Exactly. There is good and bad in everywhere. Our work is to find ways of bringing facilitating the good tendencies in people and inhibiting the bad tendencies.
"Unfortunately it's the bad who so often climb into positions of power and then make the rest of us suffer in carrying out their warped ideas".
I would re-frame this. The politicians are not Bad - they are ordinary people, who often start out with high ideals, but whose thinking is distorted in the long climb to the top.
That's why we are in Green politics, to bring fresh thinking to the political process. New thinking, based on ecological reality, which gives us a wider frame in which the otherwise conflicting ideologies of socialism, individualism, nationalism, militarism and the rest can be resolved.
So my thesis is that it is possible to change human thought and behaviour, that militarism is a kind of human behaviour, and that therefore militarism can be changed.
I do not underestimate the difficulty of achieving this, but our hope of success can be based on our success in getting rid of human sacrifice 3,000 years ago, and overt human slavery 100 years ago.
The first step in the process of getting rid of militarism is to let go of the thought that it is impossible to get rid of it. There are many other steps involved, and at the practical political level I believe that the Global Human Rights Index and the proposal for the UN to set up an office to mediate separatist claims are reasonable and achievable objectives.