Tuesday, March 01, 2016

What causes war?

Many of the migrants in the news at the moment are fleeing war - not just in Syria, but also in Iraq and Afghanistan. The sight of desperate humans being resisted with armoured soldiers firing tear gas is not pleasant. We are looking at the irresistible force of a mass of people running from war meeting the irresistible object of right wing politicians ordering that they be stopped.

There is only one long term solution: address the causes of migration, namely war, oppressive dictators, poverty and climate change.

This post addresses the causes of war. To stop something, we have to understand what is causing it.

Killing another human being is an extreme and uncommon act in any civilised society, yet politicians seem to be able to persuade themselves, the media and most people to do just that without much difficulty.

So what causes them to want to go to war?

Each war is unique in its origins, and there is no single cause for any war. We live in an ecological system, and there are many factors in whatever happens in a system. The factors can be grouped under these headings: Economic, Division, Domination and Cognitive.

Economic Causes of War
Possibly the simplest and most historic. Tribe A has a lot of shiny things but not many warriors.  Tribe B has a lot of warriors and not many shiny things.
Result - raiding party, injuries, deaths, transfer of shiny things from A to B, loss of trust, resentment, and in years to come, more war between A and B.

One result of this situation is that A may try to avoid the bloodshed by giving a regular tribute of shiny things to B, as happened in 9th century Britain with the Danelaw.

Next up: Populations need land. Land hunger causes stronger neighbours to push in to territories held by weaker neighbours. Expanding populations sometimes produce an excess of young men, ("Youth Bulge") and if the economic system cannot provide work and wives for them, they may decide to go trading or raiding instead.

Valuable resources may be a more powerful attractant than land itself. It is all too clear that the interest of the West in securing access to oil is a powerful motive in the two wars that our leaders have recently brought onto Iraq.

Diamond mines in a war zone can be a motive for fighting and a means of sustaining the war, since the wealth from the mine can pay for the war.

Division as a cause of war
It is easier to go to war if there is a clear difference between the parties.
A different language, ethnicity, physical appearance, class, religion or ideology - any or all of these can make it easier for a regime's media to dehumanise and demonise the Other.

Perception of the Other as weaker, inferior or evil is a useful factor to teach people to go to war.

South Africa was extremely lucky to avoid war between blacks and whites at the end of the apartheid era.

The USA is arguably still fighting a low grade race-based civil war, using its police force to kill young black people.

Israel is clearly engaged in the act of dominating its Palestinian neighbours.

Revolution happens when people feel that they have been unjustly dominated for too long by a class or tribe. This was the cause of the terrible massacres in Rwanda, where the Hutus rose up against ther Tutu ruling class. Unfortunately President Kagame of Rwanda is showing clear signs of becoming a dictator once again. Anyone on the path towards dictatorship should be identified and pressure should be applied to discourage the drift towards dictatorship. The condition can be diagnosed and treated by the UN, using the Global Human Rights Index.

Separatism - where one region of a nation feel themselves to be wrongly integrated into dominating nation state - was, a few years ago, the commonest cause of current wars, causing up to half of them,
until Daesh and other Islamo-fascists took over as the main cause of current wars with more than 10,000 deaths a year.

Separatism is an ideal and productive ground for the UN to offer its good services.

Cognitive Errors

War can be viewed as a political manifestation of insanity.
Insanity happens when a  gap forms between reality and our belief system.

The reality is that our task as human beings is to learn to live together in a such a way that our neighb ours and descendants can live with the same, or even greater, degree of happiness that we currently enjoy.

Global warming, pollution, resource depletion and other problems mean that we are already failing to discharge our task adequately.

Warfare only takes us further away from realising our task; in other words, it takes us further away
from reality.

Modern psychology treats mental illness by addressing the cognitive systems, the beliefs that underlie the mistaken choices that the individual may be making.

There are several ideas that enable warfare to be entertained as an option.

  1. "We always have had wars, and therefore always will have wars"
    This is a ubiquitous and very powerful idea that tends to abort any discussion of what to do about war.

    As an aside, its advocates often back it up with the contradictory notion "Nuclear deterrence means that we will never have a war between nuclear nations". This is clearly wrong, the product of wishful thinking.

    The key assumption of the "We always have had wars" notion is that people are incapable of changing. This is not true. An Anglo Saxon farmer in the 9th century would have said that "Vikings are incapable of behaving in a peaceful way". Yet now the Danish people are far more civilised and peace-loving than Anglo-Saxons.

    The fact that humanity has moved away from the belief that regular human sacrifice was necessary to keep the gods happy proves that we can make major changes.
  2. "If you want peace, you must prepare for war". This notion is attributed to a Roman military writer, Flavius Vegetius Renatus circa 375 AD. It is clearly wrong, since it leads to the arms race, and the arms race is generally agreed to be a potent cause of war, not least of WWI.

  3. "The Other is out to get us". Paranoia is a very common delusion, covering a vast range of individual states from murderous psychotic acts to common uneasiness as to what other people think of you.

    Mutual paranoia can arise as a pair of actors gradually escalate a dysfunctional relationship, with their beliefs about the other influencing their own actions for the worse, so that feedbacks build up in the relationship until a trigger event causes outbreak of hostilities. This could be termed Paranoia Mutualis Caesarii.
  4. Demonisation of the Other. The role of the mass media is to paint a picture of the Other as nothing but cruel sub-humans.
  5. Diversionary war. Disunity at home can be overridden by concern at an opponent. Thatcher's poll ratings, previously dubious, soared at the outset of the Falklands war.

War is multifactorial, but the factors can be identified, and the more we are aware of the factors in a given situation, the more able we are to avoid falling into the trap of believing that war is a solution.

War is not a solution, it is a problem.

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