Tuesday, April 14, 2009


"Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor. They will have war."-Winston Churchill, on the events leading up to WWII

Part I is here.

If there is a "suicidal impulse" that lurks within our species as Dr. Bliss intimates in Part I, it would appear to be primarily the result of a profound reluctance to admit to the built-in, biological realities of the human animal.

Those among us who 'abjure violence' under all circumstances, have allowed themselves to believe that human beings are 'perfectable', i.e., that they can escape or entirely bypass their biological heritage and the essential elements of their very human nature..

It won't work. It never works.

A Cato Institute Policy Report from 2005 notes:
In the spring of 1845, Karl Marx wrote, ". . . the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of social relations." Marx's idea was that a change in the "ensemble of social relations" can change "the human essence."

In June 2004 the communist North Korean government issued a statement to its starving citizens recommending the consumption of pine needles. Pyongyang maintained that pine needle tea could effectively prevent and treat cancer, arteriosclerosis, diabetes, cerebral hemorrhage, and even turn grey hair to black.

Tragically, human nature isn't at all as advertised, and neither is pine needle tea. According to the U.S. State Department, at least one million North Koreans have died of famine since 1995.

Marx's theory of human nature, like Kim Jong Il's theory of pine needle tea, is a biological fantasy, and we have the corpses to prove it. Which may drive us to wonder: if communism is deadly because it is contrary to human nature, does that imply that capitalism, which is contrary to communism, is distinctively compatible with human nature?

In the movie Serenity, Captain Mal Reynolds has witnessed the horrific nightmare that came from the lovely utopian dreams of the 'do-gooders' of his universe--who only wanted to eliminate human aggression so as to create a perfect society; they meant well, you know--and he decides it is time to take a moral stand against such naked evil: "Sure as I know anything, I know this - they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten? They'll swing back to the belief that they can make people... better. And I do not hold to that."

While the pacifist ('turning the other cheek' is another variant of running away, or Flight) may be considered saintly and their principles admired and emulated, if such a reaction to dealing with existential threats were biologically programmed into a species, that species would not survive for very long. Even in those species where the preferred response to danger is to almost always run away(because of their size or other limitations), they are still able to fight--quite viciously--if necessary. Take, for example, a typical rat whose usual behavior is to run away from any threat. When cornered, even this small animal will fight to the death if their survival is at stake.

All this is not to say that Flight strategies can not be extremely useful in many dangerous situations. They are. But, consider this very modern reality: there is nowhere to run to avoid WMD. And an important corollary to that is that there is no appeasing someone who is dedicated to an ideology that requires them to kill you.

Under such circumstances, there is no land that can be given up for peace--they will demand more and more and still come after you. There is no appeasement that will prevent them from 'wiping' you off the map. In other words, there is no way to coexist with the kind of evil that exists today.

This essentially means that the 50% of our population whose instinct, when confronted with the repugnant and unbelievable evil of Islamic fundamentalism and its direct and unambiguous threat to Western Civilization, is to run away, appease or convert; are incorrect in thinking that their peaceful response will be effective in preserving their own and their loved one's lives for any significant amount of time. On the contrary, it is more likely that it guarantees their eventual extinction--either physically or psychologically. The only option for them in the end--whether they like it or not-- is to turn and fight (like the cornered rat) or die. Interestingly, and unlike the survival instinct of the rat; many modern humans when faced with the evil that confronts us in the 21st century, have found comfort in psychological denial and in magical thinking about the threat.

Bruce Thornton has written about the magical thinking that seems to dominate foreign policy:
Worse, however, is the magical thinking that lies behind the mantra of “diplomacy.” This faith in talk is predicated on assumptions about human nature and state behavior difficult to validate by the historical record. It reflects a Western Enlightenment idea that force is an outmoded relic of our primitive past, to be replaced by rational discussion in which give-and-take dickering, negotiation, respect for the other side’s position and demands, and a mutual, sincere desire to adjudicate grievance and avoid conflict can resolve disagreements. The key assumption is that in the end all people are rational and want peace and comfort more than any other good.

Some Factors That Have Led to the Relative Ineffectiveness of the "Flight" Mechanism in the Modern World

Essentially, three factors have contributed to an effective neutralization of the "flight" strategy, making it less effective as a sole means of dealing with some of the more nakedly aggressive and brutal regimes of today's world.

(1)The development of distant weapons systems and weapons of mass destruction have made it impossible to "run away" or "move away" from threats in the modern world. There is nowhere to go to be safe from such weapons. Or, to paraphrase Buckeroo Bonzai, "No matter where you go, there they are."

(2)Along with the development of these highly technological weapons is the increasing capability of even the most non-technological and relatively primitive, mostly irrational and non-compromising societies/cultures/nations to acquire, develop and/or use them. Many of these groups are not particularly amenable to living side by side with those who do not share their world view and are passionately committed to destroying alternative world views which are experienced as too psychological threatening for their fragile collective egos. And, finally,

(3)The ubiquitousness of postmodernism--both the general philosophy and the consequent political rhetoric--has tacitly undermined one side's moral options and keeps them at a continuous psychological disadvantage; forcing them to deal with the societies/cultures/nations in #2 above as if they were equal in rationality, peaceful intent, and moral worth. (See here and here, for example; or this book)

With the ascension of postmodern political rhetoric and the demagoguery that accompanies it; and the subsequent ease with which the denial of reality is not only socially acceptable, but highly encouraged, we have had a growing gap and increasing tension between those who are predisposed to running away from the most significant threat to human life; and those who wish to confront it and fight.

In other words, as the survival stakes have risen for the entire human species, instead of using both strategies optimally (i.e., not only "smart" diplomacy, but "smart" aggression), there are increasing calls for exclusively using "Flight" as the best and only option.

Why? Because a confluence of cultural and societal factors, philosophical and religious factors, have tipped the physiological and psychological balance to just this one strategy (Flight) as the ONLY MORAL OPTION. This is an interesting position, coming as it does from the side that insists that morality is "relative" and all, don't you think? But it explains why they are unwilling to confront terrorists who behead hostages and don't subscribe to the Geneva Conventions at all; but hysterically insist that the U.S.--who follows those Conventions and even does more than they require--is a terrorist state that tortures those poor, mistreated enemy combatants captured on the battlefield.

Postmodernism, with its moral relativity and cultural nihilism, is the malignant root cause of the West's suicidal impulse and its willingness to appease and run away from threats to its values and way of life.

In effect, the irrational and contradictory strictures of postmodernism are forcing the suppression of the "Fight" response and the aggressive side of human nature; and they put human individuals and free societies at risk of being conquered by barbarians with no such scruples.

Let us suppose that the tendency to either fight or flight is evenly distributed within most populations and that the preponderence for the use of one strategy or the other is likely culturally determined or learned. When a culture puts inflexible (and irrational, contradictory, and even suicidal) political, moral, legal and psychological restraints on its citizens in an attempt to eliminate the aggressive side of human nature; then the very survival of the society becomes questionable.

What are "Good" and "Evil" and How do they Relate to this Discussion?

Postmodern philosophy has taken a relativistic stance on the issue of ethics and morality; "good" and "evil". But, the concepts of “good" and "evil” are not arbitrary human inventions, disconnected from reality; on the contrary, they are concepts that are inextricably tied to reality, and to human life and biology.

Ayn Rand in her philosophical novel, Atlas Shrugged, wrote:
“There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or nonexistence—and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action. Matter is indestructible, it changes its forms, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, but its life goes out of existence. It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.”

The "good" is that which furthers life and gives it value, meaning and purpose. The "evil" is that which thwarts or destroys life; and takes away meaning, purpose and the will to survive. Understanding this is essential for human survival, and that is why we are physiologically hardwired and do not have to learn how to respond to threats to our existence. Overriding that essential biological pathway can only be done through the use of fear and overwhelming psychological and/or physical threat, as is seen in totalitarian and tyrannical societies. Once this is done, the biological mechanism is harnessed by the State or Collective to do its bidding. The individual will or conscience is eliminated or suppressed and the essence of humanity is snuffed out.

What we do have to learn, however, is how to control and focus the response to optimize our survival. What we have to learn is to channel the response to be productive and creative, rather than ineffective and destructive. That is, we must use our mind to determine the best adaptive response for a given situation. This requires the intellect and the use of reason, along with a degree of emotional maturity (and not hysteria or the over-reliance on emotions--either positive or negative ones).

As Ayn Rand further writes in (Atlas Shrugged):
A being who does not know automatically what is true or false, cannot know automatically what is right or wrong, what is good for him or evil. Yet he needs
that knowledge in order to live. He is not exempt from the laws of reality.

In psychological terms, human survival is not just a matter of life or death; it is also a matter of happiness or suffering. Happiness is the usual by-product when one's life is purposeful; and when it is going in the direction one has chosen and according to one's values; suffering is a red flag that something serious is wrong and that failure, a loss of values, or death is imminent.

Ultimately it is the rational, cognitive capability of the human mind that determines the most effective use of either the Fight or Flight mechansim. Civilization depends on reining in and sublimating the aggressive side of man's nature and harnessing it to optimize happiness and minimize suffering. It also depends on reining in the quite natural human desire to avoid or run away from conflict that may ultimately cause destruction if it is not faced.

Aggression is an inescapable part of human nature and can never be eliminated or the culture will rot and decline as individuals lose the will to live and all meaning, purpose, and individual joy is sucked out of their lives.

Rational diplomacy and rhetoric are extremely effective tools when dealing with other rational humans and other rational societies and cultures who value life and liberty (or, at least life); and who are interested in the happiness and well-being of their members. Clearly, these tools of human survival are ones we cannot live without, since compromise, exchange and tolerance are also essential for individuals and cultures to thrive and progress.

Ideally, civilizations find ways to use both the Fight and the Flight mechanisms productively and naturally; alone or in unison. If they do, then the pursuit of happiness, the creation of wealth and societal progress are all possible.

So, Why does Evil Persist in the World?

The individual evil that each human being is capable of is a direct result of excesses of either the aggressive side of their nature, which leads them to initiate physical force (including political force while claiming it is "for their own good") or coercion over their fellow humans; or the cowardly side of their nature which leads them to allow evil to exist unopposed and unfettered.

Often, the most barbaric societies use physical, political, economic and psychological coercion to keep their members in line as a matter of course; and they also encourage those members to use the same tactics towards others that they perceive as weaker.

Evil persists on an individual level--man vs. man-- because either the individual's rational, cognitive capacity has been relegated second to the most primitive expression of the biological imperitive of Fight or Flight mechanism; or, on the group level--men vs. men--because, the society or culture or nation tries to eliminate or suppress the expression of aggression entirely in its members in the name of the collective; and this leads to the group eventually becoming the victims of other societies or cultures that encourage aggression in the name of the collective.

What is needed is a rational balance between the two behaviors coded for in our biology; and a rational cognitive capability which can make the decision when one strategy, or its behavioral equivalent, is likely to be more effective than the other.

Andy McCarthy recently expressed this important insight:
Civilization is not an evolution of mankind but the imposition of human good on human evil.

There is nothing less civilized than rewarding evil and thus guaranteeing more of it. High-minded as it is commonly made to sound, it is not civilized to appease evil, to treat it with “dignity and respect,” to rationalize its root causes, to equivocate about whether evil really is evil, and, when all else fails, to ignore it — to purge the very mention of its name — in the vain hope that it will just go away. Evil doesn’t do nuance. It finds you, it tests you, and you either fight it or you’re part of the problem.

The men who founded our country and crafted our Constitution understood this. They understood that the “rule of law” was not a faux-civilized counterweight to the exhibition of might. Might, instead, is the firm underpinning of law and of our civilization. The Constitution explicitly recognized that the United States would have enemies; it provided Congress with the power to raise military forces that would fight them; it made the chief executive the commander-in-chief, concentrating in the presidency all the power the nation could muster to preserve itself by repelling evil. It did not regard evil as having a point of view, much less a right to counsel.(emphasis mine)

Modern "Flight" strategies such as outright appeasement or even so-called "smart diplomacy" will never work effectively (and in fact, may backfire) without also having the capacity and will to use smart, and controlled, aggression or "might". In other words, civilization--the imposition of human good over human evil--requires that we rationally control not only our biological impulse to fight at times; but also control our biological impulse to run away from a fight or negotiating unto death.

Winston Churchill once commented on the events leading up to WWII that, "Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor. They will have war."

He was correct. To run away from a fight can not only lead to shame and dishonor, but all too often the fight engulfs you anyway.

Sadly, evil persists in the world because human beings are just not perfect, nor will they ever be. Not only does evil thrive when aggression and violence are loosed upon the world, but it is also encouraged and enabled even when we virtuously refuse to fight that which is evil.

We must be smart enough to distinguish when one strategy should take preference over the other; and to do that requires all an emphasis on our cognitive and rational abilities and the emotional maturity and psychological insight to accept our capabilities and limitations a humans.

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