Surviving Human Nature

Some Topics

Delusions and War

The US is a prototype of democracy and capitalism gone wrong. The best feature of the US is freedom of speech that allows commentators, critics and scholars to eventually realize what is important and true and to publish their findings. You could argue that Americans are really like most humans everywhere at all times and suffer from delusions of grandeur. One delusion is that they are the chosen ones and God is on their side. The larger delusion is that they can exert control everywhere with their military forces. They described themselves as a “superpower’ and assumed the right to consume everything without restraint and without paying the real cost. Times are changing.

The Economist reported in 2008 that eight out of ten Americans thought their country was heading in the wrong direction. "The hapless George Bush is partly to blame for this, but many are concerned not so much about a failed president as about a flailing nation. One source of angst is the sorry state of American capitalism. American house prices are falling faster than during the Depression, petrol is more expensive than in the 1970s, banks are collapsing, the Euro is kicking sand in the dollar’s face, credit is scarce, recession and inflation both threaten the economy and consumer confidence is an oxymoron. Many Americans feel as if they missed the boom.

Between 2002 and 2006 the incomes of 99% rose by an average of 1% a year in real terms, while those of the top 1% rose by 11% a year; three-quarters of the economic gains during Mr. Bush’s presidency went to that top 1%. The rich appear in Barack Obama’s speeches not as entrepreneurial role models but as modern versions of the “malefactors of great wealth” denounced by Teddy Roosevelt a century ago: this lot, rather than building trusts, avoid taxes and ship jobs to Mexico. Globalization is under fire: free trade is less popular in the United States than in any other developed country, and a nation built on immigrants is building a fence to keep them out. “

Andrew Bacevich is unusually blunt and correct in his criticism of his own country. He suggested that the structure of “democracy” dictated in the US constitution is not working. The president can assume dictatorial powers by going to war. Members of congress are primarily concerned with re-election and not the welfare of citizens. He points to the Democratic congress elected in 2006 with the promise of ending the war in Iraq that capitulated and failed to keep the promise.

Bacevich wrote: “As a citizen, I have tried since Sept. 11, 2001, to promote a critical understanding of U.S. foreign policy. I know that even now, people of good will find much to admire in Bush's response to that awful day. They applaud his doctrine of preventive war. They endorse his crusade to spread democracy across the Muslim world and to eliminate tyranny from the face of the Earth. They insist not only that his decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was correct but that the war there can still be won. I believe that such notions are dead wrong and doomed to fail. "The long war is an unwinnable one," I wrote in this section of The Washington Post in August 2005. "The United States needs to liquidate its presence in Iraq, placing the onus on Iraqis to decide their fate and creating the space for other regional powers to assist in brokering a political settlement. We've done all that we can do." Not for a second did I expect my own efforts to make a difference. But I did nurse the hope that my voice might combine with those of others -- teachers, writers, activists and ordinary folks -- to educate the public about the folly of the course on which the nation has embarked. I hoped that those efforts might produce a political climate conducive to change. I genuinely believed that if the people spoke, our leaders in Washington would listen and respond. This, I can now see, was a delusion. The people have spoken, and nothing of substance has changed. The November 2006 midterm elections signified an unambiguous repudiation of the policies that landed us in our present predicament. But half a year later, the war continues, with no end in sight. Indeed, by sending more troops to Iraq (and by extending the tours of those, like my son, who were already there), Bush has signaled his complete disregard for what was once quaintly referred to as "the will of the people."

Preventing Killing

There is a noble tradition of pacifism that continues into the 21st century without much success. Universal disarmament is a prerequisite for humanity. While reptilian belligerence is programmed into the human brain, these programs can be inhibited and transcended. There are alternatives to fighting and killing. Smart, kind-hearted humans will need to focus on the successful methods of maintaining tolerance and peaceful coexistence. An equitable distribution of resources and wealth is one of the prerequisites.
An enlarging human population faces climate change, habitat destruction, epidemic diseases and increasingly scarce supplies of drinkable water and safe food. The obstacles to peace in the 21st century appear to be formidable.


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