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Debating the motivations and moral justifications of war, and its relationship to society and human nature

February 7, 2013

(Extracted from a debate thread with Angel Suri)

My original post (for context):

I regularly post anti-war content on Facebook, Google+, twitter, and my blogs, I am always talking to my friends and family about how stupid and unjustified the wars American, Israel, and Palestinian countries are fighting are, and I sign petitions and support politicians committed to bring an end to America’s policing the world and building this unsustainable American empire.

I’m a diehard pacifist and debate with people all the time about the problems with war, and convince people all the time that after stripping away all the FUD and propaganda, all of these wars we’re fight are completely unjustifiable.

What have YOU done to oppose the warmongering in America and in the world?

Opening comments by Angel Suri:

 LIKE DRUGS AND GAMBLING: War gives men a justifiable excuse to commit suicide or practice aggression… War is the seeking of pleasure or the justification of an ideal… War like all human experience has a value in that it seeks an end or adds meaning for it has both effect and value to those who engage in it and is seen as absurd by those who abstain… Why would you deny man his natural inclination to kill and die and seek pleasure or ideals in a pragmatic way? It is the way he seeks these things that you object to not that a man or a collection of men seek these things… Would you have us all play chess or some other form of competition and power satiating substitutes for pleasure in risk? Your ideals have no greater value than that of another man or collection of men. Your distaste is all you speak of, a contrary ideal, a different collection of men who share your proclivity for peace. Peace has value only insomuch that it allows another war to break out eventually. Peace is a respite for the men of war to show the men of peace that virility in life can still be had and that the will to power is not an effete thing to be hidden away through living a life of the mind alone. War is evil to the pacifist because it is foreign to their nature and cannot be understood as “just something else to do to pass the time.” Pass the time in judgement against or pick up a gun or a needle or a set of dice, but do not spend time in meaningless argumentation about human nature.

 

War is sanctioned through cooperation of the many (or the powerful few) who agree and not some random act by some lunatic without social value. The only similarity to what you propose is the component of violence and benefit. Otherwise several lunatics are required to start and enact a war. some semblance of sanity is needed to do this successfully. i speak of sane things that by a pacifist is seen as insane ideology. But then again i think a man taking vows of silence and renouncing all pleasure for a life of contemplation is equally insane as what you propose for they accomplish the same thing. You do not need to value war, only understand that there are those that do, and that you have no right or any moral justification to value peace over war where they are concerned. For there are many moralities but there is no Morality. in other words people are going to do whatever the hell they want because they can and there’s not a damned thing you can do to stop them from using their power.
 
Angel Suri your response is interesting as it follows the same premise as one of the first blog posts I wrote, “The Justification of War”:http://th3g1vr.wordpress.com/2007/08/04/the-justification-of-war

That isn’t to say I think war is ever justified (it isn’t), but this is the best justification I have been able to come up with, as it is rational and universal. The problem of course, is that it involves slaughtering millions to satisfy one’s own Ego, which is by definition psychopathic. So yes, there is technically a rational motivation for war, but there is no *morally* justifiable reason for war, other than perhaps self-righteous causes, which are in reality perversions of religious values and moral virtues.

You also speak as if men are animals who are slaves to their cravings, that they cannot help but desire violence, death, conflict, and vice. While this is the case with many men, I believe most men have transcended these cravings, or at least learned to control them. Society would not function if we could not control our cravings and destructive desires, after all. So the fact that society continues to function, despite mankind’s destructive desires, is the biggest evidence that no, there is no need for such destructive activities; war is not justified anymore than violence or murder is justified in mainstream society.

The argument that there can only be peace if there is war is an interesting one, but about as rationally sound as saying “there is only more trees cut down if there is more trees standing. You can see the flaw clearly in that analogy- while peace may only be *appreciated* by man if there is *some* war by which to contrast it, there is no necessity for there to be a great deal of war, as there is now. As war is a destructive and savage activity, it should be avoided whenever possible, and treated only as a last resort to *save* lives (i.e. the Holocaust).

“Would you have us all play chess or some other form of competition and power satiating substitutes for pleasure in risk?”

If it meant the bloodshed would stop/be decreased, or that conflict and killing would be minimized? of course I would, and any decent person would agree with me. Incidentally, we have plenty of video games and nonlethal sports that permit people to vent their destructive desires, so there’s no real excuse for men to need to *actually* kill their fellow man just to satisfy their destructive drives.
 
“War is evil to the pacifist because it is foreign to their nature” uhh, no, many pacifists are war veterans, and though I have not personally killed anyone, I have engaged in a great deal of violent activities, both out of necessity and for pleasure, and that *has only reinforced my belief that war and destructive violence are wrong.

“do not spend time in meaningless argumentation about human nature.” How it is meaningless? These are very important issues to address, and the amount of war in the world has decreased a great deal due to efforts by people like myself in informing the public, drawing attention to these issues, and providing solutions to neutralize the causes of war and its underlying drives.
 
“War is sanctioned through cooperation of the many (or the powerful few) who agree and not some random act by some lunatic without social value.” I disagree, war doesn’t require any common social values besides money and power, and since money is ultimately a means of power, it’s all about power. War is only about elevating the Ego, it doesn’t require any common values beyond that.

“Otherwise several lunatics are required to start and enact a war. some semblance of sanity is needed to do this successfully. ” No actually, there are many mental disorders in which people are warlike and violent, and very intelligent and clever in their planning of things, even for very long term goals, and they are very rational in their motivations. The most common of these mental illnesses are psychopathy and sociopathy. So on the contrary, warmongering by lunatic elites is very possible, and actually the most plausible reason for why there is so much war in the world despite the level of technology and civilization the world has attained.

“you have no right or any moral justification to value peace over war where they are concerned. For there are many moralities but there is no Morality”

On the contrary, that there are many moralities is precisely why I have a right to my own moral justification to value peace over war. values are how we interpret reality- I interpret reality according to the desires of my heart.
 
Man is aggressive and needs an outlet for this tendency and so he sanctions war as the way because football, boxing, and mma just don’t do it for some. All the discussion in the world can’t stop a man from justifying whatever activity he thinks will benefit him. We are perverse by nature at times. War is a perverse pleasure. So men will justify perversity. It’s a societal thing as old as society itself. We are Sparta… It’s an ideology rich in history and tradition. It is a gruesome thing this humanity. Would we prefer it were otherwise if we could play God? Sure why not have world peace instead? But we are in fact doing as biology and society have urged… and we like the urge… not me per se… for of course we can resist our urges and go contrary to our tendencies… or we could allow some yahoos to get together and kill each other to satisfy their urges instead (i only blow things up with my mind and avoid physical combat, but I try to justify the human experience whenever possible so that life doesn’t seem so absurd)
 
Angel Suri actually, the sports you speak of are only really popular in America in a few other countries. Most countries have built up cultures that find mma, football, and boxing rather meaningless and savage. So this love of destructive activities, while it is partially biological, is at this point in time largely a cultural defect. We should be perverse at times yes, but one of the important parts of life is learning to overcome those perversions. War should not be encouraged, even if it is natural, it should be condemned as animalistic and destructive. 

I don’t know why you think war is a societal thing (especially considering that the more advanced a civilization is, the less war and conflict they tend to have), though even in advanced civilizations, an immature society has more difficulty resisting its perverse impulses, so war, conflict, and other perversions continue to run rampant. To eliminate these vices, we need to build a more mature and virtuous society.

“But we are in fact doing as biology and society have urged” other than this being the appeal to nature fallacy (seehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_nature) society is inherently at odds with biology, as evidenced by the fact that despite the biological drive to do so, we are not raping, pillaging, killing, and taking whatever we want. We live civilized, despite our biologically animalistic nature.
 
We certainly can do as you suggest and become more civilized… but yet some choose war… and not because we are uneducated about it. and how is war not a societal thing? it is clear a societal function…
 
I disagree, I think they choose war precisely because they are uneducated about it. If they understood a means of achieving their cravings without resulting to killing and violence, they would. humans tend to always do things the most efficient and convenient way they know how. it is not clearly a societal function so far as I know, although it is an attribute of primitive cultures with underdeveloped societies.
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