BY T. D. DUFF TONKA BAY, MINNESOTA
Albert Einstein once asked Sigmund Freud, "is it possible to control man's mental evolution, so as to make him forever resistant against the psychosis of hate and destructiveness?" Freud responded, "You surmise that man has in him an active instinct for hatred and destruction amenable to such stimulations. I entirely agree with you... The most casual glance at world history will show you an unending series of conflicts between one community and another." Freud referred to two fundamental instincts in human beings: the erotic, or love instinct, and its opposite, the destructive instinct. The only hope he could hold for the erotic triumphing over the destructive, was in the cultural development of the human race, including "a strengthening of the intellect which tends to master our instinctive life."
Einstein had another view of the value of intelligence in the mastering of instincts. He referred to "the psychosis of hate and destructiveness." Einstein concluded, "Experience proves that it is rather the so-called 'Intelligentsia' that is most apt to yield to these disastrous collective suggestions."
Modern war involves the institutional use and manipulation of personal characteristics such as obedience, suggestibility and idealism. Our culture has created "pseudospecies," that is, false categories of race and nation that obliterate the sense of ourselves as one species and thus encourage the hostility that turns violent. Animals other than man don't make war. They do not engage in organized violence on behalf of some abstraction. This is only the tragic trait of creatures with advanced brains and cultures. The animal commits violence for a specific, viable reason--the need for food and self- defense.
In the sciences of genetics, psychology, anthropology and zoology, there is no evidence of a human instinct for the kind of aggressive violence that characterizes war. The persistence of war does not prove that its origin is in human nature. But, there are some persistent facts that do explain the constant break-out of war that has nothing to do with the instincts that science, no matter how hard it tries, can find in our genes. The facts are the existence of ruling elites in every culture who become enamored with their own power and seek to expand it. It is the fact of the greed of culture and the powerful minorities in society who seek more raw materials, or more markets, or more land, or more favorable places for investment. It is the fact of the persistent ideology of nationalism, in the modern world, a set of beliefs taught to each generation in which the their country becomes an object of veneration and becomes a burning cause for which one becomes willing to kill the children of other lands.
The conservative argument as stated by Thomas Hobbes in 1651 in his book Leviathan, was that people can't govern themselves because they are essentially evil and dysfunctional, and thus need strong leaders. Hobbes was employed by and supported the absolute monarchy of Charles Stuart, against the revolutionary Parliamentary forces. Hobbes believed the 'iron fist' of church and state should govern the people.
Then John Locke came along in 1689 and posited that man was good by nature because he could reason. That idea by Locke was taken by Rousseau and Voltaire and turned into the Enlightenment, a truly revolutionary period of time. This was when we first saw the clear definition of conservative and liberal. The British were the conservatives and the liberals were the revolutionaries in the United States. In America, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams and others were conservative, and James Madison and Thomas Jefferson and many others were liberal. They believed that people could be governed by themselves. The compromise between the conservatives who thought people were basically evil and the liberals, was to give people democracy, but not too much. That's why they wrote into the constitution that the Senate would not be directly elected. They did not trust "we the people."
We do not need human nature to explain war. But, human nature is simple and easy and requires little thought. It is hard work to analyze the social, economic, and cultural factors that have led to so many wars. One can hardly blame people for avoiding it.
It is true that there is an infinite capacity for violence, but there is also an infinite capacity for good and kindness as Locke and the Enlightenment taught us. The unique ability of humans to imagine gives enormous power to idealism, an imagining of a better state of things not yet in existence. That power has been misused to send young men to war. But the power of idealism must be used to attain justice and to end the massive violence of war.
John Locke wrote is his book the State of Nature that, "men living according to reason without a common superior on earth to judge between them, is properly the state of nature."