Thursday, March 4, 2010

Yes, I'm Alive

Whoa this post is heavily overdue. I just haven't really had the desire to write much. Rather, I've been doing some quality reading. After college I picked up 1 or two books here and there but didn't really have that burning desire to flip pages and learn, learn, learn!

Well it's been over a year since graduation, and I am feeling reenergized to dive into literature of my choice (!) and get my brain going. Each time I went into Borders I walked out with a book I hadn’t heard of that simply caught my eye, and that in glancing at the first few pages I was sold.

The first was David Livingstone’s The Most Dangerous Animal- Human Nature & The Origins of War. Now, I know you might be wary given the title. However, it doesn’t advocate or discourage war, nor is it gory or a detailed (boring!) account of specific battles throughout history. Rather, Livingstone takes a profound look into the human psyche, our evolutionary & ancestral influences that drive us to war, & the many sociological factors that support war.

Referencing, among others, the great works of Freud (conscious v. unconscious thought, regression, the sexual dilemma) Nietzsche (particularly from Beyond Good & Evil), Descartes (mind/body dualism), Hobbes (from Leviathian, regarding social contract theory and man’s state of nature), as well as the philosophical writings of Socrates and Plato, Livingstone pieces together a fascinating understanding of why we have been, and will continue to be, involved in war for thousands of years. Note I didn't say since the beginning of our existence, for according to the author, caveman behavior paralleling war of recent centuries began alongside the discovery of lethal tools (spears) & the clash between more static groups & those that tended to roam & invade the territory (and resrouces- animals, land, etc) of the former.

A few focus points throughout the book realy stuck with me...

I found it particularly interesting that high ranked Veterans of Vietnam & WWII attested to the fact that the majority of men buckle at the time of battle- many failing to pull the trigger at all and many aiming high on purpose. It is a testament to the deeply rooted guilt and shame that we (rational, “sane” people) have toward taking the life of another human being. On that note, Veterans also concurred that truly psychotic people (aka cold blooded murderers) make the best soldiers…great so we could just let prisons loose for the next deployment!

Based on the premise that as individuals and a collective we are against killing, the paradox of war is ever so evident with media/propaganda portraying it as an act of “honor”, or “patriotism”, and our inclination toward such Hollywood films. For one, Livingstone differentiates murder with killing for war- the former to which society is against, and the latter which it promotes. He also spends a good deal on the semantics of war. Labels such as the “target” or “neutralizing the enemy”, he explains, allow us to distance ourselves from the reality of killing. As well, and this ties in to the recent horrific murder of teenager Chelsea King in San Diego (RIP), we tend to call the culprits of such atrocities "animals" or "beast" when in reality, few species kill amongst their kind, and the few that do don't elicit such actions in formation (i.e. groups) & with premeditation.

That leads to the two other factors that Livingstone touched heavily upon: the chimpanzee connection, and evolutionary & reproductive influences for war. Chimpanzees are actually the only other animal observed forming opposing groups and brutally killing each other- even those that had previously befriended each other. It was an astonishing discovery (I cannot recall the location/year…already handed my book over to a friend) as it so closely paralleled human behavior in group v group conflict (war from tribes thousands of years ago to countries nowadays). Most other species challenge each other to duels where eventually they either both tire, or one backs off.

Lastly, as I don't want to write an essay on the book (go read it!!), there was the concept of war as a necessity to human evolution & reproduction; in other words, our survival. Livingstone gave counteless examples of how participation in war has always been attributed to masculinity and given men greater appeal among women and society- thus making them of higher worth/honor and in turn, sexually attractive. Despite woman's supposed peaceful, mostly anti-war, stereotype, the book argues that females only lacked participation in war because of societal limitations, but nonetheless played pivotal roles as nurses, caretakers, and huge moral supporters.

Well there's some clif notes for ya on the book. I highly recommend it not just for an understanding of why we "can't all just get along" but for its insight into the human mind and behavior across a broad range of circumstances/issues.

The other book I recently finished and cannot wait (!!!!) to share info about is George Friedman's The Next 100 Years- A Forecast for the 21st Century. It is absolutely fascinating, and a MUST READ for my generation and the ones after as these decades will make up the bulk/prime of our lives, we'll consistute the majority of the workforce, and be on the greatest platform of influence.