“Perhaps a memorable day will come when a nation renowned in wars and victories, distinguished by the highest development of military order and intelligence, and accustomed to make the heaviest sacrifice to these objects, will voluntarily exclaim, “We will break our swords” and will destroy its whole military system, lock, stock, and barrel. Making ourselves defenseless (after having been the most strongly defended) from a loftiness of sentiment — that is the means towards genuine peace, which must always rest upon a pacific disposition.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, The Means Towards Genuine Peace, The Wanderer and his Shadow, the second supplement to Human, All Too Human, first published in 1880.
Our psyche contains reagents for peace, civilization, and violence. These potentials coexist with individual morality and bring a semblance of order to an otherwise disorderly universe. Organization assists our consciousness with navigating reality as we interact with, learn from, and classify data gathered through sensory experiences. Categorized data serves as the canvass on which we paint our social narratives. When we construct a foundational worldview, the direction we believe our narrative will or should go, what is really taking place is a series of interactions between our chemistry, habitual neural networks, and the arbitrary external stimuli gleaned from our limited senses. We synthesize fantasy into reality by combining disparate points of data and projecting the results.
In reaction to the unclassified universe, the human mind, collectively and over time, has used fantasy to condense its environment into local, cataloged, qualified, quantified, and taken-for-granted constructs. This reductionism provides buoyancy for feelings of efficacy, comprehension, and meaning as humanity floats on a precariously constructed raft in the midst of the vast and infinite ocean of possibilities that exist outside present perception and understanding. While simplifying the universe into narratives derived from our current limitations allows for decisiveness, it places key elements of human empowerment, self-awareness, intentionality, and collective action, beyond our reach.
We are individuals battling for relative prominence and power on a rickety raft; a species whose triumphs are limited by the bounds of its popular constructs. However, as a conscious community, our true fate is inextricably linked to our ability to collectively overcome the limitations of believing we are individual parts in conflict. Humanity must awaken to the knowledge that our raft is an illusion.
Peace through consciousness
Just as our cerebral alchemy blends available chemicals to create consciousness, the multivariate human mind produces external actions we label as peaceful or violent, good or bad. Violence is an action that inflicts trauma whereas peace is the absence of trauma. Civilization is the result of a preponderance of communal choices of peace over violence. Within individual civilizations, good and bad are constructed reactions to arbitrary external stimuli passed through whatever filters the local history instilled into the conscious and unconscious mind of a civilization’s adherents. By contrast, the constructs of peace and violence are universal and static.
Peace, as a foundational worldview, is not arbitrary or malleable. It is not couched in eras, popular constructs, or specific contexts. Peace does not require a codified ruleset that must be interpreted by an individual consciousness when interfacing with and acting within infinitely interpretable realities. Peace, unlike the concept of good, is not a force that creates an equal and opposite reaction; it’s entirely self-contained. To live in peace, one performs peace within and without at every decision-point regardless of the internal or external presence of good, bad, or violence.
Whether we understand the world through western ideas or eastern ideas or anarchy or nihilism or authoritarianism, communism, capitalism, democracy, monarchy, theocracy, consumerism, ignorance, anti-fascism, fascism, anti-life, or pro-death, the individual consciousness remains the primary agent in the fundamental choice between peace and violence. The paradox of concomitant potential peace and violence within each of us is consistent across disparate cultural philosophies, amalgamations of governance, and technological eras. If we conclude that some version of free will exists as the result of chemical reactions in our habitual neural pathways fueling the production of a unique consciousness capable of decisions with some level of independence from external context, we must conclude we are capable of choosing between acts of peace and acts of violence. These choices, made by individually conscious beings at every moment of their existence, determine the state of human civilization.
Violence is an act, not a result; a means via trauma. There is no separation between the transformation of energy into a traumatic act and the consciousness that chooses or is directed unconsciously to use its own energy to facilitate that transformation. An act of violence sends an explosion of psychological shrapnel in all directions. The subsequent conscious or unconscious choices made by those who use, experience, witness, or passively accept violence are subject to a basic law of physics, the equal energy of reaction. Trauma is an energy, and as energy is neither created nor destroyed, the traumatized consciousness chooses how trauma will be transformed. The power of human consciousness is its capacity to make choices via broad synthesis rather than binary reactive feedback. We draw upon a lifetime of data to analyze lessons, extract information, and implement remedies. Our choice to transform traumatic energy depends on how we choose to synthesize and interpret the lessons of our collective input.
I learned this through wielding, facilitating, observing, and experiencing violence myself in varying extremes, from childhood traumas to war. Through Jungian analysis, transcendental meditation, sensory deprivation, an amateur study of neurology, and any other method I could imagine that might assist, I deconstructed these personal traumas to better understand myself and humanity’s relationship with violence. My conclusion was that while trauma does contain important data, how we interpret that data determines how we transform traumatic energy and whether that transformation will lead to additional traumas.
When discussing seemingly justified violence for the betterment of a defined portion of humanity, the act of violence itself, and its impact on everything it touches, cannot be ignored. One human must perform violence on another human in order to achieve the projected beneficial results. While the expected outcomes may feel righteous through the user’s filters, violence itself is never righteous. An act of violence is always trauma.
After Frodo Baggins returns from defeating his constructed reality’s definition of evil, a feat he manages (with some last minute assistance) by absorbing evil while attempting to maintain his self, he realizes he will never be the same. “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back. There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep… that have taken hold.” J.R.R. Tolkien, having experienced some of the most traumatic violence ever created by mankind during what was then called the war to end all wars, adeptly portrays his central figure’s struggle to return to peace after exposure to consolidated violent power. Frodo’s decision, as Tolkien wrote, was to journey into the West to live among the immortal Eldar in hopes of finding an existence removed from the traumas of his past.
In the reality we inhabit, achieving an existence removed from trauma is not a magical journey to a place of tranquility, but rather a quest towards peace and harmony within. Once achieved and maintained, this internal, consciously chosen peace has the power to reshape our external environment, create organic, sustainable civilizations, and empower our species to transcend the traumas of its past.
Civilization is not violence
Violence and civilization are endlessly entangled concepts; two competing strands of DNA jockeying for ephemeral prominence, the growing inertia of one stymied by the reactive swells of the other. Despite intermittent heights of civilization and depths of violence, their respective periodic golden eras have never severed their mutual dependence. Human-crafted ideas that comprise civilization, also known as constructs, are imbued with justifications for violence, meaning civilization relies on violence to maintain order and violence requires consciousness and civilization for validation. Because the nature of this link is dependent upon humans, these concepts have avoided a lasting equilibrium and continue to dominate our political, philosophical, moral, spiritual, and intellectual bandwidth.
Humanity’s flirtation with consciousness and self-awareness has been mixed. Human action is determined by an endless variety of biological mutations, uncountable micro-interactions adding up to what we call socialization, external, historically dependent constructs, and whatever power or influence an individual’s own consciousness claws out for itself within their internal psychological landscape. The ratio of total conscious actions versus total unconscious actions isn’t quantifiable, so the concept of individual fault is convoluted, particularly with the potential for unconscious actions fueled by biology, socialization, and external constructs. When an individual human consciousness transgresses, the blame is spread across every factor that influenced the transgression.
Rather than use moral lenses to observe and judge human actions of unknown origin, it’s easier to discuss and judge the results of those actions. Humanity’s collective outcomes have been inconsistent and often alter the balance of power between violence and civilization. The nature of these actions has changed as humanity’s constructed world has changed, but whether our constructs in the fields of biology, technology, and politics have actually allowed humanity to intentionally evolve in a way that will lead to sustainable equilibriums of violence and civilization remains to be seen. Some level of violence and some level of civilization have always accompanied humanity as it journeyed into the uncharted wilderness of collective-awareness and actualization.
The transition from nomadic hunter-gatherer bands to rooted agrarian societies brought with it the novelty of surplus. Whether surplus individuals or materials, this change aggregated over generations and resulted in a shift in human actions, some enabling greater violence and some enabling greater civilization. Violence-enabling surpluses, particularly in the context of competing civilizations, create military force. The creation of this force results in a security dilemma.
Fortunately for early humans, the limits of their nascent violence-enabling technology, along with restrictive surpluses, prevented violence from achieving dominance over civilization. Unfortunately for modern humans, the advance of these technologies has greatly increased the risk of ascendant violence, which remains proportional to the consolidation of power into accessible and proliferated actions. With global communications, connectivity, and transportation, a single determined individual, whether from a seat of traditional power or from the margins of civilization, can dramatically impact the world.
It is in this context we must consider the existence and meaning of the United States military, rightly labeled but wrongly celebrated as the most powerful fighting force ever created by humanity. This unprecedented power is wielded through a combination of executive decisions originating from a democratically elected commander-in-chief, budgeting and authorization provided by a democratically elected legislative body, authoritarian organizational methods and orders from a militarized chain of command, and the individual decisions of service members. These mechanisms work together to create a force capable of destroying nearly all life on Earth. The problem with creating the most powerful destructive force in history is that it also creates the largest security dilemma in history for every other group of organized people.
The power of any force will always be met by an equal, opposing force. In political terms this means that whatever the relative power of any individual military, it will always find its opposing force. While not exclusively martial in nature, this contra force is the expression of an entire interconnected planet’s worth of individual and collective power. As access to greater power has increased and proliferated through the spread of new technology, the contra force to the most powerful military ever created has forced the United States to devote increasingly large portions of its budget and energy to maintaining its strategy of overmatch, a zero-sum game for other neglected but no less vital civilizational priorities. Unfortunately, investing in a more powerful military means inadvertently but inevitably increasing the power of contra forces; an unsustainable course of action for any individual nation.
Calls for disarmament and re-prioritization inexorably lead back to the security dilemma, the idea that internal actions related to security are viewed as hostile actions by external actors and increase conflict potentials. This idea is deeply rooted in human survival instincts, with relative power viewed in terms of danger and threat. However, human survival instincts are anathema to civilization.
Breaking the Security Dilemma
The only way to destroy a construct as insidious as the security dilemma is to consciously dismantle its mutually reinforcing parts. Zero violence is never the goal, because unconscious violence, violence derived from instinct or overpowering mental illness, will always exist. This form of violence, when it occurs, requires patience and work to uncover how variables within the originating society contributed to the release of trauma. In many cases, those variables can be addressed with equal work and patience. Unfortunately the many variables present within a population of 7.6 billion prevents the cessation of every form of unconscious violence. While it cannot be eliminated, by learning the right lessons from each instance of trauma, the impact will not only be mitigated, it can be used as a learning tool to improve upon a civilization’s weaknesses.
Achieving zero conscious violence is another matter entirely. The creation and maintenance of a military force is an admission by a regional administrative organization that conscious violence is not only tolerable, but necessary within the bounds of their self-defined and enforced social constructs. Whether distance, difference, or ignorance leads a civilization down the road of conscious violence, the results of trauma within and without are the same. This form of violence can and should be eliminated from human civilization, and it must begin with the military of the global hegemon. Only with an end to this existential threat to life can we begin dismantling the security dilemma and work towards sustainable peace. We must minimize conditions for potential trauma and maximize conditions for potential happiness.
Every force is met by an equal and opposite force, even when destroying our own pretenses of safety and security. If we fear the loss of our military, we should question the validity of that fear. We must not let fear continue controlling our lives or the lives of so many who are already impacted by violence rooted in the night terrors of the American people.
A different state of nature
The classic political concepts of the “state of nature” and the “social contract” are based on a misunderstanding of the origins of humanity. Life was not nasty, brutish, and short when humans were hunter-gatherers; it was relaxed, equitable, and short. This fundamental confusion about the origin of our species has contributed to the falsehood that our social contract serves as a monopoly on violence to protect one consciousness from another. It is through the trauma of poor constructs and poor civilizational models that we believe we need protection.
Humans do not wish to kill other humans. This is a central anchor within our psyches which allows us to work together to achieve greater collective outcomes. It is only when unconscious trauma becomes conscious trauma through cycles of violence, poor methods of redress, and applying incorrectly learned lessons that humans develop conscious desires to inflict trauma and commit conscious actions that accomplish that goal.
Is seeing a path to peace naïve? Perhaps it is naïve to believe humans wish to continue building civilization. Presently, it appears many are just as satisfied with being the last generation of their kind as they might be had they considered the alternative, which is to exist as a link in a chain of consciousness the stretches off into an unknown infinity. The creation of children in this environment is a cruel joke on future generations as we grow unsustainably and consume unsustainably and traumatize unsustainably. We are asking our children to grow up and clean up a mess that was too broken and complicated to fix ourselves. We must not leave this to our children, for we have the power to fix the world right now. This power is within each of us and projected with every choice we make.
The civilization we have built is as fragile as the nearest genocide, as frail as the latest threat of nuclear destruction. The constructs that control our civilization, for all their faults, were built over generations of effort and sacrifice and death and learning and can be lost in a moment; our records wiped clean and our knowledge destroyed. Every generation has the choice of whether it will preserve, enhance, or burn its Library of Alexandria. My greatest fear is that this choice will be made for us by our traumatized collective unconscious.
We are links in a chain of conscious life and grains of sand on the scales of universal history. Let us recognize our power and learn how to wield it with the humility of a happy grain, towards peace.
Do we have free will? Can we intentionally impact the world around us? Are we incredibly complex biological automatons reacting to our environment through filters placed on us by our natural chemistry, environmentally absorbed chemicals, external stimuli, and social constructs?
Free will and unpredictability are not the same. Lacking the ability to predict the actions of complex systems means our model is currently not accurate enough to factor in every possible variable. If we are automatons, eventually our algorithms and models will catch up with our variables and our future will be clear.
If we aren’t destined to live within the constraints of our variable maze, we can claim free will for ourselves by making deliberate choices and using willpower to enforce those choices. If we know we could do better, treat our brain in healthier ways, expose our neural networks to better chemicals from our food and environment, maintain healthier personal relationships, and use our brains to positively influence and improve the world around us, we can prove to ourselves and the universe that indeed we do have free will.
Humans, like all independent entities, use energy to fuel their existence. To suddenly impose free will on the entirety of a life governed by our monstrously complicated systems would take a massive personal expenditure of limited energy resources. This is why creating a mutually reinforcing and beneficial infrastructure, over time and with much work and progressive effort, for individuals and groups is of vital importance.
Freeing humans to use their personally maintained energy reserves to enhance their own free will, allowing necessary surpluses to enable thoughtful choices, is of vital importance as we move towards the automation of tasks formerly powered by human energy. The energy remainder after that transition is currently unaccounted for. If we remain a violent, traumatized civilization with excess energy and ever increasing access to advanced and untested technology, our external environments will come to reflect our internal environments.
This is the test we face as a species; do we accept the challenge of actualizing our free will to create a sustainable civilization, or do we deny our birthright and let the hand of fate dictate, through our ad hoc system of unplanned growth, consumption, and trauma, the inevitable destruction of all we have built?