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Saturday, July 13, 2019

Violence and Wars - Part 2 (concluded)



Freud goes on to point out that the ruling class will try to set themselves above the law and the “ruled class” will establish its rights and its societal gains by insisting that no one is above the law by injecting codes into the law in the name of equality of all. If those in power resist and do not adjust, there will be civil strife and insurrections.  It is possible that over time there is a cultural evolution of identity between members of the community, common interests are valued, and the laws are accepted and complied with. But, “exercise of violence” even within a group, “cannot be avoided when conflicts of interests are at stake.”  He goes on to give several examples from history. 

Within large empires, the central power squashes conflicts quickly; but eventually they fall apart. “For humanity at large the sole result of all these military enterprises was that, instead of frequent, not to say incessant, little wars, they had now to face great wars which, for all they came less often, were so much the more destructive.” 

“There is but one sure way of ending war and that is the establishment, by common consent, of a central control which shall have the last word in every conflict of interests, says Freud. “For this, two things are needed: first, the creation of such a supreme court of judicature; secondly, its investment with adequate executive force. Unless this second requirement be fulfilled, the first is unavailing.”  Freud thinks that the second condition is unlikely to be met and says “It has no force at its disposal and can only get it if the members of the new body, its constituent nations, furnish it. And, as things are, this is a forlorn hope.”

Deeply rooted sense of unity shared by all members of community is needed to avoid conflicts of interests. We are still looking for some such unifying notion but in vain. Such cohesion is brought about more often by compulsion than by shared sentiments. “And, in our times, we look in vain for some such unifying notion whose authority would be unquestioned.” That is because we ignore the unfortunate fact that right is founded on force and need violence to maintain it.

Freud agrees that man has an active instinct for hate and violence which is easily kindled. But he also points out that it is a necessary instrument for survival. It is not alone because it is a part of the polarities of nature, namely Love and Hate. Humans have, what Freud calls “those that conserve and unify, which we call "erotic" (in the meaning Plato gives to Eros in his Symposium), or else "sexual" (explicitly extending the popular connotation of "sex"); and, secondly, the instincts to destroy and kill, which we assimilate as the aggressive or destructive instincts.” They act in concert. Self-preservation is of erotic nature, but it requires aggressive action to gain its end. In addition, these two instincts do not act in isolation; they act in concert with several other factors such as ideals and motives and opinions. 

Finally, Freud suggests that one way to control the destructive, violent instinct is through engaging its opposite, its counter-agent namely Love. “All that produces ties of sentiment between man and man must serve us as war's antidote.” These ties are of two kinds: such relations as towards a beloved object without the sexual connotation, or love in the sense it is used in religion; and sentiment of identification with other members of the community. 

This amazing conclusion reached by Freud should be no surprise. This is what Buddha and Jesus and all spiritual masters have been saying for centuries.

There is another method Freud suggests and calls it an indirect approach. He suggests that “men should be at greater pains than heretofore to form a superior class of independent thinkers, unamenable to intimidation and fervent in the quest of truth, whose function it would be to guide the masses dependent on their lead. There is no need to point out how little the rule of politicians and the Church's ban on liberty of thought encourage such a new creation. The ideal conditions would obviously be found in a community where every man subordinated his instinctive life to the dictates of reason. He remarks immediately that such a course is “utterly utopian.”

He ends his letter with the hope that our dread of the potential destruction of wars and cultural development may help mankind get rid of wars.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Violence and Wars - Part 1




Is violence part of human nature? Can we ever prevent wars? These were the questions Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud discussed in 1932 and 1933. I learnt about this communication between these intellectual giants of the 20th century in an article on the effects of violence and wars on children. The source is https://www.public.asu.edu/~jmlynch/273/documents/FreudEinstein.pdf.


We need to re-read this dialogue, think about them and most important act on them – to do what each of us can do to reduce violence (elimination is impossible) and protect our children from the trauma inflicted on them throughout their lives.


The most important point for me from this dialogue was in Freud’s letter. He suggests that one way to bring peace is to develop the “tend-befriend” system, which is already part of our nervous system, through love and identifying with other lives. This is what Buddha and Jesus taught long ago.


The other point is what Vedic religion and Buddhism taught. It is to reflect on oneself, “purify” the mind so thoughts, words and deeds align towards peace and harmony. 


Here are some profound observations from those communications between one scientist who studied the mind and another who studied the universe.


Einstein’s comments: “Political leaders or governments owe their power either to the use of force or to their election by the masses. They cannot be regarded as representative of the superior moral or intellectual elements in a nation.”



“Is there any way of delivering mankind from the menace of war? It is common knowledge that, with the advance of modern science, this issue has come to mean a matter of life and death for Civilization as we know it…”



In this conversation, Einstein requests Freud to come up with some ideas to educate the people outside of politics to remove obstacles to bring about peace based on his research on the instincts of human beings. He proposes establishing an international legislative judicial body to settle conflicts between nations with an authority to impose them. He recognizes immediately that this is unlikely to happen. People in power will never agree to limitation of the sovereignty of their nation. “But at present we are far from possessing any supranational organization competent to render verdicts of incontestable authority and enforce absolute submission to the execution of its verdicts.”  He goes on to say: “The quest of international security involves the unconditional surrender by every nation, in a certain measure, of its liberty of action--its sovereignty that is to say--and it is clear beyond all doubt that no other road can lead to such security.”



Einstein wonders why people get so aroused that they sacrifice their own lives and kill innocent people. “Does humans have such lust for hatred and destruction?” He asks: “Is it possible to control man's mental evolution so as to make him proof against the psychosis of hate and destructiveness?”



Freud answered Einstein as follows. He acknowledges that this subject must be the province of politicians and political scientists and not of a physicist and a psychologist. Freud realizes that Einstein is asking for help and support to answer this question as a “lover of fellow men” and that he is not asking Freud to “formulate a practical proposal but, rather, to explain how this question of preventing wars strikes a psychologist.”



Freud starts by saying that war defines the relationship between “right and might” and quickly replaces the word violence for might. Generally, conflicts of interests are resolved by resorting to violence in animal kingdom and in human societies. In animals it is for territory and food. In humans, an added factor is conflicts in opinion. In small communities, group force help decide disputes on ownership and whose right prevailed. Soon disputes were settled with physical force; initially with crude instruments and then with more powerful ones. The defeated was totally crushed or humiliated. Sometimes, life was spared, and the victim was used for labor. If the vanquished were allowed to live, there was always the danger of them coming back for vengeance.



It started with brute force, violence backed by arms. It changed over the course of time from violence to law because people realized that “the superiority of one strong man can

be overborne by an alliance of many weaklings”; “the allied might of scattered units makes good its right against the isolated giant.” In other words, the majority lacking (losing) individual might, establishes its rights in the form of laws of the community. “Thus we may define law as the might of a community.” However, when anything was on its way, it too used the same method – violence. It was now communal violence, not individual violence.



But for the law to survive there has to be union of the majority, which is permanent, stable and well-organized. The law has to be enforced for the interest of the community. Such a state is difficult to maintain just by the nature of “elements of unequal power, men and women, elders and children, and, very soon, as a result of war and conquest, victors and the vanquished--i.e., masters and slaves--as well. From this time on, the common law takes notice of these inequalities of power, laws are made by and for the rulers, giving the servile classes fewer rights.”                                                                               (To be continued)