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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)

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