Saturday, November 22, 2008

On Conflict between Competing Philosophies

Many philosophical systems posit right ways for living, each with its own determination for the right balance between fulfilling individual needs, wants and desires versus maintaining the safety, security and sanctity for the society as a whole. Many systems never relied on the possible existence of a god (or gods) to make their subjective determinations for right living, while others are intricately entwined with a god (or gods) at their heart.

One unfortunate consequence resulting from competition between philosophies has been conflict (whether through open war, lesser armed conflicts: sudden terrorist attacks, border skirmishes, blockades, or economic sanctions, financially undermining one another and even interpersonal hostility) between neighboring societies who adopt different models for their cultural ethos. The competition between philosophies often focuses on different religious beliefs, even though the religious beliefs' cores contain the same basic message. However, we need only look at the last century – which was dominated by the competition between Capitalism, Communism and Fascist-socialism – to see that religion is only one arena in which competing philosophies have raised the level of their competition to hostility.

Most contemporary commentators claim that the battle during the last century was the struggle for freedom over totalitarianism. The real battles were waged by economic systems, each seeking to dominate an imagined, future global economy with its particular socioeconomic paradigm at the head.

Hitler’s Fascism depended on a cult devoted to his personality and charisma, and tied it to an openly acknowledged dream of Empire, military invincibility and a social order with Germans at the head of all castes, social strata and economic prosperity. Hitler’s brand of despotism naturally led to totalitarian control, since, like Napoleon’s vision a century earlier, it was dependent on the imagination, will and authority of one man.

Lenin and Trotsky led a revolt against Czarist Russia’s Imperial Monarchy and its tyrannical rule. They sought authority through a group ethos as embodied by the Politburo, the voice of the Proletariat, and an attempt to dissolve all classes into one social unit in which all were equals. However, by the time of WWII, Stalin turned that experiment in the Russian Communist theory of equality into a tyranny of the bureaucrats (a new class created to move the party apparatus and define culture and society’s structure and goals) by focusing its economic intent away from an equal distribution of wealth.

Equal distribution was replaced by a two tier distribution of wealth, the first tier being the bureaucrats and the second tier everyone else. Stalin’s and Khrushchev’s USSR also devoted resources to a pervasive military-industrial complex, eventually becoming the Party and appearing to assure the Party’s continued rule. However, the expense of maintaining an arms race with the Capitalist United States broke the Soviet Communist bank because, unlike in Capitalist nations, the Soviets assumed responsibility for feeding, housing and providing medical attention for every citizen. The Americans were able to outspend the Soviets with that advantage.

All three were different kinds of systems, with different foci and agendas. Fascism and Communism only appear similar in the eyes of American Capitalists because of a narrowly defined perspective on both.

Hitler’s personality cult excited others with his Fascist appeal because it fed the public's neurotic obsessions. Hitler made people feel like they were participants in a grand cause, allowing them to regain national pride after the humiliations arising from defeat in WWI, the heavy economic reparations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles and the resulting economic Depression. However, Hitler also engendered elitist beliefs and dreams of grandeur which ultimately allowed the inner savage to let loose pent up hostility in revenge against Europe and Europeans with Jewish beliefs, many of whom worked in banking and finance and, consequently, provided a convenient susceptibility as en masse scapegoats by Hitler for all the ills facing Germany in the 1930s.

Meanwhile, the Communists gave the Russian people a sense of brotherhood and purpose through cooperative efforts. Their rapid industrialization through their Five Year Plans encouraged the broad, natural spirit of dedication to Mother Russia, once again, the common man perceived, and hoped, for everyone’s common benefit, which was the stated ideal and goal.

The Soviets did not escape the Depression’s hard times. However, because of socialism’s Five Year Plans and because the government was the national employer, the Soviets could, and did, “plan” growth into their economy throughout the Depression. Their industrialization fortified the cooperative brotherhood of the people with arms, communication and mobility. Each of those benefits proved as important as the cold, white Russian winter in denying victory to Hitler’s invading troops. That Stalin’s henchmen were simultaneously ethnically cleansing their population of Jewish believers didn’t seem to matter to other Russians living under an ethos which embraced scientific atheism at the time.

Americans don’t understand a population’s willingness to live under despotism, in part because Americans, once they forged their own identity by succeeding in a revolution against monarchy, guaranteed, they believed, that no American citizen would ever grow up in a nation dominated by a single autocrat. Americans teach themselves to believe that they persevere through a common spirit grown out of consensus expressed through elections without realizing they owe their entire lives’ futures to business and corporate whims. Consequently, Americans fall victim to a blind obsession with an economic system which promotes waste and encourages consumption in excessive quantities, both of which have lead to the doorstep of Climate Change.

Americans were just as captivated by the lure of a single man during the Depression and WWII years, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (in whom trust was placed through the common perception he deserved that trust), during the 1930s and 1940s. Ours was only a moderate dabble in the socialist experience to that which occurred in both Germany and Russia. Also, as in Germany and Russia, the economic climate after the stock market crash in 1929 led to a great backlash against people of the Jewish faith in America as well. Anti-Semitism was a nearly worldwide phenomenon during the Depression and for decades after it (let’s face it, anti-Semitism persists, even today, from roots as ancient as those recorded in the Old Testament, and will always be as reprehensible as every other form of bigotry based on racial, ethnic, national, religious, place of origin or sexual orientation differences).

The choices and investment of trust into single, strong, public figures who endured the Depression and WWII by separate populations in Russia, Germany and the United States in the ‘30s and ‘40s were a result of the precarious times and the needs of the public for a strong, father image to shepherd each nation through an uncertain economic future. None of these socioeconomic systems saw themselves as being dominated by anything. Each population vested its own belief system with that taught by the group collective. Conformity proved itself as the perpetuating inertial force for each and every one of those systems throughout the duration of its existence.

Conflict arises between competing philosophies for a variety of reasons. The primary one manifests itself in the outlook most competing philosophies maintain: that outlook is the narcissistic and intolerant view, “We are right and everyone else is wrong.

The ego tends to clothe itself with its belief system. On both cultural and individual levels, people have difficulty accepting being wrong. To admit error negates the vital personal need to believe in the intrinsic “goodness” of the self as well as the society within which the self resides and into which the self is integrally incorporated. Loss of certainty in one’s belief system infers one pursues life according to an incorrect premise of what right living both should be and is. Hence, the ego is slow to admit error in personal and group philosophy, slow to change opinions even in the face of irrefutable evidence regarding their error, and more apt to fight others rather than listen to detractors or discuss differences of opinions calmly and rationally in order to either compromise or, through discussion, come to agreement as to which point of view provides the best alternative.

The concept “we are right” implies that disagreeing others are wrong, since it would be illogical for both to be right given that most beliefs systems contain mutually contradicting specific tenets. Individuals tend to conclude both belief systems cannot be right in such a situation. To admit even the possibility that a belief held by a competing culture might be correct implies the beliefs of one’s own culture, and hence one’s own beliefs, are not absolute, hence not objective truths.

If one admits a mistake in one’s beliefs, or even the possibility of mistake, logically that indicates that on that level the individual either is or could be living their life in error because of one’s chosen mode of right living. That can shake an individual to the very core of the fabric of their being and the internal reaction to being so shaken provides the thesis upon which intolerance arises.

The more secure an individual is regarding one's self-worth, the more tolerant and open minded that individual will be. However, whenever such an individual has perceived their security threatened by the presence of others who thought, believed and lived differently, then conflict always resulted – inner turmoil over uncertainty and belligerence toward the perceived threat (the competing philosophy and its representatives who think, believe and live differently).

In any society which purports to be the product of an essential and fundamental cultural agreement, individuals invest themselves with an identification and subscription to the cultural ethos in the same way individuals invest in their own personal credo. That identification of the self with the group becomes enhanced by the natural tendency of the culture to maintain power for the purpose of propagation and continued cohesiveness through the powerful use of propaganda, whether unintentionally and benignly motivated, or intentionally and nefariously disseminated.

When the cultural credo takes the additional leap of imputing, “Only our view is correct and all others are false,” both the individual ego as a member of the cultural whole and the group mind as embodied by the state, religion, political system or economic system must, out of sociological and psychological necessities, assert the inherent correctness of their cultural ethos. Inevitably, competing philosophies determine that their interests, and hence also their credos, face a danger embodied by the competitor. That danger, in the case of a culture, is most often stated as the potential eradication of the group’s “way of life.”

History is replete with horrific examples which evidence the consequence of competing ideologies whose mutual intolerance gave birth to destruction. No matter what the cultural credo’s sphere of influence embodied, whether politics, religion or economics, each instance can be traced back to a single underlying principle. This underlying principle can always be seen in the narcissistic view stated above and it bears repetition because of the danger it represents to humanity as a whole, “Only my and our views and beliefs are correct; all others are wrong.

That cultural arrogance, borne out of the need for individual and group validation and the fear that chaos can only result from the failure to perpetuate my or our view, even if it means annihilation of any competing culture, or perhaps all competing cultures, is really nothing more than the echo of our genetically encoded survival instinct. This instinct served humanity well when there were only a few thousand of us on the planet and the survival of the species depended on group survival to insure perpetuation of individual lives and the propagation of the species. We weren’t fighting with each other then as much as with the circumstances of our environment, although, it seems probable this instinct led Cro-Magnon to eradicate Neanderthal.
Today’s world is actually in the exact opposite situation. Now, we perceive no threat from the environment (or, even in the face of Climate Change, the lack of alacrity in taking steps to minimize the effects of Climate Change together with the denial individuals express with regard to their complicity in creating, perpetuating and guaranteeing the increased severity of Climate Change, indicates humanity isn’t sufficiently concerned about the problem to act). No, the only perceived threat is hardly given any attention, and that threat is humanity itself as we fight with each other over economic resources, opening of markets, expanding spheres of influence, or exalting and spreading religious beliefs as we simultaneously pollute and poison the air and oceans, exponentially increasing the toxicity of the planet as we overpopulate, nearly doubling our census every 35 years. In the Postmodern world, any great clash of cultures is more likely to result in mutual annihilation. We sit on the precipice of such a calamity. The time has arrived to rethink this strategy, learn acceptance and understanding, and put them to use. We must do this, not just as individuals, but also as cultures.