Doomed planet, tragic species

January 4, 2020 at 10:05 pm (By Amba) ()

We’re 4 days into 2020 and my New Year’s resolution—”Resist Despair!”—is proving even more impossible to keep than pledges to lose weight or improve “productivity” (hate that word: so willingly we install the factory floor overseer in our own psyche).

A friend sent me the link to this interview, which is basically a hawkish conservative and a formerly American Israeli exulting (while ducking and covering just in case) that “America is back, and American deterrence has been restored.” (I would be very interested to hear your reactions to it.)

I wrote back:

My reaction to this (still just partway through it) is “Trump has just sealed his re-election.”

As much as his base thinks they want us out of furrin wars, they enjoy seeing Trunp and Amurrica kick ass even more, especially when the “red line” is touching a hair on an American’s head. There are [suddenly] a lot of born-again hawks [in his camp].

Of course, it depends on the [scale of the] consequences. Some are saying Iran, having lost its “head,” [or “arm,”] will kind of fade away, with only a few minor and marginal retaliations on obscure embassies or the like. Of course, those too will have to be punished—if and perhaps only if there are American casualties. A larger attack on an ally—Saudi or Israeli—might also require a response. Or not, considering the record. 

I’m reading various points of view and I don’t know what to think.

People adore strength, they worship it. It makes them feel safe, and it makes them feel powerful by proxy. The default state of humans, ever since agriculture made accumulation and “civilization” possible, seems to be to shelter under the skirts of (you hope) the strongest warlord, trusting that he will keep the other warlords and their mercenaries from taking your food and raping your women and girls (or you, if you are a woman or girl). (I put my own kind in parentheses because this is all men’s business, a certain kind of men, the plunderers and pussy-grabbers, in armor or in suits. As long as they rule the world, anyone else of any gender who begs to differ, welcome to our parentheses!)

Those of us who fancy ourselves more interested in wonder and pleasure than in power are delusional, in this view. Our scraps of freedom to pursue such delicacies are entirely provisional upon our warlord being strong enough to kick the other warlords’ butts, or force or bribe them into alliance or submission.

Now the warlords have nukes, so maybe this tragic farce, which began with painted faces, poison darts, and kidnapping each other’s sisters (lest anyone be nostalgic for a hunter-gatherer Eden), will finally be over soon.

Gee, I’m doing great with my New Year’s resolution.


  1. Polly said,

    Nuclear weapons have made war impossible. But war has been part of human life since forever. Power is throughout nature, as is competition for territory. We females might not have an instinctive understanding of this, but maybe most males still do. It was always their responsibility to keep the tribe safe. Without power, there is no safety — not anywhere in nature.

    If our lives are peaceful and we never worry much about power and defense, it’s because we live under a powerful empire. Our peace is an illusion. I very strongly disagree with you that our problems are caused by bad guys. Our problems result from being part of nature (which is both competitive and cooperative, peaceful and violent), and having the ability to “improve” on nature.

    Nuclear weapons are one of our “improvements.” We can’t un-invent them.

    You could get rid of all the “bad” guys and others would take their place. I think the message of Animal Farm is absolutely true.

  2. amba12 said,

    We don’t disagree. “If our lives are peaceful and we never worry much about power and defense, it’s because we live under a powerful empire” is exactly my point. I’m not talking about “bad guys” so much as “dominant guys.” Yes, they are inevitable. They are a natural phenomenon, and nature is tragic.

    It’s possible that the invention of nuclear weapons and other technologies that make brute force no longer the only basis of dominance (now it’s money and knowledge) has rendered the crude old form of dominance maladaptive—it could and may cause nuclear war. In a sense that, too (along with Europower and monolithic patriarchy) is making its last stand with all the club-brandishing authoritarians, and like any cornered animal it is dangerous. It may bring the world down with it rather than allow a newer, less “natural” order to evolve in the artificial environment we’ve created for ourselves.

  3. Polly said,

    I agree that this is an extremely dangerous situation, but it has been ever since nuclear weapons were invented.

    I don’t really think nature is tragic. Well I guess I should say it is tragic from our perspective, as the animal that is too smart and not smart enough to live in this world.

    I wonder how many civilizations in the universe have destroyed themselves with their inventions. Probably a lot.

    I don’t think I agree that there is an old form of dominance, vs the newer form based on money and knowledge. I think all power is ultimately based on the potential for violence. Violence always was and always will be there at least as the last resort.

    The peacefulness of our society is entirely an illusion. The potential violence is always there. It’s just that here in America, in nice neighborhoods, we can be oblivious.

  4. amba12 said,

    Certainly men’s power over women is ultimately based on the potential for violence. “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” I can’t remember who said that. I looked it up. Margaret Atwood. Men who don’t fall back on the advantage of their superior physical strength are emotionally vulnerable, and while vulnerability can take courage, it’s not the kind of courage men (or a lot of women!) are raised to value.

  5. Polly said,

    I don’t know. Everyone has the potential for violence; it underlies all our social relationships. We are, first of all, survival machines.

    And everyone knows that (in general) women have more potential to be vicious then men. It’s just not obvious and open.

    Maybe progressive ideology represents the (superficial) feminine values, while conservative ideology represents the male values. Just an idea.

    The first law of psychology is that almost everything in our minds is outside of our conscious awareness. The more peaceful we think we are, the more violence is hidden inside us.

  6. amba12 said,

    Polly, this is an interesting and different take (discovered by accident). What do you think? It starts out being about his murdered sweetheart, but goes on to suggest that, without being in denial, there are other models (that we don’t know enough about) for human civilization in which violence is one strand, but not the dominant one.

  7. Polly said,

    No. The more primitive societies were always less violent. Complexity leads to more violence.

    Violence (along with love) always underlies everything. There is no way around it. Every living thing struggles constantly to survive. Our bodies are constantly at war with invaders, keeping out the foreigners.

    Steven Pinker says we are evolving towards less violence. Because of progressive ideology, I guess, along with MAD. But we aren’t, our peacefulness is an illusion.

    If we can go back to hunting and gathering, after most of our species is killed off, we will be more peaceful and more loving. Although, of course, we will still have to fight sometimes.

    We don’t take a picnic lunch to the public hangings anymore, that is true. But our violence is just more hidden and more subtle.

  8. wjca said,

    My reaction to this (still just partway through it) is “Trump has just sealed his re-election.”

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Trump believes that. But I think it’s in error. Sort of like his “winning trade wars is quick and easy” delusion.

    If the Iranians were going to cave as a result of this assassination, then sure. But they won’t. Among other things, Trump has too consistent a track record of caving whenever someone punches back at him. So they are far more likely to strike back.

    Or if Trump was going to manage to get into, and win, a shooting war, probably. (Or at least be making clear progress towards winning.) But there’s no way that happens with Iran. Even with a competent administration running things, and allies on board, Iran would be a tough nut to crack. With these incompetents? And with nobody else in the world willing to support us? No chance. More likely, everybody who still has sanctions in place on Iran drops them instead.

    A significant part of the Rally ‘Round the Flag phenomena in the past has been the credibility of the administration. And this administration has no credibility (outside its information bubble base). So while nobody is mourning the loss of Soleimani, nobody is buying it “immanent threat” claim either.

  9. amba12 said,

    Well, thank you, old friend . . . you’ve beefed up my resolve a notch. :)

  10. Tom Strong said,

    It’s funny how differently we see this. It terrifies me too, but not because I think it does a damn thing for the Grifter-in-Chief. No, it’s terrifying because of all the crises he’s created, this is the one with the most potential to spin utterly out of control.

  11. amba12 said,

    With the passage of time I’m seeing it more your way. I’m also REALLY seeing all the shadings of irony that he said he wanted to get us out of the Mideast, but will never stand for being kicked out. He is really living in a pathological narcissistic bubble. Nothing is real to him but whether HE looks weak or like the biggest and the baddest and most feared and loved. How the fuck did this—him—ever happen???

  12. Amba said,


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