I’ve been anti-war since I can remember. It started with being in high school during the Bush presidency. Most musicians I looked up to carried an anti-authoritarian ideology, and being against military intervention flowed from that. It’s not sexy. I didn’t learn it from Marx or something. Jello Biafra did a corny impression on Cage’s Hell’s Winter album, and that’s all I needed. System of a Down shaped how I thought. That’s pretty much it.
Growing up in Oklahoma, being in high school when 9/11 happened, I found myself surrounded by God-fearing Christians who wanted nothing more than to send our military off to Iraq and kill our enemies. Never mind that it didn’t make any sense. It’s been stated a hundred thousand times.
The piece that I was missing back then, and really didn’t get until very, very recently, was that war comes from warlike thinking, and we have warlike thinking deeply ingrained into our everyday lives. Charles Eisenstein is really good on this. In his Climate: A New Story, he attempts to trouble the common arguments both for and against climate change, not necessarily to make you think it’s “fake” or “real,” but to take stock of the narratives you bring to the argument. His website has a ton of great essays since the beginning of the pandemic pointing out that these exact rhetorical strategies have been in use for the past year. There is an enemy that must be eliminated to protect the innocent. Good and evil. A show of force to eliminate the evil. On and on it goes.
I engage in warlike thinking all the time. Whenever the BLM protests were going on last summer, I felt a simmering rage against the police officers who whacked people with their batons, safe in their numbers and authority. I felt murderous when I saw them push an old man to the ground hard enough to make him bleed from his brain, out his ears. I would get drunk and post that I would love nothing more than to fight a cop one on one, never mind that I don’t know how to fight, not really. Every fight I’ve ever been in has been hilarious, a wild flailing of limbs, exhiliration, more booze, but come on, man. I’m not a warrior.
What I’m saying is, I understand where it comes from. It’s a need for catharsis, and a need for tribal belonging. When I posted things like that, I really wanted my friends to show up in the comments, say things like “hell yeah man, let’s do it!” The need for friendship hit me strong during the pandemic, when it felt like most people simply stopped talking to me, stopped engaging with me, mostly after I question (and continue to question) the narrative around this whole mess we’re in. But I digress.
How does this square with being anti-war? The answer is that it doesn’t. I was talking to a buddy on the phone, this was months ago, I was still drinking at the time, and he is truly anti-war. I asked him what he would do if a fight came to his doorstep. How would he defend himself? His answer was, “I guess I would just die.”
That stuck with me.
People send me DMs all the time with goofy shit writers say on Facebook or Twitter. They know I’ll get a kick out of it (I don’t get a kick out of it, not anymore, but they won’t stop so it’s a part of my day, I guess). Lots of violent rhetoric over there. Not tisk tisking this at all, as I’m trying not to judge people for being where I was only months ago. But still, man, talking about stabbing, shooting, punching, beating, and everyone is hooting, hollering, and howling at this shit. Social capital through threats of violence. It’s bizarre to see, but very human all the same.
There’s been some great work being done over at Rune Soup to bring attention to this warlike thinking, particularly by quoting people like Charles Eistenstein and Bayo Akomolafe, who has this line: “What if how we respond to a crisis is part of the crisis?”
That’s worth sitting with.
What if responding to a government that uses violence and lies to advance material interests by using violence and lies to advance our material interests is simply feeding the same gods? They get their pound of flesh either way. It makes no difference where it comes from.
You can’t win this game. Between the militarized power of the police and the militarized control of information found on Big Tech platforms, those arenas have been locked up. All you’re doing by playing their game is offering a moment of entertainment.
I say you. But I’m not just picking on the left for warlike thinking, obviously. Most people have it. In fact, “left” and “right” dichotomies don’t really work anymore, not in my estimation anyway. You have traditional conservatives (usually in the “boomer” generation) and traditional liberals (usually in the “boomer” generation) who hang out in the swamp of Facebook. You have disingenuous radlib blue checks on Twitter, and disingenuous radcon blue checks on Gab. If you go down another level, though, you start to find people with sets of principles, who often find themselves in a lot of hot water, because principles naturally clash with ideologies. These people are easy to dunk on, because another principle of principles is that you have to follow them to their logical conclusions. Meaning, if you present someone with principles with an insane hypothetical, their answer can only be insane…if they’re sticking to their principles. That’s what my hypothetical to my friend was: “What if this insane thing happens?” His answer, in turn, matched the insanity: “I would die.”
So, I could take that insane answer (that I baited him into) and use it to say, “This guys nuts, look at where his principles got him.” But we both know that, more than likely, people aren’t going to storm into his house and try to kill him. It’s not a non-zero chance, but it’s unlikely.
A true principle of nonviolence is going to sound insane to a violent society. I’m not someone who has this true principle, by the way. Not yet, at least. Don’t mistake me for someone preaching from on high. I’m still working this shit out. That’s what blogs are good for.
What does a different way of thinking look like? How do we get out of the gladitorial arena and into something productive?
Those are thoughts for another time.