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ajnabi ([personal profile] ajnabi) wrote2010-04-12 12:50 pm

Philosophy of Civilizations: assignment 3, also notverygood

Response to War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning*, by Chris Hedges
*link to excerpt

In his book, Chris Hedges talks about how war is constructed as culture, myth and necessity. He talks somewhat romantically about how war is a drug, and how it makes us realize the sheer vapidity and tininess of our lives. However, at the same time he clearly recognizes, as a reporter who has been at the frontlines of war, that war is anything but romantic. It is portrayed as romantic in the media, but its reality is destructive, horrific and desolate. Hedges says that each new generation comes forth believing in the same old lie, the same old grand romanticized myth, about war as something that will transform the nation and bring glory to the (rightly) victorious people.

I would add that these populations of people who believe this myth and contribute and maintain the culture of war are also privileged to do so. Although it is true that disprivileged peoples are susceptible to war's appeal, the fact of being oppressed, or warred upon, rather constantly, makes that appeal far more short-lived, I think. The realization of the futility of war comes much quicker for those who don't have systemic power that grants them stability or victory.

I also disagree with Hedges' assertion that there is a killer underneath the surface in every one of us. It is true that as human beings, we are capable of murder and other horrific acts of violence. However, the idea that this capability is some inherent force that lies dormant and can be awakened in certain circumstances takes agency away from human beings and locates it in our biology or culture or some such deterministic context. I think it is much more helpful to recognize that we are participants and agents in our own and other people's lives, and that we can make choices.

Our agency may be limited by lack of systemic power; however, this does not negate it. Rather I think it is more important to look at how people claim their agency in adverse circumstances. Refugees in Gaza or starving populations in African or Asian countries do not lead the most meaningless, pitiable lives. Their circumstances are adverse, and we (as students in this American context) are greatly privileged over them. Ironically, it is my privilege that allows me to pass judgment and make assumptions about the meaning or lack thereof in the lives of "the masses".

It is also possible, though, to see Hedges' statements about our capability to do evil as breaking the popular illusion that murderers, sociopaths, rapists, criminals, etc, are somehow separate and altogether different from the rest of us. It alerts us to the fact that we are all potential culprits and perpetrators. When we start seeing war as culture, we can see how war manifests itself in the form of several different varieties of oppressive cultures. The oppression makes it so that violence becomes normative and/or glorified.

I think Hedges' book is important in that it alerts us to facts about war and its brutality. It shows us the violence that really takes place, and rejects the glorified heroics that are presented by the press. I am not sure how useful his book is for breaking down systemic hierarchies and oppressive structures, but it is informative.