“Today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence.” Chances are this statement strikes you as counterintuitive. Rest assured that its author, Harvard professor Steven Pinker, anticipated your skepticism. Pinker is a cognitive scientist and one of the world’s foremost writers on language, mind and human nature. He has been named Humanist of the Year and was listed among Prospect magazine’s “World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals,” Foreign Policy’s “100 Global Thinkers” and Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World Today.”
His 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, charts the historical trajectory of violence and presents a case for a verifiable drop in the rate of reliance on violence in human civilization. Professor Pinker knows this conclusion will contradict the prevailing impression most people have of the perils of the present day. He considers the tendency to distort the danger of the modern era a “cognitive illusion” reinforced by the “if it bleeds it leads” media template.
While acknowledging that humankind’s capacity for destruction has increased (relative to the proliferation of nuclear weapons), Pinker insists that the rate at which humanity resorts to violence has been receding and continues to decline. He suggests that we erroneously glamorize the past as genteel and exaggerate the present as overly perilous. Among the factors to which he attributes the trend away from violence is what he calls the “escalator of reason”—the increasing cognitive capacity of human beings. As an evolutionary psychologist, Pinker foresees a path of human adaptation and development from aggression to increased empathy.
One example of enlightened human reasoning offered is humanity’s rejection of the God of the Hebrew Scriptures:
“The Bible is revered today by billions of people who call it the source of their moral values. . . . Yet for all this reverence, the Bible is one long celebration of violence. . . .
“The Bible depicts a world that, seen through modern eyes, is staggering in its savagery. . . .
“If you think that by reviewing the literal content of the Hebrew Bible I am trying to impugn the billions of people who revere it today, then you are missing the point. The overwhelming majority of observant Jews and Christians are, needless to say, thoroughly decent people who do not sanction genocide, rape, slavery, or stoning people for frivolous infractions. Their reverence for the Bible is purely talismanic. In recent millennia and centuries the Bible has been spin-doctored, allegorized, superseded by less violent texts (the Talmud among Jews and the New Testament among Christians), or discreetly ignored. And that is the point. Sensibilities toward violence have changed so much that religious people today compartmentalize their attitude to the Bible. They pay it lip service as a symbol of morality, while getting their actual morality from more modern principles.
“Christians downplay the wrathful deity of the Old Testament in favor of a newer conception of God, exemplified in the New Testament (the Christian Bible) by his son Jesus, the Prince of Peace.”
Here Pinker portrays Jesus as a human construct—a complete makeover of the God concept. Because the God of the Hebrew Scriptures is perceived as a violent bully, He is distasteful to modern sensitivities. Therefore, through the “escalator of reason,” humankind has reinvented and replaced Him with Jesus, who is more suited to our empathetic evolutionary state.
However, this theory fails to recognize the close relationship between Jesus of the Apostolic Writings and the two divine Beings of the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus said His mission and message came from the Father (John 5:19–20, 30). He tells His followers that if they have seen Him, they have seen the Father (John 14:9–11). Jesus is completely and consistently aligned with His Father (John 17:4–5, 11, 21). His definition of violence, too, differs from the mainstream; to Jesus, to hate another person is akin to murder.
For many, Pinker’s empirical premise and the suggestion that faith can be placed on enhanced human reasoning remains unsatisfying. Even while striving to be empathetic, they will lock their doors tonight and pray as Jesus taught, asking to be divinely delivered from evil in all its forms.
David Hulme and Tom Fitzpatrick
Victor Davis Hanson notes that “conflict will remain the familiar father of us all—as long as human nature stays constant and unchanging over time and across space and cultures.” This statement seems apt. Yet throughout history some have actively embraced the idea of war as father of all, rather than viewing it as a sad fact of the human condition in desperate need of remedy.
It was the pre-Socratic mystic, Heraclitus, who originally said that “war is the father of all and the king of all” (see John Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy, p. 136). Martin Heidegger, the twentieth century philosopher, and in his lifetime a proactive member of the Nazi party, had read Heraclitus’ word “all” as not simply a sociological observation as Davis Hanson does, but in the sense of fundamental being. In other words, Heidegger believed that Heraclitus described war as governing absolutely everything (see Gregory Fried, Heidegger's Polemos: From Being to Politics, p. 30).
Where did the active embracing of the idea of war as “law” ultimately lead? Richard Gelding notes that the philosopher Karl Popper had discerned an “elitism” inherent in the fragments of Heraclitus, and that Popper ‘”saw in Hitler the grim results of this elitism” (Remembering Heraclitus, p. 110). In a 1942 speech Adolf Hitler proclaimed that Heraclitus’ concept of war in the context of a world in which the stronger overcomes the weaker, amounted to “an iron law of logic” (Hitler and the Germans, p. 141).
The realities of warfare and violence form part of human relationships, national conflicts and the present state of physical nature. But the upholding of what might be termed a spirit of violence as a virtuous “truth”, as something to be embraced by human beings, is a deception that only ends in total catastrophe, as we know from the history of the twentieth century. In the final analysis, it comes down to who or what we allow to be father and king of us all.
David Hulme and Daniel Tompsett
Despite the early 21st century’s worldwide economic disruption, the 2010 report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) puts annual worldwide military expenditure at $1.63 trillion—up more than 50 percent since 2000.
In a world that yearns for disarmament and peace, warfare has become a globalized problem. The defense industry is a key element in the equation, answering the demands of military establishments and various governments that need jobs creation and the growth of defense-related exports to further domestic prosperity.
This raises fundamental moral questions, though not for the first time. Following World War II, American general Omar Bradley summarized the moral deficit that had emerged after that conflict. In 1948 he said, “The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”
Despite Bradley’s perceptive analysis, a wartime colleague, U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953–61), oversaw the phenomenal postwar growth and development of the American military-industrial complex. Yet when it came time to step down from office, he made a speech in which he warned about the dangers inherent in the relentless pursuit of supremacy by military-industrial means. He said, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
Today the military-industrial complex is far more powerful and influential than Eisenhower could have imagined. SIPRI calculates the U.S. share of 2010 armaments purchases at 43 percent of the world’s total. China comes a distant second at an estimated 7.3 percent! The reason usually given is that the United States has obligations worldwide, whereas other nations do not. And while there have been ups and downs in spending and development over the past several decades, the future of the industry now seems to depend on five factors. According to military and defense analyst Richard Bitzinger, they are the hierarchical nature of the global arms industry, defense spending, the global arms market, the globalization of armaments production, and the emerging information technologies–based revolution in military affairs.
Read more in the series Global Problems, Global Solutions.
“The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”
GENERAL OMAR BRADLEY (SPEECH, NOVEMBER 1948)
UP IN ARMS
Outside the UN building in New York is a famous statue on whose base is inscribed, “We shall beat our swords into plowshares.” Ironically, it was a 1959 gift from the Soviet Union. The world was 14 years into the Cold War and the associated nuclear arms race. Sixty years later, we have not yet beaten swords into plowshares. Though the East-West standoff ended in 1991, the peace dividend soon gave way to massive increases in military spending.
It’s not that human beings do not know the problem of war. In 1795, James Madison, a key architect of the U.S. constitution and the nation’s fourth president, wrote: “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes . . . the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. . . . No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
Yet today the United States accounts for 46.5 percent of the world’s military spending. Next and very distant comes China (6.6 percent), then France, the United Kingdom and Russia. These shocking disparities are recorded in the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) Yearbook 2010.
The widespread financial crisis and economic downturn has caused no noticeable impact on arms sales. SIPRI puts global military expenditure in 2009 at $1.531 trillion—2.7 percent of the world’s gross domestic product or approximately $225 for each person in the world. You might say that these numbers are surprisingly low, but that ignores the 49 percent increase since 2000. Nor does it take into account the increasing concentration of military expenditure: 15 countries make up 82 percent of the total. It’s also important to note the difficulty of separating the arms industry from national prosperity and employment. According to SIPRI, “the consequent strong relationship between arms producers and governments and the industry’s perceived importance to national security . . . shield it from the immediate impact of severe economic downturns. This status is reflected in the continued high levels of arms sales, high profits, large backlogs and strong cash flows generated by arms production.”
While U.S. armaments manufacturing companies dominate the SIPRI Top 100, Britain’s BAE Systems claimed the highest level of arms sales in 2008. Consistently among the leading arms-exporting countries are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and China. Among the greatest importers are China, India, the United Arab Emirates and South Korea. But it’s not just the major nations that are involved: companies in 98 countries manufacture small arms.
The quote on the UN statue is no doubt taken from the prophetic scripture in Micah 4:3—“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” This is what is going to happen in the restored kingdom of God on earth. Note that it is not just about cessation of the armaments industry but also the teaching and encouragement of a state of mind opposed to war and conflict. The universal knowledge of God’s way and principles is going to change how people think. Aggression is not going to be viewed as the way ahead. The way of God will be centrally sought and taught, and the human tendency for war will be prevented.
With the end of weaponry and a changed mind, peace will finally be possible.
From Vision, Editorial, Fall 2010