Where is your God now?
Old Chas has gotten a bit maudlin these past few posts. Guess that’s a reflection of the world he sees around him. Note, it doesn’t bother me so much so long as there is a waitress nearby. And as I’m writing this, there is.
I took a little jaunt to see some friends who have a house on Sanibel Island in Florida. (It was hot, but the rum punch was cold, so I enjoyed myself.) I flew down and back on JetBlue which has DirectTV from take off to landing. With this, plus the newsweeklies I picked up, not to mention Harper’s Magazine and the NY Review of Books, my 3.5 hours were sort of a little self- contained media orgy. I surfed back and forth from the 24 hour news channels to the History Channel to others, reading the whole time, pounding Dewars and Amstel Light. And there, I had one of those little epiphanies which so rarely prove to be of interest to others. As such, I decided to share it with you anyway.
As Joe Conrad’s Marlow noted,
“We live in the flicker - may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday.”
We live in the flicker. Savagery does not exist at the fringes of humanity, lurking in the shadows. Rather, we enjoy a tiny pool of light within a dark world. A respite. Like a flickering candle, the light could go out any minute. This truth is all around us. We just have to open our eyes.
Chaos is as much a part of man as civilization is. The two concepts are linked in a horrible dance which ends with glimpses of promise, but ultimately, will always include significant suffering.
- Violence is a vital part of the human experience
- Domination is the antithesis and thesis of civilization
- Violence is the currency of domination, operating at its periphery
- Where dominance is unclear humans become violent and ultimately suffer
- As long as people struggle for dominance, there will be suffering
- At present it does not appear people will ever cease suffering because dominance is unsustainable
What do I mean then? I was, after all, intoxicated as this was scribbled on a cocktail napkin next to some delicious Terra Blue chips.
I will endeavor to elaborate.
Violence is a vital part of the human experience.
If you disagree with this, you’ve led a sheltered life and may be deluding yourself.
Domination is the antithesis and thesis of civilization
Domination is something we repress these days, yet it is a drive which lurks deep in the hearts of all of us. It comes from a primal place of struggle for rank and territory, the state of nature (Hobbes). We are programmed to sniff out weakness in competitors and strike. The naked aggression therein is quite the opposite of civilization and makes for a life filled with fear, violence and conflict with few winners and many losers. (Think about a prison).
We still manifest remnants of this behavior, but for the majority of us it is tempered by the society in which we live. There are rules we all bow down to. Dominance is thus the thesis of civilization because it lies at the heart of the social contract (Locke). The group will exert itself upon you, unless you respect the rules. This may include violence, but state sanctioned, as “peace keeping”. In this way, order is maintained and a civilization kept safe from internal threats. Its members, in exchange for submitting to the will of the group, remain relatively safe from violent action.
Right? So what the fuck am I talking about? I'll tell you what...mob mentality. Something inherent which creates new external threats, organically. Domination is the antithesis of civilization in that its original, untapped essence (in the state of nature) occurs at a larger scale, with the state/group acting externally as an individual might, without the constraints of social contract.
Violence is the currency of domination, operating at its periphery.
In the animal world, rarely do battles for dominance result in the death of a combatant. In the human world, outside of the social contract, this is not the case. At times, human conflict, particularly within “civilization”, is resolved without overt violence, as in corporate proxy fights and political elections. Yet, at the periphery, should domination be less than complete or should no non-violent means seem to exist, threats will likely begin. This is evident in all revolutions, and in civil war. These threats have as their foundation one core element: if you do not behave differently I will kill you.
Where dominance is unclear humans become violent and ultimately suffer
The notion of winning seems to overcome human compassion. When a group one sees as “the other”, a group it may in some way compete with, it will use its strength to dominate. Should the group be unwilling to submit, some violent action will ensure. This is how groups have acted from Paleolithic hunting tribes to modern states and militias.
As long as people struggle for dominance, there will be suffering
From economic hardships like embargos, to all out war, the human cost of conflict is well documented.
At present it does not appear people will ever cease suffering because dominance is unsustainable
Even within the semi-viable social construct intended to take place within the UN, there still are many areas of unrest where conflict, violence and suffering are inevitable. Even within the UN, as evidenced by the current conflict involving the US, there is a push and pull struggle for control and domination. As long as people seek to improve their lot through force, as individuals, as groups, suffering will continue. Because this drive is hard-wired, it does not appear to be going anywhere fast.
Yikes. Yes, can see that you too need a stiff drink after reading all of that shit. How the fuck did I come to believe this was important to note, even in such superficial detail. I’ll answer you: because it’s everywhere…
In the most recent issue of Harpers: Lewis Lapham makes a brilliant case demonstrating the connections between the Power of Will, Military Might and Capitalism, charting the path of the “societies of acquisition” from the crusades to the modern War on Terror.
On the History Channel: The history of state sponsored torture, on every continent save Anarticia, through to the modern controversies today.
On and in the news: The usual bombings, asymmetrical warfare, coupled with layoffs, housing market woes, genocide in Sudan, saber rattling across continents and no bid military contacts. You know the drill.
So why this title? Because there is no comfort. I think, like Conrad’s characters many people embedded in the warm bosom of what we call civilization remain relatively removed and untouched by the darkness and violence in the world. The Pax Romana, Pax Britannica, and most recently the Pax Americana. But this comfort is fleeting and illusionary. We are not safe. (As our heavily military minded administration is more than aware.) We were never safe, and no one is going to save us, not even ourselves. Not until dominance ceases to be the means by which we prosper. And violence the threat by which we maintain our dominance.
May the flicker last as long as it can, but darkness looms. We saw that on 911 and we see it today. Many people see it every day.
Consider that when you're sipping your latte.
I wish there was something funny about all this, but there just isn’t. It’s absurd, but dead serious. Horrifying, actually.
Note that only Chas Chesterfield could take a great time on the beach with friends and find a way to return with a treatise on the evils of human frailty. I’m a ray of fucking sunshine. Well, at least I’m honest. Or striving to be.