A Thought Adventure

Sunday, January 3, 2016

32. Patriarchy I. Warfare

Mesopotamian warriors
We don’t know when patriarchal orders are first installed, only that they exist in some form already at the beginning of recorded history and are characterized by city-living. Although nobody knows when organized war was invented or why, it’s a staple ingredient in patriarchal cultures; the most striking feature already in the Mesopotamian city-states is the constant wars between them

Though ambivalent in that it offered both freedom and compulsion, protection and aggression, the ancient city was nevertheless, says Mumford, “the collective expression of a too heavily armored personality” whose “extreme manifestations are now recognized in individuals as pathological.” 

By contrast, in surviving Stone Age cultures war is nothing but a ritual or game. According to Gwynne Dyer (author of War), it’s definitely not about slaughter and there’s never much killing; nor is war ever a conquest to win territory, subjugate people or destroy their basis for livelihood. The soldier, a professional killer, is a creation of civilization.

Does war have religious origins?
Several scholars see a connection between sacrifice and war. Mumford thinks war is an outgrowth of ritual sacrifice and suspects that beneath it lies “an irrational belief, still deeply embedded in the collective unconscious (that) only by wholesale human sacrifice can the community be saved.” He suggests that raids to find victims for sacrificial slaughter turn into mass extermination and become a supreme sport of kings. In some West African kingdoms (e.g., Dahomey) warfare is the principal way of obtaining sacrificial victims; and so it is among the Aztecs, who need many thousand a year because they believe the sun will die without meals of human blood.

Since ritual sacrifice requires an incessant supply of youths to butcher, it seems plausible to me that men look abroad for victims. And if the purpose of war (or at least a powerful incentive for it) is indeed to maintain this custom, then organized war has a religious origin: being a warrior becomes an alternative to being sacrificed and battle becomes a surrogate sacrifice. With time warriors form an exclusive caste analogous to priests and in feudal times an aristocracy. Nowadays nationalism is a kind of religion. In Japan’s Shinto state religion war is a sacred enterprise and the fallen soldiers are gods to be worshipped.

According to René Girard (in Violence and the Sacred), “War and sacrifice serve the same end: to redirect aggressive energy that is about to tear the community apart toward external forces.”

Without pretending to know what sets the patriarchal states on a permanent warpath against each other, I can’t help wondering if it isn’t simply the need for more targets to vent their frustrations on than those on their own turf (like women). Can hitting their neighbors serve to detonate men’s inner arsenal of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) urges? And if so, is this why they dream up what may be one of the most useful devices in all of history--the quintessential Human Enemy? Few things seem to me to better justify man’s inhumanity to man than concocting the idea that his fellow-man is his foe--providing us as it does with a perfect reason to blame others for the destructive impulses we can’t confront in ourselves.

But isn’t the impulse to fight part of a basic instinct for self-preservation? So that it’s only natural to feel combative when threatened? Certainly. I also think that as people grew more aware, both of the world around them and of their own subjective states of mind, they probably became more easily provoked. But that doesn’t mean that the extreme brutality emblematic of civilization is any way ‘natural’ or unavoidable. During the course of evolution the animals’ built-in action patterns are being replaced in our species by the ability to choose how to respond to perceived threats. The way we act is always our choice and responsibility.

War, I therefore argue, has nothing to do with an outer enemy--only with our own dark emotions and motivations, which we prefer to project rather than pull up from our unconscious and squarely look in the eye. Pogo got it right. “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

War and manhood
Why does the insane idea that only mass killings can save society remain a rationale for war today? To me it is an example of our society’s psychopathology--that we see abnormal behaviors as perfectly normal. And why do we do that? Because in patriarchy the 'ordinary state of consciousness' is based on the false idea of male superiority--which in turn is a male substitute for matriarchy's equally false idea of female magic. 

Throughout history wars have supposedly served many purposes that benefit men. It makes them identify with collective strength; provides a source of prestige; gives them both a bonding with each other away from women and a semi-religious feeling of being part of something larger than themselves. In a word, war defines manhoodIn his 2003 memoir Jarhead, A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and other Battles, Anthony Swafford writes that from a very early age he understood “that manhood had to do with war, and war with manhood.”

But why must manhood be defined as something outside of a man when womanhood is not defined as anything outside of a woman? A question we never ask, because to do so would be perfectly logical, sane and sound.   

For patriarchy’s most prominent feature besides war: its curtailment of female sexuality, see next post.

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