“In times of war, as everyone knows who has lived through one,…..in times of war, we revert, as a species, to the past, and are permitted to be brutal and cruel. I think it is sentimental to discuss the subject of war, or peace, without acknowledging that a great many people enjoy war - not only the idea of it, but the fighting itself.
I have heard young people discussing this, uncomprehending. This is because they do not understand how it can have happened. It is because they have not experienced, and have not been told about that dreadful public elation that is so strong - strong because it comes from an older part of the human brain, of the human experience, than the decent, humane, rational part, which passes resolutions condemning war.”
Doris Lessing, From the essay “When in the future they look back on us.”
We all hope it won’t happen. And now the fear that it will, has crept in. We are far enough away from the world wars of the 20th century that it can happen again, because we don’t believe it will. I was struck by the fact that Doris Lessing, a Nobel prize writer who lived in the first half of the nineteenth century, and who had lived through one world war at the time, could write so poignantly with an eye to the future, about the human race. Doris Lessing looks not at human deeds but human behavior and concludes that nothing has changed and nothing will change until humans are willing to look at themselves and understand how easy it is to fall into group mind, to be aroused by group mind, to be able to say that my current behavior is an outcome of my current circumstances, of living in a group that fosters peace or war. Not because I am such a decent human being and I would never….(you fill in the blanks)
My work with imprisoned teenagers, gang members has taught me that humans, young humans are excited by violence, seek violence to overcome the powerlessness they experience in their life. As long as we have an underclass, a society where the gap between rich and poor is widening, there will be war, and currently we see it in the form of gangs and terrorism. From studying and working with people of all classes, I know that humans will grab at power, fear and excitement, no matter what their stance in life, no matter what their religious bend.
When we talk about the horror of terrorism, we need to face ourself, we need to condemn a part of ourself. Trump has his following because he speaks to the unexpressed part of the human behavior that lives in all of us. Some of us are able to control it a bit better than others, at least for now. Will you lash out when the Trumps of the world gain power, will you let your aggression take hold, or will you stand by in fear and watch the wave of human arousal run over you? I know I feel the anger inside me, I want to fight back, and I don’t know where it will take me when the fascist forces of the world start condemning and find a following that puts them in power.
Media, news and movies desensitize us. Lessing already knew that. We fight back verbally a bit, we express ourselves in decent tones against the demagogic statements. When we turn off the news, have read the comment section to our aroused satisfaction, we fall back into our desensitized belief, that we are not like them, that it will never happen…
As Lessing says in the essay, “Switching off to see Dallas”
“But what strikes me is this: technology - television, cinema, to be precise - in this case is doing exactly the same process, exposing us to brutality of every kind so that we lose our sensitivity to it.” This was 1919. Go figure.