THE FUTURE OF VIOLENCE


2020, one wit has already said, 'is cancelled'. The joke, which is only about as funny as a swallowed switchblade, stems from the fact that, less than a week old, someone thought Greta's name was Sharon, Trump triggered a potential WW3, and Australia is facing its worst-ever natural disaster, etc. There wasn't much of a 'Boris Bounce' to the fresh start of a new decade - human idiocy and cruelty seemed to continue, like a never-ending Netflix series.

Trump's decision to execute, with extreme prejudice, the top-ranking Iranian general (a de facto second in command of that nation) in Iraq (with the usual barely-considered collateral damage) was shocking for two reasons - one, it is not usual Western military policy to (openly) assassinate top-level leaders and generals; and two, this is likely to escalate a simmering conflict into war.

It was also, ethically, and anthropologically, a pretty depressing start to a new decade. This is because, we have maybe 10-20 years to establish a consensus on how to co-operate, and form a civil way to limit emissions and slow the climate crisis before it makes what we are seeing on the outskirts of Sydney into a daily occurrence, everywhere on the planet. I say 10-20 to make allowances for the slow to budge CEOs who want more time, but probably the time frame is tighter by far.

According to the Modern War Institute (at West Point) - which presumably knows a few things about the subject:

Put simply, humans are hardwired for violence, yet also have a capacity to develop norms of cooperation and reciprocity, even with our out-group competitors. We are a bundle of biological impulses, part Rousseau and part Hobbes, part bonobo and part chimp. We are rational actors who make irrational choices.

The fact that, at the full limit of our civilised historical development, in 2020, the world's most powerful elected leader decided to, with Pearl Harbour stealth, blow up a foreign enemy, to kill them and hence 'solve' a conflictual problem with murder, not dialogue or co-operation, can only confirm the shocking recognition that the behaviour of the mobsters in The Irishman is a microcosmic example of the human race's apparent long-standing ability and willingness to act no differently from our ancestors tens of thousands of years ago; nothing seems to have changed in the calculus, or the brute force, only the nature of the weapon.

If humans are only capable of progressing to greater-powered implements of war, but retain the basic inner instincts and neuro-chemical programming of a Neanderthal, at best, then the sham of a Judeo-Christian, Greco-Roman veneer of civilisation that coats our inner savagery with its masks of peace, is insufficient, and has never been of much use. No credo, creed, philosophy or work of art seems capable of stopping violence, ordered from the top, against those we see as a threat.

I do not see evolution any time soon rewarding pacifists, when, unfortunately, the strongest, most ruthless, and least moral of our kind seem to rise all-too-often to the top. The ideologies of post-structural analysis have been able to diagnose this sickness, but, despite attempts to alter human behaviour at the societal level, so long as the 'chimp' in our wiring remains capable of explosive violence, we as humans remain disappointing creatures.

The other day, even The Pope - a man of impressive kindness, gentleness and education, lashed out and slapped a woman in the crowd who tugged at him; his apology was expected and required, but it hardly comforts to know we are all sinners, and all human, if we cannot locate a lever to lift us away from the original violence settings we inherit from millions of years of genetic and memetic encoding.

The norms of co-operation have been systematically disrupted this past decade, as the Tech giants of Silicon Valley have linked us in to an almost-intravenous instant cycle of fight-and-flight dopamine hits, their algorithms designed to maximise our conflictual behaviour patterns, and damage our ability to form larger enterprises of trust and communion. The fast-moving of our companies is breaking our ability to overcome our rational side, and is laying the groundwork for a new humanity, almost entirely given over to instinctual, instant, impulsive defence and attack. It is no surprise that nations are more angry and divided than usual.

At the end of our time as masters of the planet, our giant brains have built machines to make us more aggressive, and less conducive to reciprocity, than we even were when in the caves. The history of our kind is violence and hubris - we must, with all humility, try to imagine new ways.

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