Case 1: Imagine, in a picturesque suburban neighborhood, two pet dogs of immediate neighbors quarreling over a bone – growling, barking, snarling, lunging; that is, a typical instance of canine conflict over a prized object.
Imagine that the two owners come out and notice the conflict. How might they resolve the conflict? Surely this would be a simple matter, with several decent solutions. For example, the “bone of contention” may be tossed into a covered garbage bin. Or one of the neighbors may come up with a second bone so that each dog has one. Or each neighbor may simply drag his or her dog – growling and snarling – away from the conflict.
This would be civilized behavior. The neighbors would smile at each other, exchange a civility or two, and go happily back home. We can conclude rightly that a “higher intelligence” at work resolved the conflict.
Case 2: Now imagine that the prized object is something that the two neighbors covet for themselves – say a precious statuette, or something similar, that the two dogs mistake for a bone. A thinly disguised conflict would now ensue between the two neighbors, with the situation evolving around an altogether different trajectory.
Of course the neighbors would be quite “sophisticated” in how they maneuver to get hold of the prized object. The strategies used would include dissimulation, fake smiles, verbal thrust and parry, posturing, and so on – with barely hidden animosity “just under the surface”.
Viewed in terms of game theory, each neighbor would aim to establish “rightful claim” on the coveted object – while also struggling to ensure that he or she is not seen to fall below certain presumed standards of “civilized behavior”.
The “higher intelligence” which manages to resolve the conflict in the first case is totally absent from the scene in the second – all available intelligence being fully tangled up in the game of proving “rightful claim”.
Even if one considers Homo Sapiens to be “created in God’s image”, one cannot deny a degree of commonality between the two conflict situations outlined.
However, one key difference between the two is that, in the second case, “civilized behavior” is strained by the desire to obtain the coveted object. The questions below can serve as “starters” for a closer examination of this point:
- Is it an implicit criterion of being considered “civilized” that one must get hold of as many prized possessions as possible – “by hook or by crook”?
- Would it not be “civilized” for one neighbor to simply let the other neighbor have the contested prized object?
- Does “civilization” mean (a) being civil, or (b) appearing to be civil while maximizing material gain? The latter in fact seems to be the currently prevalent and dominant definition of the newly emerging “global civilization”.
- What is the role of material prosperity in “being civilized”?
Historians tell us that the two World Wars of the previous century “reshaped the world”, although that is no more than a simple and trivial statement of fact. Any conflict which involves hundreds of millions of people and causes the deaths of tens of millions would obviously “reshape the world”. That should be a no-brainer, even for a professional historian.
Far more important than the above trivial observation would be to expose what exactly caused the two horrendous bloodbaths. The following statements were made by persons who knew exactly what was going on.
(1) Conversation between a British and a US diplomat, before the start of the First World War:
BD: “We are probably fools not to find a reason for declaring war on Germany before she builds too many ships and takes away our trade.”
USD: “If you wish to compete with German trade, work harder.”
BD: “That would mean lowering our standard of living. Perhaps it would be simpler for us to have a war … Is it a question of right or wrong? Maybe it is just a question of keeping our supremacy.”
(2) The British economist Keynes wrote that Britain had destroyed a trade rival in the First World War.
(3) “This war, in its inception, was a commercial and industrial war. It was not a political war” – US President Woodrow Wilson, in 1919.
(4) “Would anyone maintain that Germany’s attempt to dominate trade in Central Europe was not one of the main reasons for the war?” – US President Roosevelt, in 1942.
(5) “If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible.” – US Senator (later President) Harry Truman, in 1941, after Germany had attacked Russia.
It would not be at all difficult to find similar statements made by persons who were on the other side in the World Wars. Surely no one would argue that the “ruling elites” of the warring countries did not share a common zeitgeist!
So what do these few honest statements tell us about the two horrible wars?
To an outside observer such as the present writer – who does not buy into any self-serving definition of “civilization” – the answer which emerges is quite simple. The two World Wars were caused by limitless and ruthless rapacity.
Over the past millennia, uncountable other wars – small and big – have also had the same root cause.
In place of rapacity, can we not use here the word greed or avarice instead?
No – because there is a clear difference between the psychological state of avarice or greed on the one hand, and rapacity on the other.
Think Scrooge! A greedy person holds on tight to what he or she has, hoards as much as possible, and hates to let go of the slightest bit. The person’s mind is totally given over to the aim of “having more and more things”.
Rapacity, on the other hand, refers to a tendency to snatch from others, the tendency being closely related to show of power and enjoyment in power. The person’s mind is totally given over to “snatching from others”. It may be noted that the words “rape” and “rapine” also derive from the same Latin root.
A rapacious person may or may not be greedy, and vice versa.
Deep down in the human psyche, both rapacity and greed are attempts to make up for some inner inadequacy or pathology; but rapacity seems to better describe the psychological state of historical and present-day “power elites”.
Rapacity has had an unbroken and bloody record throughout human history, appearing under a guise such as “real-politik”, “power”, “conquest” or “tribute”. Naturally, in this context, we may wonder about the role that organized religion has played through its inevitable and intimate interplay with human rapacity.
Over the millennia, has organized religion – of whichever variety – managed to moderate rapacity with a tinge of compassion? Or has organized religion merely legitimized rapacity by “sanctifying” it ritualistically? Or perhaps even colluded with rapacious “power elites” in exchange for a share of the earnings?
Is a self-proclaimed “divine right to a kingdom” not merely the “sanctification” of taxation and suppression over a geographical region? Words and phrases such as “majesty”, “royal lineage” and “blue blood” can be seen as clever deception which serves to hide the underlying reality of rapacity.
In the modern “secular” societies, words such as “freedom”, “democracy”, “progress”, “equality” – and other similar “pie in the sky” words or phrases – are used to distract masses of people from their real predicament.
Over the millennia, only the outward appearances and manners of the rapacious have changed – along with their tools of trade. The mindset of the rapacious has remained the same since the dawn of history.
In modern times, the economist Milton Friedman saw no role for the government in the US – but helped a brutal dictator’s government in Chile. Other economists guided a drunkard President in Russia towards economic ruin in the 1990s. In fact all ruthless economic ideologies benefit only the people who ensure their own victory by rigging the rules of the game defined by the ideologues.
Bill Clinton’s election campaign was guided by the famous saying: “It’s the economy, stupid!” The choice of this strategy showed a shrewd understanding of the bread-and-butter issues which concern the average voters. Of course the promises made to voters were false, and Clinton later opened up the entire US economy to the limitless rapacity of a small number of plutocrats.
The strategy used by Bill Clinton is akin to that of a broker who strongly recommends a security to a customer – while his or her own brokerage house heavily shorts the same security through its private trading account.
Today the most rapacious of people on the planet work through their mastery of the dirtiest tricks of finance, and style themselves “Masters of the Universe”. We hear that the goal of such people is to become “F**k you!” rich – meaning that a person would like to be rich enough to say “F**k you!” to anyone’s face.
In fact that particular goal is weird in the extreme. Why would anyone choose that for his or her goal in life? Why not choose a more sensible goal in life such as, for example, one from the following sample list?
Be happy, have a beautiful house and family, find a cure for cancer, climb a tall mountain peak, win the local marathon, learn music, grow beautiful flowers, help the neighborhood library.
But this list wouldn’t do, would it? Instead, what must the aspiring “Master of the Universe” choose? To be able to say “F**k you!” to anyone!
If the choice of this goal does not indicate a disease of the mind, what does?
The disease in this instance seems to be that the person in question has no prior experience of true happiness. True happiness being a totally unknown entity to such a person, how can it possibly be his or her goal in life? It must be maddening for anyone to see happy people around – but not knowing how to be one!
Self-hatred is evident in a person wanting to be “F**k you!” rich. Indeed, is the person not saying “F**k you!” to himself or herself all the time – while wanting desperately to be able to say it also to others? And the person thinks that a huge amount of wealth would empower him or her to say “F**k you!” to others!
There is much talk today about the financial economy versus the real economy. But in fact the financial economy seems to be nothing other than thinly disguised rapacity posing with the “fake academic” veneer of an ideology!
Rapacity seems to be deeply rooted in the species Homo Sapiens, probably being related to the survival instinct. But here the survival instinct seems to take an ugly and debased form, leading towards extinction rather than survival.
A “free market economy” works only when every exchange in the market is “free and fair”, and both the parties to every such exchange benefit materially from it. No real economy can survive unbridled rapacity and cheating; the mass of participants would simply not put up with it.
If rapacity is a potentiality of human nature, then so is its opposite – compassion. Those who argue in favor of “free market economy” based solely on rapacity deny the potentiality for compassion, and attempt to shape the world based on their blatantly self-serving ideology. But if this attempt is not in accordance with human nature, then it is bound to fail, with huge losses all around.
It is said that the chief goal of diplomacy lies in advancing economic interests, and also that war is nothing but diplomacy carried out through other means. Then, if unbridled rapacity guides global economic policy, can war be far behind?
In other words, can peace and unbridled rapacity coexist? Is sustainable life on earth possible with unbridled rapacity?
[Published originally at the site transcend.org/tms]