Heroism, terrorism and social violence: Notes in political psychology III

12.08.2018 - Moscow - Akop Nazaretyan - Centro Mundial de Estudios Humanistas

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Heroism, terrorism and social violence: Notes in political psychology III
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The times of Renaissance and Enlightenment were reactions to the agricultural civilization’s system crisis and thus re-claimed the ancient rationalist thinking; this made Europe the leader of the historical evolution. The “grown-up” moral motivations were newly gaining strength together with the critical thinking. True, the humans had not yet learned to live without wars and ideologies, so the confessional demarcations soon gave place to the ones based on national or class discrimination. Nevertheless, the altered Europeans’ images of life and death contributed to a radical bloodshed decrease both in war and everyday conflicts. Sociological investigations in the 19th and the 20th centuries showed that the density of the everyday violence was proportional to the population’s religiousness [26, 29], and the wars in Europe between 1648 (the end of the Thirty Years War) and 1914 had unprecedentedly low number of losses. Unfortunately, this was “compensated” by the impudent extermination of aboriginals outside Europe and after the space for the European aggression “escape” was exhausted, it was re-oriented inside the continent. Nevertheless, even the 20th century world wars had a lower Bloodshed Ratio (the ratio of the average number of killings per unit of time to a population size) compared with either the medieval wars or the ones in former époques [30-36, 9]. Estimates have demonstrated an even more universal trend: over the course of millennia the violent death rate has been non-linearly but successively decreasing while both the technologies’ destructive potential and population densities have had a distinctly upward trend. This paradoxical result is due to the fact that the imbalanced societies have been successively “discarded” out of history by destroying the natural and geopolitical foundations of their own existence (the pattern of techno-humanitarian balance).

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The inertia of ideological (“them – us”) thinking is conditioned by a highly significant “projective” function of inter-group tensions. In the 1930s, the Finnish criminologist Veli Verkko first suggested that not the wars but the everyday conflicts had always been the major source of violent deaths. The surmise was confirmed by subsequent investigations and called the Verkko Law [36]. From time immemorial, the search for an outside enemy has been restricting the tensions inside the kin, tribe, chiefdom, state, confession and so on. The primeval chiefs were regularly inciting their tribes’ young men against each other and many customs were aimed at a perpetual hostility among the neighboring groups [37]. Besides the in-group consolidation and aggression-transfer, image of an enemy has also provided the basic meaning formation function over millennia: it is appreciably simplified in the context of real or potential wars.

This mental matrix has vectored military, political, confessional, class and party alliances and as soon as the common enemy was destructed, it required new demarcations between the former allies. The stories of the revolutionary movements in all parts of the world illustrate this observation even better than the history of inter-tribe and international relations: having taken power, the winners soon started to kill each other.

Regular reproduction of such a miserable scheme dispirits. Meanwhile, both social-psychological experiments and some outstanding facts from political history show us that there is an alternative mechanism for human solidarity without confrontation as well.

In the late 1950s, Muzafer Sherif and his assistants [38] experimentally demonstrated that a constructive task (the image of common cause) instead of the hatred to an ill-intentioned offender (the image of common enemy), could provide consolidation. Two groups of 12-13-year-old boys were invited to rest in the forest camps. During one of the first outings (marching and with flags) they met; soon the sense of rivalry and later on, mutual hostility developed. Baseball and volleyball competitions didn’t calm but intensified the hostility and the efforts to influence the boys by means of the informal opinion leaders deprived the voluntary peacemakers of authority.

A classical way to make friendship might be to form a third camp with some privileges and thus stir up the two ones against the “parvenus”, but the psychologists went another way. The lorry that supplied both camps with victual was spoiled and the boys had to push and pull the loaded car upward. Later on, the water supply system failed so that to repair it the boys had to work together and help each other. After that, a popular film was ordered and the organizers suggested to club together the boys’ money. So the hostility was giving place to collaboration; as the time came to go back to the city, all decided to take the same bus.

This was a crucial époque in human history: the global civilization was balancing over the abyss and the idea of non-confrontational solidarity was passing a great test. The idea which had been presented in the previous human history in form of hopeful but not very effective projects, this time turned into real historical breakthroughs. The successful completion of the 20th century was provided by the effective agreements between the equally ambitious super-states about the nuclear weapons non-use and non-proliferation, the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963) and later on, international ecological measures.

The density of lethal violence essentially reduced in the second half of the 20th century, although we should remember that in sum, up to 25 million people perished on the battlefields of the “Cold” war [9]. By the 1980s, the acutest international crises fraught with a nuclear conflict had been overcome: the humanity psychologically adapted to the new weapon and the global geopolitical system achieved a relative sustainability. Yet, one of its two poles drastically weakened in the late 1980s, so in 1989, the Hegelian philosopher Francis Fukuyama [39] announced the coming “end of history”: as soon as the Communism was defeated, political conflicts and wars would become a thing of the past and the world would remain calm under the aegis of liberal democracy.

The paper soon became a bestseller as far as it was consonant with the readers’ expectancies on both sides of the raising iron curtain. Yet, if there are no more menaces, it is unnecessary to pay a lot of money for Pentagon, CIA and the other paramilitary structures; as a result, respective budgets had difficulties in the Congress. Therefore, a new international bestseller was launched in 1993: the political scientist Samuel Huntington [40] poured cold shower over the euphoric Fukuyama’s adherents’ heads by claiming that now the world would divide into seven or eight regional religious “civilizations” and conflicts among them would become dominant in the coming époque. It will be much more problematic to find compromises with the adherents of other religions than it was with the Communists – the descendants of the European tradition; thus, the fighting capacity ought to be developing.

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Now, after more than two decades, we have to admit that the world has in fact become more dangerous without its previous two-block certainty. Although political thinking remains bipolar, the poles have lost their shape. We find on the one pole the Western (especially American) elites euphoric after the victory in the Cold War who have essentially lowered their quality of political forecasting and planning: their boomerang-effected military adventures since the second half of the 1990s show that the Grand Masters of the 1950-1980s have given place to much lower category players who can’t see more than one move ahead. The opposite pole, emptied after the collapse of the USSR, was filled by terrorist groups, the ones that the two military blocks had been forming during the Cold war, and grew wild as soon as they became unnecessary to their owners. This system effect is well known in ecology: for instance, after wolves are shot out, wild dogs come to fill the emptied niche, which is much worse both for the biocoenosis and for the humans.

Thus, the pathology of poles has emerged, which made the global geopolitical system unsustainable. International menaces are supplemented by at least two additional ones. First, the borderlines between the peace and war conditions are blurring: since 1945, the bloodiest conflicts like the ones in Korea, Vietnam or Afghanistan have not been officially declared “wars”. Second, since the beginning of the 21st century, the lines between the war and the non-war technologies are also blurring [41, 42]. As a result, the potential high tech weapons are slipping out of the states’ and governments’ control and falling in the informal groups’ hands who are even less ready than professional politicians to keep trace of the delayed aftereffects.

Some analysts see the current situation in the world as a confirmation of the Huntington’s forecast. Meanwhile, our observations suggest a different conclusion: what the world is actually enduring is not the “clash of civilizations” but the clash of the historical époques which are concentrated in the planetary civilization’s single space-time. The tensions aren’t passing along the countries’ or regions’ borders but inside human minds, and the past is actively getting its revenge. The passionate ideologies which agitated peoples in the 20th century have lost their motivational resource (including the liberal democracy disconnected from its Protestant background), so the deficit of strategic life meanings is reanimating the older ones which are based on religious and national fundamentalism. Thus the imbalance between the accelerated technological advance and the humanitarian culture’s lowering quality is threateningly deepening. Violent methods of fighting against the resuscitated Middle Ages and the early New Time ideologies look like an effort to squelch a cockroach hordes: only new meanings can be an effective measure to supplant the old ones which have become dangerous for the system. Is modern culture ready to promote strategic reference points free from the “them-us” discrimination? If it is, will humanity have time to master them?

Such questions cease to be purely academic. Independent calculations done lately by scientists in various countries have shown that near the middle of the 21st century, the accelerating evolution on Earth is to achieve its extremum (the so-called Singularity) after which a grandiose polyfurcation is expected [43-50]. Universities and academic centers set to investigate the issue have been formed in the USA, Russia and some other countries, although politicians don’t show any interest in their work.

What might follow the phase transition? Lately, theoretical physicists have brought abundant arguments to prove that both the range and scale of purposeful control of mass-energy flows are potentially unlimited and thus, subsequent development of intelligence is what will influence the perspective of the Meta-Galaxy [51-54]. Even before, studies in gestalt-psychology and heuristics had demonstrated another significant mechanism: those parameters of the problem situation that are uncontrollable constants inside a certain model become manageable variables within a more complex meta-model [55]; this radically increases mind’s creative potential. Does this imply that the evolution’s planetary cycle will be completed by the breakthrough to its cosmic phase with growing influence on the universal processes?

Unfortunately, we don’t clearly know the potential range of the humanitarian intelligence development and therefore, to what extent the developing technologies can be balanced by the perfection of the cultural and psychological self-control. An unexpected circumstance which may play its fatal role in the destiny of the Earth (as well as any other) civilization is that the range of potential outside control radically exceeds the range of the inside impulses control; so, any technologically developing mind is sooner or later doomed to perish under the ruins of its own non-compensated power.

From there, new cosmological versions come to explain the surprising “silence of Cosmos”. It is suggested that the intelligence from the very beginning carries a self-destruction program which can be blocked for a time by developing self-control mechanisms. The probability of a mind which is perfect enough to control its own growing power without destroying its bearer for an indefinitely long time is vanishingly small if not next to zero. Therefore, very few of the planetary evolution hotbeds in the Universe (perhaps, a single one) are capable of creating an intelligence commensurate with its universal potential; all others implement the evolution’s dead-end lines.

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In this complex version, the developments on Earth are actually generating the cosmic evolution’s frontal area; the next decades are to determine whether these developments will turn out to be cosmically relevant indeed or lead us up to a blind alley. If the Earth civilization doesn’t pass the new maturity test, it will most probably face a transition to the history’s “descending branch”, i.e. an irreversible degradation of the anthroposphere and the biosphere. That’s why, in the words of a famous Japanese-American physicist, “the people living today are the most important ever to walk the surface of the planet, since they will determine whether we attain this goal or descend into chaos” [56, p.327].

Regress to the “black-green” variety of political terrorism fits into the complex retrograde symptomatology which must alert us. We find a lot of signs of reanimating religious influences in Russia, but what’s worse, this trend is not limited either to Russia or to regions like Africa, Central Asia or the Middle East.

Thus, the New York Times Magazine correspondent wrote in 2003 that the White House was “currently honeycombed with prayer groups and Bible study cells, like a whited monastery” [57]. American analysts [7, 26, 58] note that till the intensive competition between the superpowers was on, their government was actively stimulating science and education but lately it has lost its interest in them. According to the Gallup Institute, 35% of the Americans and 70% of the Republican Party members believe that God created the world in six days. Almost a half of its respondents suppose that the End of the World is approaching and this is good. The rollback to the Monkey Trial time is especially manifested in some states. The rich USA is attracting talented scientists from all over the world, as it was before, but political leaders aren’t seeking their advice. Therefore, while the CIA used to undertake grand master operations in the international area in the previous decades, American foreign policy has been giving boomerang effects again and again since the 1990s.

As to the Western Europe, there people’s protests against the growing immigrations which has been to a considerable extent provoked by the violent “democracy spreading” in the Near Eastern and North African countries (the “low category chess”), on the one hand, revives nationalist and racist attitudes. On the other hand, the inflow of the immigrant population with aggressive religious attitudes comes with a highly nonuniform demographic dynamics. From there, if nothing changes radically, the linear extrapolations make us assume that Europe is either to lose itself in the thickets of the Shariah or to roll back to the ideologies of the first half of the last century, and further down to a caricature of medieval Christianity…

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The German political scientist Peter Sloterdijk, while researching the First World War’s premises used the word catastrophophilia to describe the irrational thirst for “small victorious wars” that had seized the European masses “tired” with a long shortage of acute emotional experiences [59]. Similar mental epidemic accompanied by the symptoms of intellectual and spiritual regress is distinctly seen in the latest decades. Besides, unlike the regional (European) scale in the early 20th century, it is expanding to a global scale. Even the political vocabulary reflects the threatening drift. Half a century ago, the confrontational rhetoric was regularly attenuated by appeals to the common tasks – conserving the planetary civilization and the environment. This was not just tribute to fashion: “The New Political Thinking” which was proclaimed in the Bertrand Russell – Albert Einstein Manifesto (1955) helped to reach the radical inter-block compromises in spite of acutest political and military contradictions.

Current political texts apparently contrast with the ones of the 1960-80s. The frequency of the word against used when speaking about international agreements or unity has appreciably increased. Each time we find the indication of the enemy “against” whom the unity ought to be achieved. Archaic clichés like the national interests abound. Meanwhile, our conversations with “patriotic” ideologists show that they can’t clearly explain what they call a nation in the current confusion of ethnic, confessional, linguistic and value conglomerations. Moreover, they do not distinguish between the concepts like interest, ambition, impulse, benefit and so on, either. New politicians and political scientists seem to ignore that on the current historical stage the “national future” of a separate country, as well as its security beyond the world community are chimeras.

The mass catastrophophilia is manifested even in the competent academic papers. Thus, in 2016, the Nobel Peace Institute held an international discussion in which the much-talked of monograph by the psychologist Steven Pinker [36] was criticized. The monograph had demonstrated the successive decrease of lethal violence in the historical retrospection and the author forecasted its further decrease. On the contrary, the new polemists concluded that the following world war was inevitable [60, 61]; in 2017, the Swedish government re-introduced the army draft which had been canceled seven years earlier. This looks like a brilliant example of what Robert Merton called a self-fulfilling prophesy.

One can easily note that the polemists interpret the “world war” in terms of either the first or the second halves of the last century (the versions had been essentially different), like the generals who, in Winston Churchill’s ironic observation, “always prepare for the last war”. Meanwhile, the real menaces can actually differ from the ones in the 20th century, as far as the nuclear war, the overpopulation and others have been overcome technologically and psychologically. Namely, the ones mentioned above can be more urgent: it is every day more difficult to distinguish between war and peace and tell a “hot” war from a “cold” one. The English poet Thomas Eliot warned that “the world ends not with a bang but a whimper”. The planet was on the eve of a “bang” indeed in the 20th century, but actually, a “whimper” is more probable. Without defining here the backward historical motion scenarios (which might last from days to millennia – see in [9]), we have to note that anyhow, the irreversible change to the backward vector will be hardly noticed by most people.

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In a whole, the historical situation is developing in such a way that the Earth’s observable perspective will depend on the dissemination of the planetary and cosmic worldviews. Yet, a mind that identifies itself with certain national, confessional, class or other macro-communities cannot develop this kind of worldviews. In an optimal scenario, group-versus-group identities would be diluted because of the intricate interweaving of historical achievements and losses. Thus, the unprecedented decrease in children’s mortality (one of the three babies made it to the age of five in the mid 18th century London and not in all European countries the average longevities stably kept twenty years) is the humanist culture’s greatest achievement which has almost totally blocked the natural selection. The genetic burden exponential accumulation makes human individuals more and more dependent on the developing medicine, hygiene and other privileges of the artificial surroundings. Those trends’ continuations are expected to be the subsequent developments of genetic engineering, computer webs, nanotechnologies and symbiotic forms of intelligence; logically, these developments might make any macro-group identities meaningless.

Yet, before factors of the kind play their key role in the course of events, ideological attitudes can turn the technological progress on its negative side, so that the deficit of constructive meanings might whether intentionally or not transform the new technologies into lethal weapons. Therefore, an important task on the current historical stage is to single out panhuman reference marks. It is worth adding that modern interdisciplinary science, unlike the classical naturalism, provides such references beyond group-versus-group demarcations; therefore, details of the task should be specified. This might be an effective advancement of secular education with the elements of Mega-history (integral models of the past which show the continuity in the cosmic, biospheric and social evolution), as well as historical and political psychology and system forecasting.

A project of the international educational campaign aimed at fulfilling this task for audiences of various types and levels is being prepared by our group [62, 63]. Professional politicians, especially young ones are also attended in the program considering their specific orientations. It ought to be shown that those who first start to appeal to scientifically funded cosmopolitan issues would get international privileges and an expanded net of “agents of influence”. The program includes an aid in constructing their electoral technologies respectively.


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Parts 1 and 2

Heroism, terrorism and social violence: Notes in political psychology I

Heroism, terrorism and social violence: Notes in political psychology II

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