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Saturday, February 21, 2015

War is Drug (Mahabharata Notes #9)


After endless politics, conspiracies, gambling, threats, peace talk, and arguments, the war finally broke out on the field of Kurukshetra. Rivers of blood soaked the earth as the Pandavas and Kauravas tried to vanquish each other. People got shot full of arrows or their heads chopped off or trampled by war horses and elephants. By the end of Day Eight, the troops were too exhausted to collect and burn the piling corpses that had been once their comrades and brothers.

It is no accident that two of the most enduring and beloved epics of human history are about war: Mahabharata and Iliad. Just reading the battle scenes gets my blood roiling and adrenaline surging and I can barely put it down --- Me! A peaceful harmless little woman who can't give anyone a flu shot with a tiny needle. Throughout human history, war defines men, and women are complicit. We love and fear men who fight. In the grip of danger and fear, dopamine rushes out and time slows down, and everything becomes a hundred times more vivid than usual. Like the feeling I got seeing "The Hurt Locker," again it dawns on me that I am no different from the others. I am as susceptible to the appeal of death and violence as anyone.

In "War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning," Chris Hedges condemns society's myth-making machines and propaganda that glorify war and killing, all the while admitting its intoxicating effects.

The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our airwaves. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble. 

Nevertheless Steven Pinker is convinced that humanity is heading to a more peaceful world, because the rate of violent conflicts and deaths has been declining steadily over the past decades. Perhaps the simulation of war --- competitive sports, violent movies, reading war stories, and thrilling activities (eg, ski jumping, sky diving, extreme sports) --- is the only effective way to quench our thirst for danger and excitement and keep our darker urges at bay.

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