Nearly every creature upon this planet has one or more natural predators: creatures that prey upon them. Humans seem to be a striking exception; even though we’re bereft of natural weapons – claws, ripping teeth and so on – we easily protect ourselves from even large predators. There are the occasional “bear in the woods” stories, but those come when we leave our constructed environments.
The reason we’re so able to keep ourselves safe is simply that we can think. Humans have, since long before recorded history, figured out how to master wild animals. And so we have no natural predators… or at least none of the usual type.
Our Predators Are Intellectual Predators
In case anyone is pounding a desk and screaming “war,” don’t worry, I’ll get to that in a minute.
Humans are not destroyed by claws and teeth, they are destroyed by ideas. In fact, they are highly vulnerable to ideas. In particular (and you can see several issues of our subscription letters for details on this), they are suckers for authority, for idols and for promises of free stuff.
We see these vulnerabilities from one end of human history to another. Here’s just a brief explanation:
- Authority: Humans will obey a well-presented authority without critique. The doctor in a white lab coat, the politician wearing a fine suit and podium, the monarch with a crown and a retinue… people turn off their minds when confronted with them and simply comply. The fact that so many order-givers play up their authority proves the point: they wouldn’t take pains to create such images if they didn’t work. Beside that, we all know from experience that they work. And people will reflexively defend authority, if for no other reason than they’ve already obeyed it, and they don’t want to look stupid.
- Idols: Humans find psychological comfort in holding to a great and powerful person. It makes them feel safe. Frighten people, then supply them with a powerful figure (Mussolini makes a nice example) and they’ll line right up. It’s no accident that the communists made giant images of Lenin, Stalin, Mao and the others: It works.
- Free stuff: From the plunder of enemies to robbing the rich to technical incarnations of the same principle, humans are easy marks for this scam. Again, we’ve all seen it, and so I won’t elaborate further.
Okay, Now I’ll Do War
War begins with the people. Genghis Khan had to get his arrows from somewhere, after all.
No warlord is solely blamable for his slaughters. Warfare rests upon the complicity of normal people. Those people must be manipulated, in one way or another, to supply the materials and bodies required for war. (Crime can be an individual venture, of course.)
No war-seller, so far as I know, has clarified this better than Nazi boss Hermann Göring. Note from this passage that he and his Nazi brethren didn’t use bullets and swords to make people service their war machine, they used ideas:
Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
And Göring was right that it’s the same in any country: It’s our entire species that’s vulnerable to this type of predation.
The Way Forward
Our first step forward, as the AA people rightly say, is to admit we have a problem.
And we do have a problem. It’s fixable, but so long as we refuse to acknowledge it, we won’t repair it.
We’ve already covered the basic vulnerabilities above, and I won’t dig into further discussion on that. But our habit of chaining one thought to another, as if each were purely and unquestionably correct, is another major issue. Author Ben Hecht explained this very well, when he commented upon people who were, “unable to think, except in homage to other thoughts.”
Hecht was right, and stacking one concept upon another, and then on another, leads easily into gross errors, unless each of those thoughts are perfect, complete and ideally expressed… which they never are. Still, stacking thoughts up in this way (ever deviating from precision) yields the comfort and confidence – and justification – of having thought.
The bottom line here is that our predators use words and emotions to make us do their will. They are, in illustrative terms, vampires, sucking our will from us. They convince us, through emotional pressures and devious logic – by riding upon our vulnerabilities – that it’s right for them to collect our sacrifices, that failure to obey them will bring us deep shame, that comfort and safety require our immediate obedience, and that being restricted is the only way to be safe.
All of that is successful predation.
Again, if we are to stop being abused, the first step is to realize… to accept… that we have a problem. We must recognize that we have vulnerabilities; then we must forgive ourselves for them.
After that it’s straightforward and not terribly hard.