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War, Peace, And That Other Thing.

War, Peace, And That Other Thing.

Understanding political violence.

I was thinking of writing something about Gaza this week, but frankly I don’t have the detailed knowledge of the region, nor for that matter experience of fighting in tunnels, to add to what’s already been said elsewhere. But reading some of this coverage made me realise, again, how little our society really understands and is prepared to acknowledge about the roots and purposes of political violence, and so I thought it might be interesting to discuss that subject, looping back to the current situation in Gaza at the end.

Let’s start with the obvious point that western Liberal society likes clear distinctions and opposites in all areas of life. We are a profoundly Aristotelian society: everything is either A or B, there is nothing in the middle. Because real life itself is messy, this produces endless complex and ultimately pointless arguments about precisely where to draw a dividing line, and whether this or that act or event or pronouncement is ultimately acceptable, or whether it should be rejected and cast into outer darkness. Thus, everything to do with the use of force in politics is presented in stark, opposed terms: war vs. peace, violence vs negotiations, conflict vs cooperation, and of course good vs. bad. And then we wonder why we cannot understand the world, and why the behaviour of many of its actors surprises us so often.

Most civilisations before the modern western era have not seen things this way, and quite a few still don’t. According to taste, we can follow the theories of Ian McGilchrist, arguing that we live in an epoch of dangerous left-brain domination, which sees everything in terms of binary opposites and infinitely detailed differences…

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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