On this Christmas Day I find myself thinking about the roots of war. An odd turn of mind, which I'm afraid only my friends on iPeace would understand. I’ve recently discovered the films of Victoria Foyt, a lovely actress who is also an accomplished writer. She has co-written several of the scripts for her movies, and in 2007 published her first novel, The Virtual Life of Alexie Diamond.

I am copying a couple of paragraphs from a 2003 essay written by Victoria Foyt, titled ‘A Program Run Amuck’ on her website, www.victoriafoyt.com, under the ‘Thoughts’ tab. (Because the website is Flash-controlled I can’t give a direct URL to this essay.)

But I’d like you to consider Victoria’s words here in relation to the mission of iPeace.

“Evolutionary principles would coldheartedly point to war as an inevitable necessity for establishing superiority among an unruly mass at the mercy of a cruel and often whimsical environment. Programmed into mankind’s DNA, this need for survival indeed gave birth to each technological advance which has allowed man, if not superiority over, then the ability to thrive in his habitat. If you were a bookie, you might have given humans very bad odds some thousands of years ago, yet man has firmly established his beachhead here on planet earth. Is there a corner of our planet which has not been named, or to which one cannot send e-mail? Starvation, poverty, illiteracy remain, but by and large, man has reached a heretofore unimaginable level of global ease. So who is our enemy now - really?”

“Man’s mind, like a computer, is set upon seeing another as separate from himself, which allows him to justify the annihilation of his fellow man. This is his right of might, a survival necessity, he believes. And in an effort to protect himself from, and have power over others, he blindly ravages the earth without heeding the necessity of replenishing the underlying ecological base. Having initially succeeded as a survival principle, this egoistic view has been reinforced over the ages until we unthinkingly accept it as a premise of life. If we follow this pattern through to an imaginary point in the future, however, we can envision not only a complete destruction of our habitat, but also the cannibalization of men; mankind becomes like the proverbial tiger chasing his own tail to his death.”

I have some of my own thoughts about this ‘Program Run Amuck” (another name for it is ‘the pain body’), but first I’d like to hear what my iPeace friends think about Ms. Foyt’s essay. So please go to her website and read the complete essay, and then post your comments here.

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Comment by peter marritt on January 7, 2009 at 7:55pm
Yo Dave,
Well, I still believe Black Elk said it all in those few words. And I believe that the energetic nature of the earth IS changing toward peace.

How ya doin?
Comment by Dave Willsey on December 27, 2008 at 10:19pm
Kris, thanks for your thoughtful response.

I agree with many of the things you say, such as not accepting the ‘global ease’ hypothesis put forward by Ms. Foyt. I've seen this debate before (whether we are more or less violent now than our ancestors, because of educational, ethical, or technological progress) – and the arguments that demonstrate how humanity has made real progress in reducing of violence and discrimination, or whether that’s just a statistics game, skewed by the rapidly increasing population in the past 300 years, etc. However, this is NOT the issue I'm trying to address in this blog.

What I'm trying to address is this concept of a 'built-in' tendency towards violence and hatred, that goes to greater extremes than anything seen in the animal realm. I agree with you that it must be something more than just biological DNA and 'survival of the fitness' evolutionary programming. So let me suggest that if we try looking at warfare not at a nation-state level, but at a very personal level (such as within a family, or between families), we might discover something useful about this 'program run amuck', which I think is NOT biological - but rather culturally programmed.

I know there is no such term as 'Cultural DNA', but I wish there was - because I think it is the beliefs of a ‘Cultural DNA system’, handed down almost unconsciously from parent to child and reinforced on a daily basis, that is at the root of war. And when these shared cultural beliefs come together and are bonded in larger cultural groups, against a perceived common enemy, then a single individual’s pain and hatred can become magnified to a regional, ethnic, or national scale – and is given patriotic or religious significance and justification.

So why do I call it “Cultural DNA”, and not use some more common term, like ‘family values’, ‘national heritage’, ‘religious values’, or ‘ethnic beliefs’?

Because I’ve come to realize that these beliefs are passed through the family (much like biological DNA) – and that they come from a much older ancestral heritage than we would normally think possible. From hundreds of generations back comes the structures of our Cultural DNA, not just from our most recent , parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents.

So I don’t expect you to accept this hypothesis, without some examples that illustrate how this deep-generational inheritance of cultural values is possible. How is it possible for cultural beliefs be inherited for over a hundred generations, regardless what region or country the family descendants have moved to, and regardless of changes in their wealth, power, status, or technological milieu? That is why I call it ‘Cultural DNA’ – because these systems of beliefs have a longevity and transmission that almost rivals biological inheritance in its persistence.

So for an example, let’s take the odd puzzle posed by Malcolm Gladwell, in his new book, Outliers.

In the 19th century, the small rural county of Harlan, Kentucky had more murders than almost any other area in the US. These murders were not the result of property theft or typical urban crimes - they were from family feuds where the homicide is between two people who know each other, and the grievances are well known by both parties. These murders were the result of a ‘cultural of honor’, which had been brought from the borderlands region of the British Isles by the eight families who originally settled this remote region of the Appalachian mountains in 1819. Gladwell says in the book:

"If you want to know what happened in those small towns in Kentucky in the 19th century, you have to go back into the past – and not just one or two generations. You have to go back two or three or four hundred years, to a country on the other side of the ocean, and look closely at what exactly the people in a very specific geographic area did for a living.

The “culture of honor” hypothesis says that it matters where you are from (not just in terms of where you grew up or where your parents grew up), but in terms of where your great-great grandparents grew up, and even where your great-great-great grandparents grew up. This is a strange and powerful fact.

It’s just the beginning though, because upon closer examination, cultural legacies turn out to be even stranger and powerful than that.

If you would like to read more about the behavioral patterns in this ‘culture of honor’ which has spread across the American South, then check out this psychological experiment done at the University of Michigan, which tests the automatic insult reactions of students from different areas of the US (from Gladwell's website):

As you say, Kris, “We need to think again” - and more carefully about these deep historical patterns of belief and behavior that exist in our societies.
Comment by metaTronics on December 25, 2008 at 10:43pm

In my opinion wars are sworn artificially up, so that our performances and money are pumped into the weapon economy, and with it into fear creative government. Only one discontented people can be steered by fear and be suppressed.

Glad party On all sides!

Claudia Hinze

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