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Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Attraction of the War Analogy

Sometimes the war analogy is inappropriately used in peacetime pursuits.  It is fair to ask the advantages gained from this misuse.

War is a special case indicated by the phrase “all is fair in love and war.”  Not only are usually unacceptable things seen as fair and acceptable, they become the preferred course. War is a singular competitive situation in which the object is to kill and destroy the enemy.  The human trait of calculation is turned to the pursuit of deception.  The use of dirty tricks typically considered fallacious such as the use of red herrings or smoke screens become valuable parts of the arsenal.  Particular dangers such as prejudicial thinking and demonization (robbing common humanity from your enemy) are delightfully engaged in.  The normal virtue of empathy is turned on its head and becomes what must be called no less than pleasurable sadism against the enemy. The enemy’s failure and suffering—seeing the enemy fry—becomes highly satisfying.  In short, all of the ethical provisions that normally restrain us are abandoned.  In a bizarre sense we are at last free—free from the usual ethical restraints that serve to bind humanity together.

With this in view the attraction of the war analogy in peacetime is evident.  It confirms our world view and philosophy that all competitive situations are warlike.  The sense of fair play does not hinder us; deception and deviousness become our daily bread; sadism replaces empathy (we totally enjoy every setback of the enemy); any accommodation is seen as appeasement; discipline within the rank and file becomes easier to obtain; facts become far less important than propaganda; inflamed passions serve to fuel and energize the home front; freedom from normal restraints gives us the appearance of being gutsy, courageous, decisive, and expeditious; leaders assume a high status and become important field commanders.  There’s no doubt about it, executing a war can be an emotional high.  The temptation to transform all situations that have competitive elements into warzones is great. Doing so helps meet fundamental social psychological needs. That this practice is not helpful in solving a wide gamut of peaceful competitive tasks and challenges can seem a weak consideration before the rich and roaring bonfires of passions that war rhetoric represents.

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