Avoiding World War Three

Globalization and its discontents: A wake up call

The world is at war with itself. Pessimism is rife. Hobbes and Freud diagnosed war as a permanent feature of human life. But, arguing against these figures, philosopher Lou Marinoff, claims war is not necessary. Peace is possible. The self-consciousness of human beings allows us to negate our animalistic instincts towards aggression and hatred. But we’re asleep at the wheel. Marinoff provides a wake-up call.


Hobbes and Freud on Human Nature

Writing between the First and Second World Wars, amidst the global depression triggered by the Wall Street crash of 1929 and escalating clashes between Communists and Nazis in Germany, Sigmund Freud found many reasons to wax pessimistic about the human condition. In Civilization and Its Discontents, and related works, he postulated that our murderous biological inheritance and irremediably infantile psychology predispose us time and again to episodes of mass psychosis and organized group violence. Freud further opined that we are living “psychologically beyond our means” to suppose that we can ever achieve a world without inequity, strife and war. He implored us to “recognize the truth”: that intellect and will are merely “a plaything and tool of our instincts and affects”, that hatred is evolutionarily older than love, that our deepest impulses are Draconian, and that we are all descended from a primeval “gang of murderers”.

Thus Freud unknowingly reconstituted a psychological version of Thomas Hobbes’s 1651 Leviathan. Hobbes had repudiated Original Sin and adjudged human nature to be neither good nor evil in itself, but rather perpetually dangerous and volatile. Hobbes’s description of our natural state is “a war of all against all”, a ceaseless and ruthless power struggle among myopically self-regarding predators, whose lives are “nasty, brutish and short”. Hobbes’s prescription for our emergence from congenital savagery into civilization is the establishment of a common power to sustain social contracts and protect the state itself. Sovereign government necessarily wields both the scepter of justice and the sword of defense.


Had Hobbes witnessed the Napoleonic era, the World Wars, the Cold War, the dozens of tribal and proxy wars since 1945, and the dozens of such wars still raging, he’d simply shrug and say he told us so.


While a common power and a common cause abet alignment of a polity and minimize outbreaks of civil war, Hobbes observed that sovereigns persist in a meta-state of nature amongst themselves, since no temporal authority exists to keep them all in awe. Hence our most robust solution for maintaining civil peace—namely stable national government—potentiates international war. Had Hobbes witnessed the Napoleonic era, the World Wars, the Cold War, the dozens of tribal and proxy wars since 1945, and the dozens of such wars still raging, he’d simply shrug and say he told us so.

Tolstoy hammered a fatalistic nail into this coffin. In War and Peace he argued that all wars are fated from the inception of the universe, that Napoleon was only a pawn in a cosmic chess match, and that “a King is History’s slave”.


We find no analytic truth, no mathematical rule, no natural philosophical deduction, no aetiological necessity, no biological imperative, no cultural predestination, and no systemic inevitability, which dictate that war must be; hence, we conclude that peace can be.


Those who cavil at this dim view of human nature, who profess Panglossian or utopian aspirations for humanity, who trumpet the evolution of cooperation as an antidote to competition and predation, are falsified by the evening news and mocked by history. From Rousseau to Marx, revolutionary ideologues have merely reinstated savagery and justified atrocities on ever-larger scales. And while people of good will and kind heart can be found in every tribe, nation and civilization, they become either accomplices or victims whenever despots and gangs of murderers attain sovereign power.

In terms of economic and cultural exchange, globalization holds out hopes for sustaining and extending the undeniable benefits of civilization, while minimizing its internal conflicts and external exploitations. Time and again, mutually profitable trade transcends divisive nationalisms, rival tribalisms and religious fanaticisms alike. The digital revolution connects humans seamlessly and globally, while at the same time competitors in cyberspace contend, not only over e-commerce, but also over control of human consciousness itself. But mind control does not make for sustainable contentment.  

In addition to multinational corporations, globalization has engendered a proliferation of non-commercial organizations operating worldwide, from the UN to NGOs, from charities to think-tanks. They are largely preoccupied with alleviating discontents and moderating conflicts, although the UN’s most discontented factions avidly devote themselves to anti-Israel acrimony. Globalized agitation at its worst has lately fomented anti-Semitisms reminiscent of Nazi Germany, while morally deranged or downright hysterical Progressives vie publicly for incarceration in lunatic asylums or election to high office (take your pick) by comparing Trump to Hitler. Even so, globalization at its best represents the leading edges of human progress in multiple domains.

Organizations like the World Economic Forum and Horasis are “Chambers of Commerce” for the global village. Anyone who has frequented the halls of Davos cannot help but marvel at how complex, interconnected, and vulnerable to perturbations our globalized world has become. Beyond the WEF’s celebrity-studded program, and behind its glittering facades, vapid virtue-signallings, and fervent lip-service to unworkable ideologies, a plethora of private and secret meetings unfold, where serious conversations take place among people charged with managing the planet.  

Humanists since Erasmus have long-since scoffed at courtly manners as “paint and varnish” that whitewash intractable conflicts and personal enmities, driven by nothing other than human nature’s innate discontents so aptly described by Hobbes and Freud.

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Of course, there are always well-intentioned leaders in political and business arenas who, along with compassionate entrepreneurs, committed social influencers, and assorted philanthropists, work sincerely to improve the state of the world. But even their best intentions are prone to inflame discontents or backfire in unforeseeable ways. Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, former Chief Economist of the WEF, did an admirably demoralizing job of detailing such cases galore, in his 2004 Globalization and Its Discontents.

In 2007 I published The Middle Way, enlarging upon Stiglitz’s economic exposé, excavating political, religious, technological, sociobiological, educational, and totemic discontents fueled by growing global extremisms. Globalization’s benefits require considerable cooperation between and among civilizations whose comparative “cultural DNA” entails fundamental incompatibilities. While money lubricates some of these frictions, it exacerbates others. The Middle Way unmasks many extremisms that afflict us, and shows how the virtue ethics of Aristotle, Buddha, and Confucius (the “ABCs”) can defang them.             

But to complicate matters, as two Chinese Generals predicted in 1999, combatants in the next generation of wars include “computer hackers, financiers, drug smugglers, and agents of private corporations.” Post 9/11, Joesph Nye, former Dean of Harvard’s JFK School of Government, observed that “The democratization of technology has led to the privatization of war.”


What Hobbes and Freud Could Not Have Known

When the world teetered at the brink of Armageddon during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, I had just turned eleven. The crisis made me ponder whether human discontents and wars brooked any outcome other than auto-annihilation of our species. The Covid-19 pandemic reminded us that extinction can occur with a whimper as well as a bang. Decades of research and reflection culminated in the 2019 publication of my book On Human Conflict: The Philosophical Foundations of War and Peace.

Contra Tolstoy, On Human Conflict avers that wars are not inevitable: “We find no analytic truth, no mathematical rule, no natural philosophical deduction, no aetiological necessity, no biological imperative, no cultural predestination, and no systemic inevitability, which dictate that war must be; hence, we conclude that peace can be.” In the process, it also offers pertinent correctives to Hobbes, Freud, Rousseau, Marx, and Steven Pinker, among a galaxy of thinkers who have probed but not plumbed the depths of human discontent.  

If you ask how peace can be, the short answer is that peace requires further evolution: not of our biology, nor of the tools and symbolic structures that define cultures and connect civilizations; but rather, a transformation of human consciousness itself. Why? Because natural selection has practiced several economies on humans, “cutting corners” in ways that have proved increasingly maladaptive as cultural evolution outgrew its biological confines. 

The first economy is our lack of a biologically hard-wired “lock-and-key” mechanism that recognizes gestures of submission or appeasement and terminates conflicts. The usual goal of conspecific conflict is to establish preservative hierarchies within the pack, troop or band, and not to kill off one’s own competitors, who are also allies in collective survival. Canines capitulate by rolling over and exposing their jugulars; felines, by cowering or slinking away; primates, by groveling or taking to the trees. But when natural selection “cave-tested” humans, it concluded—understandably but mistakenly—that since we are born without innate weapons, we therefore pose no serious threat to one another, and therefore have no need of instinctively-recognized gestures of submission and appeasement.

Thus it remains a matter of choice, chance or caprice whether or not to abide by cultural conventions such as a buried hatchet, a peace pipe, a white flag, or a signed treaty. Such artifacts have no purchase in our biology. When cities are firebombed or nuked into rubble, gestures of submission are pre-empted. The absence of any biological check upon our murder of conspecifics, combined with the lethal weapons evolved by human culture, enable wars which, in each successive century, continuously dwarf their predecessors on any measure of death, destruction, carnage, and atrocity.

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But this is not the only disastrous economy of natural selection. Another factor that operates far and wide across the animal kingdom, except in humans, is the “optimum number”. Social animals range over territories that contain vital resources such as food and water. Population densities tend to fluctuate, in unstable homeostasis, around optima that vary according to each species. If a given density falls below its optimum, reproductive rates increase. But if a density becomes too large, then either the group will fission (if it has room to expand into adjacent territory) or will reduce its numbers via potentially violent breakdowns of otherwise normal social and reproductive behaviors.

We can measure optimal densities among a myriad of species including ants, apes, and animals that hunt in packs. But what is the optimum number for humans? While early humans subsisted in sparse densities similar to wolves, permanent settlements and later city-states swelled to densities unimagined by natural selection: megalopolises now contain tens of thousands per square mile. Such densities are sustainable only by synthetic selection, which includes supply chains of food, fuel and other necessities maintained by technological means, far removed from our ancient biological modus vivendi of hunting and gathering.

But this absence of a limiting population density also drives individual and collective ambition to acquire territory, wealth, possessions, converts, sexual partners, status symbols, celebrity, empires, and whatever else falls within the illimitable reaches of human craving.

Nature withheld all limits to our desires, including all limitations on the horrors we are capable of inflicting when propagandized into toxic mind-states or pathological mass-delusions, or indeed when defending ourselves against them. And if that were not enough, a “short-circuit” in the primate brain commingles sexuality with violence, opening a Pandora’s box of global discontents. Truly, we are animals whose appetites and aversions know no limits: Homo sine fines.

These factors form the evolutionary substrate of our Hobbesian state of nature and our Freudian unconscious alike. Civilization demands that we constrain primal desires and adopt liberty-limiting principles, not only for self-preservation, but also for social cohesion and political stability. But moral, civil and criminal codes vary so widely between tribes and civilizations that they also inflame quarrels, and potentiate violent conflicts when formerly disparate peoples are commingled at ever-closer quarters by globalization.


Evolved consciousness frees ideological slaves by asking them who is in control of their minds.


Each of the four currently dominant civilizations — Western, Islamic, Indian, East Asian — suffers internal discontents aplenty, which in turn can be ceaselessly manipulated or exploited by contending civilizations in attempts to divide, destabilize and weaken their competitors.

Again, this occurs because nature set no limitations on human desires, with the result that no matter how many people of good will adopt moral codes and self-restraints, likely as not they will end up being governed by the unprincipled and unconstrained.

So what does it mean for human consciousness to evolve beyond discontent and conflict? To begin with, it means waking up in the morning not needing to hate anybody, starting with oneself if necessary. Those who preach, teach or disseminate hatreds profiteer from the murderous discontents they gin up in others, playing tunes on primeval Hobbesian and Freudian strings. Whereas evolved consciousness frees ideological slaves by asking them who is in control of their minds. The habitually hateful, spiteful, angry, resentful, bellicose, or murderous are not in control of their minds. If only they were, they could hold Hobbesian monsters, Freudian demons, and fanatical hate-mongers at bay with the ABCs of virtue ethics. Evolved consciousness sustains abundant happiness and good will, independent of nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, creed, color, sex, gender, and DNA. For all humans have minds, and all minds are capable of liberation from dehumanizing tribalisms of identity politics, and realization of their transcendent humanity.


World War Three

Investigations of human nature and associations with drivers of globalization enabled my prediction of the 2008 financial meltdown. Anyone who read The Middle Way in 2007 could have divested themselves in time. Other chapters predicted the ongoing Islamicization of Europe and the bottomless free-fall of American education. In 2016, at meetings of European business and political leaders, I predicted both Brexit and Donald Trump’s election. Alas, being right doesn’t always make one popular. In August 2020, while hundreds of riots erupted across the US, the second edition of The Middle Way predicted domestic American calamities and global conflicts that would ensue if Biden were elected. He was, and they did.

On Human Conflict goes further and deeper: it describes World War Three, a protracted and multifaceted global conflict between Islamic jihadists and Western civilization, alongside internal civil wars being waged against Western values by indigenous cultural Marxists whose “woke” minions have commandeered mainstream media, education, Hollywood, and more. In 2021 an Indian think-tank placed On Human Conflict on its top-10 reading list commemorating 75 years of India’s political independence, while my “woke” American publisher removed it from their own philosophy catalogue. The American radical Left is committed to political indoctrination and ideological imprisonment. Per contra, the motto of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association is Nemo veritatem regit: Nobody governs truth.


The bridge to a brighter shore must be built by consciousness transformed


Regardless of whether the US president is an outspoken patriot or a bumbling buffoon, a high tide of culturally induced illnesses is breaking over the heads of Westerners and Westernized peoples alike. Crises of meaninglessness, mental illness, drug addiction, suicide, eating and sleeping disorders, chronic fatigue syndromes, sexual dysfunctions and gender dysphorias abound. Putative “cures” look more and more like contributing causes. Meanwhile mobs loot stores and psychopaths gun down schoolchildren, while copy-cats are egged on by ghoulish media coverage. The “alphabet soup” sloganeering of ESG, DEI, BLM, and GLBTQRI foment yet more discontents while pretending to resolve them. For the first time in many decades, US life expectancies are declining.

So ponder this: If traditional Western civilization— characterized by values such as liberty, meritocracy, opportunity and hope, in tandem with functional nuclear families and a strong middle class — loses World War Three, then globalization’s discontents will rage with unprecedented fury.

Our world is awash with failed and failing polities, medieval theocracies, brutal dictatorships, totalitarian regimes, and lawless states of nature. Those who can escape follow the gradient of freedoms formerly upheld and defended by Western civilization. But if the “home-grown” barbarians in our own keeps succeed in extinguishing our hard-won lamps of liberty, the world will be plunged even deeper into its fathomless abyss of discontents. The bridge to a brighter shore must be built by consciousness transformed: awakened minds, not feral mobs of “woke” savages. Consider this a wake-up call. 

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