War allows us to rise above our small stations in life; we find nobility in a cause and feelings of selflessness and even bliss. And at a time of soaring deficits and financial scandals and the very deterioration of our domestic fabric, war is a fine diversion. ... War gives us a distorted sense of self; it gives us meaning.Neither here, nor in his book, does Hedges discuss evolutionary psychology; but it is clearly pertinent here. We are all decended from lines of successful warriors: people who genocided competing neighboring tribes. We can expect to have psychological adaptations to promote our success in war. So Hedges idea that war "distorts" our sense of self is, I think, wrong. It gives us a different sense; it opens up mental boxes that are usually closed, that we may not even know we have. These boxes may well be non-adaptive in their modern context. But they are just as real as the mental features we normally sense.
"Comradeship" is probably such an adaptation.
Once in war, the conflict obliterates the past and the future all is one heady intoxicating present. You feel every heartbeat in war, colors are brighter, your mind races ahead of itself. We feel in wartime comradeship. We confuse this with friendship, with love. There are those who will insist that the comradeship of war is love – the exotic glow that makes us in war feel as one people, one entity, is real, but this is part of war's intoxication.Hedges wants to privilege love and friendship over comradeship. I don't see why. Love and friendship are just as much evolved mental faculties, and just as intoxicating. Indeed I don't see that these three forms of social affiliation drive are really that different; they have different "triggers" but the effects are very similar. The reason to be against comradeship is a practical one: it promotes war, and war is bad. But war is not bad for evolutionary reasons; from the POV of mother nature (meaning: certain selfish genes) war is at least sometimes good. (Otherwise we would not be evolved to do it.) War allows people to get a larger territory; lebensraum. It allows men to get more than their share of women. War is natural. But we should never fall into the naturalistic fallacy: what is natural is not necessarily good.
We have all felt the allure of comradeship:
Think back on the days after the attacks on 9-11. Suddenly we no longer felt alone; we connected with strangers, even with people we did not like. We felt we belonged, that we were somehow wrapped in the embrace of the nation, the community; in short, we no longer felt alienated.I felt it. Did you?
As this feeling dissipated in the weeks after the attack, there was a kind of nostalgia for its warm glow and wartime always brings with it this comradeship, which is the opposite of friendship. Friends are predetermined; friendship takes place between men and women who possess an intellectual and emotional affinity for each other. But comradeship – that ecstatic bliss that comes with belonging to the crowd in wartime – is within our reach. We can all have comrades.Some people may be deceived in wartime; I was not. I knew what I was feeling after 9/11, and why. But it did not change the reality of the feeling.
The danger of the external threat that comes when we have an enemy does not create friendship; it creates comradeship. And those in wartime are deceived about what they are undergoing. And this is why once the threat is over, once war ends, comrades again become strangers to us. This is why after war we fall into despair.
The problem with the world is not people; it is institutions. With good institutions, we act well. The market is the paradigm here. With bad institutions, we act badly. The State is the paradigm here. The market, if it were free to do so, would channel comradeship into specific forms. I cannot predict what those would be for a 9/11 style event; of course, 9/11 would not have happened to strictly market-based society. The State always channels comradeship in one direction: towards socialism.
...with comradeship, the kind that comes to us in patriotic fervor, there is a suppression of self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-possession. Comrades lose their identities in wartime for the collective rush of a common cause – a common purpose. In comradeship there are no demands on the self. This is part of its appeal and one of the reasons we miss it and seek to recreate it.The whole point of comradeship as an evolved response is to suppress our normal selfishness. In the environment we evolved in, this would allow a tribe to more effectively band together (in order to wipe out a neighboring tribe). After the war, things would return to normal.
In our current environment, when we set up socialism during wars, things never return to the antebellum status quo. Practically all of the socialism we have now was a result of either WWI (including in that the establishment of the Fed and thus the causing of the Depression, and its political results), WWII, or the cold war. In each war liberty was restricted hugely during the crisis, and some liberty returned afterwards - but never all of what was lost. So comradeship, war and the state are like a ratchet: always moving in one direction. That is why comradeship is suspect. Remove war, or remove the state, and comradeship would be a perfectly safe emotion.