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Name: Antony Loewenstein
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Sunday, June 12, 2005


Check out my review in today's Sun Herald of "War: The Lethal Custom" by Gwynne Dyer.


Blogger Jozef Imrich, Esq. said...

As always a very thoughtful review, Antony - with your unique value added twists and questions ;-)

Gwynne is certainly one of the fearless characters who spread information and facts in the sea of misleading propaganda. Biography of Gwynne Dyer

Sunday, June 12, 2005 4:46:00 pm  
Anonymous michael said...

"The importance of an international body such as the United Nations, however flawed, is vital to maintain semblance of balance, otherwise we are heading for a planet led solely by the rich and powerful."

May the gods spare us from endless repetitions of the same old failed 'solutions'.

I will never understand why otherwise intelligent people think we would be better off being ruled over by the greediest, most power-hungry and most cynical operators in the whole world instead of just in the whole country.

The 'rich and powerful' only become so by seizing control of centralised structures of wealth and power. Why set up the greatest Nietzschean prize in history - centralised governance of the entire planet - to attract every megalomaniac with dreams of world domination?

Do the rulers of nations seek to foster harmony between the different class, ethnic and religious groups in their domain?
Or do they attempt to entrench their own hegemony by wedging away at social fault lines and fanning conflict and emnity between their subjects?

After all, you could argue that in the century up to 1914 almost all of Europe was essentially run by one extended, inbred family. They didn't seem to feel that peace between their peoples was a particularly desirable objective and after the 1914-18 bloodbath they helped to bring about, their people finally got jack enough of them to bring them to heel or (in the case of Russia) line them up and shoot them. The Russians promptly replaced them with another centralised power system that spent the next 80 years promoting the same old inter- and intranational rivalries that make war possible - or inevitable.

Isn't it about time we stopped promoting centralised power as the 'cure' to the wars it creates?

If we stopped promoting conflict as the most valid expression of human aspiration - be it in the marketplace, the sporting field, in religious faith or between nations and ethnicities - and started devolving power so as to give people some sense of individual control over their own lives (instead of the feeling that they can only participate effectively when in lockstep with a huge, mindless, inhuman institution) then we might be on a path towards ending war.

Why do people still cling to faith in benevolent dictatorships - be it in heaven, Canberra, Washington or Brussels?
Doesn't history teach us anything?

Sunday, June 12, 2005 8:46:00 pm  
Anonymous jenny c said...

With no disrespect intended, Michael, I find your comments quite naive. The idea that humans will ever be free of war is absurd.

In a situation where war does come to an end, it will only take one person to bring it all undone. To say that that would never happen is ridiculous because there will always be the power hungry or those attracted to the force of violence. It is human nature, plain and simple. That's not to say that we shouldn't try to have that as a goal, we just shouldn't be surprised when it fails.

I do agree with you that we need to return our focus to our own country. Do we have a right to try to fix the rest of the world before we have our own affairs in order?

Monday, June 13, 2005 1:51:00 am  
Anonymous jalberto said...

Nice blog, see you on internet.

Monday, June 13, 2005 2:23:00 am  
Anonymous shabadoo! said...

My God, Ant...there's some scary stuff in this review!

You write, for example:
"Yasser Arafat's PLO conducted terrorist activities for years but the aim was not to bring Israel to its knees. Instead, it was deemed necessary for the world to understand there were a Palestinian people and they should have involvement in their fate. Dyer makes no decision about the morality of such behaviour but appears sympathetic to their cause."

Really? Um, I'm sorry, I never got the memo that the PLO just wanted peaceful co-existence with the Jews -- while that may have been the happy-talk in English (when Arafat's minions weren't pushing old folks in wheelchairs off cruise ships or executing Israeli athletes in cold blood), if you spent any time listening to the rhetoric flowing out of the PLO and other outfits in Arabic, the message is clear: "From the Jordan to the Sea, Palestine will be free".

Murdering innocents in cold blood seems an awfully quixotic way to get world attention to your cause (what would Gandhi, Mandela [Nelson, not Winnie!], or the Dalai Lama do?)

To look at it the other way, Ant, you write that "have we not learnt in the past century that, "killing foreigners for political reasons might be simply wrong?" The current colonial powers may never learn these lessons of history, however."

I'm less worried about what you call the 'current colonial powers' learning those lessons than terrorists like al-Qaeda, Hamas, etc, figuring it out. I'm not saying you're "sympathetic" to the PLO cause, though anyone who reads your blog can make their own judgment, but how can Dyer condemn one sort of killing foreigners while excusing another? This strikes me as a hypocrisy writ large.

Monday, June 13, 2005 9:50:00 am  
Anonymous michael said...

"The idea that humans will ever be free of war is absurd."

I was writing within the paradigm of Antony's review of Dyer's book, so I was starting from the assumption that it is necessary to end war rather than addressing the possibility of doing so. Primarily, I was offering a critique of Dyer's suggestion of submerging all sovereignity into a world government as a way of preventing war as I am sure it would have the opposite effect.

Nonetheless, I think that there is some hope of ending war short of ending civilisation - though of course the first step has to be overcoming paranoid assumptions that war is a natural state of human existence and so we have to be permanently prepared for armed attack.

If you take the most minimalist definition of war - say, a family feud or 'just one person' bringing it all undone (though I would suggest that two is the bare minimum) - you are correct of course. As long as there are people there will be violent conflict between them.

But when most people think 'war' they are imagining a major conflict between entities at least the size of city states involving large amounts of death and destruction. I would suggest that for a very long time wars have been carried out by thousands or millions for the benefit of a tiny handful of people.

If dispense with the idea that differences make conflict inevitable (e.g. stop training kids that people who wear different coloured footie jumpers are 'the enemy') and - most importantly - stop surrendering our own moral sovereignity to inhuman institutions via abstracted notions of 'in' and 'out' groups (e.g. race, nation, religion, etc) its seems pretty obvious to me that idiotic notions like the nobility dying (or killing) for a flag would die a natural death.

Then 'war' would only be viable inasmuch as people were able to find relevant personal issues that were worth sacrificing their own lives or taking others. I don't think that there are really very many of those in most people's lives and that thousands or millions of people could all find the same overwhelming personal reasons for committing such destructive acts at the same time seems very unlikely.

So, basically what I'm saying is that war is possible because people have been trained to hand their own moral agency to large, distant, impersonal power structures. You don't get rid of it by making the power centres even larger and more distant. You do it by handing moral responsibility back to the people who are expected to do the killing.

Monday, June 13, 2005 3:19:00 pm  
Anonymous Bruce M Warrington said...

Michael, I agree with your assertions that we must stop glorifying war and conflict, and that we should return power to the people and not to inhuman power structures. I would make the further point that our economic system serves to promote conflict and greedy, selfish - even psychopathic - behaviour, and must be changed if we want to see an end to the evils you refer to.

However, I don't think Dyer (or Antony) is proposing a "world government". Rather, he is calling for an international system based on co-operation between nations, and the rule of law, instead of a free-for-all. I think this is a worthy aim in our current world.

Even in a more democratic world, there will be a need for world-wide co-operation to solve common problems, and such co-operation will need to be institutionalised in some manner (democratic, of course).

Monday, June 13, 2005 4:26:00 pm  
Anonymous shabadoo! said...

Aside from Dyer's hypocrisy (see above), in the end, aren't you all talking about radically changing human nature? It's all very well and good (well, actually I think it's quite ridiculous) to ban competitive sports in an effort to re-make kids into little pacifists who will grow up to be big pacifists, but I really believe that the desire to compete, and to acheive, and to win, is hard-wired, and no amount of social engineering is going to change that. Furthermore, all these computers and internet connections and every other bit of technology we enjoy came about because of the desire of people to make things better, to acheive, to beat the competition in the marketplace.

A bigger problem: if we re-made our society to be less warlike, more cooperative, etc, wouldn't we lose the ability to respond to real threats and challenges when they occur? I mean, I can just imagine how radical Islamists would react to this sort of softness ... no wonder they hate us!

Monday, June 13, 2005 4:49:00 pm  
Anonymous michael said...

"However, I don't think Dyer (or Antony) is proposing a "world government". Rather, he is calling for an international system based on co-operation between nations, and the rule of law, instead of a free-for-all. I think this is a worthy aim in our current world."

But that would be a bit superfluous wouldn't it?

After all, everyone from arms manufacturers to activists to accountants already have international forums and conferences that promote communication.

How, exactly, would a powerless UN achieve anything that the WHO or G8 or World Social Forums don't already do?

And how would you avoid a UN empowered to declare war being hijacked by those who want war - as the US did in 1950 with Korea?

Just invoking magic words like 'democratic' ain't going to do the trick either. Its one thing creating institutions to negotiate the inevitable conflicts of interest between groups and individuals, but the trick is to stop them from usurping the moral authority of those they are meant to serve.

In that context, there can be few statements as pernicious as Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask instead what you can do for your country".

The sole justification for any institution is what it can deliver to those who constitute it. If it delivers either death and destruction or absolution for inflicting death and destruction on others it is about as dysfunctional as it is possible to be and its existence can no longer be justified.

Monday, June 13, 2005 5:24:00 pm  
Anonymous michael said...

"aren't you all talking about radically changing human nature?"

Are you a human Shabadoo!?
Do you feel the overwhelming inborn desire to bomb foreign civilians or torch their fields?
Or is it all humans other than you who you think have an innate 'nature' for war?

And I'm not talking about banning competitive sport, but rather the ethic promoted by some coaches, clubs and commentators to strongly identify - socially and morally - with a particular team beyond the outcome of any given game. You know. The rhetoric whereby fans of every two-bit ball kicker are encouraged to make idiotic hyperbolic statements to the effect of them being 'the best in the world' (just like the country you happen to have been born in is the 'greatest on earth' and the religion you happen to adopt is 'the one true one').

Its training people to suspend common sense and good judgement in favour of tribalism and chauvinism and soccer yobs are just one of the likely outcomes.

There was a reason someone once said that the wars of the British Empire were won on the playing fields of Eton you know.

"Furthermore, all these computers and internet connections and every other bit of technology we enjoy came about because of the desire of people to make things better, to acheive, to beat the competition in the marketplace."

Up until the last phrase you were on the ball, Shabadoo!, then you descended into empty statements of ideological faith.

The internet was not developed competitively 'in the marketplace' at all. It was developed to allow researchers to co-operate by sharing information. OK, it was primarily done by military researchers - but do you seriously think that it would never have happened if we devoted resources to co-operation for its own sake rather than in the face of bogus claims of a 'common enemy'.

But internet developments provide the most compelling arguments against your ideology, Shabadoo!.

Who produces the best products?
Competive market driven Microsoft or the co-operative open source community?

Life is a struggle as it is, Shabadoo!. There is plenty of real suffering to 'compete' against without artificially generating conflict and mistrust as a whip to drive people harder.

Monday, June 13, 2005 5:44:00 pm  
Anonymous shabadoo! said...

It's an open question, the Microsoft versus open-source thing, and I've spent a fair bit of time looking at both sides, especially from a business point of view. Personally, I use Mozilla Firefox because it's a lot more secure than Explorer, but I also use Outlook because there's a lot more functionality for me than the Mozilla equivalent. And yes, I admit that a MS operating system can sometimes be nearly as unstable as a few lasses who auditioned, unsuccessfully, for the part of Mrs. Shabadoo! over the years, but there are also support issues that go along with open source...all I'm saying is, it's a bit of an open question.

You make me sound like Conan the Barbarian, Michael, but 'crushing my enemy and hearing the lamentations of their women' generally doesn't come until priority four or five on any given day's to-do list. (Tomorrow it's a bit higher, 'cuz we lost a day with the holiday). But competition is really healthy, and identifying with people or causes or teams or countries larger than one's self is not necessariy a bad thing -- nor is the desire to win or triumph. Haven't you ever been up for a job against someone else, and really wanted to fight for it and win? Is it immoral if I set a competition up between two sales people? No -- and believe me, no one likes a contest more than a salesman. I'm a fierce, fierce, fierce individualist, but at the same time have larger loyalties that complement, rather than conflict, with that. Are you saying that people should not be proud of their country? I know plenty of immigrants to Australia who'd love to set you straight on whether all forms of government and all countries are the same; they'd laugh in your face and say of course Australia is the greatest country in the world! (Except for my dear Brazilian friend, who insists Brazil is the greatest country in the world).

I don't think you really get that it takes all kinds, and that there will be friction between people as a natural result, and good and bad things will happen, but channeled properly, the good will outweight the bad. Wearing a football jersey or concert t-shirt and cheering or singing along with thousands of your fellow fans doesn't mean that y'all are one step away from a torchlight rally.

Oh, and I call bullshit on your Internet statement. Everybody knows Al Gore invented the Internet.


Monday, June 13, 2005 6:39:00 pm  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

What else can I add (xcept that the long weekend is nearly over?)
I was not proposing a world government, though George Monbiot's Age of Consent book, and his ideas on these matters, certainly got my interest.
Is war a natural human reaction? Conflict probably is, war is a different matter. Frankly, it doesn't help that many govts deem it appropriate to wage war as a way to solve 'their' problems. ie. taking on Iraq to prove US dominance. It has NOTHING to do with human rights...

Monday, June 13, 2005 8:56:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ant, you really should seek know, it's not all about the US, mate! Your POV is so incredibly reactionary, yet you can't see it...

Monday, June 13, 2005 10:00:00 pm  
Anonymous michael said...

Looks like we can't even agree on software, shabadoo!.

After I tried Thunderbird, I permanently retired Outlook. But I still use Explorer with all the plug-ins deintegrated and all the security set to max for my regular web browsing and reserve Firefox for sites I can't access with full security (e.g. secure connections, compulsory cookies, etc). I would probably use Firefox for everything except that I'm too likely to slip up if I have to keep resetting the security for different sites & functions.

But the point I was trying to make is that your statement that "all these computers and internet connections and every other bit of technology we enjoy came about because of the desire of people to ... beat the competition in the marketplace" is patently false, as your own browser preference seems to demonstrate.

I wouldn't know how your salespeople feel about being set against each other, but I don't reckon you would either. Salesfolk aren't renown for straight-talking anyone - much less a boss with a transparent neo-liberal ideological agenda.

I contracted on and off for the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) from the early eighties to mid nineties and I can tell you for sure that the division of the company into competing departments had a devastating effect on the morale of personnel (at least in IT) and did nothing to stem the slide of the company into oblivion. Another victory of neo-liberal ideology over humanity and reality.

And nope, I have never felt the desire to fight to win a job against someone else. If I have had to compete with someone else for a job that I needed it has been a great source of regret. If I lose, I'm jobless. If I win, my competitors are. What's to like about those possible outcomes? Especially when there's so many worthwhile jobs to be done that aren't being done because our society is set up in such a way that doing them won't earn a living.

And yep, I am saying that its ridiculous to be proud of a country that you happened to be born in - although if you struggled successfully to migrate to it thats a different issue. What is there to be proud about an accident of birthplace? You might as well be proud about having blue eyes or white skin.

And though an immigrant might be proud of her achievement in achieving the goal of migrating to a particular country, imagining it is the best country in the world is also a function of ignorant wishful thinking - unless of course they had already lived in the 200+ other countries and so could make an evidential comparison.

And if you can point out to me exactly what the qualitative difference between the Nuremberg rally crowds and the audience of an FA cup final is I would be obliged. Seems to me that the fans are being trained in precisely the sort of mindless mass hysteria and groupthink that Hitler exploited so successfully in his - ahem - 'competition' with most of Europe.

Saying its good 'if it is channelled properly' is kinda vapid. Napalm would be a good thing if it was 'used properly'. The problem is that it never is.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005 12:27:00 am  

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