War and Peace
MARK: (Quotes aloud from a letter by a female correspondent in a newspaper which he has just taken from the pocket of his jacket) 'This is yet another example of the cloud of violence that has invaded the modern screen and turned cinema into a den of vice. It would be better for everyone if such disgusting films were banned and their respective writers, directors, producers, and actors/actresses either imprisoned or made to pay a heavy fine. Then we might have more peace in the world and less unrest on the streets of our major cities.' - Well, what do you make of that? It certainly sounds as though the correspondent was deeply offended by what she saw at the cinema the other week, doesn't it?
PHILIP: I suppose she is one of those elderly spinsters who, in lacking a family of her own, imagines that it's her duty to protect the welfare of society instead. Either that, or she's one of those happily married mothers who, in condemning cinema, imagines she is protecting the welfare of her family by inoculating them against the celluloid iniquities of the contemporary world!
MARK: She has signed herself a Miss Edith Connors, so she might well be one of those elderly spinsters. But whoever she is, her moral squeamishness and sense of social responsibility evidently got the better of her that time! (He resumes quoting aloud from her letter) 'The film authorities should be condemned for not having banned it, and the censor condemned for not having been fastidious enough in his application to the spiritual welfare of the public at large.' - So she argues towards the end of her bad-tempered and slightly irrational letter, which must have upset or angered, not to say bemused, quite a few people, not least those who have seen or intend to see what she calls this 'Callous, brutal, and highly immoral film'!
PHILIP: I pity the censor. For he is often torn between those, on the one hand, who criticize him for censoring too much and those, on the other hand, who criticize him for censoring too little, so that he is rarely popular with anyone. To some extent, he is a sort of Christ-like figure who must bear the 'sins of the world' on his shoulders, in order that others may go free of them. For he is periodically subjected to both the wrath of the public and the writers, directors, actors, et cetera, whose hard work he may occasionally be obliged to censor. In addition, he is a sort of psychic sewer and/or drainage system through whom all the accumulated pictorial and aural filth of the human mind must pass before a film can be deemed eligible for public consumption. However, it's well-worth drawing attention to the fact that one sometimes experiences far worse scenes in one's nightmares than ever one is likely to see at the cinema, and that one's dream life, far from respecting moral scruples, will not hesitate to inflict pictorial atrocities upon one which would almost certainly be censored if shown on film! One need only bear in mind the horrific nature of certain of one's past nightmares, and the rather sobering effect they had on one, to realize that nothing shown on film can really compete with them, not even in the sometimes more lurid context of video. For one very rarely breaks out into a cold sweat after having just viewed a horror film, the way one frequently does after having just woken-up or, more probably, woken oneself up from a spine-chilling nightmare! Even that seemingly responsible correspondent whose letter you have just quoted, has probably witnessed far worse scenes in her minuscule dream-life than anything she saw at the cinema the other week. Indeed, there are certain dreams which are so ugly, so monstrous, so merciless to both oneself and those within the dream sequence, that one is ashamed of having dreamt them, dreams of which the day-time censor in us is obliged to quash the memory in the interests of one's self-respect. And there can't be a person on earth who could pretend to not having had occasional experience of those kinds of dreams!
MARK: A statement which leads me to understand that, since we don't have a censor in our dreams, there would seem to be no reason why we should have one in connection with films.
PHILIP: No, I don't think you ought to construe that idea from my words. For the world of dreams is an entirely private affair, against which the individual is virtually powerless to intervene, whereas the world of films is an entirely public affair for which, as with all such affairs, society must take some responsibility. Hence it's only proper that some form of censorship should be imposed, where thought necessary, on that which may influence the collective psyche of a people in a detrimental manner. And not only for the benefit of those to whom a film is shown but, no less importantly, for the benefit of those who made it, since without the threat of censorship, their work might well degenerate into something unspeakably banal, tedious, and predictable, while the actors might be exploited more ruthlessly and shamelessly than would otherwise be the case. But, even so, modern censorship is by no means over-conservative or over-fastidious in its attitude to what should or shouldn't be shown and, as the example of that irate letter-writer will attest, it is sometimes sharply criticized by those who somehow feel that it should be more stringent and discriminating than currently seems to be the case. However, no matter what one does or says, one can't please everyone, and it's highly probable that if a majority of violent films were made less violent for the sake of those who belong to Miss Connors' disapproving class, you would then encounter a whole barrage of accusative letters from people who were either bored or offended by the absence of suitable excitement. So, in the long run, it's up to the film industry to do what it is in a position to do, irrespective of the hostile criticisms it may receive from those who think they know better! As Baudelaire so well expressed it in his Intimate Journals: 'The world only goes round by misunderstanding. It is by universal misunderstanding that all agree. For if, by ill-luck, people understood each other, they would never agree'.
MARK: Yes, that quotation is certainly apposite in the context under discussion, isn't it? Still, there seems to be an increasing number of letters in this and other papers from people who are sincerely offended by all the violence, sex, foul language, and crime portrayed both at the cinema and on television/video these days. Now, although I can't entirely sympathize with them, I believe that in some cases they have a fairly valid point. After all, is there anyone who hasn't been offended by a film or part of a film at some time in his life, even if not very deeply? And is a person necessarily a wimp or an old-fashioned prig simply because he finds a particular film unduly offensive and subsequently complains about it in the press? It appears absolutely indisputable to me that immorality of one kind or another has become, over the past two or three decades, increasingly prevalent in society, in consequence of which the world, and the Western part of it not least, is now subjected to the contemplation of more intentionally brutal, vulgar, sensationalist films than at any time since the dawn of cinema.
PHILIP: Yes, it's undoubtedly true that the West is being subjected to the spectacle of increasingly violent films these days. But I think you must also remember that modern society isn't fundamentally the most exciting of societies and that, to a certain extent, violent films help compensate for a lack of excitement in other contexts by providing a surrogate excitement of their own.
MARK: In other words, without a steady barrage of brutal films, society would be more boring than at present?
PHILIP: No, without a steady barrage of brutal films it would probably be more violent than at present. The film industry isn't an isolated phenomenon which has little or no effect on society as a whole, but a highly integrated part of it, something that helps to make contemporary society what it is. Consequently its removal would not mean that, deprived of this sublimated species of entertainment, society would necessarily become more boring, but that it would have to find an alternative mode of excitement elsewhere. And one can only assume that such an alternative mode would take the form of actual rather than simulated violence. After all, you mustn't forget that we still live, if only just, in a humanistic age, and that film provides a catharsis for pressures which might otherwise be vented on actual people, and probably in the most brutal fashion. For man is neither an angel nor a demon, but a paradoxical combination of both!
MARK: Yes, that may be, but I'm not at all convinced that the cinema does in fact provide a viable catharsis, or that simulated violence, insofar as it is simulated, is as psychologically convincing as would be the bloody spectacle of an actual gladiatorial combat between well-armed men in a specially-designed arena. I am quite confident that the ancient Romans would have obtained more excitement or satisfaction from watching suitably-trained men actually killing one another, than a modern cinema audience can ever hope to obtain from watching a film with suitably-trained actors pretending to kill one another. Consequently I'm strongly inclined to believe that the psychological inadequacy of the spectacle of simulated violence on screen only serves to perpetuate real violence off it, because too many people, instead of being appeased by the gruesome spectacle before them, only have their appetite for violence whetted all the more, with the unfortunate outcome that they foolishly strive to emulate and even surpass their favourite actors.
PHILIP: I think that is one of the most misguided notions in existence, and one, moreover, which seems to imply that actual gladiatorial combats would be more psychologically beneficial to the public than the contemplation of simulated violence on the screen! But we still live, to repeat, in an age of humanism, not of paganism, and so it's therefore unthinkable that people should revert to killing one another on a regular basis, just for the sake of entertaining somebody else!
MARK: Naturally, I didn't intend to imply that society should literally revert to gladiatorial murder in such pagan fashion, but simply that, as a vehicle for authentic catharsis and the attendant sublimation of certain violent impulses in man, film is ultimately an inadequate device which only serves to encourage actual violence by setting a bad example. This fact has been demonstrated time and time again!
PHILIP: True, there are people who endeavour to imitate their film heroes or who are sadly influenced by various sordid aspects of the world portrayed on screen, whether big or small, but, in all fairness, I would hesitate to number them among the majority of regular film-viewers, or, for that matter, to credit them with very much intelligence. They are fundamentally the type of people who, if they weren't encouraged to indulge in violence by the latest brutal film, would find some other pretext for indulging it instead! But I can tell you that not one of the war films I have ever seen has made it imperative for me to start a war with somebody as soon as I left the cinema or, alternatively, to plan a war with somebody during the subsequent weeks. And if that sounds a little too fantastic, then let me bring the context nearer the realms of plausibility by informing you that, after viewing the first Death Wish movie and certain other similar portrayals of urban terrorism, I had not the slightest desire to either mug or rape anyone, but only a strong desire to forget about most of what I had seen! And, in saying this, I'm by no means speaking from a minority viewpoint.
MARK: Well, maybe that is true as far as the more sensible people are concerned. But it is still a fact that the minority to whom it doesn't apply are more numerous than you might care to believe. And, of course, it's also true to say that, even with the formidable presence of the film industry and its possible cathartic overtones, there is still a lot of actual violence in contemporary society, such as can be found, for example, at football matches, nightclubs, and political demonstrations, not to mention the racial tensions, the expanding crime figures in certain fields, the regular terrorist activities which cloud our age and against which the so-called cathartic effects of film are virtually powerless.
PHILIP: Indeed. But it is also worth remembering that a majority of people aren't regular cinema-goers, since contemporary populations are so large and varied, in their interests, that the excitement afforded certain people by one species of commitment or entertainment would be largely irrelevant to the needs of those tens of thousands, if not millions of people who are regularly entertained or preoccupied by another. So it would be quite foolish to blame the cinema for the violence traditionally associated with football matches or, alternatively, to blame footballers or even football hooligans for the violence commonly associated with certain political demonstrations, or, again, to blame political demonstrations for the violence which sometimes occurs at nightclubs, and so on. All one can be certain of is that there are worlds within worlds, and that each of these worlds has its own specific brand of violence and, doubtless, its own incentive for indulging in it. But violence of one form or another there will probably always be, and it is quite silly of anyone to presume that society is imperfect in consequence. After all, we are men, not angels or machines, and so a certain degree of violence is always legitimate, even though it may take numerous guises and sometimes give one the impression, when viewed subjectively, that society is a mess. But one ought to be thankful, during peace time, that there is really so little serious damage done through violence. For a majority of people somehow manage to survive from one day to another, and the violence which does occur is usually - exceptions to the rule notwithstanding - of a relatively superficial nature. Of course, I don't wish to give you the impression that things are better than they really are or, for that matter, to condone the violence which sometimes takes place, even these days, at or around certain football matches. But I'm fully aware that things could be much worse than they are, so that to exaggerate such sporadic outbursts of brutal activity as do occur is to turn one's back on human nature and expect the impossible - namely no violence whatsoever, which can only be described as a gross self-deception! Thus whilst I can understand that society should take certain measures to curb football hooliganism, it seems utterly preposterous to me that it should endeavour to stamp-out violence altogether, since if the will to brutality is successfully thwarted in one context, it will sooner or later break-out with redoubled might and quickly establish itself in another - a situation which will eventually give rise to worse problems. But football hooliganism isn't, by any means, the only kind of violence to which contemporary society has been subjected, though, on account of the general popularity that football enjoys amongst a large proportion of the male population in most countries, we needn't be surprised if it should traditionally have been one of the principal kinds, especially in the days before all-seater stadia became a mandatory requirement for the top clubs and people were packed together like sardines. However that may be, we should distinguish between legitimate violence, which is approved by the State, and what one might call illegitimate violence, which isn't approved by it. Now in football it's the players who, up to a point, enjoy the former, while the more unruly elements of the opposing supporters engender the latter. And such is the case right the way through society, with legitimate and illegitimate types of violence accompanying each other to the alternating response of approval and disapproval, acceptance and rejection, encouragement and discouragement.
MARK: So you evidently believe that there will never come a time when violence is entirely stamped out of human society?
PHILIP: Yes, as long as we remain men and don't turn into lopsided monsters or mechanized automatons, there will always be some kind of violence, even if only in the context of computer games. For an over-peaceful society would be a danger to both itself and the coming generations, who would inherit the accumulated repressions of their forebears and thereby be at risk of becoming more violent than they might otherwise have been. A man who aspires to being more good or placid or kind or whatever than he ought legitimately to be, is really behaving irresponsibly, since responsibility has close connections with the extent to which one faces-up to the human condition and accepts human nature for what it is, i.e. for the dualism it is, instead of foolishly endeavouring to impose one's own rather perverted criterion upon it, to the detriment of both oneself and the society in which one lives. You might know that the expression 'to run amok' was derived from an historical situation in Malaysia where men who had been highly respected, peaceful, and law-abiding citizens until their middle years suddenly 'ran amok', with dagger or cleaver in hand, and murdered as many people as possible, to the utter astonishment of all those who had known of their previous exemplary conduct! Yet this strange phenomenon could be regarded as the inevitable penalty such men seemingly had to pay for having denied themselves as human beings, for having been much too one-sided, much too partial in their attitude to morality, and thus for having gradually created too many repressions fatally contradictory to human nature. And so, in order to restore a balance and thereby safeguard what little sanity they still possessed, an immutable law of their being coerced them into committing a major evil which, paradoxically, would somehow atone for all the minor evils they had hitherto avoided or repressed.
MARK: Thus the men who mistakenly thought they ought to be angels were ultimately compelled to become demons, before they could recover their basic humanity and thereby exist, no matter how briefly, as a combination of both?
PHILIP: Yes, that is probably the case. And so it's a profound lesson to us that we should acknowledge the irresponsibility of a man who either despises or lacks the courage to face-up to human nature, and is subsequently compelled to accept it the hard way - through direct participation in some monstrous outrage! But that is only one way of looking at the problem, since it could also be caused by the fact that the society in which such a man lives imposes far too many social constraints upon him, and thereby forces him into an unnaturally one-sided, over-placid role. In fact, I am strongly inclined to believe that this was the main reason behind such sporadic outbursts of violence as that to which I have just alluded, because the Orient, through the traditional influence of its major religions, has hitherto put more emphasis, in general terms, on placidity and gentleness than the Occident, and such an inclination has often led to fatal consequences not only in Malaysia but in India, Burma, and Tibet, where the accumulated repressions brought about by years of dedicated service to Buddhist, Hindu, or similar ideals ultimately broke through the façade of gentleness, in various ostensibly righteous citizens, and subsequently led to mass murder and/or rape. Indeed, you may remember from the history books concerning India and its British rulers that the latter often had a difficult task in controlling the periodic outbreaks of violence which took place within the indigenous population under the guise of religious sectarianism but which, on a profounder evaluation, were probably the result of the ethical constraints that had been imposed upon them from time immemorial and could no longer be maintained with any great success. And so religion served as a useful pretext for the shedding of innocent blood, much as though a blood sacrifice was the price that had to be paid by the long-term devotees of such ethical constraints.
MARK: True, and if it is not religion it's politics, equality, or freedom - something, in other words, that will provide an adequate excuse for brutality and thus justify its continuance.
PHILIP: Precisely! And not without reason. For society is just as entitled to the use of a collective persona, or mask, as its individual members to the use of a personal one, and so must it always be! Our cynicism in the face of such collective pretexts as religion, politics, sport, et cetera, does little to undermine their basic validity. For our self-respect is not geared to violence for the sake of violence but to violence with a cause and, except in those comparatively rare instances of people who are the victim of some form of pathological derangement, it will always prevent us from acting contrary to our self-interest. Hence it is not surprising, as Eugene Ionesco noted in his Journal en Miettes, loosely translatable as 'Fragments of a Journal', that people will never entirely 'demystify' themselves, even though many of them may pretend to have done so. But, as far as the overall psychic hygiene of a nation is concerned, there can be no pretext so efficacious as war, since it is the ultimate pretext for enabling various peoples to murder one another with a relatively clear conscience, and to do so, moreover, in the interests of a future peace.
MARK: So you are evidently not a pacifist?
PHILIP: No, because I don't see how human beings can possibly circumvent the basic dualistic drives to which they are eternally subject, by dint of their common human nature. It's as difficult to imagine a life without war as to imagine one without nightmares, diseases, deaths, or crimes. Now although we may loathe the prospect of war as much as if not more than the prospect of one or another of these alternative evils, we are ultimately as powerless to prevent its occurrence as to prevent their occurrence - certainly while things remain in an open-society framework, at any rate! We may make as many resolutions and plans as we like, but sooner or later the Law of Averages will swing back towards us and engulf us in its inexorable logic. Yet it is as logical that people should become inordinately idealistic just after the conclusion of a major war - and thereupon make brazen statements about eternal peace or a war to end all wars, et cetera - as that they should become inordinately realistic or, more correctly, naturalistic just before the beginning of one. For, in the former case, the demon in man has been temporarily placated and the angel has come to the fore, whereas, in the latter case, the demon has been temporarily repressed and the angel has become oppressive, thus creating a tension which can only be relieved through violence.
MARK: Then you're suggesting that too much war and peace would be equally detrimental to man's psychic equilibrium, and would amount, eventually, to a caricature of both?
PHILIP: Yes, which is why society becomes increasingly violent just prior to a major war and increasingly peaceful just after one, as can be verified by a study of recent history. But, controversial though some of what we're saying may be, I don't seriously believe that there will ever be a complete cessation of war, whatever its subsequent transmutations, not even if and when the people of this planet join together under the protection of a central administrative body with a monopoly on armed force, because the world in only a tiny part of the Galaxy, of which the Sun is but a minor star, and the Galaxy itself is only a tiny part of the Universe, about which our knowledge is, as yet, comparatively limited. So it seems probable to me that, after the cessation of world wars, mankind will then enter an epoch of interplanetary wars, from which epoch they may well proceed to one of galactic wars, after which, assuming mankind survives in any recognizable form, they might even proceed to an epoch of intergalactic wars, and finally to one of universal wars, the greatest of them all! But even if this last hypothetical development isn't liable to occur for several centuries, if ever it does, there is no reason for us to assume that, with the cessation of world wars, this planet will be immune to the influence of other solar systems, the nearest of which probably being the first to produce a planet on which the life forms of another species may well wage martial conflict with the earth.
MARK: But what reason or reasons would the inhabitants of a nearby solar system possibly have for waging war with future generations of people here on earth?
PHILIP: As many reasons, I dare say, as people on earth have hitherto had for waging war between themselves, the most important doubtless being the need to placate a dualism which requires unremitting fidelity from its multitudinous subjects, and has little or no use for a lopsided pacifism. After all, it's as impossible to conceive of advanced life-forms who aren't dualistic but can still exist ... as to conceive of advanced life-forms who are dualistic but can't exist. One can only assume that if advanced beings do exist on various other planets in different solar systems, then their existence would be on a similar basis to that which makes it possible for us to exist here, and with similar metaphysical obligations. However, in attempting to answer your question more concretely, I can quite imagine an interplanetary war being sparked off by such things as a mutual or unilateral fear of the other planet's power, a dispute over territorial rights in space, the need of one planet to colonize another in order to secure more land for its teeming populations, or because it is being threatened with extinction through the cooling or gradual disintegration of its sun, or because it has run out of suitable natural or other resources and is thereby threatened with widespread disease and starvation, or because a future Helen of Troy is abducted by a 'foreign' power, to the great dismay of the 'robbed' power, or because both powers are competing for similar galactic spoils, and so on. Hence the patterns that we have seen emerge between two or more countries on earth, over the centuries, could quite conceivably be repeated on a larger scale between two or more planets in this galaxy, with similarly violent consequences for the opposing sides. Yet war isn't a thing that one can depend upon to occur at such-and-such a date, but is something which usually strikes peoples 'out of the blue', as though triggered by the most unlikely event. For, with the best will in the world, the precautions which a group of nations may take to prevent its occurrence may only serve, in the long run, to provoke it or, at any rate, prove an inadequate safeguard against the wheel of chance and the blow of fate which suddenly beleaguer them from unexpected quarters.
MARK: Yes, that wheel of chance and blow of fate could well strike our divided world at any time now, particularly if the leading nations continue to amass weapons and missiles with the same intensity as they have shown over the past three or more decades! For one can't help feeling that, sooner or later, the vast stockpiles amassed by each side will coerce the powers concerned into justifying their military expenditure, technology, training, development, et cetera, by making use of the infernal means at their disposal. In other words, a representative conscience of the peoples concerned will make it perfectly clear to their national vanity that they're not amassing warheads, say, for the mere sake of it, since that would be sheer insanity, but in order to protect themselves against external encroachments, should they suddenly find their country hurled into a nuclear conflict. And so it is virtually inevitable, if the peoples concerned aren't to go completely mad, that such a war will eventually come to pass. Otherwise, they'll have so many weapons and missiles at their disposal that they won't know where to put them all, and the workers who manufacture them will be coerced into assuming that their hard work is entirely gratuitous, and may well end-up becoming neurotic or going mad. Then, of course, the tax payer will be angered by the fact that so much of his hard-earned money is being continually wasted on superfluous military considerations and that many of the formerly important warheads for which he had paid through the nose are regularly being rendered obsolete by the invention and development of still better ones, so that, with a little prompting from his unconscious, he will rebel in some way against the existing regime and thereby bring about a state of internal crisis, which would not be the best thing for national security!
PHILIP: Indeed, I entirely agree with much of what you are saying, especially with regard to the virtual inevitability of another major war. For I don't see how the major nations can possibly refrain, eventually, from justifying their military expenditure, et cetera, in the usual fashion. Like Bertrand Russell, whose essay The Future of Mankind is most relevant in this context, I don't see how the peoples directly afflicted by the tensions engendered by ideological division can possibly tolerate the perpetuation of such tensions for ever - tensions which can only worsen with the passing of time. So much as I may abhor the prospect of a nuclear war, I can no more convince myself that it will never happen ... than I can convince myself that a divided earth would successfully be able to defend itself against a strong alien aggressor should the armies of a hostile planet subsequently decide to invade it, since a divided planet, much as it may be adequately prepared for a world war, would certainly be ill-equipped to deal with an interplanetary one.
MARK: Because it would refuse to become an integrated whole in the face of alien opposition?
PHILIP: No, not entirely. For even with the best intentions in the world it would be unable to become an integrated whole in that event, since an ideological confrontation between capitalism and socialism, or liberalism and some form of communism, no matter how democratized, would still exist even then. But, more importantly, because its current warheads are not programmed and designed for an interplanetary war, i.e. to repel an attack from outer space, but only for a war fought solely on this earth. So it's inconceivable that it would be able to adequately defend itself, should such a situation arise in the foreseeable future. Only once a world war had been fought and the victorious side duly brought the losers under the rule of a central administration, could the surviving people of this planet begin to turn their attention towards the creation and development of interplanetary warheads, in order that they may be equipped to deal with an attack from outer space. Admittedly, such speculation may seem a trifle farfetched, if not unrealistic, at present, but it is of the utmost importance to the future security of this planet that it should evolve to a point where, with the cessation of world wars, such seemingly farfetched speculation will subsequently become fact, and the world be obliged to establish an ideological polarity not within itself, but in relation to the inhabitants of a nearby solar system.
MARK: You seem highly optimistic, I must say, not only about the probable establishment of a future world administration but, no less incredibly, about the prospects of people surviving a nuclear war - the worst possible kind of war? Surely there is every reason to believe that Western civilization will be entirely destroyed, should the worst come to the worst and the most powerful nations on earth release their pent-up barrage of nuclear warheads!
PHILIP: Admittedly, I may appear highly optimistic, but I can assure you that I'm doing my utmost to be highly realistic! Whether a world administration could be established after a nuclear war, is open to debate. For we cannot be sure that any future world war would be conclusive, or that it wouldn't lead to yet other such wars. But with modern technological advances pushing ahead as quickly as at present, both on earth and in space, coupled to the increasing pace of man's psychic evolution these days, it seems rather unlikely that a world administration will be all that long in coming. However, as to the survival of the human kind should such a war come to pass, I know for a fact that some peoples, including the Swiss and the Swedes, have taken extensive precautions to ensure that as many of their citizens as possible are safeguarded by the use of underground shelters, shelters which are equipped with every convenience and stored with sufficient provisions to last their inhabitants several years. And in these elaborate shelters, people will be almost completely immune to the physical shocks and deprivations of the outside world.
MARK: But those protected by such ingenious underground shelters won't really amount to a very large percentage of the human race, will they?
PHILIP: No, that is perfectly true. But, even so, the world is so large that it is by no means inconceivable that a large percentage of the human and animal populations would in any case escape death or injury by dint of living in fairly remote regions of the earth or, alternatively, in fairly densely-populated countries not directly implicated in the conflict, countries which could only be peripheral targets, if at all, to the main adversaries. But even in countries most directly involved in our hypothetical conflict, it's quite probable that a significant percentage of their populations would also escape death or injury, for reasons similar to those already mentioned.
MARK: But even if people living in the less densely-populated areas of, say, the United States aren't directly or immediately affected by enemy missiles, isn't it likely that they would eventually succumb if not to economic chaos then almost certainly to radioactive pollution of the atmosphere, to the large-scale spread of nuclear fallout?
PHILIP: Yes, of course it is likely that many people would become a victim to spreading radiation. But it's just as likely that radiation wouldn't spread everywhere and that, with the accelerated pace of evolution usually induced by the exigencies of modern warfare, a viable technique would be devised for countering its spread and simultaneously neutralizing its effect. After all, one of the most advantageous consequences to emerge from the Second World War was the development of rockets, which have since enabled man to reach the moon and discover important things about his planetary environment, things which may well play a far more important role in the affairs of the earth than we are yet prepared to acknowledge. So it is as well to bear in mind that 'out of evil cometh good'. For when it is a matter of life-and-death, the human kind can be forced into developing technological possibilities which they would never have thought themselves capable of in peace time. However, the extent of man's ingenuity or resourcefulness would certainly be called into play again if the nature and duration of the conflict so demanded. Hence it is not altogether impossible that better systems of defence would be evolved during the conflict than had existed in peace time. But it could well be that, in the event of a nuclear war actually taking place, a majority of the opposing missiles would be so effectively intercepted before they had hit their targets, that something along the lines of a conventional war would consequently be imposed upon the main combatants, with a further consequence that less people would be detrimentally affected by it than might otherwise be the case. However, speculation aside, it is my firm conviction that there would be survivors, and that they would witness the dawn of a new age.
MARK: An utterance, if I may say so, which makes it seem as though war is an ultimate necessity, with a definite place in the evolution of civilization and a beneficial consequence to those who survive it!
PHILIP: Indeed, in the final analysis, war is ultimately necessary, as can be seen from a close study of history and the fundamentals of human nature. For it always takes place for a definite, valid reason, and to suppose that there will ever be an age when, no matter what transmutations it may subsequently undergo, progress will have rendered it entirely obsolete, is as fatuous, short-sighted, and irresponsible as to suppose that there will ever be an age when nightmares, diseases, worries, accidents, pains, and physical deformities will likewise have been rendered obsolete. No matter how far we men evolve, over the coming centuries, we shall always be subject to a dual integrity, to good and evil in relative doses, since it's just as impossible for us to be wholly good as to be wholly evil. Progress may do a lot to change our various lifestyles, but it will never change our fundamental nature, which is entirely beyond its power. Admittedly, science fiction may show us a world whose inhabitants know nothing of war, violence, sickness, hatred, et cetera, because science fiction is more of an art than a science and therefore has a right to create imaginary worlds beyond the realms of plausibility. But although it points the way to the future in some respects, it by no means does so in every respect, with a consequence that many of the so-called 'advanced' civilizations you read about or watch on television aren't as indicative of ethical and social progress as might at first appear. On the contrary, they're usually the imaginative presentation of their author's conscious or unconscious idealism. For I don't seriously believe that one would ever encounter a civilization anywhere in the Universe that had no regular experience of evil and no grammatical equivalent, in consequence, for the word 'vicissitude'.
MARK: Yes, you are probably right, although it would be untrue to imagine that all sci-fi authors indulge in that kind of utopian portrayal, because one also encounters so-called 'advanced' civilizations which have been warring on one another for years and know every conceivable vicissitude. But you're undoubtedly right to assume that one could occasionally be misled by such authors into taking something for a perfect society which, in reality, would be anything but perfect. Or, alternatively, into taking something for progress which, in reality, would be anything but progressive. I suppose that is the danger inherent in the kind of idealism which imagines itself the nearest thing to perfection when, in reality, it is really a lopsided, crack-brained, highly-dubious concept that would undoubtedly bring ruination upon anyone who was foolish or naive enough to seriously believe in it! Indeed, it's the old story of the perfect society always being somehow vastly different from the society in which normal circumstances oblige one to live - a utopia that, if one could ever experience it for any length of time, would prove to be a hundred times worse than everyday reality.
PHILIP: And just as many people fail to understand in the concepts of Heaven and Hell that, from a human point of view, eternal bliss and eternal torment would be equally execrable in the similarity of their respective extremities, so a large number of them fail to appreciate that, strange as it may seem, life isn't being ruined by the intermittent prevalence of nightmares, wars, floods, hardships, diseases, brutalities, storms, frustrations, fears, doubts, angers, earthquakes, et cetera, but protected from the ruination that would otherwise befall it if, by some remote chance, it were to become too one-sided.
MARK: An utterance, if I may say so, which has all the wisdom of a Montaigne behind it and all the insight of a Nietzsche in front of it!
PHILIP: A very flattering remark, Mark, but one which your incomparable charm compels me to accept, and partly on account of the fact that I have recently been reading The Maxims of François de la Rochefoucauld, that great seventeenth-century French moralist, and encountered one which read: 'Though we believe on occasion that we detest flattery, it is only the flatterer's manner that we find detestable.'
MARK: Well, it's not often that I indulge in flattery, particularly with you!
PHILIP: No, and I, for one, very rarely grant you the opportunity to flatter me! However, in returning to what I was saying about science fiction, I didn't intend to give you the impression that all sci-fi authors indulge in a sort of bogus utopian speculation which, did they but know it, does a disservice to the concept of progress, but simply that one can encounter rather unconvincing portrayals of social progress within the realm of science fiction. Yet, in some respects, society never changes. There is, to cite Nietzsche, an 'eternal recurrence' which grants a given pattern of vicissitude to every age, and which always recurs so long as organized societies continue to exist. Of course, man has often dreamed, in his hard-pressed life, of a millennial utopia, a time when all the obstacles to his ultimate happiness will have been finally overcome and he will wallow thereafter in a sort of earthly paradise, where nothing can ever go wrong and no external evil assail him. But such a paradisiacal utopia is never likely to come about, not even after the world has been unified under a central administration and the possibility of subsequent world wars been averted. For it's not man's fate to inherit the bliss of an earthly paradise, but to recognize the truth of his dual nature. Now just as modern man has overcome many problems to which his ancestors succumbed, only to find himself beset by problems of which they never even dreamed, so future man will overcome many of our problems, only to find himself beset by problems unknown to us, since this is the eternal law of vicissitude, so to speak, which makes every age to some extent the double and equal of every other. Naturally, life can be very cruel. But if it were all kindness, none of us would be able to tolerate living it. Yet that is really idle conjecture, because none of us will ever be eligible to sample a life that was all kindness anyway since, by its one-sided nature, it would run completely contrary to life. But if we persist in imagining that an eternal peace on earth will bring us the Utopian Millennium, and thereby constitute the ideal human society, we shall only have ourselves to blame when we eventually discover, to our considerable dismay, that our souls are suffering more from the effects of the extended peace than they would otherwise have suffered from the experience of periodic wars. Or, put another way, when we eventually discover that the so-called peace we are living through isn't as peaceful as it should be, due to the fact that the immutable dualism of our deepest selves is re-channelling our aggression, frustration, discontent, hatred, et cetera, into everyday society on a level which virtually turns that society into a battleground, and gives to our various relationships, both private and public, the overtones of a civil war.
MARK: You mean that no amount of self-deception can prevent our fundamental nature from being itself and somehow finding an approximate balance within the confines of a given context, because an extended peace eventually has the effect of engendering a subterranean civil war and, conversely, an extended war the effect of engendering a subterranean military peace?
PHILIP: Yes, the subterranean civil-war aspect of those populous societies which haven't experienced an official war for some time can be seen, all too poignantly, in the recent increase of civil disquiet - the proliferation of terrorism, assassination, kidnapping, football hooliganism, vandalism, racial tension, rape, industrial unrest, political instability, unemployment, et cetera, all of which can only reach a sickening level in an age when the lengthy absence of a tangible external enemy - or the difficulty of creating one - makes it virtually imperative for a nation to turn its bellicose attitude inwards and to find its chief enemies or scapegoats within itself, with the unfortunate consequence that, instead of pulling itself together for its own good, such a nation is gradually compelled to tear itself apart, thereby creating serious social, economic, and political hardships. Hence you can see why too much peace, i.e. too long a period without a tangible external enemy, is inevitably detrimental to the internal security and integrity of a densely populated nation. Just as too much solitude is likewise detrimental to the internal security and integrity of certain individuals, who may well implode. For, in the one case, the object of hatred has to be found within itself, whilst, in the other case, it has to be found within the self, both cases ultimately leading to a very unhealthy situation! It remains to be seen, thereafter, how long the nations concerned can persist in tolerating their respective internal conflicts, both in an economic and a social sense, before circumstances eventually compel them to avert the prospect of either wholesale anarchy and revolution or, worse again, civil war, by provoking hostilities with a foreign power. Then perhaps they will have every reason to direct their attentions away from their domestic squabbles and towards issues of a far wider and more consequential import, thereby diverting aggression outwards. So, strange as it may seem, there is no reason to believe that it is war which is the real threat to the survival of organized society so much its long-term absence, and that one shouldn't be misled by the peaceful examples of small countries like Switzerland and Luxembourg into imagining that their traditional neutrality in the face of European war has brought them greater sanity. For with a small and thinly-populated country it isn't so much unparalleled wisdom that keeps them neutral ... as the fact that their comparative military weakness virtually precludes them from declaring hostilities. And one would do well to bear in mind that they doubtless suffer from their neutrality in a way which it would be difficult for those who have experience of a major war to understand. However, nationality aside, some men are much more outwardly placid than others and are thereby deceived by their condition into assuming that war is unnecessary, into taking what may be their own highly cultured viewpoint for the norm, and thus entirely overlooking the fact that, for a majority of men, matters are really quite otherwise. Such placid types have often got into trouble with the state for their pacifism, and more than a few have even been imprisoned in times of war, when their persistent peace propaganda threatened the overall security of the nation far more than enemy bombs or guns ever did. But peace propaganda, in any age and in whatever form, only serves to make it perfectly clear that, broadly speaking, it isn't natural for human beings to be perpetually at peace, since, if it were so, they wouldn't require such propaganda in the first place. In fact, they wouldn't require anything of the kind at all.
MARK: So anti-war propaganda is superfluous?
PHILIP: On the contrary, it is highly useful, because it helps to create a pro-peace psychology in people which, up to a point, is by no means a bad idea. But, like everything else, it has a time and a place, and there are times and places when it becomes more of a hindrance to society than an aid. Such as, for example, during the course of a major war, when the untimely use of such propaganda could contribute towards bringing about a capitulation which would inevitably prove detrimental to the future interests of the country concerned. However, there is a species of anti-war propaganda available today which is perfectly valid in light of what could happen to the world, should the major powers subsequently decide to use the nuclear weapons at their disposal. For, in that event, there would hardly be a war at all but, rather, an instantaneous elimination of vast populations. Paradoxical though it may appear, we must differentiate between war as something that breaks-up peace and, in the final analysis, authenticates it, and a foolhardy launching of nuclear missiles at vast populations of civilian life, to the ultimate detriment not only of the millions of innocent people who would be killed or maimed, but also to the ultimate detriment of the opposing armies, whose millions of well-armed, well-trained men would then become utterly superfluous. I mean, what is the point of the capitalist/socialist, or liberal/communist, opponents having vast armies equipped with the best possible weapons, if their nuclear warheads are going to do all or most of the damage, and thereby render the technology, military expertise, and 'art' of soldiering largely if not entirely superfluous? For, when all's said and done, nuclear weapons could become the greatest possible danger to both war and peace alike!
MARK: You mean that whilst a conventional war might not be a bad thing for the world as we know it, an indiscriminate nuclear war would render conventional war obsolete, turning the civilian populations into corpses even before their armies had reached their respective battle lines?
PHILIP: No, I mean that an indiscriminate nuclear war would hardly be war at all but, rather, an experiment in clearing this planet of life in the quickest possible time! Now while war, as I understand it, may ultimately be of some use to mankind, the threat of total extinction certainly isn't! So it's of the utmost importance to differentiate between them and to hope, in the honourable names of evolution, progress, civilization, culture, humanity, et cetera, that, in the event of a third world war, the belligerent nations will have enough sense to keep their most lethal weapons safely under lock-and-key in honour not only of their respective armies, navies, and air forces, but, more importantly, of all life on this planet, no matter what its shape, colour, or size, which isn't directly or even indirectly involved in the conflict, and which may one day rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of a divided world. So whilst I'm not entirely opposed to war, I am certainly opposed to that which would put an end to both war and peace for ever!
MARK: Yes, so am I. Though, despite what you said earlier about the possibility of survivors, I still don't see how the world could escape such a dreadful fate, in the event of another world war. For even if the main parties to it initially made a pact not to use their most lethal weapons, or only to target enemy military installations and troop concentrations with comparatively less-lethal ones, it's highly doubtful that they would honour such a pact as the war became more bitter and their respective losses and grudges against one another mounted, with the passing of time.
PHILIP: Quite so! Since it is natural for the main combatants to become increasingly unreasonable as they suffer more from each other's aggression, their strategic positions perhaps even deteriorating to a point where anything is deemed permissible. But, as I also remarked earlier, it isn't altogether impossible, in the event of a nuclear escalation, that most of the opposing missiles would be successfully intercepted before they reached their targets and, furthermore, that anything approximating to a large bomber would be shot down before it could do any serious damage over enemy territory, thus making the dropping of large bombs a much more difficult and hazardous task than the firing of large missiles. But war of one kind or another there will probably always be, and if the world population isn't to become so large that it becomes more of a danger to the survival of homo sapiens than anything else, then it is important that it should be periodically checked or reduced by what can only be described as the fairest means available, since personal grudges are set aside with the indiscriminate elimination of enemy strangers who happen to belong to a different race, creed, or ideology.
MARK: Indeed, I agree that human population must be periodically reduced or, at any rate, controlled. But, all the same, there is a vast difference between reducing it for its own good and almost entirely eliminating it! For, whatever the means employed, there would certainly be far more people killed in a third world war than had ever been killed in any previous one.
PHILIP: Yes, that is probably true. But you mustn't forget that there are far more human beings in the world today than at any earlier time in history, and that if they continue to multiply over the next thirty years as they have been doing over the past thirty, then not only will they be the chief danger to themselves, but the chief danger to every other species of life on this planet as well! So, difficult as it may seem to us, it's virtually imperative that a future war should cause more fatalities than any previous one did, if it isn't to become a mere caricature of them. Nature, remember, is greater than we, it works through and above us, and usually it ensures that its various offspring are kept within reasonable population bounds, that the inter-predatory principles of the animal kingdom apply equally well in other kingdoms, too! Now although our vanity as men may occasionally lead us to imagine that we are not subject to it, our nature as men mostly proves the contrary. For we can no more ignore its influence than can those species who commit mass suicide when their numbers become too great, or those species that regularly prey upon certain other species in the interests of both their own survival and the maintenance of an ecological balance.
MARK: But surely the recent fall in the birth rate in this and various other densely-populated countries throughout the world is sufficient proof that nature has devised a way of reducing human populations in a peaceful way at last?
PHILIP: Perhaps. But in such a way as to render modern life a sterile thing, to make us aware that it has other ways of overcoming us and proving to us that, for all our material benefits, our lives aren't as healthy as they could be or, indeed, should be. For it indicates that the will to expansion, the will to greater life, is gradually atrophying, and that the lives of a majority of its younger adults can't be worth much when they are either disinclined or unable to propagate at a steadily and slowly increasing rate. It's almost as though many young couples were secretly afraid to have children these days, and not only because the cost of raising a family would, under current economic conditions, prove too high, but also because they sense that the world is overcrowded enough already, and that their offspring would only necessitate the feeding of yet more 'superfluous' mouths. But you know what the times are like, how expensive everything is, what economic difficulties there are, how much unemployment there is, what housing shortages there are, what uncertainty about the future there is, how overcrowded our cities are, and consequently what a lack of incentive there is for so many would-be parents to start a family. So it's hardly surprising that the average birth rate should have fallen in recent years. However, in getting to the point of your question, this social trend is, after all, nothing to be particularly pleased about. For it's not a way that nature has devised of overcoming war and thereby bringing about a more peaceful and stable society. On the contrary, it is a way that nature has devised for bringing home to us the inadequacies of our existing society, with its dreadful overcrowding and the detrimental consequences this problem inevitably engenders. We began, if you recall, by discussing domestic violence, i.e. violence on the cinema screen, football hooliganism, vandalism, et cetera, and since then we have digressed to discussing war, human nature, society, and population, which, believe it or not, brings us back to where we began ... with that irate woman's letter in the newspaper, complaining about a film she had seen, one that was evidently too immoral for her ostensibly altruistic sensibilities to stomach. And yet a great deal of the alleged immorality of modern society is, in all its various guises, a direct consequence of the size of that society. As has been pointed out many times in the recent past, not least of all by Carl Jung in a brilliant essay entitled The Relations Between the Ego and the Unconscious, the larger the society the greater the amount of immorality to be found in it. For morality mainly depends upon the moral sense of the individual, and where there are too many people living in close proximity, the immorality of the herd mentality comes to play an increasingly pervasive role, as can be seen in football hooliganism and vandalism, to name but two manifestations of contemporary anti-social behaviour. Thus the greater the crowd, organization, city, et cetera, the smaller becomes the individual, who simultaneously experiences a reduction of self-respect, personal responsibility, and self-determination, to the detriment of both himself and, often enough, the society in which he lives.
MARK: Which is presumably to say that if the largest cities are always the most immoral places on earth mainly on account of their size, of the anti-social behaviouristic influence they exert on different people in different ways, depending on their intelligence or temperament, then it's incredibly stupid of people to expect them to be otherwise, to imagine that their inhabitants could become more moral and less violent if only they tried a little harder?
PHILIP: Exactly! That's just it! For it is as stupid of one to completely overlook the behaviouristic influence of a large city - and to thereupon imagine that a majority of people could be other and better than they are if only they wanted to be - as it would be to expect a man who had been thrown to the sharks to escape being eaten alive! In fact, the point you made about different people, different temperaments and types of people, being influenced in different ways, only goes to prove that the woman who was annoyed by the film she saw is just as much a victim of anti-social behaviour as anyone else, since the letter in question was anything but pleasant and shows, once again, how ostensibly moral, self-righteous people can indulge in evil without even realizing it, simply because they imagine the thing they're complaining about to be worse than themselves! But when you really come to think about it, a person who is annoyed by a given film, and consequently provoked into writing an abusive letter about it to the newspapers, is little different from a person who is annoyed by a football supporter of an opposing club, and consequently provoked into abusing him in his own rather more brutal or vulgar fashion. The former, as an old woman with middle-class prejudices, is simply not in a position to act like a hooligan, whereas the latter, as a young man with working-class prejudices, is simply not in a position to act like a prig! But in both cases - and needless to say in countless others as well - there is an object which provokes hatred and, as might be expected, an angry subjective response to it.
MARK: Hence the usual misunderstandings between the different types of people as to the exact nature of right and wrong, and consequently the usual kinds of social hypocrisy as a result of it.
PHILIP: Ahem! More like the usual kinds of social self-deception as a result of it! For, whether we like it or not, it's regularly the case that people are duped by their behaviour into sincerely believing themselves to be in the right, and that, in considering the apparent evils of others, they completely overlook their own evils, with the inevitable consequence that 'they know not what they do'. But we needn't get ourselves unduly annoyed about it as this juncture, nor pretend that we are necessarily any better. For we are not here, after all, to make ourselves better but to realize what we are, and thus to live according to the essential dualistic law of our being. And if this law demands that we occasionally be deceived as to the nature and extent of our respective moral inclinations, well then, we have no real option but to obey it and be deceived, since it isn't in our powers to entirely escape it. However, let's not talk any more about this truth or, for that matter, about any other truth, since it's as impossible for man to live by truth alone as to ignore truth too long and live, and we are both in need of a lengthy reprieve from its rather stern features! Come, let us listen to some music instead! It gives one wonderful illusions. Or, should I say, delusions of self-moralizing grandeur?
MARK: More like a reprieve from the Devil's advocate, if you ask me!