War As A Means of Collective Sacrifice 

We are disconnected to the human consequences of war because it is the policy of our governments that we be shielded from reality and life like little children. And the reality is that war is our way of life.

The regressive genetic effort of war has been often noted and equally often deplored, even when it confuses biological and cultural factors. The disproportionate loss of the biologically stronger remains inherent in traditional warfare. It serves to underscore the fact that survival of the species, rather than its improvement, is the fundamental purpose of natural selection.

Men, like all other animals, is subject to the continuing process of adapting to the limitations of his environment. But the principal mechanism he has utilized for this purpose is unique among living creatures. To forestall the inevitable historical cycles of inadequate food supply, post-Neolithic man destroys surplus members of his own species by organized warfare.

Ethologists have often observed that the organized slaughter of members of their own species is virtually unknown among other animals. Man’s special propensity to kill his own kind (shared to a limited degree with rats) may be attributed to his inability to adapt anachronistic patterns of survival (like primitive hunting) to his development of “civilizations” in which these patterns cannot be effectively sublimated. It may be attributed to other causes that have been suggested, such as a maladapted “territorial instinct,” etc. Nevertheless, it exists and its social expression in war constitutes a biological control of his relationship to his natural environment that is peculiar to man alone. War has served to help assure the survival of the human species. But as an evolutionary device to improve it, war is almost unbelievably inefficient. With few exceptions, the selective processes of other living creatures promote both specific survival and genetic improvement. When a conventionally adaptive animal faces one of its periodic crises of insufficiency, it is the “inferior” members of the species that normally disappear. An animal’s social response to such a crisis may take the form of a mass migration, during which the weak fall by the wayside. Or it may follow the dramatic and more efficient pattern of lemming societies, in which the weaker members voluntarily disperse, leaving available food supplies for the stronger. In either case, the strong survive and the weak fall. In human societies, those who fight and die in wars for survival are in general its biologically stronger members. This is natural selection in reverse.

The existence of an accepted external menace, then, is essential to social cohesiveness as well as to the acceptance of political authority. The menace must be believable, it must be of a magnitude consistent with the complexity of the society threatened, and it must appear, at least, to affect the entire society.

One of the most noteworthy features common to the larger, more complex, and more successful of ancient civilizations was their widespread use of the blood sacrifice. If one were to limit consideration to those cultures whose regional hegemony was so complete that the prospect of “war” had become virtually inconceivable —as was the case with several of the great pre-Columbian societies of the Western Hemisphere—it would be found that some form of ritual killing occupied a position of paramount social importance in each. Invariably, the ritual was invested with mythic or religious significance; as will all religious and totemic practice, however, the ritual masked a broader and more important social function.

In these societies, the blood sacrifice served the purpose of maintaining a vestigial “earnest” of the society’s capability and willingness to make war– i.e., kill and be killed—in the event that some mystical–i.e., unforeseen — circumstance were to give rise to the possibility. That the “earnest” was not an adequate substitute for genuine military organization when the unthinkable enemy, such as the Spanish conquistadores, actually appeared on the scene in no way negates the function of the ritual. It was primarily, if not exclusively, a symbolic reminder that war had once been the central organizing force of the society, and that this condition might recur.

Without a long-established war economy, and without its frequent eruption into large-scale shooting war, most of the major industrial advances known to history, beginning with the development of iron, could never have taken place. Weapons technology structures the economy.”

“Since it is historically axiomatic that the existence of any form of weaponry insures its use, we have used the word “peace” as virtually synonymous with disarmament. By the same token, “war” is virtually synonymous with nationhood. The elimination of war implies the inevitable elimination of national sovereignty and the traditional nation-state.

The war system not only has been essential to the existence of nations as independent political entities, but has been equally indispensable to their stable internal political structure. Without it, no government has ever been able to obtain acquiescence in its “legitimacy,” or right to rule its society. The possibility of war provides the sense of external necessity without which nor government can long remain in power.

The historical record reveals one instance after another where the failure of a regime to maintain the credibility of a war threat led to its dissolution, by the forces of private interest, or reactions to social injustice, or of other disintegrative elements. The organization of a society for the possibility of war is its principal political stabilizer.


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