What follows is the third part of my discussion about conflict and war in relation to the novel In the Real World as well as our psychological dispositions.
The story is one of war set in peace time. All the stages, divisions, emotions and moral views of war are played out in a school setting. It starts when a boys-against-girls prank war gets totally out of hand and spreads to the school and eventually the neighbourhood, involving all the members of the school community and the police. Each of the factions includes some teachers, some students and some parents, because social position and age are not decisive when it comes to compliance or rebellion, but psychotype (personality) differences are.
By means of the classes of their history teacher and the stories of their grandparents, the protagonists learn about the two world wars, but rather than battles and politics, it is the human aspect that is highlighted. The story begins around April 25th (Anzac Day), remembrance weekend for Australia and New Zealand, and it ends around November 11th, which is Armistice.
This post comprises a general discussion about war and conflict, interspersed with comparisons to what happens in the novel, while two related posts deal with an explicit psychological character discussion of behaviour and motives, and a brief introduction to the psychology, so as to support this discussion.
I am sure not everybody will agree with my stance in this, and that is fine, for we are all different psychological types and cannot interpret the real world in the exact same manner; this is what conflict is based on, so, even if I have tried to remain as fair as possible, I am still only one personality type and cannot crawl out of my own perspective.
There are different sorts of conflict:
- Grand scale international conflict, we call “war”
- Small scale conflict between interest groups within a society, like religious or discrimination issues
- Conflict of individuals with the society they live in, usually with the authorities
- Interpersonal conflict; conflict between individuals
- Internal conflict; conflict individuals experience within themselves (dilemmas).
Conflict arises when people’s sense of future (hope), reality, truth or justice – their existence or existential belief – is perceived to be in danger. This sense (or belief) is objective to their Self, which is how information works to keep us alive, but not identical for all people; each type has a different ‘objective’ sense of real, of just, of true. – Nations and cultures also adopt a set of core beliefs, which become their identity (or ‘self’), as do interest groups, such as those based on ethnicity, culture, religion or orientation.
However, because defending this Self is a survival necessity, people try to convince others, judge others or impose their beliefs (using fear, guilt, shame, criticism), often with the best of intentions, and the emotions get involved, notably anger and resentment, which are related to our sense of justice.
Especially where it concerns the relation of the individual with authority – whether parents, teachers or social institutions, including the judicial system – injustice is felt when one personality type is treated with the responses suited for another type, so that treating all people the same in any social setting cannot work, because what is Self-evidently fair or just to one type, is Self-evidently unfair or unjust to their opposites; the inner Self experiences this and that cannot be changed. All attempts to justify, reason and mediate in conflict are jeopardized if this basic psychology is not understood.
Internal conflict or dilemma can happen to any person, especially when they are forced to compromise their own conscience and when feelings of guilt and shame are involved, but those personality types that experience either normative beliefs or reality as binding (objectively and necessarily the same for all), but not both, are more prone to this. It occurs when the demands of either of these objective experiences is non compatible with their subjective senses or beliefs. These types clash with other people over events, mutual feelings and situations rather than global beliefs. Their clashes are personal and they either make up or the relationship is terminated.
Those personality types that experience both normative beliefs and reality the same – they either experience both as objective (or binding) or both as relative (or optional) – have less of a problem with inner dilemmas, but they get in conflict with each other and with the society, in which one aims to maintain the status quo and traditions and the other wants to change those. They base their stance in the world on beliefs, they voice their ideas and they fight over the long term and often in groups.
Likewise, those who experience the group as prior (Js) feel justified in asking of the individual that they sacrifice themselves; they accept that the group’s representatives as authority are in a position to say so and the group needs to survive. Those who experience the group as arbitrary (Ps), see that as some self-important individuals trying to tell everybody what to do. For them, there is no justification in favouring some lives over others, and “the group” has no life, so it has no need to survive.
Large scale conflict has four common prerequisites: nationalism, militarism, imperialism, alliances. Individuals or their beliefs are of no consequence in war, because the fighting factions, which have neither emotions nor a sense of justice, are bigger entities, and individual people are mere numbers that make up such entity, no differently than that people are collections of body cells; we don’t consider them when we act as a person. Even if these bigger entities acquire a sort of a ‘self”, this self does not have the same sense of justice as people, because it lacks emotions. The goal of these bigger factions is power, not justice. That is why Mr Fokker uses the example of the Portuguese Man of War, which acts as if it has one mind, and all the individual parts that stray are eaten.
I have previously written about the need to remain within the right level when discussing information and objectivity; to keep in mind the difference between system and part (Homological Composition: 199). In that case it was about bias sampling (in psychology), but it applies to social issues as well. Our entire society is about comparisons, competition and fighting. This starts in schools, which are meant to educate, as in “bring out latent capabilities”, which would be people’s natural talents, and a society needs diverse talents. Yet, as Nikos explains, schools go against nature in trying to get those who naturally compete to get along and measure everybody to one standard, thus ignoring the much-needed diversity.
Regardless of how many fashionable slogans are used to imply the opposite, the system (or bigger entity) measures by standards important to its own self, not that of its parts. Even if a society needs diverse talents, it cannot consider the individuality of its parts, and will therefore treat all individuals as if identical – individuality can only be experienced within a level, not across levels or dimensions. We cannot consider the needs of our individual body cells, because we need to function as a whole; the same with entities to which we are mere parts. That is why Grandpa Will says that nations can win a war, but people can only lose in them.
In short, competition and combat are ingrained in people by those institutions that exist on behalf of the bigger entity that needs its parts identical, because it can control them that way. Whether deliberately or not, our language is filled with war terminology. Even ill people are said to “battle cancer” and the kids immediately use military terminology in their prank war, even when things are still fun, words like ceasefire, truce, guerrilla, war rules, sneak attacks, deserter. Later, at school, even the adults join in.
Nationalism is the identity of the group, imposed on its subjects, and therefore the segregation of people according to these bigger factions, usually nations, which cause people to look at each other as “us-them” and identify by common traits: clothing, language, flag and so on. Schools are a bit like nations, but within the school, teachers and students are segregated, as are students of different ages – as Nikos says, second graders will look down on first graders because they are a few months younger – and the older grades have different uniforms, as does every school, so that members are recognisable and identified by their uniform, by the group they belong to, not as individuals. Parents and teachers are also supposed to stay out of each other’s turf. There are clear boundaries of what each is supposed to do and each group has their own rules.
Militarism is the presence of tools for aggression, in the form of soldiers (human tools) and weapons for defence (technological tools), but also weapons of mass destruction, which are meant to reduce the number (power) of the opponent, because it is about numbers. Soldiers are tools to this bigger entity they represent, because they act as a group without individual choice. Soldiers who disobey often lose their life or freedom. Conscripted soldiers excepted the rest agree to exchange their individuality to become such tools. Without having numbers of tools, the bigger entity cannot compete.
At school, the expectation is that students do as they are told or risk detention, expulsion, or other punishment, which are the tools for compliance – compulsory education is like conscription. By taking out the few that cause problems, schools then guarantee that the rest of the students will do as they are told, just as soldiers were executed as deserters if they did not comply as an example for the rest. Besides that, in some countries, including New Zealand, the military go to schools and teach kids about weapons and militarism.
Uniforms are not only an identity that makes individual people numbers in a set, but they become a measure of behaviour. It is known that kids of non-uniform schools behave better in public places, even if in groups; those in uniform feel they can vandalize or threaten, because the group protects them that way. Same with soldiers taking liberties with civilians. Being in a uniformed group makes people a part of a bigger machine (a tool of war).
Imperialism happens when one faction increases its control beyond its own boundaries (invasion, colonization) and thus a tendency towards bigger and fewer factions – like we saw the USA and USSR or east-bloc countries – and as they invade the other’s home and privacy, they annihilate the others, if not literally then their culture and beliefs, and often based on race, gender, religion and other outward traits.
Likewise, the school in the book assumes that it has the right to invade into student’s private life – they use the counsellor for that – but also put the public street and shop under their control; it attempts to make the shop keeper report kids who come and buy from them, and they send letters to coerce parents under threat of social services. The only choice the subjects have is to submit or they lose their chance of a future (or life).
Alliances or “mutual defence agreements” are promises made to support each other in their pursuit of power, which we also see in gangs – Robert Nozick has an interesting explanation for this. Such ‘friendships’ among nations are usually presented as something positive, but apart from a bigger faction, imposing its “us-them”, it is about the expectation of belonging, no matter what they do – as Charlotte says to Mariette, you are “supposed to stick with your own team”.
We see this not just in nations, but in political parties: ministers are not to go against the pre-agreed stance of their party even in their own special field, regardless of consequences for the people or common sense; same in many other social subgroups. People often like to be in factions, which is why we talk about “the Allies”. Of course, the allies in one war become enemies in the next, usually because they start bickering among each other.
In the school, the third term saw teachers against students, but after the break, Mr Fokker and Kathleen’s dad, among others, change allegiance and later Charlotte does as well, while Mr Shriver and Jerome try to remain neutral. These changes of allegiance change the numbers and suddenly Mariette finds a huge force against her. Most students in the story follow without thinking, which is what the comparison to the crucifixion is about. They follow the group, even if the allegiances change; they first obey the school, later Mariette and in the end Charlotte, but none act as an individual; those who do are removed.
No war without soldiers
Without most of those prerequisites (power, promises, weapons, factions), war would not be impossible. The presence of “us-them” thinking and militarism are possibly sufficient on their own. Today most people understand that where guns are present, they will be used, and so for tools of war. As Mariette says: “soldiers do not exist because there are wars; wars exist because there are soldiers” – the concept, the universal “soldier” makes war possible and the same for tyrants, which cannot exist if there were no people to do their dirty work for them.
The First World War (The Great War, or “the war to end all wars”) was a war over power and (oil) money, resulting in 15 million deaths and another 20 million injured. People actually believed that this war could ensure peace, which is a contradiction in terms, but they bought it anyway, because they believed the propaganda, and more than anything, it provided them with hope.
Like Charlotte at the end wants to emphasize her win, so the WW1 allies wanted to put Germany into the ground completely, so they took everything, to feel better, which resulted in extreme poverty and lots of hate, and thus, an easy way for a disgruntled Hitler to win votes. The Treaty of Versailles was a forced signing of submission, and, obviously, they did not feel obliged to honour that.
The Second World War was therefore a direct result of the first one, which resulted in another 70-80 million deaths, which is about 3% of the world population at that time. But those were “casualties” (numbers), not considered individual people. It was the faction that won or lost, the Alliance, not the people; they all lost no matter what side they were on.
So, WW2 was a direct extension of WW1, which was about money and power, which means that claims to noble justifications are excuses. The real reason, in both cases, is power fuelled by emotions. Note that I am not taking sides – like Mr Fokker’s so my family lost many people in the war – and had Germany won the first war, and done this to the Brits, the result would have been exactly the same.
Likewise, the prank war (which the boys decide has to come out in their favour no matter what and will “guarantee them peace in the future”) was over power and hormones, resulting in several injured, and the second war (the one at school) is a direct result of the first one, when Mariette is disgruntled for being punished (“where two fight”) and left bankrupt (her values and privacy were taken), so she looked to blame someone, resulting in one death and many injured or without jobs. She says all men are stupid for fighting in wars, and yet, she plunges herself straight into one; it is that easy when the emotions get involved.
In the real world the power of teacher and parents, who could stop things getting out of hand, has been removed by the politicians, who today give all power into the hands of the kids, which is equivalent to the soldiers in World War 1 being led by incompetent boy officers.
The adults standing by and doing nothing is like the European politicians allowing Hitler to get so much power. Except one or two voices, they did nothing, because they lacked the insight, and they dismissed the people who had it.
Mr Moralis does not feel guilty about Mr Shriver; he was just doing his job. “I was only doing my duty” is the phrase most soldiers use to excuse their own role in the world wars. They do not look at the others as people, but as toys, as numbers or uniforms, and so they behave themselves; they are not individuals, so they do not take individual responsibility. Obviously, they can also not be individual heroes then. The problem is that the stories we tell our children are about brave individual soldiers, but as Grandpa Will explains, those do not exist; individuals are silenced; there is no place for individuality in an army. Those stories are propaganda to entice the next generation.
Mister Moralis, when he discharges or scolds Miss Coven, is like a government that disowns its soldiers if news of atrocities or incompetence gets out, and his using the year sevens as spies is like the soldiers in WW1 using children as shields against snipers. They are not seen as people, but as objects.
Mariette uses the metaphor of sheep in a herd, who run after the leader and straight off a cliff. She understands PM wanting revenge; it is the soldiers, the pawns, who agree to be tools for destruction, she cannot get.
The truce was the stupidest thing Mariette had ever heard, yet she went back to battle after the funeral.
The day the police is present in the school, the situation is like a time of occupation, as Grandpa Will describes when he was little, when the soldiers walk the streets and the civilians are frightened, but everybody pretends to go about their business.
Like the boys in the prank war, so Mariette starts looking at the teachers as being “all GG lookalikes” – ignoring their individuality. The difference is that she does it on purpose, while most stereotyping is unconscious, which is why people don’t notice they are doing it, but it underlies this “us-them” mentality, which we also saw with regard Jews, gypsies and so on and which is also responsible for bullying and discrimination issues. For peace, we need to treat people like individuals and hold them responsible as people, not as groups.
As long as we agree to be mere parts, the entities that control us will continue to fight. You cannot talk about a “just war”, because this justice is a human concept, and the war is between the bigger entities; their justice cannot be compared to ours.
Obviously, I have explained that some types are more inclined to accept “the greater good” and it may sound like I am blaming them for war. But the greater “good” is that which benefits the members of a society as well as the society itself. Wars do not benefit individual people. You might say it is for peace or freedom, but if a government can order you to give your life for its freedom, you don’t have much of it to begin with.
However, as said above, I will admit that I cannot step outside of my own type perspective any more than anybody else can, which is why my words may have angered some readers. Yet, even if “the greater good” does not exist for my type, I can recognize that these bigger entities are real. Likewise, those who natural support the greater good can recognize that a bigger entity can be beneficial or harmful.
My point is that even if thinking in “us-them” comes natural to people, schools and other institutions do not have to emphasize it; they make the choice to do so, because it benefits the bigger faction to treat all people as if identical – what counts is the whiteness of the wool – but identical people do not benefit a society or progress; we need all talents, diversity, yet, until we understand our psychology, we cannot stop this.
In other words, we could take charge and make our institutions work for progress for all people instead of setting them up against each other, but only once we understand the difference between us (all individual people) and them (those bigger faction that claim to rule us).
If people are honest about wanting peace, they have to change the stories they tell their children.
The stories we tell our children
I would like to start a collection that features different stories about war, so as to instil in our children a mindset towards tolerance and peace instead of competition and combat. I am not trying to dismiss those who died in the wars, but I am sure that, if they had the choice, they would prefer being seen as an individual with a real story rather than a number in a uniform. I am proposing that we collect stories that tell of individuals, regardless of whether they became soldiers, and not about superficial acts, medals or bravery, because from a psychological perspective, most of what is today labelled as brave, is simply not considering consequences, or it is achieved with ridicule, force or threats and mixing up the concepts that apply to people with those of bigger factions.
We consider ourselves an intelligent species, then let us step away from the yolk that keeps us mere numbers and start acting that way. We need to understand that peace is only possible if we stop thinking in groups and not let bigger factions take away our humanity.
- We need to tell stories of those who crossed the borders of us-them.
- We need to tell the stories of those who stood out without wearing a uniform.
- The stories must be of peace makers, not combatants.
- They must tell children that being afraid is not something negative and brave is not its opposite.
- We need to emphasize that only individuals can be heroes.
- That there are individuals in every place and they are no more alike than those in our place.
- Stories of humanity, of feelings, not of acts.
- That we need to identify people by their name and not by their uniform or country; the moment they have personal named, the animosity goes away.
- We need to emphasize our humanity, not our belonging.
If I do get enough responses, I will publish these stories as an eBook anthology. We might also create a list of positive books or movies for libraries and schools.
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Thank you for reading.
Nōnen Títi (INFP)