Transcript: "The Mythology of War and the Economics of Peace"- Thom speaks with author/philosopher Dr. Sam Keen, 22 September 2009
Thom Hartmann: We’ve all heard of the welfare business, the welfare industry as the Republicans love to refer to it, the welfare programmes, but what about the warfare business, the warfare culture, the warfare built into our government? Back many years ago, I think it was eight or ten years ago, Marianne Williamson and I and Dennis Kucinich and Barbara Marx Hubbard, Barbara, and Marianne and I were on the board of Global Renaissance Alliance, and Dennis came, and we had a meeting in Washington DC, and rolled out this proposal for a Department of Peace at a Cabinet level office so that there would be somebody always at every Cabinet meeting with the President, saying, “What’s this going to do about peace?” It was largely ignored by Congress and Congressman Kucinich wasn't unable to get it anywhere, but it was an awakening I think for some people, even the idea of a Department of Peace.
The economics of warfare, it’s very rarely discussed. There’s an extraordinary conference coming up. It’s going to be held in Sonoma California, the 18th through the 23rd October, and Sam Keen is going to be one of the speakers. He’s going to be speaking on "The Economics of Peace". There’s information on the conference at economicsofpeace.net and Sam’s website is samkeen.com. Sam is a noted American author, professor, philosopher, co-produced an award-winning PBS documentary, was the subject himself of a Bill Moyers TV special, and for twenty years has served as a contributing editor to “Psychology Today” magazine. Sam, welcome to the show.
Sam Keen: Thank you.
Thom Hartmann: You wrote this brilliant piece, “The Mythology and Economics of Peace” [The Mythology and Economics of War and Peace - ed.]. Let’s talk first about the mythology of peace and war in the United States. I think that a lot of people think that we have a military in order to maintain peace and that that’s a good thing, and that we collectively protect ourselves from bad guys in the world. But, really our military has, for, certainly I think probably for all of our lifetimes, and it would be interesting, I’d love to hear your thoughts on when it began running amok, but it has gone way beyond that mandate.
Sam Keen: Yeah. Let me start one step back with the idea of myth, that most people don’t really understand the strength of that notion. If you think of human beings as an analogy of a computer, we are born with certain hard-wired, we're hard-wired by our DNA. But the moment we’re born, people start shoving these software disks into us. And those disks tell us you’re an American, you’re a Palestinian, you’re a Christian, you’re whatever. And one of those myths is the myth of warfare. Our belief that warfare is, first of all, inevitable, that is, that when we’re doing it, it is justified, that there is no alternative to a warfare system.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah, but oddly enough, the Shoshone, for example, among others, as Peter Farb, the anthropologist, brilliantly illustrates in his ethnography of first contact with Native Americans, back thirty years ago, when he wrote “Man's Rise to Civilisation”. The Shoshone don’t even have a word in their language for war, literally. They don’t have the word.
Sam Keen: There are several small cultures where they are just not martial cultures; Bhutan is that way now. They don’t have an army. Their whole ideal is gross national happiness.
Thom Hartmann: Right. That was the King of Bhutan’s idea, and in this hemisphere, southern, well, this side of this hemisphere, Costa Rica has no military, as I recall.
Sam Keen: Yeah. Yeah. My point here is, though, that a mythology of warfare is going to give us the economics of warfare. One thing about war is that we understand it very well. We understand how to create enemies; we understand how to raise the sense of threat, and that that creates an automatic kind of warfare economy. So now, we have a heightened sense of threat, so here we are now in the United States with a military economy that runs almost a trillion dollars a year, when you count up everything in it.
Thom Hartmann: Right.
And so the essence of any myth, whether it’s a Christian fundamentalist myth, or an Islamic myth, or the myth of progress, or the myth of warfare, is that it helps you to organize the world, and it tells you what to expect. The problem is that it also blinds you to certain realities. But we never ask ourselves the question “Well, what could we do with this trillion dollars? Are there ways that might encourage a much more peaceful world that we could fund with that kind of ...”
Thom Hartmann: Well, even stepping back from that. In, last year I went down to Peru, and we did our show from Lima for a week. And I visited Caral, the city that’s being excavated by Dr. Ruth Shady. In fact there’s a chapter about it my new book "Threshold". And this is a city that has been covered up by sand for five thousand years. It appears to be the first actual mother city ever discovered. You know in other words, the first city where a culture went from being hunter-gathers to urban dwellers. And the city, because of climate change, the city just got covered up after a thousand years. And there is no evidence there whatsoever of warfare. There’s evidence of a thousand years of occupation, of a lot of making of music, and there’s art that reflects apparently a matriarchal culture. But there’s no evidence whatsoever of war or violence. And, you know, which really puts the lie to the idea that we even built cities as defensive fortifications.
Sam Keen: It also puts the lie to the idea that somehow we are genetically programmed to be fighters.
Thom Hartmann: Right.
Sam Keen: And that aggression is the same thing as hostility and warfare. If you can show one culture that doesn’t do this, you can say wait a minute. War then is a mythology that we entertain and that we don’t, we’re not critical of.
Thom Hartmann: So how do we break this trance, Sam Keen?
Sam Keen: Well, you know, I’ve done both a book and a PBS documentary on "Faces of the Enemy". It shows one aspect of that. So the aspect of how we dehumanize people, and once we dehumanize them, then we’re prepared to kill them. So, that’s one aspect of the warfare system.
Thom Hartmann: And that’s like during Vietnam, calling the Vietnamese slopes and gooks and all those kinds of god awful words. And now it’s ragheads that the soldiers are actually, in some cases are actually encouraged to refer to Iraqis as, or Arabs as. That’s the sort of thing that you’re talking about. In World War Two it was Japs, and Krauts.
Sam Keen: And they refer to us as infidels, you know. We’re enemies of God.
Thom Hartmann: Right, and they similarly dehumanize us.
Sam Keen: Exactly. All cultures do that. So that’s one aspect of it. Another aspect of it is to look at the alternatives, to ask ourselves, well, first of all, how is it that we create a society where people are willing to kill go to war? It’s very intricate. I mean, our gender, our gender divisions have a great deal to do with that. Men are socially, we’re socially trained in order to be rough and tough, to be willing to kill and to die for our country in order to protect innocent women and children.
Thom Hartmann: Well, testosterone makes that a little easier, doesn’t it, Sam Keen?
Sam Keen: Well, let’s say that's what we use testosterone for. I don’t doubt that Pablo Picasso had enough testosterone, but he didn't use it to go to war.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah.Good point.
Sam Keen: So, to look at the whole warfare system and the way that we do that. Let’s ask ourselves well is there an alternative, and that’s what this conference is about. I’m trying to look both at the mythology of warfare, excuse me, the mythology and economics of peace. And it’s tricky, because peace is a lot harder to understand. As a matter of fact, what I say is that...
Thom Hartmann: Peace is perceived typically as the absence of warfare and you're positing it as a positive state, rather than the absence of the negative.
Sam Keen: Well, one of the things that I’m saying is we should stop using the word peace, exactly because the reason that you noted. You can’t build a mythology around an absence, around a void. And you take peace as the absence of violence; you know, as gentleness, as harmony, as contentment, and all that. You can’t do anything with that. So it’s the reason when you look at images of peace, they’re all just boring, you know, it’s two people holding hands, or doves, or whatever it is, you know.
Thom Hartmann: So what’s the alternative? Right. We have just a minute left here, Sam Keen, economicsofpeace.net the conference, samkeen.com the website for Sam. What do we do?
Sam Keen: Well, we begin to look at alternate ways, alternative images of human beings. Instead of homo hostilis, man as a warrior, you look at what it would be to live in a commonwealth of sentient beings, where all participate in that. So one of the one things that I’m saying is replace the idea of peace with a positive vision of a global society dedicated then to the well being of all. Now, that’s a large task. But the question is, what happens in the next century?
Thom Hartmann: It’s what the cultures of Scandinavia by and large have accomplished, haven't they?
Sam Keen: They have. But now our problem is much bigger, because peace can’t exist on a national level. It has to now exist on a global level.
Thom Hartmann: And this is why the United Nations was brought into being, too.
Sam Keen: Exactly.
Thom Hartmann: The meeting that is going on right now to talk about global warming, and they’re even talking about global warming in the context of war and peace. Samkeen.com the website, the conference coming up, economicsofpeace.net for the conference. Sam, thanks for dropping by today.
Sam Keen: Thank you.
Thom Hartmann: I appreciate it. A very thought provoking conversation. How would you end war? What would you replace it with? How would you change and challenge our military in this country?
Transcribed by Gerard Aukstiejus.