Posted by: The Amoeba | November 5, 2009

The Wages of Peace

As Quilly has already pointed out, there’s currently (5 November 2009) a “blogblast for peace” going on. A relict from the days when Baby Boomers were young, and everything could be solved by carrying picket signs and burning scrap paper draft cards.

Quilly’s take is that peace among humans is impossible unless everybody is truly created – and kept – equal in the materials of life (food, clothing, shelter, luxuries like transportation beyond foot power). To which she expects the response, ‘Ridiculous! Impossible!’ Well, it may or may not be ridiculous, but it most certainly is impossible. Because if we tried it, we’d probably all starve …

This post is excerpted from an earlier one presented on the late Felloffatruck Publications blog on 7 May 2006.

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Yes, you heard me. It bothers me, all this peace talk. I’m a scientist. I study biology. The interactions among creatures, and the history of those interactions. Evolution, if you’ll permit me. And those studies tell me that if we think we can get and keep peace just by praying about it, or by carrying around a pack of banners or bumper stickers, then we don’t know Jack.

Charles Darwin – yes, that Darwin – saw that all living things are in competition with each other for the necessities of life: food, water, shelter, mates. He saw plainly that, in most cases, the necessities are scarce. There ain’t enough to go around, and the individuals who can’t successfully compete for them will perish.

This idea wasn’t original with Darwin. Thomas Malthus saw it in human populations a generation previously – though he interpreted his observations in terms of “divine wisdom”.

What’s more, all the good farmers saw it. And they showed Darwin. In every crop of cattle, or sheep, or corn, or even pigeons, there were some who were fatter, or grew faster, or were prettier. These individuals were kept, and allowed to breed. All the others went to the dinner table, or if they were inedible, they were burned. Not enough feed, or water, or space to keep all the less desirable offspring along with the more desirable ones.

It really wasn’t much of a jump for Darwin to make, from artificial selection, where humans drive the evolution of species by choosing those individuals who will be granted access to scarce resources, to natural selection, where it’s the combination of all the “forces of nature” that does the choosing.

So resources are scarce, and you wish to keep people from fighting over them. You wish for peace. What can you do? There are really only two choices. You can make more resources, or you can learn to share what resources there are.

The world has spent the entire last half-century trying, with some success, to make the pot bigger – and in this effort, the United States has taken the lead. It is the impulse that has driven the green revolution in agriculture – up to and including “frankenfood”. Our leadership in the green revolution, I think, played a major role in keeping We the People in good standing with the rest of the world despite our greedy sucking up of most of the new resources we were generating. At least, it did until 2003.

But there are problems.

First, the pot stretching is entirely dependent on stored energy: the fossil fuels, which not only power our machines but also provide the parts and lubricants for them and the fertilizers for the crops. The revolution will last only as long as the oil does.

Second, it is a paradigm of biology that, when the resources available to a species increase, the population of that species will increase to use and abuse them. Humans are different – but only because the human population has increased since 1950 at a rate greater than that thought possible for a species on Earth. You think people are going hungry now? Let there be a major glitch in the infrastructure enabling the global food economy, and the Katrina disaster will seem like the last flowering of Paradise.

Oh – and dare I mention all the contributions that the “green revolution” is making to anthropogenic global warming?

So, let’s try sharing. Um, let’s see. The wholesale price of gasoline has tripled since April of 2005. There has been, so far as I can tell, no measurable curtailment of American driving habits, even during the worst of the recent financial meltdown. And it’s universally recognized that any politician who suggests such a curtailment may as well apply to flip hamburgers at Mickey D’s. We the People are not interested in sharing. Please don’t try to tell me otherwise.

In fact, I’ll have to ask your forgiveness if an SUV with a Peace bumper sticker goes by, and you see me laugh, or cry, or flip the bird, depending on my mood of the moment. Because I see a phony. Worse, I see a phony using a guilt trip to protect the status quo. To keep the “have nots” in their places. “No war allowed; you will keep your hands off my stuff”. Can you say “elitist”? Can you say “arrogance”?

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In her post, Quilly objected to a “Blogger for Peace” who quoted the opinion, the object of war is peace. Not only do I agree with Quilly’s objection, I venture to take it one step further – and in so doing, I claim the authority of Ambrose Bierce (see “War”), who, in turn, cited the writings of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Peace (of the style called for by comfortable middle-class bloggers) is war.

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2006, 2009 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.

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Responses

  1. As for the biological setting for morality, I might have recommended when you first published this piece a book by Mel Konner, The Tangled Wing. I enjoyed the pieces although I wasn’t as convinced at the end as the author (who I knew a little at Emory)

    I recall Bierce’s definition of Peace being a period of cheating between two periods of war.


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