Saturday, September 20, 2014

What is the Opposite of PTSD?

On the Arthurian and Homeric battle hymns.

I have been reading Mallory's tales of King Arthur, and wondering at the lovingly described jousting, ado-ing, dueling, damsel-saving, and battling. Why so much space devoted to minute variations of the most tedious material? Why is Sir Launcelot the main character of the romance, not King Arthur? Why such a flood of testosterone?


We have heard a great deal about PTSD, where ex-soldiers can't get scenes of trauma out of their heads. We also have just been through the anniversary of World War 1, with ongoing head-scratching about why the cosmopolitan and civilized countries of Europe let themselves descend into the depths of hell. A generation with PTSD resulted, especially in France, which supinely rolled over in the next war, unwilling to face up to the developing reality.

Mallory reminds us (as Homer did long before) that war is joyous. Men live most vividly in war, and always have. They (I am generalizing wildly on a postulated average) have evolutionary settings that care for others and engage in all the other positive morals of quotidian life, but in addition, are fixated on power, danger, honor, competition, and ultimately, war. Those who succeed through these trials come out glowing with pride, as did our greatest generation, at least many. They are feted by others, lionized, valorized and given all good things, especially social power. Not for nothing was John Kennedy's administration named "Camelot". The tellers of tales have no better material, in the culture that this process produces- the patriachy.

PTSD is the dark side of this psycho-socio-genetic legacy, especially now that chivalrous rules of engagement no longer apply, and the horrors of war come upon everyone, winner or loser. Few came out of the trenches of WW1 with glowing pride, and few again come out of our recent wars in Iraq or Afghanistan so crowned with honor and success. The US military occupies an uncomfortable tension between the mechanization, routinization, and sanitization of war, vs the need to keep its soldiers motivated and charged-up for battle.

This leads to the currently most notorious lovers of honor, chivalry and blood- the islamists of IS, Al Qaeda, et al. To read the autobiography of a Taliban leader, there was no better time, nothing more vivid, than the time he spent killing infidels (or just rival factions) and bonding with his band of brothers. So it is on all sides. The question is ... not who is violent, but who is fighting for positive ends for the human community at large. Who is upholding an ideology and system that serves the general good rather than creating chaos?

The chivalric system had its good points. The Arthurian tales are filled with good knights fighting bad knights who imprison, rape, and plunder. It was a nascent form of state legitimacy, under an aristocratic oligarchy. Now we have higher standards of legitimacy, cast in terms of universal democracy and human rights. But Islam is not in the same mind-space, still fixated on patriarchy if not theocracy. Its idea of chivarly and human rights are quite different (indeed far more traditional) from those current in the West.

But is this true of the population at large, or is it only true of the extreme, the disaffected, the anti-West, and the callous rulers who use any convenient ideology to direct resentment away from themselves? That is the question that the West, and the US in particular, has been grappling with as we try to spread "democracy" in a Middle East where democracy is such a strange flower; where legitimacy flows from scripture, tradition, and turban rather than from a legalistic, post-enlightenment philosophy.

It wouldn't be a pressing issue, except that we all happen to live on the same planet. While those in the West struggle to keep the joy of war confined to the football field or the videogame, and locked within a disciplined military, elsewhere it flourishes in age-old existential terms, freed, ironically, by the chivalrous and respectful reluctance of leading powers to use the virtually infinite military violence they have at their disposal.


  • Being a warrior today.
  • Fanatical religiosity ... but why in the US military? (Correction)
  • Better living, through plastic.
  • Allied with Al Qaeda, Iran, and Hezbolla, against IS ... can it get any stranger?
  • More in the annals of violent self-pity: Russia.
  • Yes, it was, and still is, all Bush's fault.
  • To zero carbon with a carbon tax. And for free.
  • Arrested for manner of walking ... the Ferguson case and police ass-covering.
  • Plato and the GO-PAC of his time.
  • Bad justice, continued ... bribery and corruption are OK.
  • Krugman for the Nth time.. economists failed us miserably.
  • And are still failing ... the irony of Germany vs Keynes.
  • The ratings agency cesspool? Still there.
  • Fraud in business ... a normal condition.
  • This week in the WSJ, annals of climate denial: "While the past two decades have seen progress in climate science, the field is not yet mature enough to usefully answer the difficult and important questions being asked of it." ... "Even though human influences could have serious consequences for the climate, they are physically small in relation to the climate system as a whole. For example, human additions to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the middle of the 21st century are expected to directly shift the atmosphere's natural greenhouse effect by only 1% to 2%."

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