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The Absurd Unreason of the Reasonably Normal

No matter how brutal an event, those who can justify, rationalise or spin a positive narrative are to be found. Real and imagined injustices inspire reactions that lead to more injustice, a spiral of revenge. Or a group can decide that it is superior, righteous by default and has the right to claim territory or others in order to thrive. Outside observers can grapple with favouring a party over others, claiming that it was ‘less evil’, evil nonetheless. Though despite any pretence and deceptions, most violent actors do the irrationally vile for little reason other than self service or with inhuman distance. Trying to argue against such irrationality with reason and rationale can be a fools errand. Decency and moral dignity are seldom in consideration for those who would murder on a large scale. This is the prevailing predicament for those who oppose war and injustice with principles, trying to find the compassion and empathy within those who appear callous, indifferent or even deranged.

Despite this, we will often attempt to argue and appeal with reason to those who may not see the world as we do. They may understand it differently, seeking a particular utopia or a piece of the imperial pie for themselves, they do not care about how many ‘eggs are broken’ to achieve such an omelette. How do we find common ground? It seems that it is only after the fact that many of the killers and their masters come to understand the demented business that they made possible, rarely do many protest and object early on. It’s only decades afterwards when Robert McNamara exhibited a degree of remorse or years later when veterans may experience moral injury that leads them to challenge the mission at all. Smedley Butler’s words are often cited by anti-imperialists, though he is an example of the cynical veteran, waiting until after he served his warmasters heroically to write a book about the deeds he participated in which made the imperialism, possible at all. George Bush, Jr paints portraits of his victims while in retirement seemingly delusional with his legacy.

Those labelled conscientious objectors or ‘draft dodgers’ tend to be viewed as cowards, ridiculed because they would not join the brave, nearly always men, who march into the meat grinder of war. In 1918, Reverend John Kovalsky and three other men were attacked by a mob of around three hundred in the town of Christopher, Illinois. The mob violently tarred and feathered the four men, the reverend forced to kiss the American flag, because of disloyal language. Despite being fined by law enforcement a mob saw it fit to humiliate and punish the men, for disloyalty. The four disloyal men needed to show fidelity to a government that was waging war for human rights and free expression, because the four challenged such a war and government with words, a mob and the law punished them.

The country was in peril; he was jeopardising his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them.” – Joseph Heller, Catch 22

Such acts of mob violence are often looked back on as moments of group insanity, yet time and time again the world over we see such displays of unreason and violence tear away individual rights. The mob could be heard squealing, “do the right thing”, in the Covid madness, attacking those who breached curfew, who remained unmasked or refused a vaccination. The term Mass Formation Psychosis began floating around the internet, when such critical dissent was not censored. In time of war it is also apparent, even if the war is not widely supported or understood. There will be elements that lean into the legitimacy of power and authority, even if they claim to be anti-power and against authority. There is nothing rationale about such mobbery, it is crude and obscene but seemingly ‘normal’ people can fall into such a frenzy.

Those who oppose the wars with consistency may notice the tourists of the cause who pick and choose their moments depending on who is waging the war and whether it’s politically expedient-profitable to be for or against. The hypocrisy is only obvious to the principled. Inconsistency can’t be used against those who lack any. They are political animals and opportunists who come and go as they please and will betray anyone. During the Cultural Revolution, millions of idiotically ideological youths did the deadly bidding of cunning political purists who were able to whip them into a frenzy. The mobs of youth would tear powerful party officials and elites from their positions of rule without fear, throwing China into a sort of civil war as irrationality purged the party and nation under the guise of some form of socialist purification. Millions died. As confusing as events were, and as uncertain as the victims were in the lead up of any ‘guilt’, the killers were ever certain even if they were uncertain as to why they should be certain at all. They killed regardless.

Now we see those who were against one war, support another while wanting to prevent further war elsewhere but are eager to make war in another spot. Outside of those who have particular geopolitical or strategic reasoning are those who claim to be antiwar in times when it suits them to claim as such. In arguing for a military action, they do not have to convince the principally antiwar, those with such consistent views are only useful when it suits them. They only need to convince themselves, their allies and those who have no principles, but think they do. Those that have no principles will reveal it when irrationality emerges, with the pressure of crisis, they can fill the mob. Most can sit with a straight face claiming that they would not have been in the tarring mob in the town of Christopher, Illinois or a murderous goon in the Red Guard, yet most people have no proof to prove otherwise in their life. Only examples of satiating comfort, avoiding any challenge of authority or injustice instead they, “do the right thing”.

Principles only matter when they require courage. The political animal seldom has any courage or dignity, it’s how they survive and thrive. Those who lack principles may not have the ambitions of the political but they certainly will follow them. That is how we have moments in history like the cultural revolution, wars that fell out of favour once attrition emerged and the policies and mob mentality reaction to the Covid virus that infected the minds of too many. It’s in such moments that reason and rationale discourse gives way to emotions fuelled by lies, half truths and fears. If you add in the bigotry of collectivism then you have a tendency to err in the direction of one conclusion that generally leads to mass murder or injustice. Once the victims are buried, the mob and political animals move on, wiping the injustice and irrationality from their minds. To be forgotten, ‘ancient history’, ‘bygones be bygones’ and so on, a lack of reflection satisfies the return to reason inside ones mind.

Albert Camus once said that, “the purpose of a writer is to keep civilisation from destroying itself,” that may be true for those writers who seek to challenge said civilisation and by presenting it with a mirror to see its self upon. There are also those who write with such splendid prose only to satiate putrid intentions or to cover up the true nature of that which they justify. The delicate balance between admission and omission which is crucial in persuasion and propaganda dangles with the words of writers. To lie when appropriate and reveal when necessary and avoid mentioning what honesty that damages a cause or view. It’s a rational choice to deceive, an awareness that a bad thing is being hidden.

When the Nazi military found the remains of murdered Polish prisoners in Katyn, evidence that the Soviet government had slaughtered thousands of unarmed men, it was revealed as a crime. The Nazi government invited neutral officials and allied prisoners to investigate. The Nazi officials understood that it was wrong and immoral to slaughter unarmed people. The Soviets denied it as Nazi propaganda, also aware that what they had done is widely considered ‘wrong.’ Yet, both Nazi and Soviet governments committed such atrocities enmasse, only to see and reveal the evil in the other. The need to be seen as ‘good’ is more important to those who are the epitome of evil, rather than to be not-evil. That is the contradiction of human beings, that despite being capable of such abhorrent evil beneath that violence lurks the warm heart of complicated creatures, many capable of love and selective kindness. Nearly all are aware of what to conceal or be justified with deceit, usually that which is understood to be evil.

Samantha Power, author of ‘A Problem From Hell: American and the Age of Genocide,’ in which she argues for liberal interventionism, to promote the US as a force for good, a shield to protect the innocent and to stop mass murder. Power recently drew criticism from Agnieszka Sykes who works for her agency USAID, “You wrote a book on genocide and you’re still working for the administration: You should resign and speak out.” The principled appealing to the political. It’s not that Samantha Power is necessarily a hypocrite that can be reasoned with, she is political. What principles she may have written about only exist as a means to an end or as a validation of power and empire. For those like Power, enabling and downplaying the IDF slaughter of Palestinian civilians is simply politics. A recently released White House transcript shows that President Biden and his administration are aware of, “thousands and thousands of innocent women and children (have been killed)”, yet the support and arms for Israel continues. Despite this, its unlikely Power or the others will resign.

In financial markets it is understood that there is a madness in crowds or “rational irrationality”, when on an individual level behaviour tends to be perfectly reasonable but in the case of markets and the marketplace, chaos can arise. Clearly such a maniacal mentality exists outside of finances with the added problem of the sociopath and mercenary minded to the obedient and the neurotic when combined with nationalist, racialist, religious and ideological bias combined with the powers of the State and tribe then you end up with the savagery of modern civilisation and its proclivity for war and violent collective policies. On a personal level, most understand that it is all absurd, yet when thrown into the mob or nation there is a sense of helplessness even while participating in the absurdity. Though is it absurd if its common and normalised? Maybe in the end the absurd are those who see it for what it is, insanity. Maybe the abnormal are those who remain principled and the unprincipled and irrational are normal. It seems no amount of reasonable explanation or set of principles matters to them, irrationality could end life on Earth with those doing it ever certain of their reasons for doing so until its all done.

March, 2024

Published inAll Articles and EssaysPhilosophy, Society and LibertyWar, History and Foreign Policy