Friday, April 22, 2005


High and Wonderful Adventure

Lawrence LeShan's book The Psychology of War can be tedious and patronizing, but he makes some important observations about the attraction of war: It's exciting and fulfills the fundamental needs of displacing aggression, projecting self-doubts and self-hatred, giving meaning and purpose to life, and providing the sense of group belonging. LeShan also notes the shift to mythic reality in difficult times reduces stress, creates a sense of certainty--even joyfulness and optimism--as well as anticipation of war as a high and wonderful adventure.

Reading this sobering book, I'm reminded of a comment by my down-to-earth saddlemaker friend at the outbreak of the Gulf War in January 1991. In the still fresh aftermath of Reagan's notorious Iran-Contra scandal and other misdeeds in Central America and the Middle East, he observed, "We finally did something right--something we can be proud of."

Pausing to reflect, I recall the exhilaration I once felt in combatting racists and other hatemongers in my Pacific Northwest community a decade ago. Even when engaged in noble causes, conflict nourishes a need to escape from the mundane, often boring lacklusterness of everyday life. Why do you think action films are so popular?

LeShan cites Erik Erikson's claim that both the potential and tendency to shift to mythic reality are very strong in human beings, and are "only held back by the expenditure of large amounts of psychological energy--literally, by constant effort." LeShan poignantly asserts the effort required to think clearly about what we believe, what we know, and what we do not know is "lacking in the work for peace."

Thinking clearly, of course, is what it's all about in the struggle for human survival. Under a constant barrage of advertising, PR and other machinations designed to mold public opinion, the tools of reason and logic may be all that can save us. Unplugging from Fox News and connecting with authors like LeShan is a good start.


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