The Wounds and Scars of Nations
How we got hurt, way back when
All peoples without exception are affected by painful, malignant and distorting scars derived from experiences taking place years, generations, centuries or millennia ago. Past sagas and the footprints they've left influence collective judgement and life today.
Past events are often invoked to justify current actions. When this isn't done, the past still surreptitiously informs experience and decisions.
Events arise that poignantly revive past associations, fears, triumphs and tragedies. These events are thus amplified, tinted or flavoured by past impulses.
These hidden influences are usually unconscious and unrecognised, hardly taken into account for their effect on society and international relations.
In recent decades there have been many inter-ethnic and civil wars, born out of unresolved issues from the past. Even when ethnic groups and nations are technically at peace, their quiet resentments or anxieties can easily be stirred up. Reactions then become disproportionate to the situation.
It's as if we're all fighting for a place in the global scheme of things, staking out our niches. The incremental meet-up of peoples and nations in recent generations has provoked a multilateral squaring-up of global relationships. Such changes stir up an insecurity rooted in collective self-doubt.
What's complicating things is that the global game is changing from one of dominance-submission to one of community-cooperation, by dint of evolving circumstances. It's no longer clear what the rules are.
Here we examine the ways the psyches of nations have been damaged. Starting with war.
Palestinians refer back to the Naqba, or catastrophe, of 1948. Israelis refer back to the Holocaust of WW2. Their past grievances intermingle with current ones, repeatedly re-justifying conflict.
Germans and British are sensitive about war, and each in differing ways - both having been aggressors and victims. Japanese are hesitant. Americans are assertive, yet harbouring hidden doubts when the body-bags come home. Vietnamese and Lebanese want to put it all behind them. The shadow of war influences collective feelings for a long time, and every single country has its own story.
Every country has lost its men, seen villages destroyed, women raped, lands pillaged and people traumatised, ruining societies and localities, tearing up land, bombing cities.
The shadow of war affects human groupings differently. As conflicts heat up, there is always choice between war or stepping back and resolution. Only sometimes is choice exercised. That is to the shame of every promoter or perpetrator of conflict, big and small.
Setting communities, neighbours and family members against each other, civil wars leave insidious traces of hurt and damage. They deeply erode social trust-levels and consensus, feeding longterm grievance and resentment that can surface centuries later.
The 1860s American Civil War still affects presidential elections in USA. Bosnia, Cambodia, Peru and Syria are all deeply damaged.
Civil war stimulates individualism and social sectorisation by splintering communities and families. It fosters inbuilt social alienation and emotional hardness, setting precedents, making further conflicts easier to start. It leaves traces of pain and division, whether a civil war is long past or recent.
Conversely, a conflict resolved or forgiven empowers and brings a people closer, establishing an innate collective negotiability and attitudinal immunity to social division. It can lead to a collective aversion to conflict, which can prevent future conflict though also it can be politically complex.
Stalinism, the Maoist Cultural Revolution and the Nazi Final Solution have been extreme cases. Every nation has had its times of cruel and grinding repression, costing its social fabric dearly. This can happen even in affluent democracies.
Valuable people are lost through execution, gulag or exile. Alternatives are discouraged and lost. Social mores are weakened, issues suppressed, people divided and cowed. Crime, corruption and surveillance become deeply embedded in society.
If rulers turn against people, the logic of society turns upside down, warping social relations and setting negative precedents. Some people become accomplices and collaborators, adding a layer of community betrayal.
This can set people back for generations. Or saying 'never again', a new consensus can be forged that helps regenerate society. Modern migrants rarely migrate just for the money: they do so seeking freedom and safety, having concluded painfully that there is no chance to progress in their own land or to change it.
Outrages & cleansings
Sometimes nations or their leaderships go mad. People are rounded up, tortured, disappeared, massacred. Ethnic groups burn each others' villages.
These madness are a form of internal social betrayal based on projection and the urge to eliminate blamed influences - an attempt to wipe out history, faiths, lifestyles, minorities or truths.
They hit some people harder than others, yet they damage all relationships across society. Militancy ruins perpetrators and complicity ruins collaborators. Ultimately no one gains, and society is riddled with shadows that can creep through the generations.
Such nightmares have their origins in earlier times, and here the choice lies. To prevent social nightmares, the pre-conditions that create them should not be laid down or repeated. Points of awareness arise in a society when people feel and know that a tendency is developing, but often shoulders are shrugged or the consequences of stepping out are feared.
Long, grinding, debilitating, hardship: resources and initiative become so depleted that revival seems impossible. It affects Chechnya, Laos, Albania, North Korea, Somalia and Haiti today, though many countries have known it.
Poverty, endemic disease, corruption, pollution, landmines, conflict, disasters - when compounded, drawn out or repeated, they can push people into collective depression. People give up trying to make things better.
Social atomisation, mutual obstruction and general chaos: overwhelming factors such as these can stunt revival - so this is a form of social self-sabotage.
Breakthroughs can nevertheless arise from such depressed situations - popular movements, good leaders, new generations with new viewpoints, or improved fortunes. Collective resolve can turn tragedies around, but trust and cooperation are needed in order to cultivate a new social spirit. That's tricky to bring about. But the worst thing is that, when it arises, such a revival is suppressed - this happened in the Arab revolutions of 2011.
All nations experience antipathy within and between themselves. Blanket judgements are made about others and myths are constructed about us against them.
The Cold War and the War on Terror were arguably over-reactions to evolving geopolitical reality, ideologically exaggerated and deeply destructive, and they reinforced the us and them mindset. It could have been otherwise, but big interests promoted these polarised geopolitical mindsets.
Former oppressors should stop being a problem and demythologise their superiority. Conversely, feeling historically aggrieved doesn't greatly help former victims in the longterm - life is in their own hands. A reconciliatory process is integral to healing such fundamental divisions.
Deconstructing mythologies demands a truth process. Past pain deserves recognition, and present ills need to be dealt with. Nothing heals more than justice and relief. The rest is a choice. The future requires a new realism.
This deflects attention from key issues, often driven by hidden motivations. It blocks change and the growth of progressive forces, hardening social empathy.
Outrageous or illegal behaviour are justified or covered up by blaming others. 'National security' justifies removal of social freedoms. Cultural barriers are reinforced. Violence and insecurity increase. Polarisation serves mainly the interests of the few, who can manipulate the many through such scapegoating, singling out individuals or social groups for blame.
When social preoccupations shift away from what really matters, all of society is harmed by the resulting narrowing of possibilities, the isolation of people and the propagation of untruths.
Harmful ways and beliefs are now being exposed in every nation. This is threatening to some, and they fight to retain divisiveness and develop new means of social control, at the cost of the majority.
Nations can shoot themselves in the foot, for the craziest of reasons. Electorates can vote against their own best interests, nations can lose their sense of proportion, or pained or divisive ideas take root, and sometimes nations or social groups go mad.
From pollution to corruption to terrorism, public self-destruction arises from old societal pain and despair.
Community support breaks down and everyone loses. This is a compound and complex situation where the sources of the problems are difficult to pin down and solutions seem elusive.
After tough or traumatised times, hardship becomes an unconscious habit, even an addiction. Standards sink or fail to improve. Repression might end but crime or other degenerative issues flourish instead.
If a nation finds a redeeming factor to help lift it out of the loop, nightmares can be overcome. Three major potential redeeming influences are women and their views, social solidarity at the bottom of society and moral leadership at the top.
When things have been difficult, they can deteriorate further, either because someone foments it, or because a nation is tired and depleted, or because no one feels they can stop it.
The deep shadows of colonialism didn't lead to easy revival when independence came, despite high hopes and promising signs - across Africa corruption, dictatorship and civil war followed, and foreign money fed much of it. The passing of Mao led to extreme materialism and also wealth disparity in China from the 1990s onwards. Afghanistan, beset with decades of invasions, civil war, totalitarian rule, hardship and foreign meddling, has difficulty getting off its knees.
Compound factors cause such degeneration, but central to it is a collapse of standards and social values, normalising injustice, exploitation and inhumanity. This is born out of ingrained social pain, despair and depression, which themselves feed powerlessness, cruelty and human wrongs. A nation can go into an inward-tuning vortex.
This creates submission or rebellion amongst the dominated, and remoteness and imposition by the dominators. Dominance patterns can be deeply embedded, such that even if there is a revolution and the king is killed, a dictator follows not long after.
In India, the Aryan incursion on the Dravidians 3,500 years ago created a rigid caste system lasting until today, remaining a driving force in Hindu nationalism today. In the Middle East, nations created by the British and French in the 1920s have been stricken by strife and misgovernment ever since - Western oil-money and political influence perpetuated this.
Dominators often start by being kicked around themselves - this happened in ancient Rome (hit hard by the Celts), for the Mongols (hit by the Chinese) and the British (hit by four invasions). USA was populated by refugees and émigrés from monarchical and totalitarian systems, yet the democratic-oligarchic system it evolved 250 years ago makes it behave strangely like a monarchical system.
Ordinary people weaken themselves through disunity and in-fighting, or they are easily splintered and disempowered by 'divide-and-rule'.
Strong individuals and their urges and initiatives can impact heavily on humanity, by fomenting war, invasion, exploitation, persuasion or the simple making of big mistakes.
They can also bring healing, relief and reform, but often they stay in power too long, becoming oppressors, or there is a succession crisis after they're gone, leading down, not up.
Many people lost their lives when Alexander the Great, Genghiz Khan, Akbar, Suleiman the Great, Queen Victoria and Hitler were around.
So much rests on the power given by people to individual leaders and oligarchies, who themselves need helpers, followers and mass acquiescence. Once they gain power, a long, relentless train of events can unfold, causing longterm emotional damage and debilitation to a people.
Insecure nations think short term: care for nature, the landscape and resources is forgotten. People just need to make a fast buck, by any means possible. Love and respect for nature decrease. Then come deforestation, over-fishing, soil depletion or outright destruction, especially in connection with war or urbanisation.
Climate change and environmental depletion affect social moods, food security, traditions, economics and a nation's capacity to adapt. Those who live by subsistence are hardest hit, often moving to cities. City-growth changes attitudes toward nature, and cities extend their reach ever wider in search of resources.
Environmental and social-political developments are closely connected to each other, and we stand today in a position where an historic pattern of environmental degradation must change. The social-political feedback effects of this will be immense.
Every nation has its wounds and scars, and these influence a nation's behaviour today. A fundamental healing process is needed. Even when a nation does well economically, affluence does not heal - it simply covers over the scars, which can break out again when times get worse.
Attempting to heal a society by creating economic growth and democratic institutions, without attending to social feelings and sensitivities, creates fuel for future crises.
We need a deeper process of public communication, communion and reconciliation which talks to people's hearts in their own language, enabling people to feel heard and understood.
Victims need to recognise that oppressors are themselves hurt and defensive. Oppressors need to realise that victims have genuine grievances and that no empire or regime will last forever. The people have a future of their own.
Pain-inflicting activities ultimately help no one: they are internalised injuries that are externalising themselves. Every act of violence starts with an unhealed wound.
Cycles of tyranny can go on forever. Until negative tendencies are turned around, their repercussions pass to generations who are uninvolved in the initial wrongs, and often even unaware of them.
Whatever justification is given for conflict, it is now becoming critically obsolete. It obstructs the process of getting to grips with bigger global issues. Business and trade interests are also less amenable nowadays to disruption by conflict.
So we must directly address collective and international hurts. We need to stop creating new pain for the future.