8. 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 which revive past associations, fears, triumphs and tragedies. Events are thus amplified 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 from 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 meeting-up of peoples and nations of recent generations has involved 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. It's no longer clear what the rules are.

Here we examine the ways the psyches of nations have been damaged.

Starting with war.


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 - both having been aggressors and victims. Japanese are hesitant. Americans are assertive, yet harbouring hidden doubts. Vietnamese and Lebanese want to put it behind them. The shadow of war influences feelings for a long time.

Every country has lost its men, seen villages destroyed, rape, pillage and trauma, ruined people and localities, torn up land, bombed 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.

Civil War

 

Setting communities, neighbours and family members against each other, civil wars leave insidious hurt and damage. They deeply erode social trust-levels and consensus, feeding longterm grievance and resentment.

The 1860s American Civil War still affects presidential elections in USA.

Civil war stimulates individualism by splintering communities and families. It increases inbuilt social alienation. It sets precedents, making further conflicts easier to start.

Conversely, a conflict sufficiently resolved or forgiven empowers and binds a people, establishing an innate collective negotiability and attitudinal immunity to social division.


Repression

 

Stalinism, the Maoist Cultural Revolution and the Nazi Final Solution have been extreme cases. Every nation has had times of repression, cruel and grinding, costing its social fabric dearly.

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 and corruption take over.

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 betrayal.

This can set people back for generations (Cambodia). Or saying 'never again', a new consensus is forged that helps regenerate society (South Africa).

Outrages & cleansings

 

Sometimes nations or their leaderships go mad. People are rounded up, tortured, disappeared, massacred.

It is a social betrayal based on projection and the urge to eliminate blamed influences - an attempt to wipe out history, faiths, lifestyles or truths.

It hits certain types of people harder than others, yet it damages all relationships. Militancy ruins perpetrators and complicity ruins collaborators. Ultimately no one gains, and society is riddled with shadows.

Such nightmares have their origins in earlier times, and here the choice lies. To prevent social nightmares, their pre-conditions should not be laid down. Starting now.


Despondency

 

Long, grinding, debilitating, hardship: resources and initiative become so depleted that revival seems impossible. It affects Chechnya, Laos, Albania, North Korea, Somalia, Haiti today - but many countries have known it.

Poverty, AIDS, corruption, pollution, land-mines, conflict, disasters - when compounded or drawn out, they push people into collective depression.

Social atomisation, mutual obstruction, chaos: overwhelming factors stunt revival - social self-sabotage.

Breakthroughs can arise from this - popular movements, good leaders, improved fortunes. Collective resolve can turn tragedies around, but people must trust and cooperate, building a new social spirit. Tricky to bring about.

Myth-building

 

All nations experience antipathy. Blanket judgements are made and myths are constructed about us or them.

The Cold War and War on Terror have arguably been over-reactions to geopolitical reality, ideologically exaggerated and deeply destructive.

Former oppressors should stop being a problem and de-mythologise their superiority. Conversely, feeling aggrieved doesn't greatly help former victims - life is in their own hands.

Deconstructing mythologies demands a truth process. Past pain deserves recognition, and present ills must be dealt with. Nothing heals more than justice and relief. The rest is a choice. The future requires a new realism.


Scapegoating

 

This deflects attention from key issues, often driven by hidden motivations. It blocks change and 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.

When social preoccupations shift from what matters, all of society is harmed by narrowing possibilities, isolating people and propagating untruths.

Harmful ways and beliefs are now being exposed in every nation. This is threatening to some, and they fight to retain divisiveness, at the cost of the majority.

Self-punishment

 

Nations can become self-immolating or suicidal. The world is today in an unprecedentedly self-destructive phase.

From pollution to corruption to terrorism, public self-destruction arises from old societal pain and despair. Ruling élites can be instigators but, if no one cares or feels able to change, it can be endemic too.

After tough times, hardship becomes an unconscious habit. Standards sink or fail to improve, and things get complex. Repression ends but crime flourishes. Racism dies, yet AIDS creeps in.

If a nation has steadying factors, nightmares can be overcome. Three major helping forces are women, social solidarity and moral leadership.


Degeneration

 

When things have been difficult, they can deteriorate further, because someone foments it, or a nation is tired and depleted, or because no one feels they can stop it.

Decolonialisation thus led to corruption and civil war across Africa. The passing of Mao led to extreme materialism and wealth disparity in China. The Soviet invasion in the 1980s moved on to civil war and then totalitarian rule in the 1990s in Afghanistan, making it a seedbed for global-scale terrorism.

Compound factors cause degeneration, but central is a collapse of standards and morals, normalising inhuman acts. This arises from ingrained social pain, which feeds powerlessness, cruelty and madnesses.

Dominance

 

This creates submission or rebellion amongst the dominated, and remoteness and imposition by the dominators.

In India, the Aryan incursion on the Dravidians created a rigid caste system lasting 3,500 years. 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 have perpetuated this.

Dominators often start by being kicked around themselves - ancient Rome, the Mongols and the British. USA was populated by refugees and émigrés.

The dominated weakened themselves by in-fighting - then they are overwhelmed using 'divide-and-rule'.


Individuals

 

Individuals have impacted heavily on humanity, through war, invasion, exploitation, persuasion or the simple making of big mistakes.

They have also brought healing, relief and reform, but what happens later on or after they're gone can lead to degeneration, collapse or horror.

Many people lost their lives when Alexander the Great, Genghiz Khan, Akbar, Suleiman the Great, Queen Victoria and Hitler were around. War in the names of Jesus and Muhammad has marked history.

So much rests on the power given by the people to leaders, who need helpers, followers and mass acquiescence. Once they gain power, a relentless train of events unfolds, causing longterm emotional damage to a people.

Environmental impacts

 

Insecure nations think short term: care for nature, the landscape and resources is forgotten. Love of nature decreases. Then come deforestation, over-fishing, soil depletion or outright destruction, especially in war and city-growth.

This depletion affects social moods, nourishment, traditions, innovation and economics. Those who live by subsistence are hardest hit, often flooding 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 connected, and we stand today in a position where an historic pattern of environmental degradation must change.


Historic scars

 

A fundamental healing process is needed. Treaties, fair trade, peace processes and nation-building have their place, but they do not replace healing.

Healing through creating economic growth and democratic institutions, without attending to social feelings creates fuel for future crises.

We need a deeper process of public communication, communion and reconciliation which talks to hearts in their own language of empathy and feeling.

Victims need to recognise that oppressors are themselves hurt and defensive. Oppressors need to realise that victims have genuine grievances and their own future.

Pain-inflicting activities ultimately help no one: they are internalised injuries externalising themselves.

Cycles of tyranny can go on forever. Until negative tendencies are turned around, their repercussions pass to generations uninvolved in the initial wrongs, often unaware of them.

Whatever justification is given for conflict, it is now critically obsolete. It obstructs the process of getting to grips with global issues.

So we must directly address collective and international hurts.

And we need to stop creating new pain for the future.

 

NEXT:
In the National Interest


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