May 9-15, 2007

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The Byrne Report

War Genes

By Peter Byrne

In a letter to the Bohemian in April, Don McQueen of Santa Rosa took issue with my observation that Americans "have been psychologically conditioned to accept unpardonable acts of violence as moral imperatives." McQueen suggested that the readiness of human beings to accept or employ violent acts is caused more by evolution than by psychology.

I agree with McQueen that the warlike nature of our culture is not purely the product of media brainwashing. More accurately, our genetically programmed fear response is consciously and unconsciously manipulated by the power structure to serve Manichaean ends. Logically, though, that same underlying genetic machinery could be geared to desire and work toward the continued survival of our species by promoting cooperation on a global scale.

To borrow computer terminology, it is true that our "operating system" is engineered to support Pentagon-manufactured "applications" that cause great suffering. And the enormous bandwidth of the militaristic media's incessant transmission of militaristic explanations for all socio-economic phenomena tends to overwrite the mentally subterranean effects of vast arrays of peace-loving memes that have also evolved and that compete with our violence-rewarding software. But despite being inundated by such streams of informational garbage as advertisements, we are fundamentally wired to distinguish truth from falsehood. Evolutionary psychology shows that our somatic systems simmer with genetically-encoded imperatives that promote species-preservation through self-organizing and altruistic acts. Yet, mainstream brains are dominated by instructions from a master program, so to speak, that runs our militarized society as if we are mindless bots designed to "feel" cyber-pleasure in the act of generating surplus value for unseen "investors" while perceiving their plutocratic order as a "democracy." Only a bot could believe itself "free" to "chose" which rich person to obey every four years, right?

This brings us back to sociologist C. Wright Mills' path-breaking dissection of American society, The Power Elite (The Byrne Report, "Political Elite," May 2). Although it was written 51 years ago, the book remains sociologically accurate. After breaking down the class structure of America, Mills characterizes the ruling ideology of the conglomeration of corporate, military and political groups that determine when and how we go to war as a form of business-oriented pragmatism that he calls, without humor, "crack-pot realism."

Listen to what sounds familiar in observations that Mills made as he watched Lockheed, Boeing, Raytheon and General Motors purchase presidents and congressmen wholesale while controlling, with advertising dollars, a subservient media that cheerfully inoculated the populace with nuclear and racial fears and the business-approved solution to fear—blind patriotism:

  • "America is now in considerable part more a formal political democracy than a democratic social structure, and even the formal political mechanics are weak."
  • "[F]or the first time in American history, men in authority are talking about an 'emergency' without a foreseeable end . . . . [W]ar or a high state of war preparedness is felt to be the normal and seemingly permanent condition of the United States."
  • "[C]orporate leaders are drawn into the circle of the high military and political through personal friendship, trade and professional associations . . . prestige clubs, open political affiliation and customer relationships." Their agenda is "keeping taxes down, turning all productive operations over to private enterprises, increasing foreign trade, keeping governmental welfare and other domestic activities to a minimum, and strengthening the hold of the current party in power."
  • Now look at our war-profiteering senator, Dianne Feinstein: She had no problem with Bush until he lost the unjust war on Iraq. She faithfully supported Bush's ripping up of the Constitution via the Patriot Act. And now that she and her war-contractor husband, Richard C. Blum, have made their bundle on the backs of dead people in Iraq and Afghanistan, Feinstein is ready to partially repudiate Bush's leadership, claiming that she did not know he lied about his reasons for invading Iraq. Even though she sat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and was privy to real intelligence that, according to her colleague on the committee, Senator Richard Durbin, proved that Bush was lying about Iraq's weaponry even as he cranked up the invasion.

    Yes, there are occasional cracks in the public relations facade, especially when the elite is confused about what to do next. In a televised debate in late April, former Alaska senator Mike Gravel said, "We have no important enemies. What we have to do is to begin to deal with the rest of the world as equals and we don't do that. Iraq has never been a threat to us. We invaded them, it is unbelievable. The military industrial complex not only controls our government lock stock and barrel, but they control our culture."

    Unless we take it back.

    Contact Peter Byrne or send a letter to the editor about this story.