Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"Where ignorant armies clash by night"

Matthew Arnold wrote:

for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

I think that he is wrong. There are very much love, light and joy in the world. The problem is that these things tend to be fragile, and it takes a lot of care to keep such things in one's life.

With the armies, what we see is virtues being made into flaws. It is a virtue to be willing to be patriotic and courageous, but these virtues get twisted into something terrible – in this case, egging people on to slaughter their fellow man. Much more sensible would be to direct these energies toward something good, such as say building one's country. That way, the good serves the good rather than being a tool of wrong.

Are armies ignorant? Clearly it takes intelligence to run a successful army, but it takes stupidity to fail at diplomatically solving international conflicts. Most conflicts can be solved diplomatically, resulting in no waste of lives and minimal waste of money. What we see in these situations is virtues being exploited in service of wrong. And that is a horrible direction in which to go.

When something that's kind and altruistic is put in service of something that's stupid and cruel, the result is an inversion of value. The good serves the evil, which in turn corrupts the good. Many soldiers have the best of intentions, but they become hired killers who go around murdering their fellow men who have done them nothing wrong. Even the good natures get corrupted by this, and people walk away from the experience being bullies.

Probably the best solution to this problem is for the people possessing of these virtues to use their efforts and their intelligence in service of actual good. Find love, light and joy in the world and enjoy it and protect it with all your resources. The more this is done, the greater the force in the world for good. The better the world, and the better the human condition.


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