War and Peace
"Under peaceful conditions the militant man attacks himself."
- Friedrich Nietzsche's 'Beyond Good & Evil'
For as long as I can remember I have been very interested in history. As a youngster, it was more of an interest in a romanticized version of war, as history tends to depict. A world of kings and heroes, armies and villains. Prosperity for the victors, glory for the dead, and shame for the enemy. Why is it many young males as I are so prone to gravitate toward this superficial rendition? It is only after years of soul searching that I learned to appreciate history for what it truly is.
The fact that we have figured out how to maintain a record of humanity is mindboggling. Conscious of time and entropy, we have created a science of studying ourselves that borders the notion of eternity. We can learn from our past, which gives us guidance in the present to create what will be the future's history. No other species can do this. We are certainly a superior being - the most powerful entity of this world - the stewards of the earth. But with great power comes great responsibility.
We are the largest and most learned populous to date. With every story and answer at our finger tips, intelligence is no longer separated by class but by natural abilities and one's dedication and pursuit. More people than ever before have become educated, in some form or another, by the technological revolution that is the internet. And with more voices than ever before, now able to share our present (later to be history) on a platform connected to anyone and everyone, reality has becomes increasingly complicated. Our beliefs are diverse and disparate. And often identities are formed and collections made by mistaken interpretation. We have been given free access to the knowledge of humanity, yet lack the wisdom to know how to interpret.
History itself is the dichotomy of war and peace - an account of the continual succession of power, taken or inherited, devised, designed, directed, and recorded by the academics and artists of the day - often bias and ignorant - often metaphoric and misunderstood. But all of us are as such; no one can truly know what goes on below the surface of humanity. As evidence can be hard to interpret and our own definitions of power divergent, often historians disagree about what constitutes truth.
War and Peace, one of my favorite novels by Leo Tolstoy, is a testament to this notion. Tolstoy challenges the common understanding of power and history, creating an epic story of Napoleon's invasion of Russia in the early 1800's. I remember learning about Napoleon's quest for world domination, and subsequent defeat in Russia, but not as Tolstoy describes it. The problem lies in that our historic accounts come from the French. It seems the Russian historian Tolstoy holds positions incommensurate with my educational upbringing in many ways, played out beautifully through a swath of characters and philosophical notions.
In War and Peace, Tolstoy begins Part Two of his epilogue with this: "The subject of history is the life of nations and of mankind. To perceive directly and encompass in words, that is, to describe the life of single people much less that of mankind, would appear to be impossible."
Although there is no war going on here in Canada, it certainly doesn't feel like peace-time. Albeit, obscure the division and malice littered through social media, or the anger and hatred you see behind windshields - fingers raised and curses hurled toward that driver who forgot to signal - perhaps these are example of the war of spirit. But I'm talking real death and despair... Homelessness, suicide, drug addiction and mental illness is ever present, and touches all of us, if not in the personal or familial, certainly in one's community.
We are living in an astounding period of history. It is a time of technological revolutions - from YouTube and Facebook to smart-phones and Artificial Intelligence, our reality is becoming increasingly virtual. I often wonder what our future's intellectuals will say about this time in history.
Tyler Durden said it best: "We are the middle children of history man, no purpose or place. We have no great war, no great depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives."
I have been struggling a lot lately with the virtual reality that is social media. Am I alone, or do you feel it too? On average North-Americans spend from 3 to 5 hours a day on smart-phones. There is no doubt you see as I that reality is being convoluted and compressed - an exchange from mother-earth to mother-board. Although it would seem we are now more connected, the connection lacks authenticity - humanity dispersed individually, indoors, relaying a message from medium to medium.
A soul under siege.
Although this country has the appearance of freedom and peace, I often feel at war and forced by the collective; unable to operate effectively in the world without this damned phone in my pocket, yet longing for just that. How pitiful it is we fall prey to the ease that is having many friends but no true friendships.
"For in much wisdom is much grief.
And he who increases knowledge increases sorrow."