War: Morality vs. Rationality

Scott Atran writes about war at The Huffington Post:

“The art of war,” Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations, “is certainly the noblest of all arts.” In every culture, war is considered society’s most noble endeavor (recent threat of nuclear war and mass annihilation has made a slight dent in this universal passion), although what is considered good and noble in one society may well be considered evil and bad in others. War is usually much better than peace at defining who is the group, what are its boundaries, and what it stands for. War is also more compelling and effective in generating solidarity with something larger and more lasting than ourselves. War compresses history and dramatically changes its course. There is urgency, excitement, ecstasy, and altruistic exaltation in war, a mystic feeling of solidarity with something greater than oneself: a tribe, a nation, a movement, Humanity. That’s also why cable news so loves it.

War is what most clearly defines who we are, for better or worse. And it has always been that way

…It goes to the heart of human nature and the character of society. For despite the popular delusion that war is, or ought to be, primarily a matter of political strategy and pragmatic execution, it almost never is. Squaring the circle of war and politics, morality and material interests, is not just Obama’s or America’s quandary, it is a species-wide dilemma that results from wanting to believe with Aristotle that we humans are fundamentally rational beings, when in fact recent advances in psychology and neuroscience strongly indicate that Enlightenment philosopher David Hume was right to say that “Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions.”

Press here to read the rest of Scott Atran’s Op-ed piece at The Huffington Post

Why War Is Never Really Rational

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