In essence, Afghanistan
is a warning. The crisis in that beleaguered country has much
deeper meanings than what is currently under discussion by
“experts.” Though the questions being debated
are enormously important in their own right – (e.g.,
What are corollary prospects for US leadership in the world?
What are the implications for expanded Islamist insurgencies?
What are the expected consequences for Palestinian statehood
and Middle East peace? How will the Afghanistan crisis impact
Iranian nuclear aspirations and related regional developments?)
– there are also less obvious but more fundamental issues.
both the whole world in microcosm (war; religious conflict;
irrational prejudice; bitter rancor) and the individual human
being in macrocosm (non-rational; death-focused; anti-intellectual;
superstition-bound; willfully self-destructive). It’s
a curious but telling juxtaposition.
It is the second
set of issues, the “macrocosm” set framed as metaphor,
that ought to most concern thinkers and planners. “Why,”
we should now inquire, “do entire nation-states put
themselves in harm’s way again and again, sometimes
in the path of plainly existential harms”? “Why
do countries that may optimally access the incomparable benefits
of science and education fall back again and again upon myth,
ignorance and aggression?” “Why do human populations
continue to favor exterminatory paths in national and international
affairs over always available mechanisms of collective security
and dignified peacemaking?”
has a precise answer: “Wars will only be prevented with
certainty if mankind unites in setting up a central authority
to which the right of giving judgment upon all shall be handed
over.” Still, virtually no one is listening.
In The Law
of Nations (1758), classical Swiss jurist Emmerich de
Vattel observes: “The first general law, which is to
be found in the very end of the society of Nations, is that
each Nation should contribute as far as it can to the happiness
and advancement of other Nations.” Though a “general
law,” this rationality-based imperative is quite generally
metaphor; it should be studied accordingly.
provides scholars with a real-world and real-time “laboratory.”
What this laboratory can reveal to us is a visceral and overriding
human death fear. Among other things, this utterly primal
terror splits all human civilizations into camps of “us”
and “them,” a categorization that can allow the
slaughter of certain designated “others” to ensure
one’s own immortality. Ultimately, to recall a telling
lyric by Bob Dylan, what matters most is to have “God
on our side.” This meaning expressed the unhidden message
of both Deutschland uber alles (Germany over all)
and “America First.”
to look beyond the daily news. Unless we finally take tangible
steps to move toward an organic planetary civilization –
one based on the central truth of human “oneness”
– there will be no secure civilization at all.
We are all still
at the beginning. Until now, we humans have consistently managed
to miss what is most important on planet earth. The truth
here is simple and straightforward: There exists a latent
but determinative “oneness” to all world politics.
But why have we
made ourselves existentially vulnerable? The correct answer
may be summarized as follows: We humans display a continuous
determination to seek personal identity in belonging, in membership.
There is more.
Human beings generally fear solitude or “aloneness”
more than anything else on earth, sometimes more than death.
Amid the palpably growing chaos that is already stampeding
across Afghanistan, long-suffering individuals still abide
unswerving loyalties to the incontestable claims of “tribe.”
Always, everywhere, people more-or-less desperate “to
belong” wittingly subordinate themselves to predatory
expectations of nation, class and faith.
Too often, of
course, such subordination carries with it a corrosive celebration
of “martyrdom.” Recalling the marooned English
schoolboys in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies,
we may be reminded that the veneer of civilization is razor
thin. As revealed so conspicuously within the dynamics of
conflict in Afghanistan, huge swaths of humankind remain fiercely
dedicated to ancient practices of “sacrifice.”
Such atavistic dedication lies at the very heart of both war
To survive on
this imperiled planet, all of us must seek to survive together;
to rediscover an individual life that is detached from variously
patterned obligations “to belong.” Only after
such an indispensable rediscovery could we reasonably hope
to reconstruct world politics. As Afghanistan reveals, we
must seek an unprecedented fusion of global interdependence
and human “oneness.”
In his The
Decline of the West, first published during World War
I, Oswald Spengler comments: “`I believe’”
is the great word against metaphysical fear, and at the same
time it is an avowal of love.’” This is because
undimmed religious faith is the only “plausible”
path to immortality or life-everlasting.
In the end, we
will need to take much more seriously that global survival
requires prompt escape from the contentious spirit of competitive
tribes and a corresponding acceptance of human “oneness.”
Learning from Afghanistan, the actual likelihood of meeting
such a difficult requirement is precariously low. Still, in
a wholly ironic development, the common adversary of disease
pandemic could now become a potent global unifier.
unum. “Out of many, one.” These three words
on the great seal of the United States can tie us all together.
At present, they can offer a timely prescription for understanding
Afghanistan as much more than just the latest US foreign policy
imbroglio. This crisis is now best understood broadly as a