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3 Authors on Killing (Empathy), Love, and Fear

Uploaded 10/13/2020, approx. 14 minute read

I have a confession to make and this one does not involve women.

Here comes, I don't like my voice, it is tentorium, hectoring, look these words up.

I don't like my voice, maybe because I don't have empathy, not even for myself, but it's a fact.

So I understand those of you who post comments, I don't like your voice, I don't like your voice, I get it, I'm with you, I have your back, you're right, I don't like my voice either.

Today I'm going to read to you three excerpts from three books.

The first excerpt is a very unusual way of looking at empathy in very unusual settings.

The second excerpt was written by the inimitable, the one and only one, Martin Luther King Jr.

And it's an excerpt about love where he displays his erudition in all matters Greek.

And also, his deep acquaintance with the varieties of love.

Yes, the guy was a womanizer, for those of you who didn't know, and worse.

Now, the third excerpt has to do with the culture of fear.

Apropos love, we have grown afraid of everything, it's an anxiety-infused culture.

Our civilization seems to have been constructed on two pillars, fear: fear of each other, fear of institutions, fear of the future, fear of the past, fear of pathogens, fear of food, fear. That's the first pillar on which a modern civilization or postmodern civilization rests.

And of course, there's fear of the other, which is a much older thing, and fear of minorities, and fear of insulting others, political correctness, fear, and fear generates anxiety.

Because fear is the anticipation of bad things that are going to happen to you.

And this creates anxiety that twins, fear and anxiety, are identical twins, two sides of the same coin.

And there's also fear of love, because love can end, and often does end, in pain and hurt.

And people are conflict averse, they're pain averse, they're hurt averse, they're life averse, they don't want to love.

And so, this pillar of civilization is the strand, is what connects these three exits.

And I would like to start with the first one, and it deals with empathy in very, very unexpected circumstances. It's borrowed from the book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman.

Grossman says that most soldiers are reluctant to fire their weapons, even when they confront an enemy, even when their lives are at stake, they're reluctant to kill. That's a fact, by the way.

And now, to some amazing data from the book.

During World War II, U.S. Army Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall asked the average soldiers what it was that they did in battle.

His singularly unexpected discovery was that of every hundred men along the line of fire during the period of an encounter, an average of only 15 to 20 would take any part with their weapons. It's a gentle way of saying that only 15 to 20 fired their weapons, 80 to 85 did not.

This was consistently true, continuously over, whether the action was spread over a day, or two days, or three.

Marshall and his team based their findings on individual and mass interviews with thousands of soldiers in more than 400 infantry companies in Europe and in the Pacific, immediately after they had been in close combat with German or Japanese troops.

The results were consistently the same. Only 15 to 20 percent of the American riflemen in combat during World War II would fire at the enemy.

The question is why?

The answer is the simple and demonstrable fact that there is within most men an intense resistance to killing their fellow men. A resistance so strong that in many circumstances soldiers on the battlefield will die before they can overcome this resistance and shoot another person.

Is this limited to Americans? Because Americans, as we all know, are exceedingly kind-hearted, generous. They never engage in war unless they have to, which is once a year, and they never attack foreign countries unless there is a direct threat to national security, especially if these countries never heard of the United States. So is this limited to Americans? Good-hearted, morally upright, sanctimonious, self-righteous Americans, or is this a universal phenomenon?

Well, the author Grossman continues, there is ample supporting evidence to indicate that Marshall's observations are applicable not only to US soldiers or even to the soldiers on all sides in World War II. Indeed, there are compelling data that indicate that this singular lack of enthusiasm for killing one's fellow men has existed throughout military history.

Paddy Griffith estimates that the average musket fire from a Napoleonic or civil war regiment, usually numbering between 200 and 1000 men, so this musket firing at an exposed enemy regiment at an average range of 30 yards, about 30 meters, would usually result in hitting only one or two men per minute.

They were nose-to-nose, literally, and they would kill one or two men, hit, not kill, mind you, wounded, kill one or two men per minute, shooting at each other furiously.

Such firefights dragged on until exhaustion set in or nightfall put an end to hostilities, says the author.

Casualties mounted because the contest went on for so long, not because the fire was particularly deadly.

Thus we see that the fire of the Napoleonic and civil war era soldier was incredibly ineffective.

This does not represent a failure of the part of the weaponry.

John Keegan and Richard Holmes in their book, Soldiers, tell us of a Prussian experiment in the late 1700s, that's more or less like 50 years, 60, 70 years before the civil war.

So an experiment, Prussian experiment in the late 1700s, in which an infantry battalion fired smoothbore muskets at a target 100 feet long by six feet high, representing an enemy. And this resulted in 25% hits at 225 yards, 40% hits at 150 yards, and 60% hits at 75 yards. 60% of the soldiers should have been hit by a musket fire, not one or two soldiers.

The author continues, this represented the potential killing power of such a unit.

The reality is demonstrated at the Battle of Belgrade in 1717, when two imperial battalions held their fire until their Turkish opponents were only 30 paces away. But these battalions hit only 32 Turks when they fired, and they were consequently promptly overwhelmed.

Sometimes the fire was completely harmless, as Benjamin McIntyre observed in his first-hand account of a totally bloodless nighttime firefight at Vicksburg in 1863 during the Civil War.

Benjamin McIntyre wrote, it seems strange, wrote McIntyre, that a company of men can fire volley after volley at a like number of men over a distance of 15 steps and not cause a single casualty, not one. Yet such was the facts in this instance.

The musketry of the black powder era was not always so ineffective, but over and over again, the average comes out to only one or two men hit per minute with musketry.

Muzzle-loading muskets could fire from one to five shots per minute, depending on the skill of the operator and the state of the weapon. With a potential hit rate of well over 50 percent at the average combat range of the era, the killing rate should have been hundreds of soldiers per minute instead of one or two.

The weak link between the killing potential and the killing capability of these units was the soldier.

The simple fact is that when faced with the living, breathing opponent, instead of a target, a significant majority of the soldiers revert to a posturing mode in which they fire over their enemy's heads.

I add, out of empathy.

The author is Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman. The title of the book is On Killing, The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War in Society. Wonderful book. And it was published, first edition was published in 1995 and there's a third edition I think in 2009. From killing and empathy as a defense against killing to love, which is the natural consequence and outcome of empathy.

I repeat again, if you're able to empathize, you're unable to prevent yourself from loving. Love is the child of empathy. This is from the book A Testament of Hope.

The essential writings and speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. was published in 1986.

He writes, or rather he wrote, now when the students talk about love, certainly they are not talking about emotional bosh. They're not talking about merely a sentimental outpouring.

They're talking about something much deeper. And I always have to stop and try to define the meaning of love in this context. The Greek language comes to our aid in trying to deal with this. There are three words in the Greek language for love. He is wrong by the way. There are more than three. There's at least seven. There are three words in the Greek language for love. One is the word Eros. Eros is the beautiful, this is a beautiful type of love. It is an aesthetic love.

Plato talks about it a great deal in his dialogue, the yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. It has come to us to be a sort of romantic love. And so in a sense, we have read about it.

We have experienced it. We have read about it in all the beauties of literature.

I guess in a sense, Edgar Allan Poe was talking about Eros when he talked about his beautiful Annabel Lee with love surrounded by the hallow of eternity. In a sense, Shakespeare was talking about Eros when he said:

Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds or bends with a remover to remove. Oh no, it is an ever fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken. It is the star to every wandering bark.

Shakespeare. You don't remember that says Martin Luther King because I used to quote it to this little lady when we were courting. That's Eros for you. The Greek language talks about philia, which was another level of love. It is an intimate affection between personal friends. It is a reciprocal love. On this level, you love because you're loved.

It is friendship. I interject and say that this is the most curious definition of friendship I've ever heard. Highly narcissistic definition if I may. I'm not a fan of Martin Luther King as you by now have surmised. Okay, continue with the guy.

Then the Greek language says Martin Luther King comes out with another word which is called the agape. Agape or agape is more than romantic love.

Agape is more than friendship. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive, good will to all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. So that when one rises to love on this level, he loves men not because he likes them, not because their ways appeal to him, but he loves every man because God loves him. And he rises to the point of loving the person who does an evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said love your enemies. I'm very happy, says Martin Luther King, who had a great sense of humor.

I'm very happy that Jesus didn't say like your enemies because it is pretty difficult to like some people. Like is sentimental. It is pretty difficult to like someone bombing your home.

It is pretty difficult to like somebody threatening your children. It is difficult to like congressmen who spend all their time trying to defeat civil rights. But Jesus says love and love is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive, creative, good will for all men. And it is this idea. It is this whole ethic of love, which is the idea standing at the basis of the student movement. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Martin Luther King, 1986. And I want to finish by with another quote.

Today, as I said, there is nothing that terrifies us more than intimacy and love.

We have grown so atomized, so dissociated, so separated, so defiant and somewhat psychopathic, antisocial and asocial. We have become this way because we have learned to associate love with inextinguishable, inextricable and excruciating pain.

And we have come to this association because we are growing in an increasingly narcissistic and psychopathic world where those closest to you carry the dagger. Those nearest you carry the cyanide capsule and they don't intend to use it on themselves.

The danger lurks at home. The fear is justified. No one can cause more damage than your loved ones. And no one does. That's the problem, statistically.

So we withdraw. We avert. We avoid. We, in other words, fear.

From The Culture of Fear by Barry Glassner. Every society faces thousands of risks. How do these societies choose which risks to highlight most prominently? Why are the ones chosen so often? Those that represent statistically among the smallest friends? And what is the cost to these societies of that cultural fear?

This is very relevant in today's world with a pandemic. Very. He asks very crucial questions. I repeat these important questions.

How do these societies choose which risks to highlight most prominently? Why are the ones chosen? Why are the risks chosen so often the risks that represent statistically among the smallest friends? And what is the cost of these societies of this cultural fear?

So Barry Glastner writes, to blame the media for our cultural fear that is disproportionate to actual risk is to oversimplify the complex role that journalists play as both proponents and doubters of popular fears. It is also to beg the same key issue that the millennium hypothesis evades.

Why do particular anxieties take hold when they do? Why do news organizations and their audiences find themselves drawn to one hazard rather than another?

Mary Douglas, the eminent anthropologist who devoted much of her career to studying how people interpret risk, pointed out that every society has an almost infinite, infinite quantity of potential dangers from which to choose. Societies differ both in the types of dangers they select and in the number of dangers they select. Dangers get selected for special emphasis, Douglas showed, either because these dangers offend the basic moral principles of the society or because these dangers enable criticism of disliked groups and institutions.

In Risk and Culture, a book that Mary Douglas wrote with Aaron Wildavsky, the authors give an example from 14th century Europe.

Impure water had been a health danger long before that time, but only after it became convenient to accuse Jews of the poisoning of the wells did people become preoccupied with this danger, as the danger allowed them to attack the Jews.

Okay, the book continues.

Or take a more recent institutional example. In the first half of the 1990s, US cities spent at least $10 billion to purge asbestos from public schools, even though removing asbestos from buildings posed a greater health hazard than leaving it in place. At a time when about one third of the nation's schools were in need of extensive repairs, the money might have been spent to renovate dilapidated buildings. But hazards posed by seeping asbestos, a morally repugnant, a product that was supposed to protect children from fires, might be giving them cancer.

By directing our worries and dollars at asbestos, we express outrage at technology and industry, run afoul.

From a psychological point of view, extreme fear and outrage are often projections.

Within public discourse, fears proliferate through a process of exchange. Conservatives also like to spread fears about liberals and liberals responding kind.

Among other pet scares, conservatives accuse liberals of creating children without consciousness, and consciousness by keeping prayer out of school. If you don't pray, you don't have a conscience.

And to this, liberals rejoined with warnings that right-wing extremists intend to turn youngsters into Christian soldiers.

English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was right when he claimed, in politics, what begins in fear usually ends up in folly. Political activists are more inclined, though, to heed an observation from President Richard Nixon. People react to fear, not love. They don't teach that in Sunday school, but it's true.

That principle, which guided the late president's political strategy throughout his career, and may I add Hitler and Stalin as well, is the sine qua non of contemporary political campaigning. Marketers of products and services, ranging from car alarms to TV news programs, have taken this principle to heart as well.

The short answer to why Americans harbor so many misbegotten fears is that immense power and money await those who tap into our moral insecurities and supply us with symbolic substitutes.

And this was an excerpt from the excellent book published in 1999, The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things: Crime, Drugs, Minorities, Teen Moms, Killer Kids, Mutant Microbes, Plane Crashes, Road Rage, & So Much More.

It was written by Barry Glassner. I hope you enjoyed today's selection, and all the topics we have dealt with are intimately linked to narcissism.

Just a different poi

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