Why the war?

Image: Alexander Zvir


Violence is a mistreatment of our hostility, the hostility we harbor towards ourselves, the source and origin of the wars to come

“If the disposition to war is a result of the drive for destruction, then it will be natural to resort, against it, to the antagonist of this drive, Eros. Everything that produces emotional bonds between people has the opposite effect to war. (…) Everything that promotes cultural evolution also works against war” (Sigmund Freud, Why the war?.

We find ourselves in confusion, in times of war. We are astonished by the outbreak, destruction and deaths caused by the war we are going through in the XNUMXst century, when we did not believe that a war could happen in a world, supposedly, inhabited by lucid intelligences that enable dialogue, for elevated solutions; for advanced scientific research in all fields of knowledge.

Why was war chosen as the most effective means of resolving conflicts, and has it been so throughout the history of Humanity?

We know that there are underground currents of history, turbulent waters that flow without being seen, that emerge as a cataclysm, including wars.

Why the war? This is the title of a text by Freud (1932), letters exchanged between Einstein and Freud, where the psychoanalyst is questioned by the physicist with this question. Freud had already written about the topic of war in his article, Reflections for times of war and death (1915), after the start of the First World War, where some ideas were expressed.

This text is more closely related to his contemporary writings on sociological themes; The future of an illusion" (1927), The Discontents of Civilization” (1930). Despite ninety years later, the ideas in this text are current and relevant for our reflection.

Albert Einstein, responding to a proposal from the League of Nations and its International Institute for Intellectual Cooperation in Paris, an embryo of the current UN, conferred with Freud on one of the problems that civilization faced (the period between the two world wars) thus put : “Is there any way to free humanity from the threat of war?”

There was a concern about creating a global institution that could create legislation to prevent nations from going to war with each other, an illusion, as we found out.

Einstein invites Freud to be his interlocutor because he considers him to have a deep knowledge of man's instinctive life, therefore, capable of suggesting methods outside the scope of politics whose attributions had already proven impotent.

Freud develops his thinking through the theoretical categories, concepts, with which he worked, to understand the functioning of the human mind. One of these categories deals with the opposition between drives; Eros, life drive and Thanatos, death drive.

Freud attributes the genesis of conflict to the opposition between opposites; love and hate, internal world and external world, sadism and masochism, unconscious and conscious, as a few examples, and maintains this conformation until the end of his work.

Life drive, vital force and death drive, destructive force, condense these oppositions. They are amalgamated, are inseparable and present in all human manifestations. They perform a dance where each person's role alternates with the aim of preserving life. When they disconnect, the consequences are disastrous.

Man is not a pacified being, he is in constant conflict. Their solutions for life can be pacifying if they deviate, they sublimate the purpose of the drives to other creations, cultural ones for example; they endure a quantum of frustration and unhappiness, states that are part of life.

Under what circumstances are they capable of resigning? Is the loving discourse postulated by Freud and linked to Eros, as the vital force essential to life, more linked to the entertainment industry in our times? Violence and aggression are an intrinsic part of our subjectivity, but does pure destructiveness, the drive for dominance, surpass Eros as a vital force and the possibility of fighting war?

Violence is a mistreatment of our hostility, the hostility we harbor towards ourselves, the source and origin of the wars to come. This is not about the postulate: “Man is man's wolf” (Thomas Hobbes), but man is his own adversary.

The human being is also inhabited by primitive mental states where the notion of good and evil are fragmented, dissociated. He tends to project evil outside of himself, onto others, onto the external world. As psychic development progresses, an approach to a condition of greater psychic maturity becomes possible.

Good and evil coexist in both worlds, internal and external. Other positions, responsible and ethical, are nearby and can be appropriated by each person. Do men appropriate themselves?

Freud considers civilization, life in society, to be a good measure, the most significant, which acts to counterbalance the instinctual force. A pact is made; the renunciation of enjoyment in favor of social relations. But civilization has a thin, tenuous covering that breaks easily and allows the death drive to surface with its overwhelming destructive force.

Another germ for war? To what extent has civilization lost to barbarism?

As for ideals, Freud says of their usefulness to cover up the destructive forces present. The ideal of Aryan supremacy that gave rise to the Second World War was knocking on the door; in addition to ambitions for territorial expansion and access to natural resources.

It also develops the notion of leaders and followers and the historical role of these positions in the outcome of conflicts.

We see how the subjective impoverishment of these subjects points to an immature outcome, where physical (muscular) strength, which was an advantage in primitive times, is still in force, despite the extraordinary evolution of communication and conversation instruments.

There are other scenarios of war, in other places and of other types, in addition to war; in the economy, in the mastery and use of technologies, in education, in health; those that produce conditions of human vulnerability. In these wars, where leaders place themselves behind technologies, more civilians die than in any other conflict.

It is said that what is lost in wars, in the first instance, is the truth. What does psychoanalysis say and what do psychoanalysts have to say in the face of this sad scenario?

All capacity for thought, production of knowledge, creation, connection in human relationships, appeases the strength of the drive and points to a path opposite to that of war. In life we ​​are constantly touched by the alternation between civilization and barbarism; internally, in this game between drives, externally, in this search for hegemony between countries, precisely those so-called more developed.

The war ends where words begin. Those produced by thought, which replace acts with language, the possibility of speaking; passage from act to report. The sciences that call upon thinking, the loving possibility of knowing, are a form of rebellion against the crude and unrefined nature of the human.

Psychoanalysis is the reliquary of words, a precious place of language, the possibility of speaking and finding meaning, as opposed to the meaninglessness of the passage to the destructive act, to the disorganized field of wars.

*Andréa Pimenta Sizenando Matos is a psychoanalyst.

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