On Antiwar Sentiments And The Standards Of Autonomy

My antiwar sentiments are derived from what I perceive to be a universal natural aversion to suffering, and an innate sense of personal autonomy; together which enable me to form a peaceful code of ethics and a reliable moral standard.

It seems evident that every human being has a natural aversion to discomfort which is manifested from the moment of one’s birth. Every newborn asserts their aversion to even the slightest discomfort in no uncertain terms. The cries of a baby are by no means without reason. Those reasons invariably being that everyone has a natural aversion to discomfort.

This natural aversion to discomfort is so overwhelming that life amounts to a moment by moment quest for an ever illusive and rarely lasting state of comfort. In fact the most basic instinct is to manage circumstances in search of satisfaction. The dog that seeks shade on a hot Summer day does so for the same reason the human opens the window and engages the electric fan. Each being monitors its elements in search of comfort in accord with a natural aversion to discomfort.

In fact the moral code which seems to most naturally emerge from the human experience is to recognize and respect each other’s innate aversion to discomfort. For most people from even an early age manifest sensitivity to the sufferings of others. Indeed the sounds of the suffering of a stray or even unidentifiable animal cause a distress in most every person which seem unbearable. Additionally these feelings of distress transform into a seemingly irresistible sense of duty to alleviate the suffering of others in such circumstances.

And so the innate aversion to suffering which serves as the basis for our first effort to communicate on the day of our birth, invariably over the course of time and experiences develops into a universally recognized natural moral code: Do no harm to another, and alleviate the suffering of others. In fact the teachings of social reciprocity in such philosophies as Confucianism and Christianity would be unintelligible were people not innately endowed with a natural aversion to suffering. It thus seems that the moral code which naturally develops from our innate aversion to suffering is that of nonviolence and peaceful relations.

Yet if this natural moral code is universal, as experience and observation generally confirm, then how is it that violence proliferates and war prevails throughout the world? It seems clear that humanity is conflicted by an existence in an impersonal and unpredictable universe which consistently negates our natural quest for comfort by inflicting pain and suffering without regard for effect. Similarly humanity seems conflicted between a natural moral code of nonviolence and peaceful relations based upon our innate aversion to suffering, and otherwise tendencies towards aggression and domination.

I would suggest that the conflict between conscience and conduct relates to our autonomous nature and the tripartite personality. The latter refers to the Freudian theory that humanity develops the capacity to reason and experience feelings of compassion, but that our core instinct to seek pleasure is innate. In fact the pleasure principle is so instinctive as to be irresistible unless internally regulated by reason and compassion. In this regard, the instinctive quest for comfort is neither rational nor moral in and of itself.

Frankly our irresistible pleasure principle would neither regard self preservation or the effects of our actions on others in our instinctive quest for comfort unless humanity had developed the capacity to reason and care. Unlike the instinctive pleasure principle though, our capacity to reason and care are qualities which are neither irresistible nor involuntary. In this regard the individual human being is an autonomous agent who can employ or subjugate the naturally developed capacity to reason or care based upon personal choice.

For many the freedom to think for themselves and to forge their own moral code creates a sense of alienation and helplessness which can be somewhat overwhelming. Circumstantial dilemmas can be so dramatic that the burden is too difficult for people to handle alone. It is not unusual at all for a person experiencing even the daily drama of existence to seek the counsel of a trusted friend or a trained professional in times of doubt or dilemma. The comfort sought in such circumstances is oftentimes that of sharing the burden of responsibility in the decision making process. Such scenarios are by no means unusual and the process of mutual deliberation can prove effectual towards achieving a desired end while at the same time maintaining sound mental health.

At the same time the freedom of autonomy can be a responsibility so overwhelming that some seek a somewhat permanent dependency to relieve the stress of self governance. Such people require more than the occasional conversation asking advice from a trusted ally in times of dilemma or doubt. As a coping mechanism they subconsciously surrender the burden and responsibility of autonomy to outside sources. Their effort to escape from freedom (a phrase borrowed from Fromm) leads them to subjugate their own autonomy to an authority type which both relieves them of the burden of self governance and simultaneously redirects their thinking through regimentation and indoctrination. They may join a street gang, embrace religion, enlist in the military, or merely adopt the philosophy of a collective authoritarian ideology. But by so doing in each case such people surrender their autonomy at least to a certain degree, thus allowing an external source to do their thinking and feeling for them.

It should come as no surprise that the greater demographic who make this transition do so as late teens or as early adults. This is by no means coincidental. For when folk surrender their autonomy to another they are in ways replicating the relationship of the child to their parent figure. And so most people who embrace the concept of religion do so at the very time in their lives when they are evolving from their heretofore lifelong relationship as subordinates to their parents, and are emerging into alienated autonomous agents. The concept of self governance is too much of a burden for the psyche of many who are at that point in their lives, and in such a state of their existence they are quite vulnerable to exchanging autonomy for the security of faith in a higher purpose and a supreme being.

Similarly, late teens and early adults are oftentimes vulnerable to the indoctrination of tribalism and xenophobia when confronted by such by street gangs and military recruiters. They are especially susceptible to the subtle seduction of street gang and military recruiters when they face limited financial prospects. When a person has little in the first place, and when their hopes for social improvement are dim if not doomed, then the prospect of joining an authoritarian collective can offer a sense of purpose and belonging for an otherwise alienated and seemingly nihilistic existence.

Whether a person exchanges their sense of self governance in order to serve a god by joining a church or a government by way of joining the military, either way the act itself is that of surrendering personal autonomy for an authoritarian relationship. And in so doing a person voluntarily subjugates introspective feelings and intellectual reasonings for authoritarian indoctrination. In essence, when people surrender their autonomy to a god, a group, or a government then they allow others to decide their values and even their actions.

Conversely, an autonomous individual does not rely upon others to decide who qualifies as either an enemy or an ally, nor does the autonomous individual need a religious ideology in order to maintain ethical standards and a moral code. Granted, there are those who honestly feel they need religion as a means to live a decent and peaceful life. For such, then their faith is a coping mechanism which enables their quest for coexistence in a world rife with conflict. The end surely justifies the means as a necessary expedient towards a peaceful existence for those so inclined. However; if a religion teaches, encourages, or endorses violence and war as a just or acceptable enterprise, then surely an alternative religion which encourages trust in introspective sensitivity for the suffering of others as a reliable code of ethics and one’s personal moral standard is preferable for the purposes of peace and coexistence.

The potential problem then of exchanging autonomy for any form of authoritarian ideology is that one might be distracted from the natural moral code to do no harm to another, and alleviate the suffering of others.

Peace to all.
And no more war.

Dave Henderson
Denison, Texas