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The wisdom from Greek classical literature may help provide solutions for the current crises of the 21st Century says Stanley Krippner.


by Stanley Krippner
 

“Thank God our time is now, when wrong comes up to meet us everywhere, never to leave us ’till we take the longest stride of soul men ever took.”
 
 
 After September 11th, 2001, the classics are an especially rich resource to which we can turn for guidance. They can offer us moral lessons as well as grounding in philosophy, art, literature, history, and language. Wars in classical antiquity were seen as a tragedy innate to the human condition. The Greek historian Heroditus reminded us that wars are times when parents bury children rather than children burying parents. Killing one’s fellow humans over political, religious, and ethnic disagreements should not occur among civilized people. But it does happen. And the poet Hesiod concluded that war is “a curse from Zeus.” The Greek philosopher Heraclitus lamented, “war is the king of us all.” Plato went so far as to call peace, not war, “the parenthesis in human affairs.” The poet Pindar added that warfare “is not unnatural” but nevertheless is “a thing of fear”.
 
 The 20th century is said to have begun on August 1, 1914, with the start of the First World War. That was also the date for what Philip Babbitt later called “The Long War,” that eventually encompassed the First and Second World Wars, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, the wars in Korea and Vietnam, and the Cold War.
 
 The Long War finally ended with the reunification of Germany and the fall of communism in the Soviet Union. Many historians were convinced that the world would finally have peace because it had resolved the question that bound all these wars into one: What form of the nation-state---fascist, communist, or parliamentarian—would succeed the imperial states of the 19th century? When parliamentarian democracy triumphed, some saw “the end of history”; the struggle to achieve a final constitutional order had ended.
 
 But what actually ended was the history of the nation-state, characterized by governments that promised to better the material well-being of a historically defined people. Churchill, Stalin, and Hitler each promised this, even if they had radically different notions of what constituted a nation and how to achieve the objective. However, within the triumph of the parliamentary nation-state lay the seeds of its eventual demise. A universal system of human rights defied the nation’s absolute sovereignty and undermined its ability to control its citizens. An international system of trade and finance removed its control over national currencies. Global communications threatened national cultures. Threats such as AIDS and the depletion of the ozone layer were beyond the control of any nation-state. And the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) rendered hopelessly inadequate the notion of defending national borders from invading armies or intercontinental missiles.
 
 From this perspective, we can appreciate the real significance of September 11th. For five centuries only a state could destroy another state. Only a state could raise the revenues, muster the armies, and organize the logistics required to threaten the survival of another state. Soon this will no longer be true. We are entering a period in which a small number of people, without overt state sponsorship, but using the enormous power of modern computers, biological pathogens, air transport, and even portable nuclear weapons, will be able to exploit the tremendous vulnerability of contemporary open societies. Because the origin of these attacks will be effectively disguised, fundamental tenets of the nation-state will change.
 Deterrence, for example, the core of American national security policy for decades, depends on the threat of retaliation, which depends on knowing who and where your enemy is. When agents of a shadowy virtual state obtain weapons of mass destruction, we face an adversary not subject to conventional deterrence. In this new century, then, the threat of deterrence will not work.
 
 A New Type of State
 
 In the 21st century, what might be called ‘virtual states’ and ‘market states’ could replace nation-states. Market states will have the same borders and political systems as nation-states but will shift important responsibilities from government to the private sector. Multinational corporations will become surrogate agents of government, blurring the boundaries between political and corporate leadership. Because the market is international as well as private, these market states will be better able than nation-states to cope with a war that is partly private, partly international, and partly defensive, as future wars will be. Because private companies manage most of the critical infrastructures of the developed world, market states will be forced to integrate the private sector into strategic planning. They will have to develop international patterns of cooperation—pooling intelligence, for instance—or lose the war against virtual states and terrorism. Markets are not effective at encouraging such positive collective behaviors as loyalty, civility, spirituality, respect for family life, or regard for privacy; thus the evolution toward market states will require societies to find new ways to encourage these public behaviors.
 
 Thus, the 21st century may have begun on September 11th, 2001, with another Long War. “The War against Terrorism” is an unfortunate phrase because the current conflict calls to mind pseudo-wars that will never end, such as the ‘War on Drugs’ or the ‘War on Crime.’ Perhaps a better name would be the “First Terrorist War.” This may be a chronic war of low intensity interventions, such as police actions on humanitarian grounds to undergird states in which law has collapsed, opening the way for terrorist control. It may be a war in which aging nation-states try to fight off rising market states, with a virtual terrorist state entering into an unofficial alliance with one side or another. Or the next Long War could encompass a series of religious cataclysms, perhaps between nuclear powers on the Indian subcontinent or the Middle East.
 
 Of all that’s been written about September 11th , I found the words of the philosopher Jean Houston to be very wise and perceptive. Dr. Houston reminded us that “We are all New Yorkers,” and how, in the light of the terrorist attacks, we must now speak of the world heart, the world stomach, and the world spirit. The United States can no longer be insulated from the pathos of other nations. The English playwright, Christopher Fry, wrote, “Thank God our time is now, when wrong comes up to meet us everywhere, never to leave us ‘till we take the longest stride of soul men ever took.”
 
 Fry could be speaking today, when oppression has risen in our time, as well as shadows, terrors, and other factors unique in human history. They arise around us to compound our folly and confuse our desire. We yearn for meaning and deal with trivia. Government has become too big for the small problems of life, and too small in spirit for the large problems. The tyranny that threatens to destroy us is not just terrorism; it is the tyranny of the unjust demands we have made of Nature, and the tyranny of some nations being kept in economic servitude by other nations.
 
 Thus we now face the most profound task in human history, the task of deciding whether we grow or die. This will involve helping cultures and organizations to move from dominance by the nation-states, market states, and virtual states. It will involve putting economics in its place as a satellite to the soul of culture rather than having the soul of culture serve as a satellite to economics. The stride of soul will challenge the very foundations of our human condition. It will require that we become evolutionary partners. As Hiroshi Motoyama observed, the human being “can realize divine providence…while coexisting in great love with nature and the cosmos and by living in harmony and in cooperation with different ethnic groups”.
 
 Our hopes for the new century were for a new way of being between nations and people, between the Earth and ourselves, between spirit and matter. These hopes still remain, but to attain them will require a deep shift in the attitudes of the rich nations of the world toward the poor nations. They need to adopt an attitude of service instead of exploitation and dominance. At the same time, poverty and victimization is no excuse for terrorism. Those who re-read the classics will rediscover the origins of their culture, and in so doing will learn the difference between themselves and such groups as the al-Qaeda and the Taliban. These differences are evident in the way that government is crafted, in the way that women are treated, in the way that people earn their living.
 
 I would urge you to read and re-read classic literature. It can teach us who we once were, and who we are now in the beginning of what may be another Long War. The ancients not only teach us that life is spirited and tragic, but also that what was created from these classics was and still is humanity’s last and greatest hope on Earth.
 
 References available from New Renaissance
 
  Stanley Krippner, Ph.D., is professor of psychology at Saybrook Graduate School, San Francisco. Formerly, he was director of the Kent State University Child Study Center, and the Maimonides Medical Center Dream Research Laboratory. He is co-author of Extraordinary Dreams and co-editor of Varieties of Anomalous Experience. He is a member of the editorial board for the Journal of Indian Psychology. He is a Fellow of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and has published cross-cultural studies on spiritual content in dreams.