Kill ‘Em All.

I just finished Dave Grossman’s “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society.” It’s an interesting read–about how realistically, violence is a much rarer human trait than we think and that we actually have an aversion to killing. In fact, he asserts that most PTSD cases stem not from fear of dying but from regret from killing (or almost killing).

Couple of thoughts:

–He talks about how that contrary to what we’ve believed, attrition bombing is not effective. That the fear of being killed from afar is drastically less than being killed up close. He called this the “Winds of Hate” effect. The most traumatizing things that happen to us are the ones that ones that happen up close. Hatred staring you in the face is perceived as much, much worse than a greater hatred from behind a computer or far away. And not because it’s less dangerous but because it’s personal. Which I think anecdotally, has a lot to do with some of this Hollywood/New Media business. It’s very easy (or easier) to sit back and watch as your market share diminishes. You can ignore the audience shifting online–you can even make some moves to prevent it. You will only be motivated to action however, when you someone comes onto your turf and really kicks the shit out of you. No one has done that yet. Still the internet new media has competed mainly from afar, never really striking in the mainstream realm. That will soon change and I think a lot of the bluster and ignorance will go away. But for the nerds THAT’S WHY NO ONE CARES.

–He brings up an example about a soldier ordered to execute a line of enemy soldiers who protested and refused to do it. He was instantly charged with treason, lined up and killed along with them.

Grossman exalts this as “hope for mankind” which totally misses the point. He doesn’t bother to consider the sad, sad paradox of this example. That in simple game theory, in the most basic evolutionary sense, goodness failed and evil prevailed. The man who resisted died, childless. Had he murdered, he would have lived and reproduced.

Which of course contradicts the basic premise of the book–that only in looking at darkness can hope to change it. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that very often what is best for our reproductive purposes is not aligned with our commonly agreed moral code. That being a good person isn’t always the best way to be a good human (animal). Which I think ultimately is the major moral question that modernity faces: Will the individual abandon those evolutionary tendencies–a sort of well-intentioned eugenics? Or, despite the posturing and the progress are we always going to be inhibited by the sucker’s payoff?

Those are the real questions the book ought to be addressing, but it doesn’t. It rarely acknowledges the role of evolution and the intense affect war has on natural selection. He casually drops the fact that in Berlin, an estimated 100,000 children were born from soldier rapes–like that doesn’t have MASSIVE implications. When we examine why behaviors exist we must first consider how they are rewarded. What he shows time and time again (without noticing) is that evil behavior–rape, condoning of execution–have reproductive benefits while resistance or simply the status-quo does not.

More on another book later tomorrow…

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.