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Why Did the World Go to War Against Itself?

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Written by   11
1 month ago

The big question on everybody’s mind in the 1920s – for political theorists and innocent shopkeepers alike – was why in the Hell did the world just go to war with itself? History books tend to give two simplified answers: (1) some guy that most people either didn’t care about or didn’t like was assassinated (the catalyst), and (2) the Germans had a raging war boner they were itching to get tugged (the raising temperature). In the opening chapter of his Treason of the Intellectuals, Julien Benda describes how every European civil war and skirmish in the past had these two elements. What the previous wars lacked, however, was the presence of communication technology.

Most of the hatred and passions which led to wars in the past were only felt by a small minority of people. Except for the people who suffered collateral damage, most people were indifferent to the conflicts of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. In the early Twentieth century, radios and improved print media rapidly disseminated the petty hatreds people had for each other. Suddenly, most people found themselves possessed by strong passions for this cause or that issue. There is no way to resolve arousal that comes onto someone due to some abstract specter possessing them. Usually, we are aroused by tangible things in the present, but information technology in the Twentieth century gave people new agitations and passions that cannot be resolved in the way you can scratch an itch or punch your annoying neighbor.

Hatred became universalized, according to Benda, “Thanks to the progress of communication and, still more, to the group spirit, it is clear that the holders of the same political hatred now form a compact impassioned mass, every individual of which feels himself in touch with the infinite number of others, whereas a century ago such people were comparatively out of touch with each other and hated in a scattered way.”

The Twentieth Century person was instilled with a new personality type that did not exist before the information technology of their day. The average person, who used to be idiosyncratic in his beliefs and how he expressed himself, not only felt the same hatreds as people hundreds of miles from him, but he uttered the same stock phrases and expressed the same sentiments. There was a pandemic of several different ideologies rapidly spreading through the global population, and each of them replicated themselves in the personal beliefs of their human hosts and spread rapidly through radio and print.

Contradictory ideologies competed for hosts and fault lines formed where these hosts encountered one other. Whereas the assassination of a duke would go unnoticed in the past, the whole continent of Europe felt the death of Franz Ferdinand. Depending on which mind virus you were possessed by at the time, that death meant something a little different. In the month after the assassination, Germany, France, Russia, etc. lined up along these ideological fault lines and at once released all that energy that information technology built up.

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Written by   11
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