While you live shine, have no grief at all, for life exists but for awhile, and time demands it’s due.
(Ancient Greek song)
It is a given that the United Nations have done incredible things for the world. It is also a given that the international governance system must be reinvented for the downsides to our world are horrendous. The achievements of the international community have benefited women, children, education, health and philosophy; strengthened the concepts of health for all, a society for all ages and sustainable development goals as well as the birth of human security to protect civilians against their own governments. Now global prevention must be emphasized and the ethical space and interdisciplinary science of public health and the tools of human security and health diplomacy must be used within a framework of philosophy, implicit in the golden mean and in the spirit of global citizenship. The existential questions of our age will not be solved, cannot be solved by artificial intelligence nor by limiting enquiry within a box of strict empiricism constrained by scholasticism; life and its purpose must be seen through the prism of a well fulfilled life.
Decades ago, Vaclav Havel told the US Congress that mankind runs the risk of an earth-shattering moment triggered by man’s genius and the force of nuclear weapons. He added that without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness nothing can change for the better; catastrophe will be unavoidable. A similar fear was reflected by Adlai Stevenson when he spoke of the horrendous and universal implications of nuclear holocaust. They both saw the need for a socio-political transformation. So did Wislawa Szymborska (Nobelist in Literature) at the end of WWII in his paraphrased words, there are those who know well what is going on and what it is all about but are pushed aside by politics to make way for those who know little and as little as nothing. This is a symptom of social dementia, which should be now cited as an existential problem.
We live in troubled and turbulent times where economic competition, consumerism and domination of certain nation-states have resulted in local, hybrid and proxy wars as well as in an asymmetry of their influence within the international community. One is the chaotic disorder seen in the Middle East, producing waves of refugees reaching Europe; worldwide, some 65 million people from war-ravaged and poverty-stricken countries are on the move, desperate families attempting to reach some Promised Land, but Promised Land there is not. Mothers and children are at the mercy of the waves, unscrupulous profiteers and insensitive bureaucracies. A vast majority of children will face Rivers of Despair from the encroaching ravages of global warming, shifting morbidity to earlier ages and a shorter life expectancy and lower quality of life than their parents, a contribution to the demographic problem of the future. Systems, manmade and natural can collapse: the environment as a result of climate change; health from a global pandemic; a button pressed initiating a short-lived WWIII and nuclear conflagration, which comes closer as related treaties are abandoned and with the persistence of nuclear superiority and acquisition. It might be the collapse of an economic or banking network, or some other unexpected disaster for which we are not prepared.
Since 1945 and the end of WWII, there have been 162 wars. Not one was prevented by the G7, G8, G20 or the UN General Assembly and the Security Council have not managed to do much of anything to stop the ongoing wars in the Middle East even though escalation into a Third Earth War is possible.
WWI was the war to end all wars. It was a war of horror with abominable trench and chemical warfare; killed, maimed, crazed and demented. The first British minister of pensions George Barnes rose to speak to men with war casualties (1917). It was just another fair day for the patients at Britain’s largest limb fitting center. The victims of war trauma were assembled on the lawn of Roehampton Hospital waiting with crutches, eye patches, head bandages and in wheelchairs, with empty sleeves and trouser legs and in silence. Barnes stood for a long while, tears streamed down his cheeks. He left without saying a word, never speaking on government pensions. The horses of the apocalypse, war, trauma, disease and malnutrition had galloped over the continent, 1914-18. Between 1918 and 1939 new and cruel ideologies gathered storm and financial systems collapsed. Barnes entered the international community.
In 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, returned home from Munich confident that peace in our time would prevail. But the peace agreement between Britain and Germany demanded annexation of Czech border areas. Chamberlain was accused of appeasement, of making concessions to avoid conflict, a tactic of flight or fight. On 1 September 1939, German forces invaded Poland and Britain and France entered the war against Germany, with a mission to save the world from the unfolding awful, devastating struggle.
Sometimes, somewhere, then and now the horses of the Apocalypse galloped over lands at enormous cost to peoples and their societies; disease, pestilence, famine, war. Now we must add societal dementia, a cart horse with a heavy hoof beat but with speed of a colt. We strive to find a comprehensive definition for it in its modern guise. It is seen in the mindlessness that characterizes a significant portion of our current moment in history; mounting insecurity in man’s forward journey; limited prospects down the road for a better life for many and little room in which status quo politics or the international community can maneuver to avoid an increasingly unstable and hostile future. It is seen in trivial pursuits and in overabundant violent entertainment and in the absence of gun control. I describe it as a mass deviation from acceptable and proper civilized behavior and development resulting from depression of our social consciousness and an inadequate commitment to the philosophy implicit in original philanthropy and found in the phrase there but for the grace of god go I. It is also expressed in terms of less government and the failing safety net. I note also the difficulties of defining vulnerability individual or population, which can settle over communities as the dust of the horses’ hoofs cover them as well as terrorism, which leaves suffering and depressed communities behind.
Humanity has passed through different forms of social dementia many times, in many places as during WWI and WWII. Its outcomes of destruction and death are always the same. Social dementia is the shame of the civilized world in general, and for each society where it exists in particular. Its greatest tragedy were the death camps in central and Eastern Europe, Nazi policy instruments for mass killing of their Jewish, Slav and Roma populations.
Countries and regions have passed through it, as in the red terror (USSR) and McCarthyism, assassinations and absent gun control in the USA or with ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. It existed during slavery, during civil wars and colonialism and is demonstrated in genocide and massacres in wartime and in peace. It has happened periodically and always and is occurring NOW today to a background of existential questions.
One ‘Then’ was when Hitler ordered his soldiers to meet force with force. Eighty years ago this month, on the first of September, 1939 his order referred to the Polish state saying that Poland had rejected all efforts to establish neighbourly relations; that it had resorted to weapons and that Germans in Poland were the victims of a bloody terror, driven from house and home. Thus WWII the most tragic episode in humanity’s recorded history began to a background of power lust, appeasement and profits from arms; its death toll was 220 Poles per thousand of the population, 116, USSR; 15, France; 8,UK; 7, Belgium and 3, USA.
Hitler claimed that the Poles were responsible for frontier violations and no longer willing to respect the German border, which was unbearable to a great power. His mission was to end insane incitation and meet force with force. He commanded the German army to conduct a fight for honor and the right to life of a resurrected German people. But honor there was none; the right to life was removed from Jews, Roma and all who opposed him. I expect every German soldier mindful of the great traditions of the eternal German military to do his duty and he exhorted the army to remember you are representatives of the national socialists great Germany, long live our people and our Reich.
Hitler said he entered Greece as a friend to free its people from the British. Pictures were posted showing friendly looking German soldiers holding children with a caption Abandoned Greeks, put your trust in the German soldier. Hitler was sure that Greece (and Yugoslavia) would join the Axis forces. Instead the German forces ran into stiff resistance. Nazi Occupation of Greece was a time of enforced famine, forced hard labor, executions, torture and disease. The Jewish community was extinguished. As German forces withdrew from Greece in 1944 there were approximately one million fewer Greeks about 14% of the population, a loss of 137 per 1000 in three years and death by enforced famine in Athens; 100,000 within a short span of a few winter months, 1941-42. The Greek economy contracted by 25% a drop equivalent to that in America’s Great Depression.
The lights went out all over Europe only to be relit in 1945 with the Marshall Plan and with an added glow from the birth of the European Union (Common Market) ushered in with the words nothing can be done without man and nothing achieved without institutions.
Today, we have austerity, BREXIT and attempts to stay demographic collapse, visible in Poland and Greece. 75 years later oxygen is being turned off, precipitating worldwide social emphysema while the mutually assured destruction policy of the Cold War is being replaced by a surely assured policy of destruction; nuclear control agreements fall apart, the planet goes plastic and a new arms race is taking off with the conceptualization of space as crucial to national security of both America and Russia. Meanwhile billionaires enter the race for space and materials have been dumped on the moon by a failed lunar landing. If we are successful in escaping nuclear destruction we will still have to face an awful menu of creeping disasters, naturally occurring as well as those precipitated by climate change.
Danzig became part of the Reich, Poland was declared dangerous territory and a German-Russian nonaggression pact was signed. It would only delay territorial expansion to the East, while on land, sea and air Poland was being attacked. The fuehrer’s demented plans for Germany were commensurate with what he called its destiny meaning the rule of Europe by racist war, which included violence against Polish intelligentsia and Polish families for helping Jews. As the war continued, slaughter escalated in Yugoslavia and in Greece for their resistance to the Reich. And so unfolded, a new phase of social dementia escalating as fascism took hold.
75 years since the end of WWII we face a markedly new phase of social dementia with humanity again threatened as the planet wobbles on its axis. Deterrence is no fail safe against nuclear blunders. Denial is no deterrent to climate change. Communication disruptions, accidents and preemptive strikes become more likely when dialogue between major parties is suspended. Consequently, all instruments of reconciliation and rapprochement between America and Russia must be utilized, however unlikely of success. Diplomatic relations and dialogue between them are as low as at the time of Cuban Missile Crisis (1962). False alarms and near calamities have occurred when fortunately, retaliation was ruled out.
One avenue of circumspection we suggest is that the neurosciences [brain function] can be a useful aid to current decision making of a geopolitical nature [health diplomacy, conflict resolution] in conjunction with socially regulated artificial intelligence and through processes based on past historical relationships between the two super powers in brain research and the technology of the time [Electroencephalograph, galvanometer]. It may just be possible to apply neuro-physiological thinking to improve decision-making in international confrontations and to improve conflict reduction policy by what is now referred to as mining the brain. This is still an embryonic idea circulating in many places as well as within a Balkan institution with ties to the international community1.
The brain and what makes them different (and as with cultures) has always fascinated; Lenin’s, Einstein’s and Ishy’s. Questionable claims have been made about the ability to detect the material substrate of genius and the neural correlates of exceptional mental capacity. Our thesis is that a reexamination of past research in brain research between America [left brain-split brain]and Russia [right brain] and the dichotomy of bionics-bioengineering can be a useful communication channel opener and provide a useful tool to rapprochement at this a time of poor relations. As the world moves towards a new arms race, it is imperative to work towards arms control and the alleviation of existential threats not only to the two nuclear superpowers but to the totality of humanity.
The United Nations must be reinvigorated as the guardian of human rights and the defense of people at greatest risk of abuse. It must take back the promotion of social equality in a world where a salary is often a means of survival. It must restore dignity and the concept of a well spent life. We need to see progress in dealing with climate change and ensure democratic practices.
Dementia depleted consciousness is a dangerous threat to democratic society, human existence and WWIII can result from its growing absence.
1 The mission of the European Center Peace and Development (ECPD), Belgrade is to translate the culture of peace into concrete actions. Belgrade was a well tested strategic location, during WWII, and the Cold War and may be even more useful at this a time of a mutually assured destruction policies between America and Russia.