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Wages of War

As we look forward to the future of Chivalry-Now, history shows us that a window of opportunity may soon be opening. A brief overview will explain.
    Before the American Civil War, the people of the United States were largely influenced by two strains of national thought.
    The first came from Enlightenment philosophy, John Lock in particular. From here the ideas of freedom, equality and democracy were drawn into the formation of a new type of populous government. This Age of Reason was actually in decline by 1860, when Abraham Lincoln became the last Enlightenment president.
    The second strain of thought was that of the Second Great Awakening, a religious revival that inspired those who didn't trust reason and manmade ideologies. They valued faith instead. These two strains of thought co-existed in tension with one another, as other tensions broke out between the North and South over the issue of expanding slavery to the territories. People found themselves placing their trust in either God or reason. As secession transformed itself into war, people on either side believed that things would work in their favor. Either God or man would win the day and set things right.
    They were terribly wrong. Four years of bloody war and more than half a million soldiers dead indicted both philosophies, leaving a confused moral depression in its wake. These were known as the Brown Decades,a time for mourning and confusion, where the sheer lack of divine intervention left the whole nation staggering in doubt. No one knew what to believe anymore. It was during this time that Capitalism gained its strongest foothold in America, instituting a new aristocracy of wealthy business families.
    Capitalism worked wonders during this time, thanks to ever-increasing technology, strengthening the economy and changing the world. People started to feel positive about the future, and found their optimism rooted in economic advances. They felt competitive, even cocky in their attitudes, failing to replace the breakdown of their previous philosophy with something new and better.
    Nationalism flourished throughout Europe in the form of imperialism, with each nation jockeying for economic supremacy, as if power was just a game. Thus the stage for conflict was set with nationalistic optimism. When an Austrian prince and his wife were assassinated by a disgruntled Serb, international alliances quickly took advantage of the situation, and the terribly foolish result was the tragedy of World War I.
    The unprecedented devastation and loss of life from this war, which seemed both fruitless and unending at the time, instigated another breakdown of belief and philosophical confidence throughout Western culture. It seemed that Capitalism, which had replaced loftier ideals with the motive of profit, had failed to keep the peace and preserve the lives of millions. Instead, it had blinded the supposedly "advanced nations" of the world to the simple consequences of greed for wealth and power. They had cheerfully walked into a war that they soon regretted, that quickly escalated into a bloody stalemate.
    The ending of the war introduced another massive philosophical trauma, but this one was even more insidious. It reached out to nihilism, skepticism, disrespect for past ideas, a tearing down of classical art and literature. The work of Nietzsche was resurrected to fill the gap, nearly dismantling the moral directives of Christianity. At the same time, Freud's deterministic psychology laid a pseudo-scientific basis for dispelling what remained of Enlightenment ideals. Reason was losing ground to the wildness of Nietzsche's will for power and Freud's intrusive interpretation of sexual repression.
    Karl Marx convinced compliant intellectuals that culture was determined by economic systems, and that the seeming success of Capitalism would only lead to war and revolution. Lacking more viable beliefs, the Western view of economics solidified its hold, no longer needing to justify its prime motivation — that of greed. It didn't have to. Nietzsche said it was something good, and Freud concurred that it was, at the very least, natural to the human condition.
    In this philosophical chaos, Hitler boldly offered the German people a sense of pride and self-determination. It came with a terrible price, however. Those who followed his had to sell their souls to his immoral dictatorship, which seemed to be based on Nietzsche's critique. With other European nations still staggering to find something to believe in after the previous war, Hitler made his grab for dark destiny. The carnage and attempted genocide of World War II showed Western civilization how its philosophical vacuum was nothing to be trifled with.

    While the final vanquish of Hitler took terrible tolls in Europe, and forever changed its imperial aspirations, the U.S. found itself propped up on an industrial capacity previously unimagined. Their involvement in the war was of shorter duration than the European nations, and their own national infrastructure was enhanced rather than devastated. War had been economically good for America.
    At the same time, the soulless homogeneity of the factory took hold, squelching individualism, another Enlightenment ideal. People were not encouraged to think for themselves, but to fit-in. Radio, television, audio records, national sports, conveyer belt production and cookie-cutter housing booms produced a bland, consumer-value mentality that Capitalism could thrive on. People dressed alike, spoke alike, drank soda and beer in a knee jerk attempt to be like everyone else. It was a field day for marketing, which did its best to create a mass society of complacent and happy consumers. Prosperity had been defined solely in materialistic terms, that now seemed achievable. It did come with a cost, however. A cost to freedom and personal integrity, but few saw it that way.
    The "chosen people euphoria" of post-war America was suddenly challenged by the Korean conflict. Here was a costly war that led to stalemate rather than victory. At home, the market still boomed, and so the war was somewhat easier to ignore. Factories whirred, and the constant entertainment that television delivered became addictive, furthering the control of consumerism.
    The Viet Nam War changed all that with a cultural upheaval that has not yet been mended. Questions that were stifled previously were now vomited into the streets with protest marches and riots. The hypocrisy of supposedly moral greed was being serious challenged, but not replaced by the idealistic hunger of a younger generations, a hunger that had nothing in place to satisfy it, other than the moral greed it was condemning, which they finally bought into.
    While the counter-culture was good at tearing things down, it failed at building anything of substantial meaning. What followed was a decadent retreat into commercialism and technology that produced the Western culture as we have it today — a landscape of cheap political extremism filled with uninspired, mediocre ideas, protecting an economic juggernaut that would ravage the world in the name of instant profit. Our sense of spiritual loss is no intense. Only the constant distraction of the media, and the sheer lack of anything else, makes it palatable.
    We are still being pressured to fit-in, to not think for ourselves, to repeat worthless clichés, and find happiness in the latest toy. Computers and cell phones have intensified this barrage of distraction, giving us fewer and fewer moments to think and reflect, and find human satisfaction. Greed is not something just tolerated anymore. It is something admired, emulated, and rewarded, to the detriment of all.
    Terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, and the War in Iraq that followed, have left deep wounds in that culture as well. We responded as if we had learned nothing from the past. Moral reason had finally been thrown out the window entirely.
   
We were told by our leaders to fight terrorism by going shopping. They cut taxes to pay for the war. They invaded a nation that had nothing to do with 9-11, and drew down the forces searching for Al Qaeda. The Middle East distrusted the West for being imperial aggressors, and we bolstered that image instead of showing anything different, thereby helping our enemies. Our own understanding of freedom and democracy had been so weakened that we thought it was something we could impose upon a different culture. Our arrogance was so great that we refused to listen to our allies, and pasted pejoratives on those who did not bend to our will.
   
What has all this done to our values, our core beliefs? Historically, the ravages of war have led to philosophical disruption, and power going into the wrong hands. Values are questioned. People look for answers where none are given, or are completely led astray.
   
The War in Iraq will eventually end, but what will our disenchantment find when we reflect on it?

  • Political extremism locked in a battle that is meaningless to most people, and detrimental to progress.
  • Religious leaders using scare tactics and Vaudeville entertainment to milk their flocks of money.
  • Religious ethics turned on their heads in the name of money and power.
  • A media committed to feeding off of people's fears and vices.
  • Economic assurances that refuse to explain how a nation bounces back from losing its industrial base, as investments go overseas and millions of poor immigrants take jobs and lower wages.
  • An oil crisis that our benevolent business leaders responded to by glutting the market with SUVs and a sore lack of energy alternatives.
  • A denial of global warming that obliterates reason entirely, as if people could not see for themselves what is blatant before their eyes.
  • Political corruption so engrained that it doesn't even hide what it is doing.
  • Patriotism that cares more about image rather than people, division rather than unity, power rather than equality and freedom.

There will be a backlash during this time when people will question their failed beliefs and look for something better. They will see that consumerism has failed them, and that religion has transformed itself in something manipulative rather than liberating. They will distrust political and religious leaders, and their greedy counterparts as well, celebrities and corporate CEOs.
    Here we will find an opportunity for people to find truth for themselves, and hopefully resurrect ideals that are more intelligent, humane and progressive. A New Age of Enlightenment perhaps? A New Renaissance of individualism and creativity? A movement that reinterprets technology as a tool rather than a consumer addiction?
    We must ready our ideals for this window of opportunity, or it will be filled by something less deserving. We have to prepare ourselves by studying the issues and offering sensible alternatives. We have to liberate ourselves to show others the path to freedom.
    This is our challenge as Fellows, Companions and Knights of Chivalry-Now.

Now is the time to prepare.

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