Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Does USA need Plato?

(Philosophy of double-thinking)

One of the main objectives of schooling is to master the ability to think critically and understand clearly. What usually happens is that, through our learning we tend to think critically about historical events and understand somewhat clear the events and processes but when it comes to times in which we live, we lose that grasp as contradictory information fill our space and of course we have our own fears and biases that make us more vulnerable to confusion than clarity. I should acknowledge that I am in great debt to one of my middle school teacher who was aware of the problem and was using historical events as thought experiments to make us free ourselves from our biases and fears and to make us understand clearly our current positions. He was drawing clear pictures of personalities and events and once we were clear about them then he was asking us to replace ourselves with one of characters in those events and write down, what would we be doing on those situations? We had to read our constructions in front of class. It was amazing exercise as we were learning the strategies of fellow classmates and also their feedbacks on our own…. This middle school methodology of thought experiments is of course very rare and we see a rich example of it in the dialectical works of Plato.

In these days, if one reads New York Times, Time Magazine, Foreign Affairs, The economists and like media giants, one gets a general feeling that he doesn’t really need critical skills to not point out the prevailing confusions. There is a general trend of escaping from the core issues and instead trying to convince by expert analyses of by-product issues. It doesn’t matter how much data one pours and how much one tries to appear professional or scientific in his analyses, by-products will still continue to rain until the core issues are not addressed. Reading these trends for long now, I decided to dust off my middle school exercise…

It seems that history is repeating itself. It is repeating itself not in terms of place, characters and events but in shared Psyche and thinking. One who is familiar with the history of Athens of the time when Plato was living there, can see very clearly the shared anxieties with that of today’s US citizen. Engaging in prolonged wars have cost economy, economic meltdown, fear of the rising powers (esp, China) and Occupy Wall Street movements (In fact there is two parallel movements, movement of rightest rich by name of Tea-Party movement and movement of somewhat left + Poor, the Occupy Wall Street movement; Whatever, my discussion is not about movements but a struggle within society) all these cumulatively have intensified the fear of losing the glory that US was enjoying generally after WWII and specially after Fall of Soviet Union. This fear of losing glory is what Athenians were feeling at the end of 5th BCE. I am not really sure if USA can parallel in number of great men that Athens produced in very short amount of time (we come to that in coming paragraphs) to give birth to a Plato (As almost all previous superpowers and empires like Soviet Union, British Empire, Ottoman Empire, Mongol Empire, Caliphate Empire, Persian and Roman Empire couldn’t do when there were a prevailing fears of falling) but who knows…. It will be interesting that we go to circumstances that made Plato create “Republic” and imagine what if the Plato was living right now in USA, how he would responds to current situations and how his “Republic would look like,

The fear of losing is one of the strongest drives just to second the very immediate needs. What this drive can do is not really a secret. When this drive, drives great spirits they make history. As I mentioned earlier, one of the greatest spirits in the Philosophy that have deepest impacts on major civilizations after him is Plato. One who is familiar with Western and Muslim civilizations can easily see deep impressions of Plato, in social, political and intellectual thinking. It may be even a little funny that each era had rejected the basic principles of previous ones but has adapted Plato by reinterpreting it. Plato’s strength is in the ingenuity of his dialectal methods. In his most popular work, “Republic” he constructs his Philosophical arguments around the character of Socrates. Socrates is a character that left no writing of his own so there is doubt on his existence yet he is a character that has inspired all generations of Philosophers and will continue to inspire. In “Republic” Plato construct ideal “Just City State” with an ideal “Just Government” headed by a “Philosopher King” through Socrates and his discussions with some other Athenians especially Glaucon and Adeimantus who challenge Socrates in uncovering Justice and Good in the house of Cephalus in the city of Piraeus . Socrates went down to city of Piraeus to see the festival in the honor of a new god and there, Cephalus invited him to his house and with his insistence somewhat forced Socrates to go with his to his house. At house of Cephalus a discussion began within Sophists and Philosophers challenging each other on concepts of Justice and Good and in reply to challenging questions that are mostly based on thought experiments and human nature, Socrates constructs the “Just City State” with a “Just Government”.

My aim here is not to discuss the Plato/Socrates’ Just City State but Why Plato felt the need to write the “Republic” and how it is relevant to our time,
Athenians had rightfully deserved to think themselves as a hub of excellence of their time. Their cultural, political, social, economic, artistic and especially philosophical excellences were unparalleled. A lot of you may be familiar with Golden Age of Athens or The age of Pericles (named after great statement and orator, Pericles) but a brief introduction is useful for those who are not much familiar with that period and it might be even become more interesting to parallel the events of that piece of Athenian history with history of USA,

In 507 BCE (Before Common Era), the Pisistratid Tyranny was overthrown to be replaced by democracy (US history; American Revolution and independence; the birth of a democratic country) and for next 100 years democracy become part of souls and heats of Athenians. Athens formed a league of city states (like union of states to form United States) against Persian (Persia was superpower of that time with mightiest military and economic power and expansionist in nature) and defeated Persians in 480 BCE and rose as a hegemonic military, economic, political and cultural power of its time (USA by leading the allied forces defeated Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan rose a hegemonic military, economic, political and economic power after WWII). Of course this is what a lot of other great nations may also share but what made Athens’ Golden age distinct from all, was the number of great men that it produced in very short period of time of several decades ranging from Great Philosophers, Sophists, Historians, Mathematicians, Play writers, Physicians and orators and that is really unparalleled throughout of history even to our time. Let me give you a few names so you could have at least a picture of it (all dates are in BCE),

Socrates (469-399)–The greatest Philosophical teacher with deepest impact on Plato-, Democritus (465-400), Empedocles (493-433), Anaxagoras (500-428), Pythagoras (570-495)- The great mathematician-, Heraclitus (540-480), Parmenides (515-440)- Plato called him as his intellectual father – Aristophanes (450-385)- Great comic poet, wrote a play in which he made fun of Socrates- Euripides (486-406), Sophocles (496-406). Hippocrates (460-370)–The great Physician and founder of Hippocratan School of medicine, Herodotus (460-370) –The first true historian that analyzed events rather than just recording them; also called father of modern history, Thucydides (460-395), Aeschylus (525-456) and some great Sophists like Protagoras (485-400), Gorgias (483-376), Isocrates (436-338)- The greatest rival of Plato-

Plato being born in such a great and dynamic time and also due to his personal tendency and accompanying wealth to have full time to devote in learning and absorbing the knowledge all around him, he had a deep consciousness of this glory. But on other hand he was also witnessing the fall of this glory (And this intensified his feeling of losing the highest glory),
A lengthy war of 27 years (431-404 BCE) broke out between Athens (and it’s allied city States; some may like to call it Athenian empire because Athens had started to play the role of master and it was an unequal alliance) and Peloponnesians (Greek heartland) under leadership of Sparta. Persians helped Sparta and Athens accepted defeat at the end of war and Athenian democracy was replaced by the Tyranny of Thirty. After this defeat Athens never recovered fully to claim back its golden age.

Plato was 24-25 years old at the time of defeat of Athens. Besides he had also seen the execution of his beloved teacher Socrates at the hand of a democratic government at 399 BCE so all these events, the glory and then fall of glory because of corrupt and opportunistic nature of rulers impacted him deeply so when he was writing Republic, he had specifically considered some basic points based on all these experiences,

-Stability is the most important aspect of a city state (based on his experiences of fall and fear of losing glory of his beloved city state)
-It is important to understand human nature and based on human nature and through human nature one should understand what is Good and what is Just……..
- Inequality among citizen based on their nature; Cast systems based on the metal nature of citizen (Gold, Silver and Bronze)
- Education is key in bringing useful citizen and also preventing chaos so Plato suggest things like censorship that we might not like in our age……
- Specializations of roles, only aptitude are not enough…
- The ruling class should be Philosophers; The corrupt and opportunistic rulers were the main cause of fall of Athens so he suggest Philosophers as king.

These are only some of the suggestions; What I want you to consider is the doublethink (double-standard) suggestions of Plato…. Philosopher King, Cast System, Censorship, communism seem very controlled society and harsh to us but it was Just to Plato. There is one main cause for it and that is to bring Stability and Stop Losing…

As I mentioned in the beginning, the Fear of Losing, is the strongest drive after very immediate needs, and when it comes to society and government the Fear of losing develops into a unique Psychology in which we accept “Double-Standards” as Just and Good and it is what one can see clearly in Plato’s Republic and also in our time. Let me elaborate very briefly,

Killing is called murder and is considered unjust but murder by Military is considered just and it is called war (It is favored because it provides stability). An intentional dying is called suicide and is considered bad but death in war is considered good and heroic (it is favored as it provides stability). People overwhelmingly accepts this but what is amazing that we accept double-thinking or double-standards in our lives, like We think of unequal taxation as Just because people who provide stability (by creating job and increasing productivity) to country deserve certain privileges while knowing that it gives competitive edge to some.

We can go on and on, on countless examples but in short we tend to accept double-standards as Just either within society or to foreigners and that Tolerance for Injustice silently grow in terms of accumulating powers and privileges to authorities to actually destabilize the society instead of stabilizing it. Then we see people come to streets and demands for restoration of their rights…

To make sure that I am not out of track, once again the main idea of Republic is to the construction of a “Just City State” with a “Just Government” but what if the concept of “Justice” itself is flawed? The same problem is still prevailing. This is the core issue that people escape from. It doesn’t matter how much data you compile, how diverse charts you use and how much sophisticated statistics you present, IF THE CONCEPT OF JUSTICE IS FLAWED, then you can’t expect JUSTICE…. And as long as Injustices are tolerable, people tolerate them but when they become intolerable then people revolt….. It doesn’t matter where it happens; the consequences are the same….

We live in very different time than that of Plato. It is a time that both Sophists and Philosophers teach in institutions, work in think tanks, works as journalists and write books and blogs and make policies but none of them parallel to Sophists and Philosophers of Athens. Were there real Philosophers, we would definitely see a Plato who would try to bring concepts of Justice compatible with our time and construct a Republic to give a clear idea and intellectual backing to people who come to streets around the world for their rights. What Arab Spring, London Riots, Occupy Wall Street movement, Green Movements of Iran, Burmese democratic movement and feeling of uneasiness in EU, South Asia and Latin America, Central Asia and Africa are lacking in general is the lacks of a clear idea of what they want (some ask democracy but really doesn’t know what democracy is). Of course a new version of “Republic” would help them in refining their demands….

Coming back to our title, every day we see a flood of news, articles, analyses and a lot of books with complicated language in US but still we see confusions prevailing because there is no Plato. If there were a Plato, people would not agree with him but his dialectical methods, of course would help people to consider the most fundamental questions and do not get lost in by-products….

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

When we create beauty?

Philosophy has three main branches, Logic, Aesthetics and Ethics. If you like it in a more coherent and simplified version then wisdom, from a Philosophical perspective is a Rational, Ethical and Joyful life. Though repetition makes writing boring but sometimes it adds to clarity so from Philosophical perspective, “Logic+ Aesthetics+ Ethics = Wisdom”. In common practice we include Logic and Ethics at core of Wisdom and usually do not give the same value to the aesthetics. Some like to link the aesthetics to elite class. Frankly, unlike the Logic and Ethics, Philosophers also look confused on aesthetics, may be under influence of society. Tonight (Monday), I had the role of Table Topic Master in our Toastmaster club. This role requires preparing some topics and randomly asking the club members to give a two minute talk on the topics. It is mostly Philosophers who talk about aesthetics but the truth is that everybody has its sense of beauty so I thought it is a wonderful opportunity for me to hear some “non-philosophical” perspectives about beauty… so instead of giving each person a topic, I asked everybody the same question, “what do you think, beauty is and what was the most beautiful thing that intrigued you? (Aesthetics is all about beauty)………….
My own concept of beauty is, “everything that makes life more lively and durable is beautiful” ….I have great tendency to link Philosophy to life and anything that is not linked to life, though it might still be called Philosophy but for me it is nothing more than just mere abstraction (This is one of my personal prejudices that I open heartedly accept)… and one of the main reasons that aesthetics is given very little attention is actually abstraction (abstraction means hollowing out something of life). Take for example the concept of aesthetics in Marxism (Marxism is thought to have a very practical and skeptical approach to arts), it links arts to economy and have a utilitarian approach to it while in our daily lives, we appreciate beauty as something priceless. Platonic Aesthetics on other hand is blurred, having two opposite approach to beauty and art. Beauty is good and poetry as main form of art is evil….. I am not saying that Marxist and Platonic approach to aesthetics is wrong but instead saying that, “beauty is shallow but its impact on life is deep…In fact it is so deeply rooted in our psyche that when we are in short of beauty we imagine and create it and it is why different forms of art and literature exist. Just rethink the fictions and movies, though we know that the stories in them are fake and imaginary but we like to believe them as true and react to them and it is why people cry, become sad, become happy, excited and sometime inspired enough to try them in their real life. When I first time saw well grown people wearing strange costumes in Halloween, I was shocked and then realized that it is just a way to beautify life”. Yes, beauty is skin deep, seasonal and not eternal but ignoring it is just to make life shallower. I know beauty is not enough; it is why we move to deeper things, things that are more perfect, deeper and eternal. Beauty is like life imperfect, shallow and perishable but still we seldom sacrifice life for something deeper. Life stands the same but in order not to get tired of it we treat it differently and take it as it comes. Same is true with beauty, every time we get fresh eyes, we see more beauty and of beauty and also we have to take it as comes or we lose it.…. If we insist for deeper understanding like logic and ethics then we will just destroy beauty…. Take for example the poetry, if you try to make it logical and ethical you will just make it lose its poetic sense, the same stands true for painting and other forms of arts. All natural beauties, though have generalized geometries but do not follow them. Two apples seldom appear same….
If there is something related to humans, the evolutionary biologists and anthropologists definitely have an evolutionary explanation :)….. Of course, everything has evolved so it would be unjust to not mention their opinion :)….. Like Marxists, they also have utilitarian approach for aesthetics. The sense of beauty evolved to help in selecting partners with healthy genes. Beauty is the expression of health and productivity so Physical beauty has an evolutionary advantage. On other hand, arts evolved for emotional communications and human evolved it to make communication more effective. Of course beauty increases the appeal and effectiveness of messages. From stone tools and cave paintings to smart phones and glamorous cars and buildings, human used aesthetics very effectively to communicate with right hemisphere of brain and hence influence the decision…. Of course, we can’t separate the beauty and art from our biology and psyche but they can’t answer satisfactorily the diversity of approaches to beauty and also the causes of our boredom with beauty (if we are exposed to same beauty we get bored, you won’t enjoy a music if it is repeated as you enjoyed it the first time and tends to change it)….
We can’t be content to a beauty for long and have to move. It is just how the nature of curiosity is so I wanted to find a pattern in different perspectives about beauty. Before going to club meeting to find the diversity of concepts, I googled for some intellectual quotes on beauty in order to increase the diversity of available concepts for myself to find a pattern in them. I chose the following ones which had a definitive approaches,
“There is a kind of beauty in imperfection”…………. Unknown?
“For me the greatest beauty always lies in the great clarity”…… Gottold Ephraim Lessing
“Goodness is beauty in the best estate”…….Christopher Marlow
“Beauty is whatever gives joy”……Douglas Horton
“A woman whose smile is open and whose expression is glad has a kind of beauty no matter what she wears”…… Anne Roiphe
Though all these quotes have somewhat definitive approaches to beauty but while reading them I had the feeling that, they are all describing additive aspects of beauty instead of saying what beauty is and it is what Confucius describes this way,
“Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it”….
Confucius’ saying sweeps out evolutionary approach as well utilitarian and ideal approaches of Philosophers by linking their approaches to beauty with their limitations of interests and knowledge. You may not wonder if a Physicist say, “Black hole is the most beautiful things ever existed” because he sees oneness in black hole and that is the greatest order in anything exists….
Back to club meeting, I was taking note while each member was expressing their perceptions of beauty, and following is what I noted,
Beauty is,
What inspires us or make us like to do things without attaching price tag to what we do…….
What intrigued us intellectually……
In Selflessness……
In nature….
In what relates to me…..
In completing tasks or overcoming the difficulties or in results of work…..
And
Beauty transcends from outside to inside……….
So what was the pattern in all these?.... I think, the pattern is the same as Confucius says, “Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it”…. So whenever we are intrigued with some beautiful thing it means that we were just open to see the beauty of it…. And again, when we run of beauty, we create it and that is what we have to be conscious of in order to live deeper by beautifying it and spreading the beauty…………

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Who am I?....Let’s ask it once again….

Suppose that you are living in May 1997 and the Pentium II computer had just hit the market. The lure of a modern computer with most capacity, functionality and even more importantly speed made you to come to market and get one of those computers. You were also one those lucky and rare people who had access to commercialized internet (Internet was commercialized in 1995). You would appreciate Windows 95’s friendly interface operating system (You had still to wait one year more to get Windows 98) and of course Yahoo Search Engine (Yahoo become public in Jan 1994). What would be your feelings? You might be overwhelmed by the amount of the information available and connectivity across globe in a small machine available 24 hours at comfort of your room. The freedom, ease of access and most importantly the amount of information would make you think that you are living at the peak of human history. Suppose at the height of this excitement, a Philosopher intruder had interrupted and had asked you, “Who are you?”…Knowing that this question has been repeated by all generations since the birth of Humankind, most probably, you would try to give a very intelligent answer, “I am human history”….”Can you elaborate, how?” The Philosopher would inquire because “living history” seldom exists…..Just inspired by your computer and internet, the immediate answer that might come to your mind, “How we know about human history?” you might ask the Philosopher, “Through books, people, Buildings, cultures and ruins” the Philosopher might reply…”Do you mean human history is all in this stuffs?”….”Yeah, it is what we call human history”….”Well then I am human history because I have all this with me and right here in my computer”……
I would not disagree much with this line of reasoning as you and your computer had not access to Google Books, Google maps, You Tube, Amazon and all sort of these internet based archives (Google become public 2004, Amazon 2004, You Tube 2005) at that time…so Of Course, you still didn’t belong to this part of human history….but I would rather tell you “I accept that you are human history but still, Who are you?”….
The reason that this answer is not satisfying because it is what everybody can rightfully claim. Well, this claim was always there and we can find Spiritualists, Philosophers and in our time Physicists (David Bohm for example) who were preaching the oneness of self and in answer for “Who am I?” were saying that we all are different expressions of same reality…. Well, there is no doubt in oneness of both origin and content in everything yet, what we call different expressions of this oneness is showing that there is something besides of oneness, and that is the core cause of difficulty in answering, “Who am I?”
Well, you may say, what if I pose the same question to you, what would be your answer? That is the point that I wanted to bring you in previous introductory thought processes. My answer is, “Like all those Philosophers, Spiritualists and some Physicists who say that we are one in origin and content but different forms of expressions, similarly as an individual, it seems that I am one in the origin but the content of “self”, itself is not really one, so it is why generalizations does not fit. We see Philosophers are helpless in generalizations about it so they can’t do anything except just changing the places of words, one group say, “Self precedes Existence” and another group make “HISTORY” just by changing the places of words and make it, “Existence precedes Self” and when modern Philosophers do not find any way to make any more changes so they try to be really innovative and add an adjective to “Self” to make it “Bodily-Self”… How am I sure of different “self”?.... Well, just put a glance at works of Psychologists, they make a lot of generalizations and try to find a common Psyche so it help them in their practices but it never become like other Sciences, coherent because there are not a single self that one could formulate laws and principles… Let me make it even more simplified by another explanation, if we had a common psyche or “self” in more Philosophical and Spiritual sense that we would had coherent world views though in different versions and that is what we do not have…………..

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Reasoning and Philosophy; An alternative definition

Psychologists are now liking to claim that Aha, finally we have a breakthrough in knowing what has reasoning evolved for? It is not evolved to find the truth as popularly believed so far but instead, it is evolved to rationalize what we believe in and it is dominantly used to confirm or reaffirm our positions. Let me elaborate it a little bit,

The main tool used for dominance is communication. Communication is not just used to transfer information but more vitally it is used to set social orders or struggle in the social order and reasoning is the most effective and penetrative tool for this purpose. So we see social groups are using reasoning to dominate other social groups. As social groups are recognized by their beliefs or cultures so they use the reasoning to justify or prove superiority of their cultures (Our Values VS others’ values) to dominate other groups and it is all done through different mediums of communication. The social groups with most advanced communication skills, diverse and advanced communication mediums are also successful in using reasoning effectively for their dominance. Well, though all these are true at large as we not only can easily find a lot of historical evidences for it but we are also witnessing it’s functioning every day as part of our normal experiences. Reasoning is used as convincingly and effectively by extremists to produce suicide bombers to terrify and subjugate people as it is used by the democratic forces to give people more choices and control over their lives.

But is the only usage of reasoning, to dominate others? Fortunately we can all agree that the answer is “NO”. We can see a lot of revolt of honest minds against the usage of reasoning for dominance. It would be somewhat unjust to talk about reasoning and not to mention Ancient Greece for its everlasting impacts in putting the usage of reasoning in the right direction. Ancient Athens had a participative democracy where all could share their opinions and propose solutions and it had created a high demand for reasoning as it was determining factor for the social status of individuals in society. So a group of individuals appeared who were offering their services to train the citizen of Athens in effective usage of reasoning. These individuals were known as Sophists. Though social groups have always used reasoning for their dominance but Sophists were the first ones to make it available on the commercial basis. Though their teachings weren’t unlawful but certainly it wasn’t matching with conscious of high spirited men so we see some honest spirits who had revolted against these traditions and had not only changed the course of human history but also the fat of humanity. We all aware at least with the names of few of these rebels and if you still like the repetition of some names then I would like to name Socrates, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Diogenes….., etc.

In our age we see the very clear division that I mentioned in previous paragraphs in the usage of reasoning. It doesn’t require any skill to distinguish individuals who represent some group of people and use the reasoning for their dominance (though we also can find individuals who use reasoning for social justice of oppressed people rather than dominance) and people who use reasoning to find the truth or reality like Researchers, Scientists and Philosophers.

I didn’t have to go through all these and just translating the word “Philosophy” as “Love of wisdom” was enough to say that reasoning is not just evolved to be used for dominance but humankind have found other usages of it also. But then I thought it is necessary to have some introduction before I could present an alternative definition of Philosophy in the perspective of usage of reasoning. I think, the literal meaning does not define the Philosophy as majority of people love wisdom but they do not use reasoning in finding truth. Philosophers not only love wisdom but they are actually “in love” with wisdom. Loving something is very different than being in love with something. When one is “in love” he/she can’t think of other things. So a true Philosopher is “in love” with wisdom and he/she can’t think of using it for dominance. Those who use it for other purposes are the victims of their instincts and haven’t got the chance or didn’t try to liberate themselves and become higher than their basic instinctual urges.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Do opinions matter in making history?

We are in a totally new era of human history and it is totally different from what we read in the works of famous historians like famous of all times, Herodotus who lived in 5th Century BC and known as the first true historian, Abn Khaldun who is thought as the father of Philosophy of history and Edward Gibbon who is thought to be the first modern historian by his three volumes of gigantic books under title of, “The history of the decline and fall of Roman Empire”. How our time is different from the rest of the human history, let’s have a quick look,
In the middle of 13th century the human population was estimated to be around 300 million that is less than 1/4th of current Chinese population, current Chinese Population is 1,339,724,852 (1.3 Billion) and yet we see a state of nonstop wars in that time,
The main series of Crusades occurred between 1095 and 1291, while the crusades were not over yet in Europe and Middle East that Mongols came down out of the Asian Plateau on the mission of the conquering world and waged a series of wars that continued for two centuries. Still Mongol conquests were going on when another famous war began in Europe known as The Hundred Years' War. (The series of wars waged from 1337 to 1453 for throne of France and England). Soon after recovering from The Hundred Years’ War, the European States started another series of wars beyond the Europe to colonize African, Asian, American and Australian continents that began in 1500 and continued until mid-twentieth century and lastly there were two world wars in early and middle of twentieth century.
If you look to these series of nonstop wars, each one of them were world wars of their own times and we see as the human population increase along those wars, the casualties are also increasing. In World War Second there were over 70 million loss of human lives that is 3 and half times of the total population of Saudi Arabia (Saudi citizen). It gives the true sense of saying, “Peace is an interval between two wars”.
Since the formation of United Nations and declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the world didn’t see a world war in last 60 years though the smaller wars have never ceased. Since the collapse of Soviet Union, the threat of world war become negligible, adding to that spread of World Wide Web has increased the level of awareness among people and people have started to focus more on their essential issues rather than going to wars. Does these new developments make us right to claim that we are living in a totally new era of history that is different from all known histories?
I think there are two basic evolutions in human affairs that make this claim stand to be true,
Firstly, the wars are waged based on opinions and devotions and not based on facts….
And
Secondly, the spread of democratic values and information technologies have evolved a general appeal of choosing, “Let’s make the world a better place to live” over “Let’s dominate/conquer the world”…..
The second point make some sense but the first point might seems counterintuitive so let me clarify it,
When it comes to facts, we look to Scientists, so the Behavioral Scientists might say that aggression is a trait that have evolved to increase the level of fitness by acquiring more territory, food, mating opportunities and also Psychologists may say that aggression is a built-in instinct of humankind yet we see people usually go to war not because they have an aggressive nature but because of devotion or deeply influenced by an opinion. It is the concepts of racial, cultural superiority or concepts of having right or wrong beliefs and ideologies that make people go to war with each other. And interesting point to note is that most of these concepts of superiority, inferiority and right and wrong are nothing more than opinions. Of course we can’t count them as facts.
A quick look to history of major religions and racial superiority concepts, we find that most of the claims weren’t more than claims,
The core concept of Christianity is “love for all” but the history has witnessed crusades and sectarian violence among Catholics and Protestants. Islam means peace and the killing of a single person is considered equal to the killing of all humanity and yet throughout Islamic history we see nonstop bloodshed of Muslims and non-Muslims that still continues and definitely will continue. Similarly any nation who claimed a racial or cultural superiority found itself against other nations and have caused wars, Second World War, Arab-Israel conflict, Conflicts in Afghanistan, Indo-Pakistan Conflicts, Chinese-Japanese Conflict are some to name.
If we truly analyze these conflicts, we find that they are based on Opinions rather than Facts. No geneticists or Behavioral Scientists will be able to say, Hey, here are the genes that show Germans are superior than Jews or Jews are superior than Arabs or Pakistanis are superior than Indians or Pashtoons are superior than Hazaras…. All these superiority claims are based on opinions…
On other hand, no Philosopher will be able to tell you, hey, here I found an epistemological basis that Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism or any other religion is true or false. The basis of truth and false is based on the devotions of followers.
So, we find people go to wars either because of Opinion or because of their devotions and no one can ignore that opinions are key in creating devotions or increase and decrease the levels of devotions.
Now, we come back to our main question and that was, “Are we living in a very different time in history”,
The answer now should be clear that, yes we are. We live in a time that most of the governments are democratic and the public opinions are key in making their decisions. Besides, World Wide Web made it possible for masses to have an impact in participative democratic process by allowing people to share their opinions. It is amusing to note that even in the age of democracy and internet, devotions find their way to deceitfully misguide public opinions and go on war. The lies by some notable democratic countries on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and creating war are the most recent example. I am not discussing whether Iraq war was right or wrong but what I am saying that How Far Devotion can go that Public representatives can easily deceive their public and by noting this point How Much it is becoming important to consider the Opinions and share your part in “Making the world a better place to live” rather let it go for wars that result in killings of innocent people, stoppage of trade, deepening of hatred among nations and victory of terror and fear…..
Your Opinion is as important in shaping the future of world as the drops of rain that shape the surface of land and remember we have the imprints of some rain drops that are hundreds of millions old….