“Know thyself!” and a Credible Defence

When we look at the world stage, we see two forces at work, even though they are sometimes intertwined and difficult to distinguish. One holds that man is incapable of creating peace and harmony in the long run, and therefore must be governed either with wisdom or with discipline. The other holds that peace and harmony are possible, but require self-mastery nurtured by autonomy and responsibility. Both reveal an awareness of our nature, and the split goes through our own hearts. On the one side we project our fears onto others and take the fight outside, and on the other the fight is within, because we are aware of our shadow. So, the question isn’t really subjugation or independence, but a question of whether we know ourselves well enough, to take the fight where the problem is.

“Know yourself” is the first of the Delphic maxims inscribed in the forecourt of the temple of Apollo. It isn’t just a maxim that should be applied to those who boast. It isn’t just a praise of knowledge of the human body. It is a maxim that points to that which drives us, our motivation, and our intention. The two other maxims were “nothing to excess” and “surety brings insanity”, which underline that point. The excessive exploitation of anything reveals that we have not known our motivation and intentions, and certainty has been the rod of iron that has subjugated humankind for too long. Both lead to destruction, as we have seen over millennia. Know yourself and know that your mind has two very distinct functions that must act together, to love and discern.

To love is to embrace the reality in which we live, to appreciate its diversity and beauty, but discernment helps us to know whether something is dangerous or poses no threat. We seem to have lost this cooperative spirit, and our discernment has shifted to whether something is desirable or repulsive, sympathetic, or unsympathetic. We have lost the ability to appreciate our reality, we value nature only as a resource and imagine we can make it better. But we have misjudged our intentions, did not see our excessive behaviour, and have been blind in our certainty. Delphi send its regards.

These are the reasons for our historical struggle for the “good,” which is interpreted in many ways and rarely found. The struggle has cost many, many millions of lives, has made the vision of hell a real experience, and has made the vision of heaven unattainable for mortal man. The fallacy is recognizable when liberators threaten hellfire or dictators promise freedom, and we have fallen for these lies for so long. It may be that the weariness of age softens a human heart, and when the fire in youthful hearts has sunk to embers over time, it warms rather than burns, but at bottom it is a growing disillusionment with the righteousness of causes and a witnessing the unspeakable suffering caused that suppresses self-righteousness.

Perhaps this is what is missing in our societies, and instead we have indifference and apathy, except when we think something is beneficial to us. When we look only for what benefits us, in true individualistic fashion, we overlook the other, more important aspect of embracing our reality, including the reciprocity that benefits the whole. The balance between the individual and the collective, the parts and the entirety, is missing. In a holistic view, excessiveness, overconfidence, and certitude endanger the cohesion of the whole. If a society has difficulty in seeing itself as a whole, how then will humanity realise its shared identity?

So, we have seen that if the individual does not know himself, what follows from that endangers not only himself, but the larger group and eventually the whole species. Today, then, the question is whether a society should put itself in a position to defend its population, which must be answered unequivocally in the affirmative, even though we know that war is completely contrary to moral wisdom. The prerequisite, however, is the explicit intention to defend, not to attack, but it must be a credible defence, or it will be ignored. In Germany, after the wars, there was a consensus that it must never again be possible for Germany to start a war. This has turned into a policy of harmlessness, and harmless is the totally inadequate German military with planes that do not fly, weapons that are not accurate, and vehicles that spend more time in the garage than out. It is as if the politicians were intent on having a military that cannot fight a war rather than not wanting to fight one.

Again, the maxim “know thyself” applies, and after the war, Germans believed they could not be trusted with a military. But that is an evasion of the problem. It is a question of balance, of avoiding excess, and of doubting the absolute certainty with which one assumes that one has the right to attack another. We know that in the right circumstances anyone can be violent, even the most pitiful. This means that under the right circumstances, an ideologically motivated leadership could choose to attack another country, as we have seen. Therefore, as no country should simply be overrun, and no human being should be oppressed and threatened with death, every country needs a credible defence.