Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


War Stories

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa
California, USA

March 5 and 6, 2022

"Ego is the functioning of one's point of view in the attempt to cause that point of view to survive. The verb 'to ego'  means 'to perpetuate one's own point of view'." ... 
"What you resist persists." ... 
"Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun." ... Alan Watts

"We must not suffer over suffering." ... Alan Watts
This essay, War Stories, is the companion piece to Facing The Unspeakable: Malala, Greta, Nelson.

It was written at the same time as Facing The Unspeakable: Malala, Greta, Nelson.

I am indebted to my father Dr Asher Manfred Platt who inspired this conversation.

In many homes (maybe yours too) there's a wall and / or table with framed family photographs. There was one in my family home when I was a boy. One photograph on it stood out. I remember it clearly. It was of my father in formal military attire. I loved that photograph of my Dad the soldier. He looked so handsome. I was so proud of him. He was so brave. Drafted into the South African army to serve in Egypt during World War II and ranked captain, he was a medic. The glamor of it hid the grim realities of the war in which he served. My young mind placed him on the good guys / heroes horn of the good guys / heroes // bad guys / villains dilemma.

February 1, 1964 edition (price: sixpence)

Photograph courtesy
Fleetway Publications - Grand Comics Database Lion Comic
Photography by Union Castle Edinburgh Castle
When I was ten years old or maybe younger, my friends and I were enthusiastic about swapping what we called "war stories" gleaned from books, movies, and comics. In hindsight (and hindsight is always  20/20 vision) it was curious (to say the least) that war stories were deemed to be appropriate fun for young children. But that's the way it was. It speaks volumes about us.

On Mondays after school we'd run  (not walk) to the local CNA  (Central News Agency) news vendor, eagerly anticipating buying the latest Lion  comic (Amalgamated Press / Fleetway Publications) for sixpence. It came to South Africa from England via the Union Castle  fleet of "mailships" like the Edinburgh Castle. Lion's front page featured Paddy Payne: Warrior of the Skies, a fighter pilot in the RAF  (Royal Air Force). Paddy was our hero. Back then it wasn't clear what hero-izing war stories spoke to. It's clear now. I say it's a quirk in our genetic code. It's futile, costly, and dark ... and yet exasperatingly, it persists.

Other than recontextualizing  (I love  that word) war as what's so  (which I've examined in depth elsewhere in this body of work), war is also an expression of a colossal ego, individual or national, run amok. But wait: ego (as used here) is a verb not a noun. The verb "to ego" says Werner "means 'to perpetuate one's own point of view'". The noun "ego" says Werner "is the functioning of one's point of view in the attempt to cause that point of view to survive" (here I tip my hat to Sigmund Freud).

The quality of experience when ego-ing is between individuals, is almost predictable. Some clues that ego-ing is occurring are:

    • being right / making others wrong
    • dominating / avoiding being dominated
    • winning at any cost / ensuring others lose

We're familiar with the costs of this trifecta  when ego-ing is between individuals. And when ego-ing is between nations, the impacts can be terrible, unspeakable yet all too familiar, ensuring the possibility of the world working for everyone, stays dim.

There's a certain je ne sais quois, a certain intentionality if you will, that's called for if we are to distinguish the unworkability brought on by the ego in our individual lives and our national lives, and its cost and impacts on both. Be careful. There's an inherent trap here: it's ego-ing which keeps ego in place. That's its nature. So how do we break its hold? Some of us will break ego-ing's hold simply by distinguishing  ego. Others may have an even better shot at doing so by evaluating the cost of ego-ing to our personal lives and to the planet in our national lives (they're painfully obvious) then re-prioritizing accordingly.

What's worth noting here is the pitfall inherent in any of those old mystical  notions of "getting rid of" ego - or worse, of "destroying" ego. They're both fundamentally flawed: the act of attempting to get rid of ego, is ultimate ego;  the act of attempting to destroy ego, is ultimate ego. Rather, the way to handle ego is by taking responsibility for ego-ing. You let ego be ... and it lets you be. Attempting to get rid of ego / attempting to destroy ego when it produces unworkability is as futile as attempting to get rid of / attempting to destroy your nose when there's a bad odor in the kitchen. Your nose is just doing its job. It's working exactly as it's meant to.

Neither when my Dad served with the NATO  (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) armed forces in North Africa during World War II, nor in the war stories we swapped when I was a boy, did we speak of war in terms of ego-ing. But we did speak in terms of being right / making others wrong, dominating / avoiding being dominated, winning at any cost / ensuring others lose ... even if we didn't use those exact terms. Back then, we didn't have any access to a transformed distinction of ego-ing and its oftentimes dismaying results, individual and national. But we do now. If we don't commit to bringing it to bear ie if we don't leverage it, we do so at our own peril.

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