Last week Jonathan sent me a quote from David Graeber's book Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology about the relationship between inner, imagined worlds of conflict versus external, interpersonal/social forms of conflict.
As an anthropologist with interests in societies and cultures that are egalitarian and peaceable in nature Graeber makes a connection between what we've been calling "spiritual warfare" and the associated peace a society enjoys. Graeber argues that societies that are haunted by spiritual war tend to be more peaceable:
Of course, all societies are to some degree at war with themselves. There are always clashes between interests, factions, classes and the like; also, social systems are always based on the pursuit of different forms of value which pull people in different directions. In egalitarian societies, which tend to place an enormous emphasis on creating and maintaining communal consensus, this often appears to spark a kind of equally elaborate reaction formation, a spectral nightworld inhabited by monsters, witches or other creatures of horror. And it's the most peaceful societies which are also the most haunted, in their imaginative constructions of the cosmos, by constant specters of perennial war. The invisible worlds surrounding them are literally battlegrounds. It's as if the endless labor of achieving consensus masks a constant inner violence--or, it might perhaps be better to say, is in fact the process by which that inner violence is measured and contained--and it is precisely this, and the resulting tangle of moral contradiction, which is the prime font of social creativity. It's not these conflicting principles and contradictory impulses themselves which are the ultimate political reality, then; it's the regulatory process which mediates them.Graeber goes on to describe some anthropological cases illustrating this dynamic among various egalitarian societies. In each case he notes this disjoint between the violence in the spirit-world with the placid processes of communal consensus building: "Note how in each case there's a striking contrast between the cosmological content, which is nothing if not tumultuous, and social process, which is all about mediation, arriving at consensus." A few paragraphs later he concludes, "the spectral violence seems to emerge from the very tensions inherent in the project of maintaining an egalitarian society."
We might pause here and reflect on the psychological and sociological dynamics of all this. As a psychologist I'm intrigued by this notion that internal, spectral, spiritual, and mythological war creates the social and psychological capacities to create an external peace amongst ourselves. Perhaps the demons have to be internalized for peace be experienced in our midst. Is the devil the shadow of peace? That's a point that we all might debate.
But Graeber pushes on to connect these spectral worlds with the "counterpower" necessary to promote social change in oppressive contexts. Graeber discusses his own experiences in Madagascar noting how within Malagasy history rapid changes took place in social attitudes in relation to the institutions of monarchy and slavery. For generations these institutions were considered to be legitimate, moral and justifiable. But within a short span of time they became rejected as illegitimate and oppressive. What created the imaginative capacity for such a radical realignment in the Malagasy moral consciousness?
Graeber answers the question by going back to the spectral world:
The puzzling question is how such a profound change in popular attitudes could happen so fast?...[S]omething about the implosion of colonial rule allowed for the rapid reshuffling of priorities. This, I would argue, is what the ongoing existence of deeply embedded forms of counterpower allows. A lot of the ideological work, in fact, of making a revolution was conducted precisely in the spectral nightworld of sorcerers and witches; in redefinitions of the moral implications of different forms of magical power. But this only underlines how these spectral zones are always the fulcrum of the moral imagination, a kind of creative reservoir, too, of potential revolutionary change. It's precisely from these invisible spaces--invisible, most of all, to power--whence the potential for insurrection, and the extraordinary social creativity that seems to emerge out of nowhere in revolutionary moments, actually comes.There is a lot here to digest and object to. I put it out here simply to stir the pot some more about this notion of "spiritual warfare." Thanks again to Jonathan for the head's up.