I started this post at least 2 days ago. The original title was "Zero sum game; collateral damage; safe, or unsafe":
I am not sure why the question of collateral damage has had such mass that my musings repeatedly fall into its gravitational pull. I suppose it may be a component of my larger meditation on the theme of the world being a safe, or an unsafe place.
I read a novel about Cambodia once; the upheaval there that was overshadowed, to Americans, by the war in Vietnam. (For the Sake of All Living Things by John Del Vecchio)
I was taken by an image of brutality that is still with me 18 years later. Young children, suddenly orphaned or separated from their parents, were thrust into an audition to be child soldiers. Khmer Rouge guerillas devised a simple test to cull from their captives the ones with the strongest survival drive, and the cunning to employ it effectively. They were tied to a circular frame together so they couldn't escape. Then they were herded off a cliff to rocks below. Those who caught on that they would need to maneuver the ring so they would be positioned to be cushioned from the fall by the bodies of the other children were good soldier material.
I've been haunted by that image ever since. The objective of the guerillas? Obtain an intelligent and motivated fighting force. Collateral damage? The children forced to participate in this macabre dance. The objective of the children? Survive. Collateral damage? Those who hit the ground first.
It occurs to me to wonder if there is a larger metaphor here. Is there a way that collectively humans are locked in a ring, the powerful attempting to maneuver to cushion their own landing?
A less blatantly chilling model (though the implications are the same) is the musical chairs game. A limited number of resources and if you're standing when the music stops you're out in the cold.
There seems to be evidence in the natural world to support the theory of a zero-sum game: "The strong survive", "Might makes right", the fact of predator-and-prey where one organism becomes food for another. The seemingly insatiable drive to win which is really blatant in young children (for years we've had no competitive games at birthday parties because young children can not stand to lose.).
It seems the perception of scarcity is an enormous motivator in violent conflicts. "Enemies" ultimately are those who want to deprive us of what we have. The perception of scarcity seems to be a driver in smaller, more interpersonal conflicts as well. Again I see it especially illustrated with children, and more skillfully (or not) concealed in adults.
I've painted myself into a corner with this theme. I don't know how I can consider the world a 'safe' place when these facts are staring me in the face and I can't answer them. And I can't seem to think past them. Furthermore, I can't bring myself to just push 'delete' and jettison this post. Maybe there's value in letting it stand as an open question to myself, and live with the tension it generates.