Back in the olde times, everyone had plenty of enemies. That other person other there that didn't quite look like you was a potential enemy. Those crazy savages over the river were an enemy. That massive evil country yonder ways was an enemy. The unknown world was an enemy. Most of the known world was an enemy.
And heck, it worked out quite well.
You might say some of our best times were when we had enemies. The Civil War was perhaps the greatest period of innovation in science and killing arts. We saw multitudes of revolutions in industry, technology, and tactics. World War 2 was perhaps the greatest hour of the United States industry, and run almost completely by the women left around. Perhaps a third of the population was not even around to man the workshops.
Then again, those were perhaps some of the darkest times. We now have many new technical terms for psychological diseases and disorders developed specifically from times of conflict. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder became a buzz word recently, but its effects have existed as long as we have had wars. The pain of lost lives, the devastation wrought upon the lands, the peoples, and the psyches is sometimes incomprehensible and we suffer during and in the aftermath of those conflicts.
Still, no one can deny the power of having a known enemy. Orson Scott Card in Ender's Game painted a picture of an Earth united not by clever diplomats but by the threat of alien invasion. Some economists believe that competition, strife, and antagonism are the real ways the economy should be run. It sharpens skills. It provides goals. It unites people.
Sure there are plenty of times it works against us. High School is a wondrous example. With no one to compete with and the beginnings of independence emerging, the children in school turn against one other. Soon the only way up is to push down the outcast. You become safe and united in your common grounds, whether that be common interests, common ideology, or common enemy. However, those enemies live just down the street, and the strife and drama of those years scar many today.
I just finished an anime series titled Angel Beats! It's an exceptional piece that deals with death, life, our humanity, and the meaning or satisfaction we may have. It is all cleverly disguised as a fun slice of school like action piece. However, I noticed every time the outsider was brought in a new enemy had to appear. Eventually the series is drawn to a close because a giant evil is spreading and threatening all the characters forcing them to make a critical decision. It is even suggested that they would have been there for all eternity if not for this enormous external threat.
This anime is about a group as diverse as they come. A brainiac, a mechanic, a martial artist, a judo expert, a ninja, a shy failure, a fascist, a rock band, and many more are all united in their efforts against what they call God. There is no real reason for so many diverse types to be together, but they are. Why? It is not because of their charismatic leader, nor that they all knew each other as childhood friends. They are merely classmates. They should have been in their own cliques based around their personal interests. Yet they are united in a struggle against an overwhelming external enemy. The very existence of the enemy brings them together and eventually drives them across the finish line.
In many ways having an enemy is very convenient. Even if it is a faceless featureless "other" thing out there. However, it is much more efficient to have a defined evil enemy. Our instant global communication and our desires and indoctrinations to "understand" each other of today make it difficult to have clear-cut enemies. It is not polite nor politically correct anymore to set ourselves apart and claim the other person over there is the enemy. Heck, that is why the war on "terrorism" is perhaps so difficult. We can not picture an enemy. It is merely a war on shadows and "extremists" and loosely defined, but harmful, ideologies.
Then again, while convenient, perhaps it is the existence of enemies that are merely a convenient way out. In Ender's Game, after the threat of the aliens are dealt with, the powers on Earth simply resume their conflicts. In fact, they start up worse than ever. Having an enemy to unite against may bring people together, but it does not force people to deal with the problems they had in the first place. Most of the time they are simply put aside for now. Perhaps with enough time and contact those hidden problems can be washed away, but it is just as likely they will merely lie dormant and fester.
I recently found an interesting animated talk titled The Empathic Civilization which argues that we are actually wired in our brains to have empathy and the ability to share experiences as our primary systems in our brains. We naturally have the ability to feel pain and struggle united against others due to our wiring and ability to comprehend how fragile and singular our lives are. By extension, we also realize how fragile and singular other lives are, and develop empathy for them. It then continues to argue that we need to live out these empathic feelings to form a loving, nurturing world for the human race and all life. Effectively he proposes we extend our empathy to the entire human race. Oddly enough in all of this flowery speech the narrator depicts a very real enemy: if we do not unite we will not survive as a species. Is this the ultimate enemy that will unite us all? Can even the unification of all life in the universe be at the urging because otherwise we will all die? The greatest unification is in the face of the greatest enemy of all? Or perhaps we can eventually unify and do away with enemies forever by exercising our empathic faculties.
The narrator avoids the topic of some of the more fracturing abilities that this empathic connection may bring up. This empathy also makes it very easy to for groups to form against a common enemy. When we see oppression and the identification of an enemy by someone else, we can empathize with them and also identify that enemy. We have just devised a method, using the same premise, for developing enemies within the world. This means if we want the empathic world as the narrator describes, we will have to actively work against empathy that identifies enemies within our ranks and only fight to unite. Or, we have to actively put those who would identify enemies within our communities as enemies of the world at large. We have created two warring camps: empathy to all of mankind versus mankind's enemies. Ironic, no? Perhaps human enemies truly are here to stay?
I really do not know the right answer to the question "Are enemies necessary?". Sometimes it would be really, really convenient to pick out an "enemy" and suddenly be part of a group willing to fight against it. Instant insider membership since we are all against that enemy other there. But then you get groups warring against groups. Perhaps we need to pick our own enemies, such as the faceless competitor for our future job, and work with that to help set our goal and as a way to move ourselves forward, but not let it extend to particular a people or group. We gain benefits of the faceless enemy without the large-scale conflicts associated with identifiable enemies, but easily someone could slip in and become the face of our faceless enemy. Or perhaps we must find a way to transcend the need for enemies.
What do you think?