Sunday, July 11, 2010

rethinking "motivation" with Sebastian Junger and Rachel Maddow

Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm and the new book War, appeared on the Rachel Maddow show recently. Rachel posed him the following question:

MADDOW: Sebastian, let me follow-up with you on that. You have said that you don‘t think society understands war very well. Obviously, you have a book out now called “War” that‘s based on your time with these soldiers as well.
You said, “If society is going to solve the human problem of war, they have to figure out what it is about combat that attracts young men so much that they‘re willing to risk their lives to go back out there to get it.”
After spending all of those months with second platoon out in the Korengal Valley, do you feel like you‘re any closer to figuring that out?

In the terms of my acting class, Rachel is asking for the underlying objective of the soldiers, the Stanislavsky 2.0 version of the old concept of "motivation". She wants to know what it is that they need so badly that they will volunteer for multiple dangerous tours of duty in the treacherous terrain of war-torn Afghandistan.

Junger's answer is good:

JUNGER: You know, I think I am. We were at a very remote outpost on this hilltop that we were getting attacked three or four times a day sometimes. The guys - you know, when they come back, they often - they want to back - when they come back to society, how can they want to return to that hilltop into combat?
Society thinks - often, people think that it‘s a question of adrenaline - an adrenaline addiction. I think what they‘re really addicted to essentially is brotherhood, an otherwise very healthy impulse that is taking place in a very unhealthy place.
And I think if society understands that, they won‘t - it won‘t be pathologized(ph) so much and be understood on its own terms. And maybe society can provide that sense of inclusion and brotherhood here rather than in combat.

Got that? Brotherhood. Not adventure. Not patriotism. Not money. The soldiers are seeking a particular kind of connection or belonging with other soldiers, that they apparently see as most obtainable on the front lines of war. In the class, we are constantly in the process of peeling back the layers of the more superficial accounts of human motivation to get to a particular, immediate expression of the human need to form meaningful and lasting ties to others.

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