One might think that the title of William James’s “The Moral Equivalent of War” is misleading. James does not, after all, claim that the other social “equivalents” are any more or less “moral”— at least not in the sense that the word is commonly used. He does not claim that other phenomena are as bad as war. War, to James, is the most terrible of all human endeavors.
It might be more accurate to describe what James calls a “moral” as an ethos or an instinct. What he is talking about is the set of values and natural impulses that are expressed in war. He argues that many of those influences, in fact, should be “pacifically organized,” which is to say incorporated into peaceful (pacific) ways of living (53). Most of us are, at least in principal, against war, but it is hard not to appreciate the discipline, dignity, and passion of those who serve in our military. Men and women in the military are focused, fit, and driven, and they often return to the private sector to become great business leaders and politicians. They once trained for war, but the skills they developed transfer over very effectively.
Aside: Let’s look at the paragraph above as an example of effective paragraph composition (which is the name of our game, right?). The first sentence is a topic sentence. It contains an idea from the text, but the main idea (that “moral” really means ethos or instinct) is my own. Sentence Two elaborates on the first. Sentence three offers a quote from the text that supports my idea. From there, I offer examples from my own experience. All of this serves to support the very first sentence. Next, I will offer some counter-argument to make the topic more interesting.
Applying the “moral” instincts of war, however, is potentially dangerous. Overly aggressive attitudes can cause conflicts in the workplace, and it might be unproductive to view other areas of our lives as battlefields. Moreover, the martial tribalism that James writes of also can also lead, by his own admission, to “an appetite for plunder” (54). The “moral” of war can be expressed tragically in peacetime just as easily as it can be expressed productively. For the following essay, I would like you to explore the “moral of war,” or the tribal instincts and values that we associate with military life, as they are expressed in another part of life. What martial qualities are expressed, for example, in politics? Or in Business? Are you an actor or a musician? Explore what martial values exist in the culture of Hollywood or of the music industry. Are you an avid social media user? As a college student, do you find a militaristic attitude at work in student life? If not, how might one (as a musician, actor, student, entrepreneur, politician, etc.) apply the benefits of a military mindset in a peaceful environment?
Choose one peace-time area of life to discuss. We want depth, not breadth