It has been more than three weeks now since the war in Ukraine began, and there is still no truce in sight. Reuters estimates that more than 15,000 people have died, and more than three million have been displaced. Still, there is no end in sight. It is becoming clearer by the day that there is only one reason for the war and one goal that the killing and destruction aim to achieve: domination of the ego.
In his classic essay from the early 1930s “Peace in the World,” the great thinker and kabbalist Baal HaSulam wrote that man is governed by the sense of uniqueness, the feeling that only I exist in the world. A few years after he wrote the article, the whole world experienced the devastating effects of this perception.
Since then, people have not become less self-centered, but actually much more so. In 2009, psychologists Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell gained renown for their insightful book The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. In it, they not only lament “the relentless rise of narcissism in our culture,” they also stress that “the rise in narcissism is accelerating.”
The current conflict in Ukraine demonstrates that human egoism has indeed reached a level where the horrors of World War II are no longer a deterrent. Once again, the ego will stop at nothing to gain power and control. The ego, as Baal HaSulam describes it, “feels that all the people in the world should be under his own governance and for his own private benefit.”
We cannot uproot the ego; it is our makeup. Yet, we do not need to. Instead, we need to redirect it toward constructive goals rather than destructive ones. Since we possess an inherent sense of uniqueness, we should make people feel unique for their contribution to society rather than for their power and control.
Through public opinion, we can “manipulate” ourselves to act in favor of society rather than against it. In this way, we will create communities where people feel emboldened, safe, and loved precisely because they contribute their skills and efforts to the common good.
The pointless destruction we are seeing today is the product of our nature. We could avoid it if we recognized our nature and dealt with it properly. Because we are not taking control over our ego, the ego is controlling us. There can be no compromise: Either we, as a society, govern and direct each person’s sense of uniqueness toward constructive goals, or our sense of uniqueness, aka narcissism, will lead us where it will. If we opt for inaction, the latter will happen and we will destroy ourselves and the world we live in. This is a certainty.
“The wise man’s eyes are in his head,” wrote King Solomon (Eccl. 2:14); he sees the future. If we are wise, we will work to build a good future for ourselves and for our children. If we are not, we will destroy our future by our own actions.