Human Beings Created Airplanes—and War—and Genocide
Wright Brothers Test Flight, 1909

In the early 20th century, the age of aviation took flight with airplanes invented by the Wright brothers. Click the arrow to watch the video.

Culture, discourse, the symbolic order—we get it: our minds are shaped by ideas present within society.

Now, we turn to another question: How and why was the symbolic order created? Why do some discourses become dominant within a society, and not others? Why do certain ideas become established and persist as societal ideologies or institutions?

A good example is the airplane. At one point in history, airplanes did not exist; then they did. They were a human creation (thanks to the Wright brothers).

Why was the airplane created? It grew out of a fantasy, or human desire. The wish to fly like a bird? To escape the weight of gravity? To achieve a state of omnipotence?

We don’t need to know the precise answer to understand the principle: flight represented a human creation, responding to a human desire or fantasy.

Sociologists and historians may now write about airlines as a cultural institution—and study how this institution shapes our existence. But, as Peter Berger observes (1967), though the social world seems to constitute “objective reality”, it does not acquire an ontological status “apart from the human activity that produced it.”

The airline industry exists—because human beings continue to bring it into existence. Flying does something for us; provides certain fundamental gratifications. We keep this institution alive through our continued attachment to it.

The same is true for any element of culture, including warfare and genocide. But now the obfuscation begins. Historians write about certain institutions or forms of behavior as if they are other than the self. We disavow responsibility: we are not that. We don’t wish to acknowledge that we are the source.

It is as if “history” descends from a separate realm of being, from a place “up there” or “out there.” We’d prefer not to see how certain activities or forms of behavior originate in our own minds. It’s as if “history” constitutes a stream of activity that occurs independently of the minds that bring these activities into existence.

If we wish to understand phenomena such as war and genocide, we must boldly acknowledge: we created that; we are the source.

And then: why did we bring this ideology or institution or mode of behavior into being? What does waging war or performing genocidal acts do for human beings? What desires do these forms of behavior fulfill? To what fantasies are they a response?