Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Can We Really Give Peace a Chance?

A few days ago....

Since my partner, G, has a background in Sino-Candian History, we seem to have a lot of philosophical conversations about war, politics, and random historical facts (I know, we need to get out more). So a few days ago, we're talking about Canada's "role" in Afghanistan, while slowly transitioning into a discussion about John Lennon:

G: You know, we never really did give peace a chance.

M: Ha ha ha! Did you really just say that? You're beginning to sound like John Lennon.

G: Well, he does have a point. Lennon's attitude is all like--Why don't we just try it out and give peace a chance? So you have to wonder what would actually happen if we did.

M: That definitely is an idyllic way of looking at the world, and you of all people know that war is rooted in structurual issues pertaining to religion, borders, poverty, and resources.

G: Obviously. But I don't think warfare is an inherent part of humanity. We just choose war as the means to justify the ends. Believe it or not, there are cultures in the world that have actually coexisted peacefully.

M: True. But remember, when you say we, you're talking about Canada, Britain, the U.S., Israel, etc....These countries' histories are embedded in warfare. It's the way they function on the world stage.

G: I know, the realities are bleak but it's hard not to entertain the notion of peace. I want there to be some hope for the world.

M: Me to....

So can we actually coexist without war?

Theoretically, I would say yes. There are societies that have emerged from non-violent values in which peaceful conflict resolution is favoured over physical aggression. Here are just a few of these warless cultures:

Amish--midwest and mid-atlantic United States
Batek --Malaysia
Birhor--central and eastern India
Buid--Mindoro Island, Philippines
Inuit--Arctic and northeastern Canada, Alaska, Greenland
Ju/'hoansi--deserts of Botswana, Namibia, Angola
Lepchas--northern India, Bhutan, Nepal
Mbuti--Congo, Africa
Yanadi--southern India

While each of these societies are unique and have their own diverse cultures, languages, social organization, and spirituality, there are remarkable similarities in regards to their conflict resolution strategies. Such practices include:

    • egalitarianism--Amish, Birhor, Buid, Ju/'hoansi
    • individual humility--Amish, Inuit,

    • permanent separation of conflicting individuals--Batek, Birhor, Buid, Chewong, Kadar, Tahitians,

    • avoiding conflict (retreating/fleeing from aggressors)--Batek, Lepchas, Mbuti, Tahitians, Yanadi
    • small communities--all of these societies have populations of under 400,000

    Even though physical conflicts may still arise between individuals from these cultures, violence is never seen as a justifiable means of conflict resolution. For this reason, several social guards are in place to keep greed and competition between individuals in-check, thus preventing the outbreak of open warfare due to the perceived moral consequences of such actions.

    But are peaceful relations achievable on a grander scale ?

    Maybe. While we (Canada and the United States) maintain social order in the form of laws, police enforcement, courts, and prisons, we follow this code of conduct fully conscious of the underlying double-standard:

    Killing someone in cold blood outside of combat is a vicious crime, but killing an enemy of war is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it's encouraged. C'mon it's for the freedom of your country or for "peacekeeping"--we'll even pay you for it. And not only do we want you to kill 'em, we'll give you a variety of ways to do it. You have an entire aresenol to choose from! What will it be? A couple of M-16s and RPGs? How about a M-24 to peg them off one by one?

    And as we all know, much of this duplicity leaks right into our politics (ie. "Watergate" and "The Sponsorship Scandal") and economy (ie. Nortel and Enron) as the rich get richer and the poor get prison. It's just the nature of the system.

    But what happens if the Canadian and American powers-that-be had a sudden change of heart: You know what? We're just sick and tired of invading sovereign nations in order to maintain our influence on the world stage and strategize our own personal gain. Attempting to clone their systems into our democratic model was also a really bad idea. Instead, we should focus the onus of our foreign policy energies on an area that actually needs us. Hmmm...I have an idea. Why don't we help Africa? Yeah, that's a great idea it's a continent ridden in famine, warfare, and AIDS--they could really use our help....

    OK, so bear with my little fantasy for just a moment. So what would happen? Canada and the States would now be faced with a quandery: they couldn't expect to withdraw their military forces overseas without any future reprisals, not to mention the enormous infrastructural damages and political instability left in these nations. Factum infectum fieri nequit--what is done cannot be undone.

    And with all fantasies aside, once you start peeling back the layers, it seems like there are several obstacles standing in the way of "world peace"--the desire for oil and other valuable resources, religious border disputes, human rights abuses, corrupt governments, poverty, global structural inequalities, and the list goes on....

    According to the 14th Dalai Lama:

    Peace, in the sense of the absence of war, is of little value to someone who is dying of hunger or cold. It will not remove the pain of torture inflicted on a prisoner of conscience. It does not comfort those who have lost their loved ones in floods caused by senseless deforestation in a neighboring country. Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free.

    Sometime in the late 1980s....

    There I am. All of the harsh fluorescent lights in the gymnasium have been dimmed in favour of a few strategic spotlights that cast their beams on my third grade choir. I’m really nervous because there seems to be thousands of oogling eyes from the audience staring in our direction. They sit over a hush of quiet whispers, eagerly awaiting our performance.

    It’s my first solo—ever—and I anxiously wait for my musical cue. I am only supposed to sing the first verse of our first selection, but at the time, it feels like I have to sing an entire opera. Once I hear the piano intro, I know that the time has come and there’s no turning back now: “Let there be peace on Earth/ and let it begin with me/ Let there be peace on Earth/ the peace that was meant to be….”

    **So let me pass the question onto all of my dear readers: Can our current global system acutally coexist without warfare?

    For Your Interest:

    Conflict Resolution Among Peaceful Societies: The Culture of Peacefulness

    Peaceful Societies

    Warless Societies and the Origins of War


    karloff said...

    Nifty post.

    I think co-existence is possible, but 'hard' under current conditions, for the same reasons you listed in your conversation...

    Buuut, (and I almost hate to mention this incase I get branded as some sort of technological-idealist,) have you ever heard of the singuarlity?

    If it ever comes about, warfare will become the harder option I think. Assuming we aren't destroyed, a time of permanent bounty might force peace.

    Still, whatever the force, I think humanity has been moving toward an increasingly peaceful system of resolving conflict, although I may be looking down my nose at my ancestors in the same way every 'present' generation has warily eyed their barbaric roots while making naked human pyramids in ye olde prison.

    --Bamboo Blitz-- said...

    Thanks for your insights, Karloff! Singularity--an interesting perspective that seems to become an actual possibility considering our consistently rapid technological advancements. In regards to ever achieving world peace, we definitely have the potential to coexist peacefull, however, our current global system is created in such a way that it doesn't seem likely.

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