As Masciulli (n.d.) points out, “few consistently peaceful societies and cultures exist or have existed historically, and clearly none that has been a macro culture or civilization,” (332). Human nature also has a clear tendency toward patterns of behavior that can incite antagonism or violence. Defensiveness, protectionism, predation, and self-preservation are innate behaviors rooted in animal instincts. Peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts worldwide can alleviate suffering and ameliorate the effects of violence, but even these well-meaning efforts do not constitute an overall shift in global consciousness. Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect global peace in this lifetime but it is becoming increasingly possible to envision a world that becomes more peaceful one generation at a time. Peace, if it is possible in this lifetime, depends on radical paradigm shifts.
The first step toward achieving peace is realizing that violence is a state of mind, and that state of mind can be changed through conscientious methods of revising social norms and basic worldviews. “The detrimental values ingrained in our culture include violence, aggression, the urge to dominate or conquer, individualism, and materialism, (Masciulli, n.d., p. 333). Although “detrimental values” do not seem to be directly linked to war, these values “are consistent with armament growth the preparation for war, and the conducting of war,” (Masciulli, n.d., p. 333). To eliminate war, cultures must eliminate the precursors to war. The precursors to war stem from an ingrained belief that violence is crucial to survival. As Masciulli (n.d.) points out, the mistaken belief that violence is crucial to survival is represented by Social Darwinism, which suggests that human beings must “struggle” to remain “fit,” and that only the “fit” will “survive,” (333). This and other erroneous mindsets sully the potential for peace to emerge in this lifetime.
A second step toward realizing peace in this lifetime is to honestly admit that violence is counterproductive, unproductive, and often irrational. As such, violence must be depicted and understood as a policy that does not work toward achieving long-range goals. If necessary, individuals, organizations, and nations need to rethink their goals and reframe those goals within a peaceful rubric. If the goals require the use of violence, such as territorial expansion into other people’s land, then it is possible the goal is not a worthwhile one. Too often, violence is taken for granted as an appropriate foreign policy strategy or response to a violent attack. It is possible to foresee peaceful responses to conflicts, even violent ones. Inspiration may be drawn from obvious sources such as Gandhi and other nonviolent movements that achieved results without a call to arms. Gandhi ousted a militaristic colonial power using peaceful methods, and Martin Luther King followed in those footsteps by securing meaningful political change and real strategic objectives using peace, not war. Thus, while peace may seem elusive, it is within reach.
Even when peace seems impossible or out of reach, there is no excuse for succumbing to the basest in human nature, or what Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil” (cited by Pinker in “Inner Demons”). Peace must be worked for, and continually worked on, as a common goal for all humanity. If, as Masciulli (n.d.) suggests, “most cultures are pathological,” then culture needs therapy. Therapy is a process that begins by recognizing that violence is counterproductive. Peacemaking then entails seeking and accepting aide from third party, unbiased sources and unwaveringly committing to a pathway to peace that makes sense for all stakeholders. It is also important that all stakeholders become humble, willing to accept their role in the conflict, and take responsibility for the past. Finally, the goal of peacemaking is viewing the world, as well as the specific conflict at hand, differently.
Peacemaking is a difficult but worthwhile effort. The effort to achieve peace is made easier when peacemaking efforts are focused and concentrated, the tools tailored for the situation. What worked in early 20th century Europe might not work in early 21st century Syria. Keeping these differences in mind, peacemaking does have some universal forms. In particular, peacemaking “seeks to prevent, reduce, transform, and help people recover from violence in all forms, even structural violence that has not yet led to massive civil unrest,” (Schirch & Sewak, n.d., p. 98). Preventing violence is a cornerstone of peacemaking, and requires an overall paradigm shift. Reducing violence depends on proven strategies of de-escalating crises. Transforming violence means finding ways to channel anger, even when it is justifiable, into constructive projects that do not appeal to the lowest common denominator in the society. In other words, policy makers and peacemakers need to develop organized strategic plans for how to divert energy that would turn into violence into peacebuilding projects. According to Schirch & Sewak (n.d.), there are four categories or types of peacebuilding efforts. The first is activism and advocacy. Symbolized by the movements of Gandhi and King, activism and advocacy empower the people. In the case of both Gandhi and King, advocacy and activism empowered the people to discover their own political power. Violence would have delegitimized these two movements. Instead, peace helped the people unite and discover their shared goals. Those goals included the elimination of oppressive political and social regimes, which are violent by their very definitions. It is categorically impossible, and also hypocritical, to oust an oppressive regime by replacing it with another. Therefore, Gandhi and King both recognized the need for paradigm shift and helped to create that shift via a change in the public consciousness.
The second category of peacebuilding, according to Schirch & Sewak (n.d.) is the provision of relief aid as well as legal systems conducive to peacebuilding. In crisis situations, when violence has been used already, the people need to know that there are peacebuilders they can count on and look to for guidance. Without such guidance, the people would risk falling into a downward spiral of violence because it would be possible for a leader among the oppressed to emerge and advocate violence against the aggressor. Providing aide offers the opportunity to generate peaceful and proactive leadership with a vision for positive change. The type of aide must be empowering, rather than colonialist in nature. Peace needs to be reframed as the ultimate means of empowerment. According to Ackerman & DuVall (n.d.): “It is not a myth that violence can alter events. It is a myth that it gives power to the people,” (p. 459).
Third, peacebuilding transforms relationships through dialogue, mediation, negotiation, and trauma healing (Schirch & Sewak, n.d.). Although the methods of dialogue and negotiation have not worked in the Israel-Palestine conflict, this method should not be ignored. It is more likely that the methods used to mediate and negotiate were not culturally appropriate or comprehensive. Peace can be achieved in a number of different ways, which is why there is no one pathway to peace. In fact, the strategy used to bring about peace will depend on the cultural background and history of the situation and people who are primary stakeholders. Third-party mediators also need to garner as many different voices as possible, in order to offer creative and viable solutions for peace.
Finally, Schirch & Sewak (n.d.) note that peacebuilding requires the construction of training, education, and development programs. These types of programs can structurally dismantle the war machine and create a new society based on this paradigm shift. Involving women in the political process promotes peace specifically because patriarchy is part of the war machine. Patriarchy is, like colonialism and other forms of oppression, a violent social and political policy. When half the population is omitted from positions of financial, political, and social power, peace is impossible. As King put it, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Women can work within the training, education, and development sectors specifically to usurp patriarchy and bring about the new paradigm of peace (Schirch & Sewak, n.d.). The United Nations and other major trans-national organizations have women-focused peacebuilding campaigns providing the means by which to empower women worldwide and present alternatives to victimization as well as proactive solutions to preventing violence.
In many cases, the arts can become a meaningful method of transforming social and cultural norms, values, and beliefs related to war and peace. Art offers alternative methods of communication and can therefore become a tool in the “dialogue, mediation, negotiation, and trauma healing” process referred to by Schirch & Sewak, n.d.). Galtung (n.d.) points out also that “art is power,” (p. 54). Art is power because the artist remains in control of the message and the medium, and can share this message and medium using symbols and language that are meaningful to the audience. Art has the potential to transcend time and space, as well, revealing intersections between seemingly disparate events, cultures, or situations. Art can “make us forget the ordinary,” “may unite us,” and “such unity is conducive to peace,” (Galtung, n.d., p. 54). Unity is necessary in peacebuilding activities. As King and Gandhi showed, it is even possible to achieve unity among a large and geographically dispersed population. Unity is empowering because through a mass movement, it is possible to generate new social codes, new ways of behaving, and new norms. Movements like Burning Man represent the convergence of art, politics, and paradigm shift. It is also important to critique the art of the past, including literature and visual art, in light of the universal quest for peace. As Pinker, the author of “Inner Demons” points out, the “myth of pure evil” that is perpetrated through Disney movies and traditional tales can be detrimental to a healthy understanding of “real evil,” (p. 496). Human nature is neither good nor evil, but it is malleable. Art can provide alternative and more realistic heroes. Peace is nuanced and complex because human nature is, too.
Peace requires a paradigm shift or a radical departure from prevailing norms, values, social hierarchies, gender roles, and worldviews. If peace is attainable in this lifetime, it will require a realistic outlook and plenty of patience. Not all negotiations will be successful at first, but using nonviolent means can achieve a wealth of good. It is difficult to understand how the conflict in the Middle East can be resolved in a peaceful method, given the mutual mistrust and belief that violence is inevitable. A paradigm shift is needed now more than ever before, as human beings face disastrous consequences if the path to war remains on course. Submitting to the “banality of evil” is a choice; it is possible to courageously make the decision to shun violence and subscribe to a new human experience. Peace may require sacrifices, but the sacrifices made for peace will not be in vain.
Ackerman, P. & DuVall, J. (n.d.). The mythology of violence. Chapter 13 in A Force More Powerful.
Galtung, J. (n.d.). Peace, music, and the arts: In search of interconnections. Chapter 4.
“Masciulli, J. (n.d.). From a culture of violence to a culture of peace. Chapter 15.
Pinker. Inner Demons. (n.d.). Chapter 8
Schirch, L. & Sewak, M. (n.d.). Women: Using the gender lens.
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