peace


A friend of mine was an editor on a new book, essentially a memoir of a photographer’s experiences in Afghanistan during the Soviet war there. It’s a cross between a graphic novel and a photo journal.   This book comes highly recommended by the New York times; I think the best thing they said about it is this:

It is impossible to know war if you do not stand with the mass of the powerless caught in its maw. All narratives of war told through the lens of the com batants carry with them the seduction of violence. But once you cross to the other side, to stand in fear with the helpless and the weak, you confront the moral depravity of industrial slaughter and the scourge that is war itself. Few books achieve this clarity. “The Photographer” is one.

This speaks to me of one of the sad truths of war that I have such trouble wrapping my mind around: how people can honestly sit back and say “sure, let’s just go kill some people” when confronted with a problem.   I hope this book succeeds in communicating the foolishness of such an attitude to some people who currently suffer from it.

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Conservatives Live in a Different Moral Universe — And Here’s Why It Matters | | AlterNet

Haidt identified five foundational moral impulses. As succinctly defined by Northwestern University’s McAdams, they are:

Harm/care. It is wrong to hurt people; it is good to relieve suffering.

Fairness/reciprocity. Justice and fairness are good; people have certain rights that need to be upheld in social interactions.

In-group loyalty. People should be true to their group and be wary of threats from the outside. Allegiance, loyalty and patriotism are virtues; betrayal is bad.

Authority/respect. People should respect social hierarchy; social order is necessary for human life.

Purity/sanctity. The body and certain aspects of life are sacred. Cleanliness and health, as well as their derivatives of chastity and piety, are all good. Pollution, contamination and the associated character traits of lust and greed are all bad.

Haidt’s research reveals that liberals feel strongly about the first two dimensions — preventing harm and ensuring fairness — but often feel little, or even feel negatively, about the other three. Conservatives, on the other hand, are drawn to loyalty, authority and purity, which liberals tend to think of as backward or outdated.

Two Three posts that seem pertinent to peace, to me. (And apologies to Dan if he was hoping to use his on this site soon!)

Yet Another Unitarian Universalist » Blog Archive » American Left with a sense of humor?

Inspirations and Creative Thoughts: Ignorant Addiction to Transcendence

ETA: Celestial Lands » Blog Archive » Why I Don’t Carry or Handle Firearms Anymore

Today Andrea and I went to have lunch at our favorite Indian buffet. There was a guy hanging out in front of the H&R block next door to the restaurant, sitting on a milk crate. There’s a tendency for there to be aggressive panhandlers there, and the only available parking spot was right in front of the guy. So when I got out of the car, I walked around the back of the car because I didn’t really feel like interacting with the guy.

Maybe this sounds pretty craven, I don’t know. The guy wouldn’t be there if he had a better place to be. I don’t know why he’s there. But obviously he needs help. And at the same time, I don’t feel like I can really help him. For example, he might be there to buy drugs (we witnessed a drug buy there a little later on). I don’t know. He might just be hungry, and want some food.

Avoiding him didn’t work. He came after me, and pretty forcefully demanded to know if I wanted my windows washed. I was feeling beset, and I responded with a pretty forceful “no” while hastening away from him. Not something I’m proud of, but there it is – it was my natural reaction in the moment. I didn’t want to connect with the guy. Yes, in principle I want to help him, but in practice I wanted him to leave me the hell alone.

So now I’ve been unkind to someone who’s so much worse off than me that it scarcely bears contemplation. Why? Because I felt put-upon. Not exactly threatened, but sort of threatened. My space invaded. Lies told to me (the guy didn’t have window-washing equipment that I noticed, although I wasn’t looking that closely).

Why do I mention this here? Well, obviously I don’t feel that my behavior was constructive or appropriate. But what does that have to do with war? This.

The United States is a rich country. We have powerful weapons. Not necessarily the right weapons, but powerful weapons nonetheless. If someone comes at us, we can answer them. The force behind our answer might not be appropriate, but we can definitely answer them. In fact, because we are so rich and powerful, the force behind our answer almost has to be disproportionate. Right now we’re in trouble off the coast of Somalia because we are using cannons to swat gnats.

We see this kind of response at every level of our society. I lash out inappropriately at the homeless guy. The police lash out inappropriately at petty criminals and legitimate protestors. Corporations lash out inappropriately at people who they feel are cutting into their bottom line. The People lash out, possibly inappropriately, at financial workers. And when three thousand of our countrymen and women were killed, we lashed out inappropriately in Afghanistan, first, and later Iraq.

Were we beset by foes? Sure. Did we have a right to respond? Maybe so. Was our response constructive? Not in the slightest.

I was trying to avoid being hassled. I was hassled anyway. I feel like a jerk for what I did. Not only did I not accomplish what I hoped to accomplish by avoiding that guy who was hassling me, I made things worse – I made him feel worse, and I made myself feel worse. Was it okay for him to hassle me? No. Did my response work? No.

I think the analogy holds all the way up the spectrum, from me, to the cops, to corporations with lawyers, to the people, to our military response to 9/11. There was a stimulus, and it triggered a response. The stimulus and the response were completely disproportionate. And the outcome was not in any way satisfactory or useful.

I’m still thinking how best to write about this, but it’s coming.

I didn’t really have time to do a blog this week. I had to travel to work on something I think is really important for peace—keeping the Internet alive and working as we outgrow the original design. So instead, I wanted to call your attention to something really cool a friend of mine is doing—she has a web site called One Thousand Acts of Peace.

If you want to know what it means to live a life dedicated to peace, I think this is one example of what it might look like.

Another friend of mine who is a school teacher has been working on training children to integrate actively peaceful behavior into their lives. There’s a shorter version of the video as well.

We don’t see stories like this on the news, but they are happening all around us.

A friend of mine whose father survived the Nazis has been observing some trends recently that he finds deeply disturbing.   We are in a world economic downturn that is reminding people of the Great Depression; one of the results of the Great Depression was the rise of a bunch of different kinds of scary regimes – for example, the Nazis and the Fascists.   This led to war in Europe.   There were similar groups in the U.S., although they never gained the kind of foothold here that they did in Europe.   My command of Depression history is probably better than average, but some of this stuff is controversial, so I’m not asking you to accept my view of how it was; simply pointing out that quite a few governments spun out of control during that period, and that this was probably related to the hard times brought on by the Depression.

My response to my friend was basically something along the lines of “chill, dude.”   But suppose he’s right.   Suppose we are in a downward spiral.   Is my friend’s answer—getting ready to run for high ground—really our only, or at least our best, option? That is, are we helpless?   Or can we do something to slow, stop, or deflect the downward spiral?   If this downturn could lead to war, can we do something about it?

I’ve been pushing this notion that peace is something that happens by consensus.   We avoid war because we don’t want war.   We avoid living in repressive regimes because, en masse, we reject them.   So what can we do to avoid a consensus that leads us to war and totalitarianism and repression?

I hate to be pollyannaish, but I think there is something we can do.   I would say there are a number of things we should try to do:

  • Don’t feed the angst and paranoia.   If people are panicking around you, don’t join in. Have a little faith.   I don’t care in what—God, human goodness, your own personal strength of character, whatever.
  • Be a rock.   Try to inspire the people around you who are feeling uncertain or panicky to have a little faith too. If you don’t feel any inspiration, go looking for some.
  • Look for positive aspects to the current crisis.   Ways that things can improve as a result of the destruction that is going on around us.
  • Offer people your smile.
  • Thank people when they do things for you, even if you paid them to do those things.   Try to reach down deep and find some genuine gratitude—don’t just do it by rote.
  • Leave good tips, if you can afford to.
  • Be brave, and offer people help when they need it.   You can’t bail them out – don’t put that on yourself.   Offer them the kind of help you do have to offer instead.
  • Pay close attention to proposed laws that restrict freedom of speech, and oppose them.   The easiest way for totalitarianism, oppression and war to fester is by suppressing communication—by preventing people from seeing clearly what is going on, and getting them to panic because they lack the knowledge that would let them find a sane way forward.

It sort of feels like I’m giving opposing advice, because I’m saying on the one hand not to panic, and on the other to be watchful of government.   But that’s precisely what we need to do.   This is not a struggle between good and evil—it’s a struggle for balance. Our part in that balance is to let our elected representatives know that we are paying attention, and that we are thinking critically, and that we care more about content than appearance. This is the only thing that can ever give them the courage to resist unjust laws that sound good on paper, because they know that in the absence of an informed electorate (that’s us!), they will be judged on the basis of what the justification for the law is, not on the basis of what the law would actually do.

Oh, I guess there’s one more bullet point:

  • Be a citizen, not a consumer.

What I mean here is that we hardly ever hear the word “citizen” anymore – when people talk about us on the news, they call us “consumers.”   This is a deep bit of psychological misdirection.   If we are consumers, then we are the customers of the government.   If we are citizens, our role is to operate the government.   This second role is the only one that can prevent the downward spiral my friend is worried about—we have to take responsibility, and not leave it up to someone else.

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