Thursday, January 28, 2010

How to end war with nonviolence: An ecological approach

War has existed since humans began to write history.

War is natural. But is it inevitable?

There is one way to end war. Build a culture of nonviolence. Create a system of nonviolent conflict management that meets the needs of humankind. Grow an ecology of nonviolence with nested and related ecologies that tend to help the greater ecology of nonviolence produce peace.

How do ecologies work? James Lovelock proposed that Gaia, Mother Earth, is a self-correcting organism, an ecology, that achieves homeostasis by filling in gaps, by evolutionary experiments that can succeed when the time and conditions are right, so that a change in one component can be balanced by another change, even if it takes some time to come into balance following a catastrophe. This Gaian Hypothesis explains how Earth recovered from the Cretaceous Debacle, even though entire species and ecologies were ended. Others rose in their place and the grand planetary ecology eventually righted itself. Natural fluctuations, such as ice ages, did not become runaway disasters. Earth--life--knows how to evolve to preserve an atmosphere, soil, water and other necessary elements for life. Positive feedback loops, or mutually reinforcing dynamics, are blunted by new or evolved lifeforms that can eventually produce ecological effects in the aggregate that preserve a planet's biosphere.

Another public intellectual, Barbara Ehrenreich, in her germinal book Blood Rites, posited that war is a meme that also adapts to humanity to self-perpetuate. Indeed, war is so robust that it may one day consume humankind. The possibility exists and we know it. Life would not end, but we as a species may. War may be our fatal flaw--or we may in fact prove that we deserve our self-annointed name, Homo sapiens, the wise ones. We are the only species capable of drastically affecting the outcomes of our largest systems, war or peace, death or life.

We can end a particular war with violence or nonviolence, abject surrender or refusal to continue. To do that we can look to the literature on strategic nonviolence and plug in the components--mass organizing, media work, lobbying, noncooperation, electoral action, general strike--and we can succeed. As Barbara Deming said during the war in Vietnam upon her return from her visit there, Let's not forget the general strike. We could end this war in a month. Ending a war requires will and willingness to sacrifice. Mass organizing in self-replicating strategic campaigns could produce enough pressure to finish off a particular war, and it's sad that we can find the will to sacrifice for war but not for peace. Civil society will go to the mat for war but what will they do to end a war?

So this is a national conversation that we need to continue to have. The question is never decided when we are shooting other people. Those who want peace ought to continue to press for it and never give up.

Ending war, of course, is a different and larger proposition. Again, humanity has so much free will that few, if any, questions are ever permanently resolved. But we can work to create an ecology of nonviolence that will end war on Earth and will keep it ended if we maintain that ecology.

To achieve this we need to work on each subsystem. This feeds a nonviolent output into the larger and to the connected subsystems--and in any ecology, all subsystems are somehow connected.

Teaching peace journalism would help produce a media system intent on producing a nonviolent outcome.

Massive increases in nonviolent parenting education offered freely to young adults and all parents would help us produce generations who understood nonviolence and who could learn constructive conflict management from a young age.

Building down a violent military and investing instead in massive de-escalation and interposition training of teams deployable in all parts of the world would transform militaries into forceful nonviolent crisis managers.

Redirection of training for police from the use of violence to the practice of verbal judo and non-pain compliance techniques would put our civil society on a stronger path toward nonviolent conflict management.

If the moral leadership of our communities were to stand for nonviolence--the imams, ministers, rabbis and philosophers, publicly committed to constructive conflict management--that would help turn our huge civil society energy to a committed force for an end to war.

Our teachers could be trained, our educational systems could start to teach peace education from preschool to postgraduate. Civics education that taught the history of peace and how to make it would produce generations with new frameworks, new starting points of what is possible, and new outcomes.

When we are finally able to learn and believe that nonviolence is in fact the new pragmatism--and our post-1906 history shows us that abundantly--we can finally begin to elect the new pragmatists who will vote to fund this transition and skill it up.

As George Crocker said, look, we're going to win this battle, and we must, because if we don't, no one is really going to be around to worry about it. War is anti-life and our conscious evolution is no longer an option if we wish to be members of this Gaian community of life.

We have the research, we know the history, we have learned many of the lessons, and nonviolence is the greatest latent force on Earth, just starting to make itself seriously known. Once we overcome the centuries of assumptions about war and nonviolence we can go through that gate together to a new way of life. Nonviolent communication, nonviolent mediation, strategic nonviolent action and nonviolent sanctions with real power are not mysteries any longer. We are massively committed to war. If we continue that, we die. The biggest polluters on Earth are the militaries and the industries that serve them and the wars they wage. The biggest consumers of oil and strategic minerals are the militaries. Adding the structural violence deaths from the opportunity costs of spending so much on war and we see the failure to make faster progress on disease control, malnutrition, bioremediation and other ongoing human problems, and we see some of the greater costs of war.

Nonviolence is our option, our new flinty-eyed idealism, our new pragmatism. It will take a huge effort--almost as much as our ongoing efforts to wage wars and clean up after them.


Terri said...

Is war really natural? Conflict is, yes, but war as it is today...I'm not convinced it is a natural thing. I think about how much a government must spend in propaganda just to convince the poor to sacrifice their children or themselves. If it were natural I don't think that would be necessary. It actually seems quite the perversion of all that is natural, twisted by the powerful and rich to obtain more power and wealth. Maybe it hinges on the definitions of war and nature. More pondering for me.

Tom H. Hastings said...

I agree that war is a perversion of what is natural. Peace is natural. But I believe that once human density reaches a certain ratio to available resources war is an occasionally natural thing, as good health is natural and sickness is an occasionally natural breakdown of good health. The real point of nonviolence is that it offers such good preventative and curative medicine so humankind can stay in the good health of peace natural state more and more often, eventually hopefully forever.