Sunday, April 11, 2010

Nonviolence struggles toward meme status

When I suggest that humankind has out-evolved cannibalism, slavery, the divine right of kings and other noxious notions, and that therefore we might someday out-evolve war, some students balk at the idea.

After all, they correctly point out, all those things still exist and they might come roaring back to dominate our social norms globally someday.

Correct. This is exactly why changing and maintaining social norms is a perpetual upkeeping effort, not something that can ever be "resolved for good."

As Barbara Ehrenreich described persuasively in her book Blood Rites, war may out-evolve humanity. It is a powerful meme, existing almost as a super-parasitical idea that, if not guarded against constantly, will kill off its host. Its host is humanity, after all, since the only other species that wages war is the occasional species of ant, and ants will never destroy the atmosphere and soil and water by blowing off 'sophisticated' weapons of mass destruction that will cause nuclear winter. Humankind will out-evolve war or it won't matter once war out-evolves humanity and winks out alongside the wink out of humanity.

So our choices are to settle in for the struggle or roll over and give up. Allowing the war culture to continue is to give up, because there is simply no more unsustainable human collective activity than war. Yes, war has been around for thousands of years and is natural. But it has come to an unnatural stage since July 16, 1945, the testing of the first atomic bomb, aptly code-named Trinity.

Since that moment humanity has been racing toward two outcomes and we now sit at a crossroads.

One outcome is a war system that consumes us. War in the 20th century consumed more human lives than in any other previous century and the war machine now consumes human lives by both direct violence and the rapid consumption and pollution that is killing the ecology crucial to humanity's survival.

The other outcome is a peace system that is characterized by a massively complex and interlocking human ecology of peace institutions and values that can help humanity avoid war and the war machine that is so threatening to all of life. Nonviolence has evolved in the past 104 years from a nice notion of individual witness to a mass strategic phenomenon that can replace violence as a social conflict management tool.

The research is showing that our global war machine is approaching the tipping point of radical unsustainability and nonviolence is coming in as the most effective and least costly mode of social or group-to-group conflict management. We are in the crosshairs of choice; we can continue or we can die. We can out-evolve war or we can let it consume our civilization.

Those who call for a peace system are simply the new realists and those who claim war is forever are woefully naive. War cannot sustain and out-evolving it is our single greatest evolutionary challenge. If peace is the new meme that we learn to sustain, we win. If war wins, we lose. It's simple, and yet infinitely complex. We see it or we see nothing.

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