Monday, August 30, 2010

Successful failures

At times I do evaluation work for academic institutions or even governments who want to know if research proposals are valid, promising, or problematic. I just finished one for a government which shall remain unnamed and I gave the proposal a conditional thumbs up. Part of what bothered me was the undifferentiated use of the word success. In the case of this proposal, which I need to treat a bit abstractly since confidentiality is part of what the evaluation system is predicated upon, the word success was used to describe the rhetorical strategies that convinced two countries to go to war.

Evoke an enemy, create a myth of persecution, build another myth of freedom fighting, build up the enemy to high threat levels, put forth a champion who will lead the glorious fight, and poof! War. Success.

We need to really think about success, don't we? We are succeeding right now in alienating much of the population of planet Earth. We are succeeding in polluting the seas, the rivers, the soil, the groundwater, the atmosphere, and each living being on Earth. We have succeeded, even, in changing our climate and worsening our natural disasters (pictured: Pakistan under flood). We are succeeding in hollowing out our economy with military spending that dwarfs all other items. We are succeeding in getting more guns into more hands and suffering more gun deaths by far than qualify for an official war--each and every year. We are succeeding in shifting profits to elites and unemploying millions of regular folks.

We teach our children to strive for success, but do we give them the tools to choose the right goals, so that their success isn't lethal to others, to life? We urge our students to dress for success, to plan for success, to prepare for success, to train for success, but is that success merely excess? Is it producing what will be good for those students or is it bringing us closer to the successful mortal blow to our human experiment?

The right in this country is stressing success in defeating Islam and in protecting gun rights. The left is stressing success in getting a few crumbs from the military corporate masters' table. Little is done by either left or right about our unraveling web of life. How can we redefine success so it means something tangible, something to the generations?

Suggested goals:
* eliminate war
* save the environment
* equalize wealth
* eliminate hunger

A modest proposal. So, what can accomplish all this? One thing. A grounding in nonviolence, as a principle, as a lifestyle, as a social good, as a fundamental approach to everything from conflict prevention to conflict management to conflict reconciliation. Nonviolence is the core and foundation of all worthy goals, and if it is central in our thinking, we will succeed.

There are no shortcuts to success, but there is a bottom-line value and commitment. Grounding ourselves and our children in nonviolence is not our best hope; it's our only hope. Saying no to violence is as important as saying yes to life, and using nonviolent force is how we can succeed. If we equivocate on this, we succeed only in the things that lead to failure. It really requires commitment.

Who is the judge of our commitment to nonviolence? Life itself. War is failure, poverty is failure, hunger is failure, and if our ecology continues to come apart, Mother Nature will show us how She deals with failures. Expect no mercy in that case. Nonviolence is defense against such potential disaster. Time to get serious and educated about this, if we hope for success.

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