Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dismantling three myths that block our movements

Creating peace means creating a whole culture. 
--Kent Shifferd (2011, p. 110)
What does Shifferd mean by this? That we must wait for peace until we create its culture? No. He means we must not stop with merely achieving an end to a particular incidence of violence; if we really want sustainable peace and justice we will never stop creating social institutions and personal practices, education and economic models, that foster peace and justice. What goes on in the kindergarten room is as crucial as what goes on in the Ivy League seminar. The minimum wage is a good thing, but we also need a maximum wage. We cannot create sustainable peace when we teach our children more about war than we do about peace. Getting more wealth to poor people is no more important than helping us all do without food shipped long distances (unless we use the ancient muscle or wind power to transport it). Unless we reflect and improve toward equality and sustainability we will unravel.

I hear dicta from many who think fairly shallowly, in my view, about peace.

Paralyzing myth #1:
"You can't make peace with anyone else, nor in society, without achieving inner peace."
This is one of the most disempowering and false statements, used to justify inaction and to avoid risk. It is like the inner Goebbels Big Lie, repeated often enough to be eventually regarded as true. Sorry. There have been plenty of peace campaigns that have succeeded by many participants who had not achieved inner peace at all. Waiting for individual perfection before working to reduce and eliminate the damage of violence in and between societies is a vain, narcissistic and incorrect justification for allowing terrible things to occur. Gandhi was prone to a great deal of self-doubt and stress. Martin Luther King, Jr. grappled with issues endlessly, facing his own mortality without adequate defense from a vast array of enemies. Through it all, both men created much peace in our troubled world. We are all lucky they didn't wait around for the mood rings in their respective navels to indicate the state of Inner Peace so vaunted by those who wish to offer lame excuses for noninvolvement. Just say it: I'm nervous and too afraid or too lazy to be involved. Here, I'll model this: I am too weary and busy to do enough for the Occupy movement. If I had more fire I'd be doing my share. Is that so hard? Can we admit it when others are doing more? Can we just say, "Thank you for doing the tough work of trying to create a movement, however messy it may be, toward more justice"? Give credit to others instead of making excuses for our own inadequate actions.

Paralyzing myth #2:
"Working on reforms isn't working for real change."
Really? Well, if we would like to actually achieve something beyond moral righteousness and posing we will think strategically about the most our movement can achieve, draw bright lines around that goal, ignore other wish list items, and get about the business of winning that goal. If it's to desegregate buses, win that before trying to demand the demolition of all forms of all racism. Does that mean your very broad goal is abandoned or that you no longer really want an end to all forms of racism? Obviously not. But if you can establish your movement as serious and as able to win something, you will recruit in large numbers. Those who fancy themselves as more radical, as those who taunted you to really step up and go for utopia, will still be on the sidelines, ineffectually engaging in maximal goal masturbatory rhetoric. You may safely ignore them.

Paralyzing myth #3:
"Peaceful methods only work against those who also use peaceful methods."
This is a favorite of those who get so scared of the police that their little raging frustrated spirits would rather demand the right to violent self-defense than actually produce victory. Of course, nearly all who use this line of argument completely fail to actually engage in violent insurgency themselves, but they'd like everyone to think of them in those Guevaran terms. Some even wear berets and sport Che-style beards or hairstyle, not to mention surplus military clothing. They need to create their own Romantic Revolutionary Daycare Center for the Walter Mitty School of the Vainglorious Vanguard. They do not belong in the street with those who are willing to persist in the much tougher work of converting others to support the campaign. And of course, historically, the violent ones who do manage to effect regime change traditionally use that violence next on their own people, declaring all new dissidents as enemies of the revolution. What you win with the gun you must keep with the gun.

While so many have notions of "the revolution," in fact, it is what we do every day, and how we do it as individuals and in concert with each other in great and small groups, that produces evolution. Evolution toward peace and justice can indeed happen in large gulps, but it must be preceded by creation of that sort of culture and it must be followed by the same.


Shifferd, Kent D. (2011). From war to peace: A guide to the next hundred years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

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