Thursday, June 28, 2012

We are the rainbow 99 percent

Historian Lawrence S. Wittner spent decades as an international peace and justice scholar/practitioner, researching movements and participating in them. One of the sums of his life, as he wrote in his 2012 illuminating memoir, is, as he reflected on his long career of "involvement in movements to change the world, I found my own community--not only friends and lovers but also millions of good people in nations around the world" (p. 251).

Indeed, writes anthropologist Douglas P. Fry (2005), unlike the lugubrious assumption that most of humanity has engaged in war most of the time for most of our history and prehistory, we all actually usually get along pretty well, with plenty of conflict that is normally managed nonviolently. Fry observes that the archeological record shows war becoming more prevalent in modern times than it was ever before, contrary to more assumptions about humanity red in fang and claw, just another animal on the bloody prowl.

This is an important question. Probably the most immediate and pervasive declaration by the average pundit and the average citizen who lives in a war system is that "war is inevitable; it's just human nature." Well, says Fry, not so fast. Violence is only a part of human nature; nonviolent conflict management is just as natural, probably much more. Why is this so important?

If violence and nonviolence are both a part of human nature we have the essential human situation: choice. Humans do tend toward path dependency--whatever social norms and infrastructures we have constructed tend to dominate--so if we want peace instead of war, we may need to blaze a new trail.

But the good news it's a natural trail, a path much like that which other societies have taken. For a nation that says it values peace, we have not practiced it enough, but Americans are getting war weary. It is possible for us to reach out to those millions of good-hearted people everywhere and do the natural thing--end war.


Fry, D. P. (2005). The human potential for peace: An anthropological challenge to assumptions about war and violence. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Wittner, Lawrence S. (2012). Working for peace and justice: Memoirs of an activist intellectual. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press.

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