Thursday, June 30, 2011

Research into conflict management methods

We get what we pay for and we invest in what we want. Think about our nation's research into war and into peace. Consider the costs of war and the costs of peace; which one is more advantageous? With war we get a spent-down economy, a massive consumption of nonrenewable resources, the slaughter of combatants and innocents alike (more of the latter than the former in every case nowadays), the pollution of our food chain and environment, and a legacy of wounded veterans who will require expensive care for decades even as their productive work capacities are diminished. The benefits of war are defense of territory and plunder of other people's wealth, mostly benefiting an elite class of war profiteers.

So, if we plan on war, we should invest heavily in it and ignore investing in the only thing that can keep us out of war, that is, war prevention and peace creation. This is exactly what we have done as a nation. Our research into war is massive (measured in the scores of $billions annually) and our research into peace is scant (less than $20 million at the highwater mark) and diminishing. Is it any wonder our public discourse assumes war and sees little chance for peace?

Academic research in general increased greatly following WWII, when, between 1950 and 1970 it went up twenty-five-fold (Parsi & Geraghty, 2004). The lion's share has been gobbled up more and more by research for the Pentagon and the huge university grants can be found on the DoD website.

Peace research is ignored, for the most part, unless it angers hawks, as it has recently with the paltry bits tossed over to the United States Institute of Peace, which is under sincere threat of complete defunding. The problem with USIP is that for a fraction of the research budget, rational and effective methods of conflict management that avoid bloodshed and reduce the need for military expenditure are threatening the war profiteers. Peace research is bad for the death business, even though it's great for life and for human and ecological security in the US and elsewhere.

It's up to the underfunded, overworked (when research dollars increase, teaching loads decrease) peace educators to do for free what the war professors do for big pay--engage the public directly, since it is the power of the citizenry that can finally change this picture, if it is to be changed.


Parsi, K. P., & Geraghty, K. E. (2004). The Bioethicist as Public Intellectual. American Journal of Bioethics, 4(1), 17-23. doi:10.1162/152651604773067514

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Free Dumb Now!

It is becoming harder to see the fruits of our public education system expressed meaningfully in our media, which augers ill for our democracy. One of the pillars of our hope in the people is that the people are capable of focusing on serious issues and thinking them through if they have the information. But we see more and more the Last Days of the Empire reflected in the gladiator/bloodthirst/sex-is-violence/stupid-drunk-is-smart Cirque de Steupéd Celebrity Tabloid fare.

But isn't this how it always is? Popular culture is forever inane and glories in the absurd, the scatological, the infantile, and the Three Stooges-violence-and-pain-is-hilarious humor. Those who want us to be cognitive machines all the time will be disappointed all the time.

True, but we are on some sort of slide. The Congress is full of global warming deniers, now infesting the Republican presidential field with the lead Ostrich-On-Climate, Rick Santorum. We are a nation revisiting the Scopes Trial and rethinking it as we descend toward an image of God that is more bloody vengeance Old Testament and we declare that He created everything in seven days. Evolution is just a liberal theory to more and more Americans.

In the past, intellectuals could be relied upon for some corrective help. In a study of intellectuals featured on the cover of Time magazine, Stephen Bates has found that we are not interested in that sort of critically thought-through analyst any longer, if the cover of Time magazine is any indicator. Here is the count since the founding of Time magazine in 1923 (Bates, p. 41):
Totals by Decade
1923-1929 6
1930-1939 12
1940-1949 11
1950-1959 11
1960-1969 10
1970-1979 9
1980-1989 3
1990-1999 11
2000-2010 1

Yes, we are in a slow death spiral of mainstream media featuring public intellectuals, it would appear, with the refuges now in the alternative media, including blogs and social media. Where possible, it's still a great idea to try to break into mainstream media with a public peace intellectual message and some will continue to try, but more and more those intellectuals who are in play in the public discourse are reaching out in different ways. If all we see and hear and read is corporate media, we may believe there is nothing but celebrity news, Fox lies and hatemongering out there. So, like mice searching for the cheese, we continue to sniff out new paths through the media maze, even as we recheck the old ones too.

Bates, S. (2011). Public Intellectuals on Time’s Covers. Journalism History, 37(1), 39-50. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Muddling forward in the Middle East

When then-President George W. Bush hosted then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his ranch in April 2005, Sharon told Bush that he doubted Arabs would ever acknowledge the "birthright of the Jewish people to establish a Jewish state in their historic cradle" (Benn, 2005, p. 44).

This unmitigated arrogance is exactly why Israel and Palestine cannot resolve their problems. The founding of the state of Israel was done violently, by conquest, and only a bit more than 60 years ago. Living people remember it.

In my field, Peace and Conflict Studies, we engage conflict forensics to dissect, deconstruct, contextualize and attempt to understand conflict. Sharon, his Israeli heirs, and his natural Palestinian counterparts (those who join him in what is known as dissensual conflict, or conflict over worldviews and values, not merely a share of the pie) hold all their people hostage. Solutions cannot be based on mere problem-solving and dividing up resources or even land. We saw how that worked out with the failed Oslo Accords. Solutions need to address the emotional core of the problem.

What emotional blocks exist? The short list:
  • Atrocities have been committed by both sides.
  • Labeling and objectification mean that many members of both sides regard the other people as the problem.
  • Collective memory defaults to the worst case assumed scenarios at every turn.
  • Every family on both sides has a personal loss to account for, to satisfy, and to remind them of the inhumanity of the other side.
  • Many on both sides are certain that the other side is existentially threatening, i.e., would like to commit complete genocide on them.

Of course, all this is compounded by the legacies of Europe and the Middle East, by the Crusades, by the northern conquests of Muslims during what Europeans call the Dark Ages, by the modern European invasions and colonial conquests of sections of the Middle East, by the European Holocaust, and by the Cold War. That ocean of negative stew is pressurized into a cauldron of land with scant resources and a burgeoning population who already consume more water than they have, more oil than they have, and more food than they can grow.

This adds up to what Edward Azar (Lebanese American conflict resolution theorist) called protracted social conflict. PSC is the toughest conflict nut to crack. It needs to go way past negotiations that have occurred to date. Just a couple of suggestions based upon our basic principles in Peace and Conflict Studies:

Engage in a thoroughgoing Truth and Reconciliation process that fully hears the people on basic traumatic issues, including all topics back to and preceding the 1948 creation of the nation-state of Israel. This is hard and messy. So is the ongoing conflict, which shows zero sign of abating.

Begin negotiations that include all parties who say they are stakeholders, no matter how radical and offensive, from the jihadis on the Palestinian side to the Greater Zionists (like Sharon was) on the Israeli side. Decide and abide by the decision on whether to include those in diaspora because those people affect the conflict (almost always destructively on all sides). My personal thought would be to argue to exclude them, because, for the most part, people in diaspora will listen to those 'back home' and those who are in Palestine Israel are the ones who should process and decide matters. Of course, it gets complicated when Palestinian refugees still in vast camps bordering Israel are considered. They certainly have more rights in this conflict than do Jews living in America who have never lived in Israel.

End US involvement. We are the largest supplier of arms to the region, pouring gasoline on the peat bog fire daily. We can never be an honest broker of peace there. We are literally representing AAI Corporation, Alliant Techsystems, BAE Systems Inc., Boeing, Bushmaster Firearms International, Colt's Manufacturing Company, General Atomics, General Electric (primarily through GEAE), General Dynamics, Honeywell, Lockheed-Martin, Northrop Grumman Corporation, Raytheon Corporation, THOR Global Defense Group, United Technologies (primarily through Pratt and Whitney, Smith and Wesson Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation) and all the other war contractors who profit from bloodshed and who lose money to successful peace processes. The US must not be a part of this as they are owned by the lobbyists from the war system.

Is any of this easy? No, of course not. If it were easy, all the certified smart people on both sides would have wrapped this up long ago. But at the least we need to move past the superficials.

Benn, A. (2005). Israel and Arab Democracy. National Interest, (80), 44-48. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Steps toward nonviolence

Neil Earle (1998) noted that we cannot easily demonstrate dispositive cause and effect linkage of public opinion to public policy, much less the more obscure linkage of public intellectual engagement to public policy. The best we can do is listen to the experts surmise and watch the circumstantial evidence. Very few policymakers will send out press releases thanking the public for pushing them to do the right thing, nor are we likely to learn of many smoking memos from policymakers that credit public opinion with having effect. Of course, ignoring public opinion for politicians is like ignoring gravity for all of us. It's an unseen but powerful force. No visible ropes and chains pull us to the Earth when we jump off a cliff, but the results are certainly predictable.

Earle cites the apoplexy Nixon experienced when he looked out the window to see even one demonstrator for peace in Lafayette Park, the frequent checks on public opinion on the Vietnam War done by Lyndon Johnson with his closest advisers, and the general pronouncements by insiders that, in fact, public opinion matters, even to lame ducks.

Earle's historical example of the force connections is now obscure, but enlightening. In the aftermath of World War I, a naval arms race in the Pacific was brewing amongst the US, Britain, France and Japan. The US and Japan were both on the rise and eager to outspend and outpower everyone in the region. Public opinion in the US was not nearly as opposed to this as were war-weary Europeans, whose youth had been mowed down by the millions for years before the US entered the war to effect victory. Into this picture a public peace intellectual, Frederick J. Libby, from Maine, waded with his Congregational ministerial credentials and a realistic sense of how to talk to his fellow Americans.

Peace activists are often weak at peace messaging. They sometimes sound woo-woo, all mystical and flower-infantile. Others sound stridently anti-American. Some use alienating religiosity, and many fail to acknowledge that Americans have legitimate security concerns. Libby led a realistic campaign that did not eliminate violence from American foreign policy, but it did delay a naval arms race in the Pacific by more than a decade, since it tapped into the zeitgeist and helped generate public pressure that resulted in the Washington Conference on the Limitation of Naval Armament (November 1921-February 1922), heralded then as a remarkable achievement for peace.

Obviously, one arms limitation treaty--even this one, billed as the first one in modern history--is a small step toward a nonviolent world. Failing to take all the rest of the 9,999 steps (as the Tao would call the journey) is how reform fails. Continuing to take the next step as quickly as possible is how the journey succeeds. Each one of use can take that step, and then the next. Just this morning, I got a powerfully written piece from Kathy Kelly, a woman who never stops stepping toward a nonviolent world, all about her part in the American contingent of the flotilla from Greece to Gaza. I sent her piece to more than 2,400 American editors. We'll see how many pick it up. One so far. Kathy has credibility and her innumerable steps are inspirational. May we all get Happy Feet toward nonviolence.

Earle, N. (1998). Public opinion for peace: Tactics of peace activists at the Washington Conference on Naval Armaments. Journal of Church & State, 40(1), 149. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

You, Imagineer

Christ, you know it ain't easy...

On back in the day, when I was barely 18, in 1969, the Tet Offensive was slaughtering my buddies in Vietnam even as it was showing the world that imperialism from any quarter would not be tolerated in that "backward" country used to resisting Chinese invasion for literally much of two and a half millennia. The Chinese invaded repeatedly and were replaced in brief attempts by Mongols, French, Japanese and finally Americans. Vietnamese are stubborn. They don't tolerate others occupying their land, telling them how to live, stealing their resources and violating their women and children. What a bunch of weirdos.

Into this mix comes John and Yoko with their marriage in March and their Bed-In for Peace in Amsterdam and then Montreal. Their anthemic Give Peace a Chance was recorded in the hotel room in Canada, with a cast of interesting characters on hand and singing along (e.g., Dick Gregory, Timothy Leary, Tommy Smothers). Lennon and Ono were serious about this humor, so to speak, and carried on opposition to the war, producing another anthem in 1971, Imagine. They sang out loud what a peace system would look like to them and asked us all to imagine it.

Gregory Bourne (2011) makes a similar request for a nonkilling world. If we cannot imagine it, he asserts, we cannot achieve it, a very similar claim to what Elise Boulding said in the 1970s, when she imagined how to help other imagine, ultimately creating her Imaging a World Without Weapons movement of workshops with a clear method of helping us do that work. And it all trails Albert Einstein, doesn't it, when he noted that "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

So, in the midst of our hyperactivism, let us not forget to take some spinfree moments to imagine. Maybe you will only imagine one tiny piece of the solution to the problem of violence in our world. Maybe you will only be totally original one tiny time in all your imaging work. And perhaps that one tiny innovation, imagined from your unique mind, will be the crucial peace piece. Don't keep us waiting too long...

Bourne, G. (January 01, 2011). In Pursuit of a Killing-Free World. Peace Review, 23, 2, 205-213.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Naturally nonviolent

Charles Collyer (2003) and others note that we humans have a natural resistance to killing each other, a resistance that must be overcome before we will do that odious, unnatural act. How, then, can we bring social norms back to the natural? How can we uncivilize each other, if civilization is how we learn to justify murder? Or, how can we redefine civilization to exclude killing each other from our social norms?

We need a new prime directive. Thou shalt not kill only rates number five (Catholics and Lutherans) or six (Talmudic, Anglican, Orthodox Christian, and others) in the Judeo Christian 10 Commandments, plus many of those religious denominations translate and interpret that commandment as more of a guideline with asterisks, changing "kill" to "murder" and thus creating loopholes large enough to drive an army of tanks through. Capital punishment, self-defense, police procedures and the Just War doctrine all rely on that asterisk. Murders committed in the doctrinal name of all these exceptions rely on the asterisk to shield these heinous acts from both legal sanction and social opprobrium. Correcting this is a minor removal of the asterisk and a massive reordering of the way we manage conflict.

Sounds like a big job. Guess we should get started.

Collyer, Charles (2003). A Nonkilling Paradigm for Political Scientists, Psychologists, and Others. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 9(4) 371-372.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dialectical research and policy

In my lucky situation teaching at "The People's University" at Portland State, I get to meet and have collegial conversations with my intellectual betters and with amazing scholars from all over the world. Yesterday, I talked with Veronica Dujon, originally from St Lucia, probably the most popular professor amongst the 1,500 or so employed in our downtown institution. We both advise graduate students and she said she always asks, when reviewing a research proposal, "What good will it do?" She said she needs to see hope of utilization toward a better world for all or she cannot approve the proposal. That seems like a great benchmark and can certainly start the student thinking beyond the academy, which, we hope, is the point.

Brian Martin (2005), nonviolence researcher, noted, "Nonviolence research has often served to inspire and inform researchers and activists but rarely has had an impact on policy" (p. 247). The dialectic between research and activism is what Paulo Freire called praxis, but how do we get that translated into policy?

This is our challenge, of course, and, as we all know about the Law of Unintended Consequences, we need to be careful of what we wish for. Perhaps a little of our research translated into policy is sometimes worse than none, such as when psychologists and anthropologists (and possibly conflict resolution researchers) find their work used to further or protect empire rather than what we intend.

We try to be mindful and perhaps the most meaningful policy change is ultimately the dissolution of the United States of America into regionally sovereign nations that don't own nuclear weapons or planetary military power projection infrastructures. But there is also our own personal policy world, isn't there? The research itself may just be a tool for anyone to use, but even the researchers need to be players out beyond the walls of the academy if we are going to effect positive peace public policy.

Martin, Brian (2005). Researching nonviolent action: past
themes and future possibilities. Peace & Change, 30(2) 247-270.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Waking up angry

Common sense is finally catching up with the American people. They are beginning to see what we have been pointing out for a few years now, that all ethics and morals aside, the war machine is eating them alive. Even some of their representatives are beginning to notice.

Money spent on the Pentagon creates fewer jobs than money spent on virtually any other sector of the economy and the BushObama Pentabudget continues to set new spending records annually. We are experiencing a massive Duh Moment as the old lies die, writhing and lashing out defensively.

Lie #1: War is good for the economy. No, it is good for the economies of the rich ones who own obscenely profitable war profiteering operations and inexorably drains the rest of the economy.

Lie #2: With a war, unemployment goes away and only the indolent can't find work. This only requires opening our eyes to witness that precise opposite of that.

Lie #3: Failure to have boots on the ground and bombs in the air makes us vulnerable isolationists. In fact, more Americans volunteer to do completely nonviolent civil society work for others all around the world, boosting our national image, while the US military, on balance, enrages more people than any other US policy.

Lie #4: If the US isn't the military enforcer for democracy, dictatorships take over. Ask the people of Guatemala, Iran, Congo, Philippines, and other nations how they feel about this. US military or military aid has been what has achieved precisely the opposite in many cases. We have overthrown democratically elected governments and installed our military puppet dictators. We have sent the weapons to keep monarchs and despots in power. Where we have installed "democracies" at gunpoint, they are corrupt and violent.

So we may at last see a drawdown of the war budget, even though most media and the majority of politicians have avoided even mentioning it ("So, will we balance the budget by cutting education or Social Security?"). That will be a Good Thing.

But it needs to go far deeper. Cutting the first few percent of the Pentagon budget that goes to wage war in Afghanistan (and Iraq, which is still sucked more than $71 billion from US taxpayers last year, while Congress argued bitterly over a $30 billion difference in the Democrat and Republican budgets), that will help. But our real national discussion about the war machine is just starting. The preparation for war and the power projection is the vast majority of our bloated, anti-jobs Pentagon spending. Peace educators have been pointing at this for years. We hope the American people start leading on this as well.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Quick! Hide the nonviolent Muslims!

Whether we look at the FBI's Most Wanted (virtually all Muslims) or to congressional hearings on Islam (e.g. Peter King's Salemic pursual of any Muslim not content with the US military's invasion and occupation of Muslim lands) or just about any pleasant evening on Frequently Overtly Xenophobic (Fox) News, we find the overwhelming evidence that Islam is a religion of bloody murder and hate. Unlike the Christian US Marines who shot white phosphorus into Fallujah immediately after Christian ceremonies. Unlike the pilots of the Enola Gay and Bocks Car, blessed by Roman Catholic priest George Zebelka (pictured, who later converted to peace) before taking off from Tinian Island to drop WMD on cities full of civilians in Japan.

Turns out there have been many nonviolent campaigns and leaders in the Muslim world. Shh! What if word gets out?

Stephen Zunes, et al., (1999) chronicled several such movements, Maria Stephan (2009) edited a book about such struggles, and many have written volumes about Badshah Khan, the great Islamic Pashtun leader whose campaigns were founded in Quranic teachings and whose 100,000 Servants of God were sworn to nonviolence. Michael Shank (2011) writes about several Islamic nonviolent movements and notes this about Khan in particular:

Khan was intentional about sourcing his nonviolent teachings and inspiration in the Koran, a practice his grandson Asfandyar Wali Khan continues to this day as head of the Awami National Party in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier (recently renamed Khyber- Pakhtunkwa). The preamble to the party’s platform, in fact, is an unequivocal commitment to the principles of nonviolence, the teachings of Khan and the cause of the Khidmatgars.

Why is it so imperative to keep these Muslims marginalized? Several related reasons:
1. It is confusing to the American people, since our tax dollars largely go to making war on Muslims these days, and our cooperation at some level is required.
2. The most grotesquely profitable industry is the conflict industry, which is reliant upon the enemy image of Islam.
3. If it bleeds, it leads. Peaceful Muslims are boring. Fanatical fundies with suicidal mania are great press.
4. Much of the world's oil is inconveniently under Muslim countries and we cannot be soft and sympathetic toward people whose resources we need to exploit and extract, with or without their consent.

So, when we grow up as a culture, we can get past all these reasons and think a bit more critically. But, like the daily reports from DoD on the young US members of the armed forces who are killed in these wars, civilizations who make poor choices about what they are willing to do can fail to survive. Our immaturity about all this is literally an existential threat. Will we address it in time?


Shank, M. (2011). Islam's Nonviolent Tradition. Nation, 292(20), 24-25. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Stephan, Maria J. (Ed.) (2009). Civilian jihad: Nonviolent struggle, democratization, and governance in the Middle East. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Zunes, Stephen, Kurtz, Lester R., & Asher Sarah B. (1999). Nonviolent social movements: A geographical perspective. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Clearing up our national thought process

When I was first 'promoted' from medium security prison to serve out my sentence at a minimum security prison camp I was the subject of a meeting amongst the warden, assistant warden, sanctions officer (who would eventually become my parole officer) and me. I was learning about the levels of objectification and paranoia generally present in the thinking process of the average prison official. I underestimated those levels, not hard to do when they seemed to spike off the graph.

I spoke to them like adults, as though they were fellow citizens (even though my citizen privileges were temporarily suspended), and that alarmed the warden, who looked at me long and hard and eventually said, accusingly, "You don't think like an inmate."

Since prison officials and indeed most law enforcement officials all the way from judges to deputies routinely chastised inmates for 'criminal thinking,' I responded, "Well, isn't that the point?"

The next morning, I was in ankle chains, belly chains and special disabling handcuffs, driven almost 200 miles south to the maximum security prison where all vehicles are laboriously checked with mirrors and other inspection aids as they bring new inmates in, and dumped into solitary confinement. Evidently, my responses to the committee weren't "Yes sir, boss" enough for them. They felt it necessary to do something to my thinking.

So, I ask you, what do we need to do to our national thinking to clarify it around issues of violence? What do we do when we see such poor thinking that we are willing to sacrifice environmental protection in order to 'protect' us from cranks and wanks who might intend harm to Americans anyplace on Earth? How can we help our fellow citizens to reframe thought patterns when they allow our economy to degenerate in order to fund a military to new record levels every single year--not just new records for our nation, new records for any nation, ever, in human history?

Glenn D. Paige (2000) gives some frame to this problem:

Examples are when guns in the home kill more family members than intruders, bodyguards assassinate heads of state, violent revolutionaries become oppressors of the liberated, armies for defence oppress the defended, and the ultimate victorious weapon and its associated technology become the most dangerous threat to the continued existence of life on earth. (p. 12)

Apparently, these illogical outcomes seem perfectly sane and rational to Americans. It may require our best efforts at cultural, educational, and subsystemic levels over time, in addition to our ongoing rational arguments. I only hope it doesn't require complete catastrophe for a reset in our national thinking. Neither humankind nor Mother Nature will fare well in that case. The stakes are far too high for us to let it get that far.


Paige, G. D. (2000). POLITICAL SCIENCE: To Kill or Not to Kill?. Social Alternatives, 19(2), 11-18. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What makes Peace and Conflict Studies unique?

Max Weber (1864-1920) is a demigod in the discipline of sociology. Many in my field, Peace and Conflict Studies, admire much of his work and many of his insights. And we reject of his assertions too.

Like me, the field of Peace and Conflict Studies is only about 60 years old--old for a man, young for a field of study. It grew from the outliers in many other disciplines, including Religion, Philosophy, Sociology, Psychology, Political Science, History, Literature, and Economics. While we use much of the core canonical corpus of knowledge from these traditional disciplines, we also part company with many of their foundational scholars on some key points, most saliently, transformation of destructive conflict to constructive conflict.

So, we leave behind the von Clausewitzian notion of war as politics by other means. We challenge the Just War doctrines of the world's largest religions. We seek the histories of oppressed peoples--e.g., African American, women, gays--and of marginal ideas--e.g., nonviolence, environmental defense. We explore psychological elements of reconciliation and assertion that can help with this transformation. And we look more at methods of conflict management than we do at left and right on the political spectrum.

And so we must part company at times with otherwise admired foundational figures:

The theory and empirical evidence exist to challenge the previously uncontested orthodoxy of the influential sociologist Max Weber and other scholars, who, in Weber's words, contend, "He who seeks the salvation of the soul, his own and that of others, should not seek it along the avenue of politics, for the quite different tasks of politics can only be solved by violence."
--Summy, Ralph (2000). In Search of Identity. Social Alternatives, 19(2), 4-7.

Summy is asserting our identity as a field. We love sociology and the other disciplines, but we do in fact perform our own research too, we have our own starting points, and Summy points to that well.

As we see with events on the world stage, part of the world is catching up (e.g. Arab Spring) and part are dead-enders (Gaddaffi, Obama, and NATO). The battle for the spirit of humankind is being waged in earnest. Peace and Conflict Studies has something to give to that struggle.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Using weapons

Some years ago, Daniel Ellsberg developed a list of US presidents who have used nuclear weapons. He said, every one of them since the weapons were invented. Of course, he anticipated the counterclaim that only one US president has used the Bomb, Harry Truman, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to end World War II. Ellsberg said, no, and asked rhetorically if a robber with a gun to your head who takes your wallet and never pulls the trigger, if that robber has used a gun? Then he listed all the presidents and all the incidents in which that president used nukes to get his way in geopolitical struggles.

It is that sort of understanding we need to bring to the false dichotomy between direct violence and structural violence, a distinction made helpfully by Johan Galtung even more years ago. If institutions are set up to unfairly exploit or oppress some--an ethnic group, women, a religious group, queers, etc.--those institutions cannot effect those oppressive policies without a loaded gun at the end of the laws and policies. Fair laws can be enforced nonviolently, given proper training and preparation in a democracy. Unfair laws and policies require violence or the threat of violence, thus blurring the difference, ultimately, between direct and structural violence.

It remains crucial to keep those distinctions, however, since those who have a superficial interest and knowledge of peace and justice--though they may be passionate about it and eager to help--they need to be brought to think about Galtung's category of structural violence because it helps them overcome Galtung's third problem of violence, cultural violence, which is to say, a belief system that allows for the use of violence.

Thus we find Glenn D. Paige (2002, p. 21), for example, writing about the possibilities of a nonkilling Korea and he posits that, in addition to all the obvious requirements about laws and weapons and commitments:

  • No ideological doctrines — political, religious, military, economic, legal, customary, or academic — that provide permissions for Koreans to kill Koreans, for foreigners to kill Koreans, and for Koreans to kill foreigners; and
  • No conditions of Korean society — political, economic, social, and cultural — or relationships between Koreans and foreigners that can only be maintained or changed by threat or use of killing force.

People simply will not abide conditions that feel unjust. At some point, they refuse cooperation. That point is reached sooner if there is no existential threat--structural violence with its ultima ratio regum, its last resort of the elites who benefit from the inequality--but even with mortal threat, there are limits to oppression, as we see from civil wars and nonviolent uprisings alike. It is key to hear the old long gone Pope Paul VI on back in 1972, "If you want peace, work for justice."


Paige, G. D. (2002). A Nonkilling Korea: From Cold-War Confrontation to Peaceful Coexistence. Social Alternatives, 21(2), 21-28. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Making poor decisions gives one credibility

My father was a psychologist and directed a program that produced counselors for those with chemical dependencies. He always used to shake his head at what he felt was a bizarre belief in the qualifications for hiring counselors, in particular, that being in recovery was just as valuable as a degree in Chemical Dependency Counseling. A sober drunk just had to certify sobriety to many of those who hired people and that would have at least equal heft to a graduate from a program that taught pharmacology, counseling skills, and required a serious internship.

This phenomenon is not restricted to the recovering drug addicts. It is also true of the recovering killers. I see it constantly. If someone was a conscientious objector to war, remained a solid peace activist, picked up a few degrees in Peace and Conflict Studies (or another more common discipline, but with that focus), taught Peace and Conflict Studies courses for years, and wrote a few books about conversion to a peace system, that person is often times regarded as less credible than someone who decided to join in a criminal war and later converted to peace.

I applaud all former warriors who convert to peace. They have my admiration and I work with them constantly. It is not them, usually, who bother me (except the recently converted who try to tell me how to be a more effective activist, something that takes quite a little arrogance on their part, but I have experienced it). I especially love them if they have actually converted to nonkilling and nonviolence, rather than merely to a position of hating this or that war or this or that fighting force. Some give support to former enemy combatants when they decide that those combatants were the ones on the 'right side.' I disagree with my friends who do this; I would prefer they take the time to learn who the nonviolent civil society activists are in the affected country and support them instead. Supporting a 'more correct' side in a war is still quite supportive of war.

The former warriors all know combat jargon and weaponry lingo, which gives them a chance to tap into the deep war-sacralizing sentiments in our war culture even as they are claiming to be working for peace. This is problematic. I'd rather hear them discussing principled negotiation, strategic nonviolence, cross-cultural competencies, dual-concern models of dialog and other tools toward peace, but few of the former warriors seem interested in really learning how to make and maintain peace. They know what bothers them and they are frequently quite vocal about it, but their familiarity with actual nonviolent, constructive conflict forensics and techniques is usually quite absent.

Still, the mere fact that they have experienced war because they chose to is enough to confer credibility upon them, even amongst peace scholars who should know better. Bill Bhaneja (2003) writes in the academic journal Social Alternatives, "Is a nonkilling global society feasible? ...Yes...Glenn Paige, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Hawaii, writes from experience, having served in the Korean war."

This flummoxes me. Glenn D. Paige is a peace expert, having spent decades studying what it takes to transform destructive conflict to constructive conflict. That is what gives him credibility in his 2000 book, Nonkilling Global Political Science. If Bhaneja had claimed that Paige hates war from experience, that would make sense. But to assert that someone is experientially knowledgeable about creating positive peace because he is a combat veteran is sheer nonsense. The power of the warrior mythos is so overwhelming, however, that Bhaneja, an academic, wrote it and the journal editors and reviewers saw no problem with it.

I am hereby staking out the assertion that Si Pacem vis para pacem, that is, If you want peace, prepare for peace. Study war and study the alternatives if you want genuine, earned credibility. I have friends who have done this, from the late Phil Berrigan to the young Paul Chappell. These warriors didn't rely upon their veteran status to teach others how to make peace nonviolently; instead, they made a serious study of the alternatives to war. That, to me, gives them enormous earned credibility.


Bhaneja, B. (2003). Violence Against Violence Fails. Social Alternatives, 22(2), 61-62. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Transformational scholarship

Scholars all try to make a mark in their fields. It's sort of by definition, since scholarship is defined as adding to the knowledge of a discipline or field. Of course, it's relatively easy to do that if you buy into the notion of the war system. They have all the money, and it takes funding for most research.

Peace researchers have an uphill climb with scant help, few research assistants, little course release time, and incredulous skeptics in the traditional disciplines greeting their proposals and findings. For the determined, that has not stopped them. Glenn D. Paige, now emeritus in political science at the University of Hawai'i, has helped introduce the study of "nonkilling" and "Paige seeks to fundamentally
transform the discipline of political science as it is generally practiced
today" (Sniegocki, 2007, p. 285).

Historically, Political Science has been a war system discipline following the von Clausewitz dictum, " "War is a mere continuation of politics by other means," with a few outliers promoting a peace system. The nonkilling philosophy and theory is transformative, since, if war is not a threat, injustice is virtually impossible to maintain, invasion is almost inconceivable, and there is no big gun strapped to a bailiff or deputy enforcing the laws or rulings of the judges.

Fortunately for those who want to move beyond the nice notion of nonviolence to the pragmatic possibilities, scholarship is increasing in Security Studies, Political Science, Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology, and Peace and Conflict Studies that bolsters the growing arguments for the adaptive and in fact necessary transformation from a war system to a peace system. Pioneers like Paige are finding many more allies in the younger research cohorts in all these disciplines.

The Next Big Step is for these researchers to convey this knowledge to a citizenry who are forever told: Be afraid and So which choice do you make--back the war or just do nothing? Scholarly knowledge circulating amongst scholars is interesting and impotent. The power of the people to transform our war system to a peace system requires the translation of this peace research into understandable, cogent public discourse.


Sniegocki, J. H. (2007). Recommended Books. Peace Review, 19(2), 281-287. doi:10.1080/10402650701354057

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Peace educators MIA

When you are an activist, you work with media, unless you are an unsuccessful activist. You may work with mainstream media, social media, or alternative media--the most effective work with all three--but it is simply bread and butter for any normal social activist.

This is why I earned a minor in Writing as a part of my Peace and Conflict Studies bachelors degree. This is why I earned a masters in Mass Communication. This is why I have written hundreds of editorials plus other writing over the years. It is all toward peace, justice and environmental sustainability.

And so, when I saw so little of the peace analysis in popular press during the September 2002-March 2003 period of selling the invasion of Iraq, I was increasingly dismayed. I was especially disappointed in the lack of peace educator participation in the press. We were rarely interviewed as articles claiming to be about this decision process streamed past us daily. Generals were interviewed. Politicians and agency people were interviewed. The peace perspective was virtually nonexistent. And peace researchers and educators were missing in action on the editorial pages. It was hard to have a national conversation when in reality it was a national monologue from the war system, pouring content into the empty vessels of the public.

So the research project I'm working on tries to look at the perceptions of the academic about this phenomenon. I'm learning that time pressures are actually a piece of this puzzle. Jerry Jacobs and Sarah Winslow (2004) noted that most academics work 55-65 hours per week, whether they have earned tenure or not. My interview participants report enormous time crunches, especially if they also have families. Other perceptions help fill in the picture.

"In the past, I would be earnest and eager to weigh in on an issue I knew about," said one participant. "I'd feverishly write a commentary and then wait for a response from a paper while the piece grew colder and colder. I stopped trying to publish in the newspapers with anything time urgent. I never knew if some corporate influence stopped my piece or what." For a busy professor, even one whose research or teaching focused on understanding issues that often are in the news, there is the fear of wasting very limited spare time trying to say something that is never going to be heard because of unspoken editorial bias.

Then, if some piece does finally get published, a tenure track professor may get derailed because colleagues and administrators believe she is speaking outside her area of expertise, though the fear of the peace educator is often that, since it cannot be said that public expression of a partisan view for peace is alienating to corporate interests or to conservative political powerful institutional players, other justifications for critique are required. Hence, "She is not a political scientist. She is writing outside her discipline." There is a fear that this blocks tenure and, if a professor is denied tenure, they are sometimes simply then fired.

Institutions wishing to enable their peace, justice and environmental sustainability faculty to help raise the level of public discourse should consider finding ways to make sure that academic freedom precedes tenure and that time spent with this type of civic engagement counts as part of those 55-65 work hours. That would not solve the problem of the corporate media blocking countervailing opinion, but it would break up part of that logjam that leaves us with an increasingly war-accepting, if not war-promoting, public discourse.


Jacobs, J. A., & Winslow, S. E. (2004). The academic life course, time pressures and gender inequality. Community, Work & Family, 7(2), 143-161. doi:10.1080/1366880042000245443

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Imperfect intellectuals and other redundancies

Franz Boas (1858-1941) was a public intellectual during the halcyon days of public scholarship. He was far ahead of his time in several respects and a product of his time in others. He is credited with moving the entire field of anthropology away from an assumption of racial superiority to racial equality, and with going to the public with his findings. He has been criticized by some feminists for his chauvinism typical of his day. Both assessments are valuable and, one hopes, do not cancel each other out. No one is above critique and no one can survive inspection for perfection. Boas arguably did more to eliminate racism inside and outside the academy than virtually anyone in his era except perhaps his friend, W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963), so it is hoped that acknowledgement will be afforded him by those who note his sexism, just as it is hoped that the notes on Boas will avoid uncritical hagiography.

Indeed, some academic women and men organized a conference discussing Boas in December 2010. From the report:

An interdisciplinary conference on “Franz Boas: Ethnographer Theorist, Activist, Public Intellectual” was held in London, Ontario, Canada 2–5 December 2010, organized by Regna Darnell, Michelle Hamilton and Joshua Smith (Western Ontario) together with Robert Hancock (Victoria) and sponsored by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Boas’ Americanist anthropology crossed the academic disciplines of anthropology, linguistics, folklore, American Indian Studies, education and many others. Twenty-three papers reassessed his contributions in these and other disciplines and highlighted his political and social activist commitments in both North America and Europe. Papers crossed the social sciences and humanities fields and ranged from literary studies to philosophy.
(Darnell, 2011, p. 253)

Whitfield (2010) asserts, "Boas was decisive in changing public discourse on the often radioactive subject of race. He honored the ideal of the scholar as activist and as social conscience, and virtually no one in modern American history came closer to satisfying that standard" (p. 430). At the remove of a century, it is almost inconceivable to us in the new millennium that racism was so overt and ugly in the late 19th and early 20th century period, but that was the case. Women's movements were discriminating against women of color, as we saw in some of the sordid episodes during the suffrage struggles. Academics were teaching racial superiority and inferiority. Few intellectuals were saying, as did Boas, that the Native American mind was fully as sophisticated as the European mind, something that is long settled by science nowadays but which was bold and even dangerous for him to say then. "His bibliography lists 625 titles, and runs forty pages. The best-known work is undoubtedly The Mind of Primitive Man (1911), and no text of its era lent such scholarly authority to the struggle against racism and jingoism" (Whitfield, 2010, p. 430). So it's been precisely one century since Boas tossed down that gauntlet. May other academics continue to be bold and outspoken in our public discourse.


Darnell, R. (2011). Reassessing the Contribution of Franz Boas (1858–1941): Conference report. Historiographia Linguistica, 38(1), 253-254. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Whitfield, S. (2010). Franz Boas: The Anthropologist as Public Intellectual. Society, 47(5), 430-438. doi:10.1007/s12115-010-9355-x

Monday, June 13, 2011

You gotta serve somebody

"Gotta Serve Somebody"
Bob Dylan

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

On back in 1976, our now longest operating peace and conflict forensics scholar (now that Elise Boulding has passed on), Johan Galtung, wrote a piece on intellectuals published in the academic journal, Higher Education in Europe, which then reprinted it in 2002, as well as a follow-on piece. Galtung discussed intellectuals, their public role, and their intentions and loyalties. His basic typology for intellectuals is that they either are completely independent and publicly critical of whatever is wrong with public policy, corporate policy, or academic policy--or they are not true intellectuals, but are rather what he calls the intelligentsia, in service to elite interests.

Might be a rock'n' roll addict prancing on the stage
Might have money and drugs at your commands, women in a cage
You may be a business man or some high degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief.

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

I think Galtung is more than a bit unrealistic and simplistic in his rudimentary typology in these two pieces. He fails to acknowledge where he has himself been a member of the intelligentsia by his definition. Or, if he can make the case that he has never succumbed to those depths, he needs to acknowledge that there are some academic superstars, such as himself, who need not fear sudden and chronic unemployment from the academy. He has always been at the top, deservedly so, but his scorn for those of us who fail to adequately attack our own academic institutions is perhaps too simplistic and easily delivered from someone whose talents are simply overwhelming. Speaking personally, I do not write op-eds for our local newspapers excoriating the university president for his massive and rapidly increasing salary even as the rest of us suffer freezes at best. For this failure on my part, Galtung would label me as part of the intelligentsia, even though I have been arrested, jailed, tried and imprisoned many times for my nonviolent resistance to our nation's militarism, including six times in direct local publicized opposition to Oregon's US Senators who voted for funding for the war in Iraq. I choose my battles because I am not a superstar who would easily find other work so fulfilling as teaching about nonviolence to hundreds of students each year. So, I guess, I am on the wrong side, according to Galtung.

You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name.

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody's landlord you might even own banks.

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.
Galtung finally tell us how to fix this:
"The remedy? Obviously—the freelance intellectual, free to follow his and her leads wherever they lead" (2002b, p. 67). Sure, that would fix it all, but what would happen to the numbers involved and their abilities to reach and teach? Without institutional support from the academy or foundations, who would pay the rent, or is Galtung suggesting we who might be trying to develop intellectual goods should simply sleep under bridges and bring our mendicant bowls to the corner to remain pure? After all, his freelancer still needs a sponsor, a publisher, someone to keep the intellectual freelancer fed and clothed. Is that freelancer then pandering to the organization who hires her or him to speak? Is that freelance intellectual spinning her or his writing to try to sell a few books to survive? Who is that freelancer trying to please enough to live another day in order to be able to offer those intellectual products to more people?

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side

You may be working in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair

You may be somebody's mistress, may be somebody's heir.

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes

You're gonna have to serve somebody,

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk

Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk

You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread

You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed.

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You're gonna have to serve somebody,

It may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You may call me Terry, you may call me Jimmy

You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy

You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray

You may call me anything but no matter what you say.
I think Johan Galtung may have to return to his essays and refine them or he is going to write off all of us, even possibly himself, as mere intelligentsia. I suspect he'd acknowledge there are degrees and types of intellectuals in a far more complex taxonomy than the binary model he has created, if he wants to maintain his credibility and the deep admiration so many of us feel for him and his work over the past 50+ years.

You're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

Galtung, J. (2002a). The role of the intellectual—An excursion into self-criticism. Higher Education in Europe, 27(1/2), 60-63.
Galtung, J. (2002b). The role of the intellectual II—This time as other-criticism. Higher Education in Europe, 27(1/2), 65-68.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cole-powered dissent

Juan Cole (2006) writes, "The role of the public intellectual is my career."

The University of Michigan professor is an expert on the Middle East and is a prolific blogger with as many as 250,000 readers daily, making him a public intellectual with some effect. The public and policy makers alike read his blog.

How is it that Juan Cole can manage this and so few other US intellectuals offer routine public comment read by many?

He is devoted, he is brilliant, he is determined to share his professional knowledge rather than lock it into lengthy scholarly journal articles read by few and never in a timely fashion, and he is tenured. Except for an unwillingness of other institutions to hire him, he does have job security and a measure of immunity from sanction from his institution.

Cole is modest about the effect he may have and he is modest about his certitude regarding people and events in the region of his expertise, but he is not falsely modest about being one of those experts. He notes the years he has spent in the region, his linguistic abilities, his recognized expertise, and his track record of being a lone voice or the first voice to warn about the dire consequences of poor US policy, such as his pioneering caveats about the inevitability of guerrilla insurgency against US invasion of Iraq.

We need more like Cole. There are more, but not enough. Indeed, it should be the policy of institutions of higher education to reward their intellectuals who speak, write and demonstrate publicly for peace and justice by peaceable means. Would this pit the universities against the political rulers? Sometimes. And that is exactly what a robust democracy should support. The history of yes-men regimes is not one of success. Yes, we have plenty of fighting in our polity, but we need more of that actually informed, rather than driven by Fox Factoids from the Sarah Palin-Michele Bachmann types who are only expert at self-aggrandizement and literally nothing else.


Cole, J. I. (2006). Juan R.I. Cole Responds. Chronicle of Higher Education, 52(47), B9. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Who uses knowledge?

Knowledge is power. Chandra Mukerji (2011) notes that, "As Foucault made clear, power relations are always and necessarily deeply intertwined with knowledge regimes" (p. 242). What do we do with our lives, how do we generate knowledge about that work, and who gets to use the knowledge? These are questions for us all, aren't they? Peace people often flee from any notion of power and peace educators often do the same. But when we do, we leave power on the table and others will likely come to it and take it for their own purposes, as Foucault observed.

Thus we see knowledge in psychology abused by torturers. We see knowledge generated by anthropologists hijacked into killing the very people so interesting to those anthropologists. And, yes, we have seen the knowledge of mediation and other Gandhian-type enterprises used to bring about settlement with evil when evil should be unremittingly nonviolently resisted. After all, peace is a squiffy word in need of modification in order to mean anything. When we who study peace contribute knowingly or unknowingly to a sort of Pax Romana of any sort, isn't it incumbent upon us to try to use our knowledge to promote a positive peace, a peace and justice by peaceable means?

Killing for peace is what the Air Force does with their bombs and what the Marines do with their kinetic sweeps into areas full of indigenous people only wishing to be left alone. In peace. This notion of peace is not what peace educators hope to support and our efforts to engage publicly are much harder to accomplish because the amassed power of the state is arrayed against us, however gloved the hand.

Do we succumb to a realistic notion of surrender and survival or do we rise to it and engage and learn to move our message and our knowledge so that it can prevent killing even as it promotes justice? This is the choice of every academic, but it also takes member of the public to express an interest. The notion of conversation is different than the idea of a lecture. Listening is a part of the art of communication; this is what educators do if they are good.

In the end, it is out of the generation of knowledge, a dialog with the public, and the willingness to dissent that will produce knowledge that is power for peace and justice by peaceable means. Anything less is inadequate.


Mukerji, C. (2011). Jurisdiction, inscription, and state formation: administrative modernism and knowledge regimes. Theory & Society, 40(3), 223-245. doi:10.1007/s11186-011-9141-9

Friday, June 10, 2011

Dialog toward truth: Educators and the public

In his call for scholars to become public scholars in the Buberian dialogic model, Piki Ish-Shalom (2011) writes, "Truth is a living entity constructed in an engaged and dynamic process and should be treated accordingly" (p. 839). What does this mean for those who live in the teaching and research world?

Gandhi also called for an ongoing and collaborative search for truth, which is to say, everyone has a piece of it and no one owns it all. Martin Buber asked for three levels of dialog and search for the truth: intrapersonal, interpersonal, and the public dialog that helped scholars and civil society more completely help each other learn those larger truths. Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Buber disagreed about Israel, though they did so before Israel was founded, which was interesting, because Buber seems far more reasonable than does Gandhi in their 1938-9 disagreement, yet Gandhi proved correct in his assumption that founding Israel would require conquest, which it did.

Truth is infinitely complex, of course, because it is natural. Anyone claiming to completely understand any natural system is overestimating his knowledge, just as is anyone asserting he understands the absolute truth about any matter. There are always more factors and more complexities in any natural system and in any human reality.

Does this lack of total certitude about the truth stop us from acting? That is another question, of course, since the first order of business is to seek enough evidence from enough sources to justify action. But no, it wouldn't stop a person of conscience from acting on belief. Belief, supported by a preponderance of fact, crosses that threshold when it does--when the individual believes it does.

Buber (1878-1965) understood what happened when scholars either supported the state or were silent. He fled Germany and his academic appointment in protest of Hitler's election, eventually teaching sociology and anthropology at Hebrew University. While he was a Zionist in Germany and in pre-Israel Palestine, he was not a Greater Israel Zionist and took whithering blasts of criticism for his staunch support of a binational, or two-state, solution that was both sovereign Israel and sovereign Palestine. His life is an exemplar of what it means to be a public intellectual unafraid to pose dissenting views and seek greater and greater truth.

Ish-Shalom, Piki (05/01/2011). "Three Dialogic Imperatives in International Relations Scholarship: A Buberian Programme.". Millennium (0305-8298), 39 (3), p. 825.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Intellectual image

Academics are trained to be objective but we are also legitimately expected to engage in civil society. What happens when we become the intellectual voice of a counter-public? What happens to the Turkish academics who dare to speak publicly in opposition to increasingly Islamist policies of the government? What happens when a Turkish sociologist has contact with Kurdish separatists as part of her research?

They are jailed, as described in the journal Nature, and detention in Turkey can mean long periods before trial, effectively ending or severely hampering careers, families, and casting a pall of fear over all educational institutions. The charges are usually that the academic has something to do with a terrorist separatist organization, in this case Ergenekon. More than a dozen scholars are in prison for this now in Turkey. Others are imprisoned for merely criticizing the government. İsmail Beşikçi, a sociologist, has already served 17 years of his 100-year sentence for writing in favor of Kurdish sovereignty.

While objectivity about the merits of claims of justice and injustice helps an academic pursue questions without the problem of bias toward one party or another, for example, objectivity about the major choice on methods of conflict management--violence v nonviolence--is maladaptive for several reasons. A clear bias toward nonviolence is adapative. This is not for moralizing, righteous reasons, nor should it obstruct understanding the violence of any other party, but for academics it is simply good sense to create and maintain an image of favoring nonviolence.

This is easy for intellectuals whose field is Conflict Resolution--our starting point is transformation from destructive to constructive conflict--and harder for those in Anthropology, where no one is to judge, but is still advisable. Anything else will place people and work at higher risk. For academics favoring violence in places with repressive governments, there is no need to proclaim that. The government begins with that assumption. This is why intellectuals who work or speak or write publicly in places like this ought to denounce violence if in fact they are not in favor of it. While this proves nothing, it changes the level of trust, even if it is slightly, and even if there is no objective metric by which that can be measured. Those noted for open and serious commitment to nonviolence are safer, in general, than those who choose their violent side and advocate.

Meanwhile, it is to be hoped that the public, including intellectuals, advocate for the rights of academics everywhere. We have a role in dissenting poor policies and we should fight for that role for all.

(2011, February 24). Rights for all. Nature. p. 436. doi:10.1038/470436a.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Carving a line of sight backward and forward to peace

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

Disclaimer: Kent Shifferd is my primary mentor in Peace Studies. When I was a community organizer on back in the day I attended a gathering he organized. By the end of the event, I was so impressed I rearranged my life, moved to his college town, and obtained my Peace Studies degree from his program. His holistic and clear intellectual depth of knowledge, coupled with an uncanny ability to explain complex systems with case-cracking clarity, changed my life. I learned how to be a better community organizer, how to approach scholarship, and how to explain myself to students.

This new book from McFarland does all that for all of us. Shifferd, a historian, looks at how our war system came into existence, what the consequences of that system have been and are today, and what it takes to transform that system into a peace system. It is the single clearest document on the topic that I've read in the past 30 years, and the most realistic.

First, he describes war, and traces its history from ancient times to now, noting trends and helping us see the trajectory of mounting failure, if by that we mean loss of life, loss of treasure, loss of ecological purity and even sustainability, loss of territory and influence, and destruction of relationships. The reader is reeling by the conclusion of this section, the first half of the 202-page book, shocked at the darkening and narrowing vision of the future with war wrapping shut like the closing blades of a camera's iris diaphragm.

Then Shifferd opens the vista for the student of peace steadily throughout the second half of the book, giving us reason upon reason for hope as he chronicles the extent to which civil society, more and more governments, and our recent supranational and transnational institutions are steadily building capacity and experience toward a phase change for humankind.

Following his inspiring conclusion, the appendices offer more, especially his first appendix, which is a briefly annotated list of 23 trends toward peace that show the synthesis and direction easy to miss in our world of overload and staggering minutia.

Shifferd believes this transformation of a hundred years is well underway. Upon reflection, I can only recommend that more of us read this book and share it with others to accelerate that process before the zombie of war drags humankind into its permanent dystopia.