Co-creating a culture of peace
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Barack Obama‚Äôs central dilemma last week, when he tried to sell a new war to the American public on the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, was to speak convincingly about the wisdom and effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy over the last decade-plus while at the same time, alas, dropping the bad news that it didn‚Äôt work.
Thus: ‚ÄúThanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI think if we had a gun we would have been shot immediately.‚ÄĚ
This is as good a place to start as any, at the logical limits of violent self-defense. The speaker is Andres Gutierrez of Nonviolent Peaceforce, a nonprofit organization that has engaged in peacekeeping work in troubled regions of the world for the last decade. Gutierrez, the organization‚Äôs team leader in South Sudan, along with colleague Derek Oakley, got caught in the chaos last April when the city of Bor was attacked, with armed men overrunning the perimeter of a U.N. base where thousands of civilians had sought protection. The two took shelter inside a mud hut.
The Ferguson tragedy, like all those that preceded it and all that will follow ‚ÄĒ involving the trivial and panicky use of lethal force, by the police or anyone else ‚ÄĒ stirs up questions the social status quo doesn‚Äôt dare face.
My sister, Sue Melcher, put it this way: ‚ÄúI find myself also nauseated that another issue never seems to enter the discussion: the issue that a highly trained officer could make such a mistake with a gun demonstrates that just having the weapon present increased the danger of the situation. Had the citizens been armed, how many more casualties could there have been? None of us is ‚Äėhealthy‚Äô enough to be trusted to use lethal force wisely ‚ÄĒ and is that even possible?‚ÄĚ
Black ‚Äôhood, white cops. ‚ÄúGet the fuck on the sidewalk.‚ÄĚ
And so it begins, and begins, and begins. An African-American boy dies for walking in the street ‚ÄĒ for yet one more insanely small transgression. Protesters cry for justice. The legal bureaucracy hunkers down, defends itself, does what it can to paint the deceased 18-year-old, Michael Brown, as a bad guy. Sides harden in the media. Once more it‚Äôs us vs. them. Nobody talks about making things right; nobody talks about healing.
Our kills are clean and secular; theirs are messy and religious.
‚ÄúIn their effort to create a caliphate across parts of Iraq and Syria,‚ÄĚ CNN tells us, ‚ÄúISIS fighters have slaughtered civilians as they take over cities in both countries.
‚ÄúIn Syria, the group put some of its victims‚Äô severed heads on poles.‚ÄĚ
Before nuclear weapons, after nuclear weapons . . .
‚ÄúThe latter era, of course,‚ÄĚ writes Noam Chomsky, ‚Äúopened on August 6, 1945, the first day of the countdown to what may be the inglorious end of this strange species, which attained the intelligence to discover the effective means to destroy itself, but ‚ÄĒ so the evidence suggests ‚ÄĒ not the moral and intellectual capacity to control its worst instincts.‚ÄĚ
I‚Äôm thirsty. Indeed, I‚Äôm overwhelmed by thirst, thinking about those who lack access to clean water. I‚Äôm thirsty for a different world.
‚ÄúIn Gaza, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lack water, including those living in hospitals and refugee camps,‚ÄĚ Sarah Kendzior wrote in Al-Jazeera last week. ‚ÄúOn July 15, citizens of Detroit held a rally in solidarity, holding signs that said ‚ÄėWater for all, from Detroit to Palestine.‚Äô A basic resource has become a distant dream, a longing for a transformation of politics aimed at ending suffering instead of extending it.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúIsrael regrets every injury to civilians. I call on the residents of Gaza: Don‚Äôt stay there. Hamas wants you to die, we want you to be safe.‚ÄĚ
This is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as quoted in the Jewish Daily Forward, cleansing the nation‚Äôs collective conscience. Is it really that easy to sweep away the moral sting of violent action? A captive population is being pummeled with missiles. Well over 500 Palestinians have died so far in Operation Protective Edge, three-quarters of them civilians and, of course, many of them children. But ‚Äúwe want you to be safe‚ÄĚ and wish we didn‚Äôt have to do this.
‚ÄúAt the same time, values and ideas which were considered universal, such as cooperation, mutual aid, international social justice and peace as an encompassing paradigm are also becoming irrelevant.‚ÄĚ
Maybe this piercing observation by Roberto Savio, founder of the news agency Inter Press Service, is the cruelest cut of all. Geopolitically speaking, hope ‚ÄĒ the official kind, represented, say, by the United Nations in 1945 ‚ÄĒ feels fainter than I can remember. ‚ÄúWe the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war . . .‚ÄĚ
Ah, 1961. The year ‚ÄĒ certain aspects of it, anyway ‚ÄĒ are almost impossible to remember. ‚ÄúWhites only‚ÄĚ bathrooms, for instance.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, legendary civil rights leader and crosser of lines, recently tweeted an ancient mugshot memorializing his arrest that year for using a ‚Äúwhites only‚ÄĚ bathroom in Mississippi and, in the process, amping up outrage against Jim Crow segregation in the South and intensifying the civil rights movement‚Äôs global resonance.
The video opens with a few bars of adrenalin-pumping music. We see a topsy-turvy camera angle, sky, trees, darkness, then a staccato pop pop pop that blends rhythmically with the music, but of course it‚Äôs gunfire, lots of gunfire, followed by a few urgent words in Arabic, then English. ‚ÄúDown here! Down here!‚ÄĚ
This chaotic excitement is Iraq, the evening‚Äôs International Hot Spot, brought to us by ABC. It‚Äôs the news, but it‚Äôs also reality TV and big league sports, rolled into an entertainment package of shocking cluelessness. OMG, ISIS is on the move. It‚Äôs winning. Stay tuned!
All men are created equal. All chattel are insured.
I saw the movie Belle the other day and a piece of it got stuck in my head. The costume drama, set in England in the 1780s, hinged on a real historical event: the monstrous voyage of the slave ship Zong in 1781, from West Africa to the Caribbean. Its cargo when it set out on its transatlantic voyage included some 470 tightly packed human beings ‚ÄĒ too tightly packed, it turns out. Disease ran through the cargo hold. Slaves and crewmen began to die. The ship got lost. They began running low on water. Eventually the surviving crew jettisoned . . . 132 live humans, still in chains. This was business as usual.
The world withheld love and he went to war. He was an army of one ‚ÄĒ another army of one, laying out his plans in secret torment, plotting his ‚Äúday of retribution.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe rampage shooters see themselves as moralistic punishers striking against deep injustice,‚ÄĚ Peter Turchin wrote a year and a half ago, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. In his essay, ominously titled ‚ÄúCanaries in a Coal Mine,‚ÄĚ which was published at Social Evolution Forum, he notes the upward trajectory of mass murders. Since the ‚Äô60s, they‚Äôve increased more than tenfold. Something‚Äôs going wrong in the world we‚Äôve created.
Step on the gas, step on a man . . .
Writing recently in The Nation, Chris Hayes drew an intensely unnerving parallel between the use of fossil fuels as an energy source and the use of slave labor ‚ÄĒ not a moral parallel, but a financial one, though money and morality have a perversely symbiotic relationship. Where there‚Äôs money to be made ‚ÄĒ especially enormous quantities of it ‚ÄĒ moral justifications come awfully cheap.
‚ÄúPeace, as we have seen, is not an order natural to mankind: it is artificial, intricate and highly volatile. All kinds of preconditions are necessary.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ Michael Howard, The Invention of Peace
And here comes World War I, wrapped in World War II, wrapped in the Cold War: tremors on one of Planet Earth‚Äôs human fault lines.
Ten years ago, photos of the crucifixion ‚ÄĒ and worse ‚ÄĒ were released to the American public. The media still call it ‚Äúthe Abu Ghraib scandal,‚ÄĚ as though, oops, the awkward repercussions for Team Bush were the torture photos‚Äô primary horror.
No one talks about ‚Äúthe Auschwitz scandal.‚ÄĚ The depth of our moral wrong has yet to be plumbed.
‚ÄúWe cannot afford to lose another decade.‚ÄĚ
My God. There‚Äôs more darkness in this quote than the New York Times intended. I winced when I read these words of Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chairman of the committee that wrote the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC report, which the Times quoted in a recent editorial headlined ‚ÄúTime Is Running Out.‚ÄĚ
OK, mankind, it‚Äôs time to grow up, and I see a good way to start: Change the wording of Genesis 1:26.
Change one word.
Last week, I quoted that Bible verse in a column about the increasing velocity of climate change: ‚ÄúAnd God said . . . let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air,‚ÄĚ etc. Dominion! Nature belongs to us, to suck dry and toss away. And thus we moved out of the circle of life and became its conquerors, an attitude at the core of the Agricultural Revolution and the rise of civilization. The momentum of this attitude is still driving us. We don‚Äôt know how to stop, even though most people now grasp that we‚Äôre wrecking the environmental commons that sustains life.
Somewhere between these two quotes lies the future:
‚ÄúAnd I would like to emphasize that nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe Judeo-Christian worldview is that man is at the center of the universe; nature was therefore created for man. Nature has no intrinsic worth other than man‚Äôs appreciation and moral use of it.‚ÄĚ
A mind is a terrible thing to test, especially a child‚Äôs mind ‚ÄĒ if, in so doing, you reduce it to a number and proceed to worship that number, ignoring the extraordinary complexity and near-infinite potential of what you have just tested.
‚ÄúIn every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúIt was loaded with meaning and death.‚ÄĚ
Oh lethal, ticklish topic. So many people love guns and swear by them ‚ÄĒ many of them people with whom I am otherwise in essential political agreement. And it‚Äôs not like I relish a debate about ‚Äúgun control,‚ÄĚ a tug-of-war about limits that offends most gun lovers and causes weapon-buying sprees after every mass murder.
‚ÄúAfter Russia invaded Crimea, a senior American official vowed to ‚Äėmake it hurt.‚Äô More than two weeks later, Moscow has given no sign that it feels any pain, and the challenge for President Obama is whether he is willing or able to inflict enough to change the Kremlin‚Äôs calculus.‚ÄĚ
This is the New York Times, of course, yet again parroting the insecure right, ignoring history and reducing the terrifying complexity of international politics ‚Äď and the great global longing for peace ‚Äď to a lethally simplistic game of winning and losing. It‚Äôs the kind of coverage we get in every political crisis, inevitably shutting down whatever collective intelligence we‚Äôre capable of manifesting and reducing the public to spectators at a geopolitical wrestling match.
White flight, corporate flight . . .
I grew up just outside Detroit and have felt an ache in my heart for this bleeding city for so many years now. It‚Äôs long been one of the country‚Äôs designated loser cities, beginning in the 1960s, when change hit it hard. The phrase at the time was ‚Äúurban blight,‚ÄĚ a social cancer with unexamined causes that, in the ensuing years, has gotten progressively worse.
There has always been a ‚Äúdeep state,‚ÄĚ as Mike Lofgren described it in a compelling essay recently published at BillMoyers.com ‚ÄĒ a predatory consensus of money and political ideology that serves only its own endless growth and functions in pristine autonomy from any sort of democratic process ‚ÄĒ but defining it begs an enormous question: Can we actually build a world that isn‚Äôt run by its shadow interests?
And what is this going to take? Can good will and big principles stand up to Wall Street and the Washington consensus? Perhaps even more to the point, if it‚Äôs even possible, how much time do we have before war and climate change rip the human experiment to shreds?
No matter how bad it gets, we can look inside ourselves and find hope, possibility . . . the future. And when we find that, we know what it means to build peace.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs like I‚Äôm in a never-ending battle with my brain,‚ÄĚ Kayla said. ‚ÄúThey called me Crazy Kayla. I have anger problems. Someone messes with me, I lose it. I was molested, raped, physically and mentally abused. I was in 127 different homes. I have a 3-month-old baby . . .‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWhen you go to dig your fields, or make a pot from clay, you are disturbing the balance of things. When you walk, you are moving the air, breathing it in and out. Therefore you must make payments.‚ÄĚ
Oh, unraveling planet, exploited, polluted, overrun with berserk human technology. How does one face it with anything other than rage and despair, which quickly harden into cynicism? And cynicism is just another word for helplessness.
‚ÄúThe standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.‚ÄĚ
This is how we talk about learning, growth and the human future?
Things are getting worse in the American classroom, not better. The experts and the special interests purporting to fix the educational system are continuing, instead, to asphyxiate it.
The young guys were half a block ahead of us. Nothing was happening except that they were walking. A police car pulled up behind them, slowed to their pace, aimed a spotlight at them.
They were African-American (did you guess?), numbering maybe half a dozen. They weren‚Äôt intimidated. Some of them stopped, stood staring at the police car, talking to it; this had obviously happened before. The spotlight continued to shine in their faces. Other young men crossed the street in front of the car and joined the crowd. The game went on for a while: the slow saunter, the cops driving along next to them, the light in their faces.
Iraq vet Ross Caputi‚Äôs film opens with a fleeting synopsis of the American heartbreak ‚ÄĒ and the bandage we tape across it.
His documentary, Fear Not the Path of Truth, is about the U.S. devastation of Fallujah, in which he participated as part of Operation Phantom Fury in November 2004, but the first couple minutes give us an overview of his hometown, the ‚Äúformer industrial city‚ÄĚ of Fitchburg, Mass.:
Every night gunshots lullaby me to sleep
In ruins of abandoned buildings
the broken glass is
where we bottle up all our broken dreams. . . .
Hold the dream with me, as it breaks loose from Jameale Pickett‚Äôs poem. Something beyond the insane dance of crime and punishment is happening, at least this year, this moment, in Chicago‚Äôs high schools. Young people are getting a chance to excel and become themselves, as more and more schools find and embrace common sense, also known as restorative justice.