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Why do we not have a culture of peace?
While preparing for this paper I drew on my sketchy recollections of several sources including Freud’s:” Civilisation and it’s Discontents”, It includes his famous ‘Open Letter to Professor Einstein’ where, in reply Einstein’s request that Freud lends his supporting voice to (war) seems a natural thing enough, biologically sound and practically unavoidable,” and that he sees: “no likelihood of our being able to suppress humanity’s aggressive tendencies.’ Coming from one the world’s greatest psychoanalysts this is depressing and also I believe (hope?) untrue. It seems that there is undeniably have enjoyed such as Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha and Martin Luther King Jr. civil rights movement in the US suggests that there are alternative methods of fighting without recourse to violence.
While the above thoughts are Freud’s the following are mine and I would here like to stress that these are the opinions of someone with no particular education in this field and little knowledge of current affairs. It’s extremely likely that these views bear small resemblance to the structure of politics or these issues as they really are and if nothing else can be treated as an example of how these problems appear to a lay person.
As it seems to me. One of the major impediments to a culture of peace is the urge for revenge and humanity’s ‘tit for tat’ nature –an aspect of the “aggressive tendencies” which Freud saw little hope subduing. Whether it’s something as trivial as someone taking someone else’s swept in the playground to the opposite end of the scale, a terrorist attack or other major atrocity we’re taught to stand up for ourselves. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11th nobody, or so it seemed, questioned the moral justification of war on vindication by the media of ‘protecting our way of life’ and a ‘show of strength’ and the particularly noisome phrase: ‘If you’re not with us you’re against us; all contribute to the glorification of revenge. This I believe subconsciously sends a very powerful message to society telling people t hat it’s right and even a duty to use violence to protect your own interests.
Looking back, can Afghanistan really be considered a major threat to world peace? Was every method of political pressure tried in order to get the Taliban to hand over the members of Al-Queda it was allegedly sheltering? I doubt it. The matter of the Taliban’s human rights abuses was a separate one, which did not feature in the countries of the ‘coalition’ largely. I believe, because it was portrayed as the’ goodies ‘fighting a moral battle against the evil terrorists.
This glamour is not merely shown in the real life. Though, the media, an entity often blamed for all the faults of mankind, presents us often with the image of the strong hero getting his revenge. This sends the message from a young age that revenge, not necessarily of a violent nature, is OK if you’re the ‘good guy’. To look at another real life example: in the run up to the declaration of war by the US and UK the language used to describe Mr. Kofi Annan when making his reports to the General Assembly and Security Council was subtly calculated him in the light of the ‘spoil sport who’s dampening our party’. This suggestion by the media and the impact it can have on the respect or image of an individual can be huge and carries the implication that those who stand in the way of revenge in the name a moral cause are somehow weak.
Therefore the rhetoric used by politicians in a time of war and media mance when reporting the circumstances from which a war arises often contribute to presenting society with the message that retaliation is OK. This, I believe, is a very dangerous message, which sadly seems to appeal to humanity’s violent streak.
This desire for revenge, which seems to set people who’re otherwise moderate, amiable and balanced baying for blood is worse when fueled by patriotism. In times of war, as can be seen in the US on the declaration of the ‘War on terror’, the matter of showing your support for your country seems to become frighteningly obligatory. The descriptions of the abuse nation and being ‘un-American’ are more suggestive of a totalitarian regime than the ‘Land of the Free’ however I suspect it would be similar in any country embroiled in a war. Something I‘ve noticed in both the UK and US is that during a war anyone against it, when being interviews has to say; “I support our troops but. “ To say that you do not or omit mentioning that you do is impossible and instantly demonises you. In fairness denying support of troops would be rather harsh as they have no choice about serving and face a prison sentence, fine and tour of duty anyway if they refuse but it was just something which caught my attention.
As well as the problems people face of not supporting their nation, the call of patriotism also suggests that if it’s for your country’s good then it’s also for your own good. Thus it appeals to people’s fear that by not supporting something which, if it was going on idea that: ‘What‘s good for your country is good for you’. This presents a problem as, if people are first committed to their country rather than some idealistic utilitarianism the chances of a country’s population being able to protest sufficiently to stop a conflict are minimal.
Therefore in order to promote a culture of peace the glamorization and moral vindication of revenge must be dealt with along with problem of patriotism which tells people that if it’s for their country’s good it’s all right.
Finally then this brings me, perhaps inevitably given my constant references to Afghanistan, to Iraq-please don’t stop reading. The issue I want to look at here is how other countries can stop a powerful nation that is determined to go to war? Looking at the example pf Europe in the 1930s Britain and France, with the failure of the League of Nations, had taken European security upon themselves and with Germany’s growing power and aggression decided to use the approach of appeasement. This was a failure as it works on the assumption that the one being appeased also wishes to avoid war. The US was determined to go to war with Iraq and unconcerned at the lack of UN sanctions or support of world opinions.
This illustrates the problem of the imbalance of power. Currently the US is the sole super-power in the world with no country to balance her up. Some modern historians would argue that the world was more secure 20 years ago with the USSR and the two power blocks keeping each other in check. In an ideal world (how often is that phrase used?) the UN would act as regulator and arbitrator in world disputes with all nations meekly accepting it’s judgments but the UN itself contains issues of democracy. Is it right that the largest world body is essentially controlled by a group of countries which reflect the distribution of world power in 1945? Is it right that almost all decision making power rests with a group of 5 countries which represent over 75% of the world’s wealth and therefore which is very little influenced by the needs of poorer countries? I don’t believe so. The proposals for reform presented last December were a step in the right direction but sadly look like being treated as an a carte menu by the security council minimizing the impact of the attempted redistribution of power.
On approach to stopping the desire to go to war is the humanitarian one people may be less quick to go to war if they consider themselves to have more in common than in difference with the people they are fighting. The problem is that this is difficult enough persuading some people that they have anything in common with the people of their own countries, a fact sadly shown in the number of ‘civil’ conflicts around the globe, than with someone thousands of miles away. By changing people’s attitude so that they see themselves as ‘world citizens’ and therefore conflict with each other is pointless it’s possible a reduction in conflicts may be achieved. Such an attempt at ac change in attitudes is already underway, this seminar is one example, but any sort of change in outlook is slow and one of this magnitude incredibly so. But it may happen, slowly, and the more it does the more it will aid prevention of conflicts.
A point that occurred to me while writing this was how does it work? If countries act peacefully together does this trickle down to societies and individual people or does it work the opposite way? If people are peaceful does this create a peaceful society and in turn a country that’ll interact peacefully with others? Any suggestions would be gratefully received. Real life is rarely this neat but personally I’m inclined to think the latter, partly because politicians and statement often seem to be the last dinosaurs to change. If this is the case then many of the demands made in this paper may find their answers there in the message already being spread by organisations and individuals around the world.
Therefore, to me some of the big impediments to peace I’ve looked at here are the possibly inevitable human desire for revenge and the problem of media glamorization and absolution of revenge. Patriotism tells people that should they fail to support violence they themselves stand to lose while the imbalance of world power presents the problem stopping powerful countries determined to go to war. The solutions to these problem of stopping changing the attitudes of people and individuals in societies but this is a process which I believe may be accelerated by work on the parts of countries to alter their populations views by changing their own actions.
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