Providing Essential Resources – Fundamental to Ending War
True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. 'Necessitous men are not free men.' People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. - Franklin D. Roosevelt
(Revised October 2010)
Biological Basics It is self-evident, or should be, why any effort to end war must include giving the world's teeming millions access to life's essential resources: fresh water, food, shelter. Without these, survival and reproduction isn't possible. Natural selection has built into all of us the drive to acquire or have access to these things, and when people don't have them, they will do whatever they can, including fighting if they are able, to acquire them.
Furthermore, basic medical care to keep people from debilitation and death also become an "essential." AIDS and malaria are such devastating scourges, for example, that many recent efforts focus on these two ills in an effort to bring stability to afflicted parts of the world.
A means to make a living to support one's own life and the lives of one's offspring and close allies is also an "essential" to reproduction. In an ever more technically complicated and globally connected world, education must include basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic—and for a real chance at success, often much more.
People who do not have access to these basics will do what it takes to get them, one way or the other, and that includes going to war if they are led by an individual who has decided that he (or she) can acquire power and status by mobilizing troops, and convinces citizens that by doing so those needs can be met. [Religious wars, inspired by religious fanaticism, are in a different class and are most often driven by leaders who crave power and the ability to dominate others through the use of ideology rather by controlling access to vital resources.] Fortunately, we already have legions of organizations devoted to insuring these essential resources: hundreds of thousands of small, local projects in villages and towns on every continent; the massive efforts of international organizations based at the United Nations; and personality based efforts like the Jimmy Carter Foundation, the rock star Bono's ONE, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Unfortunately our efforts to meet or create access to these fundamental biological needs alone will not end war, not even if we succeed in doing so, as has been the case in many developed countries. The essay "To Abolish War", by Dr. Judith Hand, explains why. For example, one often hears the hope expressed that if we "end poverty" it will end war, or at least eliminate the major cause of war. This is a mistaken belief. Other pressures, encompassed by the other AFWW cornerstones, are equally essential to ending war and must be dealt with. Attending to these basic biological resource needs, however, must be a central part of any ending-war campaign, and continued attention to them will remain crucial to maintaining a war-free future.
People laboring for these causes most often do this simply to relieve suffering. They want to provide what their moral values tell them are basic necessities. They don't want to live in a world where some people enjoy fabulous plenty while others live and die in squalor, pain, and the absence of hope. And most especially, a driving motivation behind this tireless work stems from the desire to create something better for our children. This alone is sufficient motivation for their labors. But their work also contributes fundamentally to the quest to end war.
Living Sustainably in Harmony With Our Environment Ending war will also require that we change the behavior of millennia in how we relate to our natural environment. In an article in the September 2005 issue of Scientific American, "Economics in a Full World," ecological economist Herman Daly describes and discusses the implications of a remarkable fundamental truth. (3) Our species evolved in what he calls an "empty world," and we are now confronted with the radically altered challenge of living in a "full world." The past environment, the one in which our species evolved, is no longer our reality. If in order to end war, we must ensure that the world's teeming millions have access to essentials, then we are going to have to significantly change our behavior with respect to the planet that supplies those resources. Heedless exploitation and then "moving on" will no longer be a successful strategy for Homo sapiens. There is, for all practical purposes, nowhere to migrate to that isn't already occupied. We are confined, at least for the foreseeable future, to our planet. The quality of our survival will depend on how we do, or do not, learn to live in harmony with it.
Daly is addressing the issue of global ecological disaster. He explains why the global community cannot continue to rely on growth as the cure for the economic ills of modern life. He describes what he calls "economic growth" and "uneconomic growth." Economic growth occurs when increases in production increase personal well-being and the cost to environmental resources is outweighed by the improvements in lives and the accumulation of man-made capital (such as roads, factories, and appliances). Uneconomic growth occurs when production increases at the expense of well-being and the depletion of resources is worth more than the items created or built.
According to Daly, most developed countries have probably already made the transition from the former to the latter. In other words, developed nations are using up natural resources at an alarming rate and not becoming all that much personally better off and happier for it.
Many experts dealing with these resource issues are, for example, beginning to question the wisdom of massive globalization when it comes to the basics. Sharing art, music, scientific advances, sports, sharing the cultural advancements that can link us together as humans facing a shared future is to be valued. But when it comes to life's essentials, people and organizations with foresight are exploring the importance of local self-reliance, a concept that certainly isn't new.
For example, the great social transformer Mohandas Gandhi himself spent much effort on teaching local villagers how to be independent and self-reliant. This came out of Gandhi's understanding of human nature and his own belief that no man who depends on others for his life's essentials can be totally free. Experimental intentional communities that use "green" principles to guide their development, for example, are springing up across the globe, growing their own foods, making efficient use of water, adopting renewable sources of power that they can manage themselves. The issue of access to fresh water grows more critical every year.
Given that we are a finite planet and our resources are finite, to avoid ecological meltdown Daly calls upon scientists "to develop a ‘full world' economics to replace our traditional ‘empty world' economics" before ecological and/or economic disasters overtake us. He outlines the nature of the changes we will have to make, and he freely admits that "establishing and maintaining a sustainable economy entails an enormous change of mind and heart by economists, politicians, and voters ..."
Daly's argument is that we must shift our economies to avoid ecological disaster. A campaign to end war also argues that we must shift our relationship to resources, and that as we shift our economic behavior to avoid ecological disaster, we can, and should, also do so with an eye to making shifts that enable sustainable living in harmony with the Earth so that all people have access to the basic essentials.
Global Climate Change A word about global climate change, often called global warming, must be said. Beginning roughly 30 years ago, some scientists began to warn that the climate of the planet seemed to be entering an unnaturally rapid warming trend. They felt it had to do with humans putting too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In the intervening decades, scientists from a variety of disciplines continued to collect data, and argued about what it all meant. Was the trend to global warming even a real trend? And if the globe was warming, did it have anything at all to do with human activity, or was it just one of earth's normal climate change cycles?
In 2010, the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, issued a definitive report. The debate is now over. The overwhelming majority of knowledgeable experts agree that the globe is warming at an uncommonly rapid, very unsettling, rate, and that this warming was triggered by increased human activity. The process may now be taking on a life of its own. For example, the ice caps at the top and bottom of the world are melting, which means less heat from the white ice is reflected from the earth and more heat is capture by the water. This makes the ice melt even faster, no matter what we may try to do.
Now the debates among experts are about exactly how much the climate will warm, and how fast, and what exactly are going to be the consequences for our societies and countries. The general outlook is pretty clear, and not good: more and stronger hurricanes, more and longer droughts, uncommonly heavy rainfalls that bring on flooding, a rise in sea-water level that will wipe out some countries and a lot of shoreline real estate, disease-bearing insects moving into formerly disease free locations, shifts in agricultural productivity as seasonal changes shift, the extinction of plants and animals that can't move fast enough to get into a new location that can support their lives.
There will be a lot of death and destruction. One can make a legitimate argument that we are already seeing increased deaths from storms intensified by this climate shift. Just how bad it will ultimately be, nobody knows.
So how does this massive global climate shift relate to a campaign to end war? There are several possibilities. I'll mention two.
The first is that we either continue to deny that the phenomenon is real or we prove incapable of responding to it. We do absolutely nothing meaningful or powerful enough to blunt the effects of the change, and the massive assault on our affected populations causes social disruption and migrations on a massive scale. To get those required essentials, we end up at each others throats on an equally massive scale. We fall into a kind of perpetual "Road Warrior" future brought on, not by war, but by the collapse of order in the face of economic, social, and physical chaos.
Or, we take this lemon and make lemon meringue pie. By that I mean, perhaps the magnitude of this onrushing catastrophe will bring out the best in us, specifically our ability to survive through cooperation…not fighting. A number of students of human evolution are turning away from the "man-the-warrior" hypothesis for why we survived and became human and filled the globe. They are suggesting instead that what enabled us to be so enormously successful is our ability to cooperate: the "humans-as-cooperators" hypothesis.
If what our survival instinct brings out is a massive global move toward cooperation, one of the things we might seriously agree on is to stop wasting critically needed resources on wars and use them instead to blunt the worst effects of global warming. We could recognize global warming as our common threat, our common enemy, and a good reason to stop making wars (for more info see the blog post entitled "Gort, Climate Change, Abolishing War").
Population Growth No discussion of the relationship of essential resources to a campaign to abolish war can avoid the issue of population growth, or as some would call it, population explosion. Simply put, given the limited amount of land and fresh water at our disposal, and that our planet is now "full," we cannot continue to produce more humans with longer life spans without seriously depressing our quality of life and creating toxic environments. Global warming created by our increased production of greenhouse gasses is an obvious example of this toxic waste phenomenon. We already have many millions of our fellow humans living in poverty, and millions more living in abject poverty. Something has to change.
This population explosion problem is a very complicated issue. What to do about it forces us to look deeply into our future. It forces us to address questions about our reproductive lives, and so it hits strong emotional chords and religious views. It also forces us to think about quality of life issues such as how densely populated we want our cities to be; assuming that we can provide essential resources for teeming millions, just how much crowding are we willing to tolerate. And beyond the bare essentials, we must think about how much comfort we want to have at our disposal; what level of pleasures are we willing to sacrifice to allow us to support vast numbers of people at the bare essentials level. We are forced to think about the fact that, as many Catholic scholars argue, our problem isn't over-population, but unequal distribution of the earth's resources; what exactly can we do to make distribution equitable.
What is thus evident to any serious consideration at this time of ending wars over essential resources—or over resources that provide the comforts and technological advances we don't wish to give up—is that we must find a way to keep our numbers in balance with our natural resources. In the immediate future, that means we must reduce the overall rate of population growth.
We do that by providing women with knowledge about and access to family planning. Given knowledge and access to the means to regulate how many children they have, women voluntarily tend to have fewer children, a phenomenon that is part of something called the Demographic Transition. How this works is explained in the AFWW essay "How Long It Will Take".
Human females are adapted to adjust their reproductive output (the biological term for how many children they decide to have and care for) to the resources each woman perceives that she has available to help her raise those children. This is most clearly described in two works by anthropologist Sarah Hrdy, Mother Nature: a History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection, and Mothers and Others: on the Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding. (1) The single most powerful tool at our disposal to reduce population growth and bring our reproductive output into harmony with resource availability is the education and empowerment of women. As explained in the essay "How Long It Will Take," this is due to a quirk of human female nature: given a choice, women prefer to have fewer children and give them a lot of care rather than have more children to which they give less or even minimal care. The result of women gaining access to reliable forms of birth control has been a sharp reduction in the rate of global population growth, a slowing likely to continue.
Essential Resources, Happiness, and Ending War Finally, it is critical for our campaign to end war to take advantage of our understanding of the sources of human happiness (See the essays "What Makes People Happy" and "Foster Connectedness"). Happy people are reluctant to go to war themselves or to send loved ones into battle. In a democracy, where citizens are free, leaders must virtually always rattle some dire threat, real or concocted, posed by an enemy to shake happy citizens from their profound reluctance to go to war.
Critics sometimes woefully bemoan that there is no way to make all the people in the world happy because the globe simply cannot sustain worldwide consumption at the level the developed countries enjoy. This is indisputably true. But to eliminate the dissatisfactions that lead to violent conflicts, it isn't necessary or even desirable to raise all societies to American or European levels of affluence. Great wealth isn't necessary for a man or woman to be happy. (2) In fact, great wealth has the potential to be a burden. Suggesting that we need to do the impossible—that we need to raise the whole world to American or European levels of affluence—in order to foster the happiness that leads to social stability is simply to offer an excuse to do nothing.
Our good fortune is that a human spirit in possession of life's essential resources and living within the context of family and community will find happiness if it is within the capacity of that person's personality. (2)
When people everywhere are asked if they are happy, a remarkable, almost counterintuitive, conclusion emerges. There is no correlation between "happiness" or "life satisfaction" and absolute level of affluence. If they have access to basic resources, even people from poor villages in India may say they are happy and their lives are fulfilling, often even more so than the happiness reports of CEO's of major corporations sitting comfortably on one-hundred-foot luxury yachts. Financial resources are an ingredient of happiness, but by no means are they the most important (See the essay "What Makes People Happy").
Democracy, Middle Classes, and Happiness Another way to look at the issue of essential resources is a less altruistic, more economically oriented view with respect to global stability. Democracy is important to constrain hyper-alpha males (see the essay "Spread Liberal Democracy" for the definition of hyper-alpha male), but also because it produces a middle class. Studies of what causes people to feel happy have shown that we compare ourselves to the people around us. (2)
We tend to feel happy about ourselves and our circumstances if we are at the norm (in money or goods) or above.
We tend to feel happy about ourselves and our circumstances if we feel we have a chance to rise in status, or our children do.
We tend to feel bad if everyone around us seems to be bettre off or our status is sinking. (2)
In a democracy, with a large middle class, people can always feel good when they look around and see others who are not quite as well off as they are. In a democracy, the great numbers of people in the lower and middle class also feel that they or their children have a future in which their status may rise.
Convincing comfortable, middle class citizens to go to war is a tough sell, although it can be done. Pearl Harbor made middle class Americans willing to enter WW II. The hunt for weapons of mass destruction was the rationale for the second Iraq war. In both instances, only the fear of encroaching subjugation or death itself was sufficient to rally the support of the majority of United States citizens.
By setting the goal of creating a global middle class—in other words, by creating the means for people to feel their basic needs are well met—we not only create buyers of the goods we need to sell, we also create people less inclined to make war with us.
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. - Dwight D. Eisenhower
Hrdy, S. B. 1999. Mother Nature: a History of Mothers, Infants and Natural Selection. NY: Pantheon Books. Hrdy, S. B. 2009. Mothers and Others: the Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Layard, Richard G. 2005. Happiness: Lessons from a New Science. NY:Penguin
Daly, Herman. 2005. Economics in a full world. Scientific American 293: 100-107.