Nonviolent Conflict Resolution - The Hallmark of a Global Community at Peace
We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools. - Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Nature of War War has addictive properties that are compellingly described and illustrated in Chris Hedges's book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. (1) The warrior's experience is profound. It includes profound emotions, comradeship, the sense of sacrifice for something greater than self, the opportunity to prove and feel manhood. And above all, it includes excitement: combat provides the biggest adrenalin rush most men will ever experience. It also provides entertainment, as the genre of war movies and books attests. This is all the stuff of addictions, and war is a cultural addiction. Its negative consequences inevitably outweigh the positive for the defeated, but even victors pay what many feel is an unacceptable price in debt, waste, and personal losses.
So how do we wean ourselves, men especially (9), from war's exciting, addictive allure?
We begin by understanding that a future without war doesn't mean a future without conflict or hazard.
A Warless Future Will Not Be A Future Without Heroes or Adrenalin Rushes Would a warless future be boring, unexciting, without challenge? No, it won't. A future without war will hardly be a bland environment, with no challenges, excitements, dangers, or perils. Or a place with no need for heroes. Natural disasters, accidents, and the challenges of exploration will always present endless opportunities for daring, courage, and self-sacrifice. Life in a dangerous world presents humanity with more than enough trials—car crashes, hurricanes, floods, fires, landslides, volcanic eruptions, natural gas explosions, miners trapped hundreds of feet underground. We don't require war to build character, bond us together in the face of disaster, or to experience thrills.
A Warless Future Will Not Be A Future Without Aggression Nor will a future without war be a place filled with flower children and saints, loving and sharing without complaint—a place that would eventually bore most of us. We're social animals. Most of us not only enjoy living with others, few of us could survive without community. And living together guarantees that we'll always have conflicts, large and small, when the needs or wants of one person conflict with the needs or wants of others. We thrive on social interaction, including social conflict. Social conflict is one of the spices of life, and it is an expression of the aggressive component of our biology. Aggression is a fighting instinct directed against members of an animal's own species. What underlies actual fighting is an aggressive drive. Aggressive drive is also the basis of assertiveness, and when two individuals who have different views or needs assert these needs, conflict results.
Aggression (more accurately, an aggressive drive) is also essential for desirable human qualities such as achievement, friendship, love, and laughter. (2)
For example, art, from books to paintings, thrives on the study of conflicts. Furthemore, no great work of art is accomplished without push by someone with an aggressive drive, willling to persist to do the labor required. (2)
What about friendship? Psychologists will tell you that argument is one of the pivotal ingredients for forming long-term friendship bonds. After having an argument, people who become fast friends reconcile. The very act of reconciling after disagreement—saying I'm sorry and/or agreeing to agree over differences rather than to break the bond—reconciling cements the bond. No aggression, no conflict, no reconciliation, no long-term friendship.
Achievement. Friendship. What about laughter? Comedy, and the laughter it provokes, depends upon aggression that pokes fun at human foibles. We chuckle over the slip on the banana peel or the pie in the face or the embarrassment of being caught in a lie.
We can't eliminate our innate aggression, nor would we want to. Too much that we value that makes us human would be lost.
Using What We Know To Promote Nonviolent Conflict Resolution Rather Than Fighting So, we need and benefit from our aggressive drive, but we don't need wars. How then to eliminate them? First, we can benefit from the experience of those who've seen the destruction and killing. Their stories about the evils of war should be so vividly and often told to children and youths that they become the stories that make our young shudder around a campfire and swear they will never participate. A Navy Seal once described to me his life in the service, smiling as he recalled the plusses—the bonding, the excitement, the sense of competence and accomplishment, even the fact that it made him a "babe magnet." But he ended by saying, with a deep frown, "The price is too high." Indeed, it is.
Efforts to end war will face many barriers. There are powerful economic forces that will resist, for example elements of the war industry. There will be people in power unwilling to relinquish it, who not only will threaten physical force to maintain power, but will be willing to use violent physical force if they think it's necessary. How is a movement seeking peace to respond? Can peace only be achieved by using even stronger force against those who benefit from war? History demonstrates that peace achieved by violent means doesn't last. Fortunately, we've learned that there are nonviolent means to achieve social change, so a second approach to eliminating wars is to deploy those nonviolent strategies and tactics. (10)
We can put into practice what we already know about nonviolent forms of conflict resolution—negotiation, mediation, win-win conflict resolution, compromise. For example, by looking at various strategies and outcomes, comparing Hawks and Doves in games of war or competition, Game Theory provides theoretical insight into why nonviolent conflict resolution methods lead to solutions more inclined to last. It becomes clear that the winning strategy over the long haul for players who interact repeatedly and who remember their interactions and the results, as humans do, favors some form of win-win resolution. Wars, with win-lose outcomes, only evoke retaliation. [see discussion of Game Theory in Provide Security and Order.]
Psychologists and sociologists have made major contributions that allow us to understand what is necessary for opponents to feel that they have won not everything, but what they need and can live with. We now know that mutually agreed upon compromises, when enforced, foster stability. The tools of diplomacy are well understood from practical use. What we need is the will to apply what we already know.
Why Hasn't The World Universally Adopted Non-violent Means of Conflict Resolution? The question then immediately arises, if these nonviolent means are less destructive and favor stability, why hasn't the world long since settled upon the unwavering use of nonviolent conflict resolution? The difficulty is that these approaches, while they can clearly be used by men, are not always the ones favored by all men. They aren't the ones to which all men, especially those obsessed with power-seeking, are naturally drawn.
In general, men have been setting the rules for group-level conflict resolution throughout recorded history. With the exception of a rare occurrence of a Queen, until as recently as 100 years ago, women have never wielded significant power at state level in history's dominant cultures. Because of their biology, men in general approach conflicts in a way that emphasizes dominance and creates so-called win-lose conflict resolution. Women, in general, are by nature far more incllined in conflict contexts to use negotiation and compromise. The reasons why there is a general gender difference in how men and women respond to conflicts is the subject of the book, War and Sex and Human Destiny. (9) At a fudamental, biological level, war is a male-generated phenomenon. The key to avoiding war, as indicated by cross-cultural studies, lies in creation of cultures that reject the use of violence. And creating those cultures generally begins with teaching nonviolence to children, including boys, from the beginning of their lives.
One of our greatest needs is for a critical mass of leaders who embrace the vision of a future without war and understand that nonviolence is ultimately the only path to lasting peace. Not fewer wars. Or fewer dreadful wars. We could begin by achieving a global peace treaty to end interntional warfare, a treaty that unlike previous international peace treaties has sufficient power of enforcement. By demonstrating and using the strategies and techniues of nonviolent social change (10), we could build on the foundation provied by that enforceable international peace treaty, achieved by those nonviolent means, to tackle the barbarity of civil wars.
We urgently need a critical mass of leaders who commit themselves, their lives, and their resources to a future without any wars, and make clear through policy and action that the human community will no longer continue to tolerate violent forms of conflict resolution. The time for this massive paradigm shift in human history should be, must be, is NOW!
Leadership, and Enforcing Nonviolence In The Present Present reality is that too many countries are led by men who are perfectly willing to use force. Regrettably therefore, sometimes force will be required to contain them (see The Vision Thing and Provide Security and Order). On the international level the most recent example is Russia's invasion of the nation of Ukraine.
To enforce nonviolence in the present, ideas of National Sovereignty must be reexamined in the light of new realities, such as climate change and the complex interconnectivity of the global community. (3) A war in Rwanda, Malaysia, or Kashmir affects us all if for no other reason but that the resources wasted promoting and fighting such wars are subtracted from activities like AFWW Cornerstones that are essentials for maintaining a peace once a peace is secured. These include actions needed to deal with the onrushing devastating effects of climate change that deliver environmental destruction and massive waves of migration.
The United Nations should also be given enhanced and effective authority to intervene between combatants. Given human nature, peacekeeping will be essential for the foreseeable future. Former U.S. Senator Gary Hart, for example, described a United Nations with armed and well-trained offensive troops that are able to put down fighting anywhere. (3) We are one world, one community. As we look forward to creating a global community at peace, we need to make Peacemaking a united global action now. Good arguments have been made that if the entire global community, including China, India, and Iran, had immediately joined the world's "western" nations in sanctions against Russia, or had been part of a global peace treaty based on global sanctions, Russia would not have invaded Ukraine in the first place.
Awareness and Teaching an Ethos of Nonviolence What else is essential to making this great change in our psychological and practical approach to conflict? We need to be aware of what we're doing.
Children learn how to live by observing what they see modeled for them. Currently the prevailing global ethos is that of the "warrior culture;" one that uses violence or threats of violence when conflicts are brewing as a fairly early choice, not as the absolutely last choice. The tales we tell our young often glorify the warrior over the peacemaker (if the peacemaker is mentioned at all). Think of the many Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy films. Way too often war is mentioned as a reasonable option, the only option. Our leaders, writers, artists, as well as our educational and entertainment media ought to model nonviolent ways, honor them highly, and be quick to argue for peaceful resolutions.
Art reflects culture, but it also reinforces it. Being aware of this, we should honor most highly—with our money at the box office and and with attention in the media—those artists among us who give us visions of a better and nonviolent future. Artists have often been among the world's dreamers for a better, less violent world. Those that use their medium to showcase successes of nonviolence are a national treasure for any people. Think of the films Gandhi, Iron Jawed Angels and Pray the Devil Back to Hell.
Media of many forms have become so powerfully dominant in our lives that we must become proactive skillful users of them. The powers of the-way-things-have-always-been-done will not give in easily, and they will tenaciously resist a campaign to end war. The media are tools of both propaganda and pursuasion. To end physical war we must be savvy users of all possible media, every bit as savvy and committed as those individuals and groups who are determined to cling to the past.
How else do we teach nonviolence to our next generations? We must recognize and honor nonviolenceheroes. An essay that describes a number of such heroes can be found in a blog post, "To date, nonviolence movements were before their time," which also describes why NOW the time is right for nonviolent tactics to achieve influential, game-changing successes. Sadly, vitually no great social change revolutions have been bloodless (see How Far We Have Already Come). Gandhi understood this, as did Martin Luther King. Our biggest heroes in this ending war campaign will be those who master nonviolent techniques and use them to good effect. While we continue, rightly, to honor those who fight and die in physical battles when necessary to protect freedom and human rights, we must equally honor those nonviolent protesters who die, unarmed, in the battle to end armed conflicts.
Finally, on a personal level, when it comes to teaching an ethos of nonviolence we must think about how we respond to violence and conflicts seen by our children. In our daily lives, what do they see us do to resolve conflicts with the people we know? What do they see modeled in TV shows and movies, and how do we personally respond to those influences? Do our children hear us laugh at patently slap-stick violence but hear sadness in our voices when we talk about gratuitous violence during a conflict? What do they see in school from their teachers? What do the adults around them find amusing, entertaining, exciting to watch, and what do those adults find disgusting? The current cult of guns in the United States, for example, is damaging mentally and physically to young people on many levels. It is also contradictory to instilling the committment to nonviolent forms of conflict resolution.
We need to be aware of what we are doing personally and as communities.
Cultural Norms Can Change Is it possible to embrace a culture of nonviolence? Don't all human cultures regularly use spanking, striking, beatings to regulate their interactions? Do not all cultures regularly engage in wars? The answer is no: unless there is outside provocation, they do not. (4,5,6,7,8) Many human groups have evolved a peaceable way of life. The Romans enjoyed watching the slaughter of animals and people in their arenas. We no longer find such behavior entertaining. For thousands of years, slavery was assumed to be normal and natural. Cultural norms can be changed.
A warrior culture that embraces violence may be deeply rooted in today's dominant societies, but nothing prevents us from changing if we choose. We live, and our young die, in violence or in peace because we accept it.
The world does not grow better by force or by the policeman's club. - William J. Gaynor
Another page on this site addresses the secret, essential ingredient required to catalyze the shift to this nonviolent preference (see The Secret Ingredient).
Hedges, Chris. 2002. War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. NY: Public Affairs.
Lorenz, Konrad. 1974, c 1966. On Aggression. Translated by Marjorie Kerr Wilson. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Hart, Gary. 2004. The Fourth Power. A Grand Strategy for the United States in the Twenty-First Century. NY: Oxford University Press.
Sanday, Peggy Reeves. 2002. Women at the Center: Life in a Modern Matriarchy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.
Waters, Frank. 1963. Book of the Hopi. New York: Penguin.
Crocker, William H., and Jean Crocker. 1994. The Canela: Bonding through Kinship, Ritual, and Sex. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.
Fry, Douglas P. 2006. The Human Potential for Peace. An Anthropological Challenge to Assumptions about War and Violence . NY: Oxford University Press.
Hand, Judith. 2018. War and Sex and Human Destiny. San Diego, CA: Questpath Publishing. The full text is available for FREE at Dr. Hand's personal website; Hand, Judith L. 2019. A Future Without War. The Strategy of a Warfare Transition, 2nd Ed.,San Diego, CA: Questpath Publishing. The full text is available for FREE at Dr. Hand's personal website.
Sharp, Gene. 2005. Waging Nonviolent Struggle. 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential. Boston: Extending Horizons Books.