Raise your hand if you weren’t surprised when fancy films of beheadings resulted in bombings?
Keep your hand up if you weren’t shocked when bombings resulted in more brutality and beheadings?
Is it possible we need a radically different way of thinking about how to solve violence?
Listen to this quote:
“Neither governments nor terrorists analyze the Defensive and Aggressive Roots of Violence within their enemies and themselves. Consequently, their policy solutions are imbalanced, hostile, and impractical. The habit of antagonistic debate further impedes the development of solutions, while threat-oriented psychological patterns and assumptions buttress a belief in war.”
Please don’t scream “What are we suppose to do, have a friendly discussion with the man with a knife on our throat?”
I actually know someone who did that and lived to tell the tale. But that’s not the idea. We don’t actually have a collective throat, and we aren’t actually engaged in debates or discussions of any sort with the people our government is bombing thousands of miles from home. The point, as I take it, is to alter how we are thinking about matters of war and peace. Kristin Christman, whose quote that is, has produced a remarkable project called Paradigm For Peace.
She takes on the policy of war and the propaganda of war. She rethinks it all in her own language, very much the autodidact but very much dedicated to seeing the perspectives of others. Her writing could help war supporters begin to question their beliefs, which she sees as often noble, if often also shameful, if always misguided, in motivation. Christman applies the same generosity and insight to an analysis of war supporters on both sides. That is, she asks both why someone would support bombing Iraq and why someone would support anti-U.S. terrorism.
“Since its first foreign policies towards Native Americans, the U.S. has perceived the opponent as two-dimensional and deficient in qualities worth respecting and perspectives worth understanding. It is similar to the faulty way in which some have perceived slaves, children, animals, trees, rocks, rivers, and land itself: to be much less than they really are. Yet trying to obliterate the enemy does not resolve the threat; it does not address why the enemy became a threat. And if motivations are not discussed, solutions to motivations will be omitted. Foreign policy must be based upon a Science of Peace.”
And one more, just to get a proper taste:
“We wouldn’t kick a car to make it go. If something were wrong with it, we would figure out which system wasn’t working and why: How is it not working? Does it turn on a little? Are the wheels spinning in mud? Does the battery need recharging? Are gas and air getting through? Like kicking the car, an approach to conflict that relies on military solutions does not figure things out: It does not distinguish between the causes of violence and does not address aggressive and defensive motivations.”
Christman has organized her ideas into a system of categories that can be a bit intimidating, but often extremely valuable. I’ve sometimes struggled with the concept of the “roots of war” because I recognize factors that facilitate war, while recognizing that they are neither necessary nor sufficient to actually cause war. Christman makes use of a very helpful category that she calls “The Escalators of Violence.” These are broken up into mental, legal, and physical varieties — that is to say, mental habits that make war a first resort, legal structures that permit war, and physical facts like the presence of weapons and troops that make war the easiest option.
The “Roots of Violence” is another piece of Christman’s analysis, itself divided into defensive, aggressive, and accidental roots. Christman is not using “defensive” as a legal justification for war, but rather as a category to facilitate understanding of what is motivating the actions of one’s government or its declared enemies.
Continuing her mission of categorization, Christman creates a “Taxonomny of Peace” including an in-depth and specific look at roots and escalators of violence, and at solutions — with a focus in particular on the United States and Western Asia (the “Middle East”). In fact, Christman lists 650 Solutions for Peace.
That’s quite a leap from the currently common U.S. wisdom that one must choose between bombing and nothing, to a menu of 651 choices (including bombing as 1). But the 650 are not all concrete and discrete steps. Many are guides to better thinking. Many are rules for what not to do. For example: “Do Not Determine Solutions Based Merely upon Snapshots of a Conflict” is the heading of one of the 650 sections.
I spoke at an event along with Christman some weeks back (video), and recognized that she was a brilliant independent thinker. It then took me weeks to get around to reading her work, which I still haven’t finished. Why? Because it’s too big, too disorganized, needs an editor, needs a web designer, and ought to be published in a hardcopy book for us old-fashioned types who like those. I mean all of that as constructive criticism, and I really very much do hope those steps are taken.
In the meantime, take any amount of time you have (such as time you might have wasted watching TV news) and check this out.