Peace is Inevitable (May, 2006)

Why I think Peace is Inevitable

If you are skeptical or despairing about world peace, I wrote this for you. I also wrote this for myself, because in May of 2005 I was struggling with how to respond to the cynicism I was encountering, the very same cynicism that I had experienced only a few months before. One sleepless night, the words poured out of me in a torrent, and I spent the next several weeks trying to make coherent sense out of what I had written. Now, I speak from my heart to your heart, for the children of the world.

When I would say “Peace is inevitable” in order to provoke people into thinking something other than war being inevitable, I was very alarmed to discover that for many people the first gut-response to my statement was “Yeah, we all die.” That is a kind of peace, but not what I had in mind! Then I would soften my statement with “eventually, maybe not in my lifetime.” However, that allows for the possibility of another 60 years of incredibly destructive war, and I just cannot accept that. I believe “the other superpower,” a phrase coined by the New York Times to describe the world peace movement and the February 2003 demonstrations, is a real and surprising authority for commanding, and indeed enforcing, a ceasefire.

Today I stand united with Representative Dennis Kucinich, author of the legislation to create a cabinet-level Department of Peace and Nonviolence, when he asserts that passage of this bill into law is absolutely certain, and it is only a question of when that will happen. I am convinced of this for several reasons:

  1. Emerging world crises are pressing us to change our problem-solving methods.
  2. Recent trends, largely unnoticed, lay the groundwork for a radical leap in humanity’s ability to cooperate.
  3. Societal change follows acceptance of individual responsibility. We are not victims of the system, we ARE the system.
  4. I have been, and am being, transformed into a peaceful person by “faking it ’til I make it,” and if I can do it, you can also.

1: Old solutions won’t fix multiple crises.
Paul Ray, in his on-line booklet, The New Political Compass, says “It is easily arguable that our inept and corrupt politics is about to harm us. The West is about to face a cascade of crises that political business as usual cannot handle, whether it is led from the right or the left.”

Sarah van Gelder, in her article Why the Next 10 Years Will Be Nothing Like the Last 10 Years lists some of the major crises that are creating the pressure to find new solutions and new ways of finding solutions. They are: climate change, antibiotic-resistant infections, declining supplies of oil, nuclear proliferation, unilateral foreign policies, and the widening gulf between rich and poor. Traditional problem-solving methods have failed to have an impact on these issues. On the other hand, Gelder says “ecologists tell us that the fringes are the most productive parts of ecosystems, and innovations from the fringes of society are today seeding a future that can sustain us all.”

As an example, Van Gelder points to the city of Los Angeles which, with its first Latino mayor, has responded to air, water, and soil pollution with new initiatives to plant trees, create habitat and wetlands, and to reuse storm water for irrigation.

2: The Times They Are A-changin’ (Bob Dylan, 1963)

There is a peaceful, new American Revolution in progress, a cultural recovery process, where more and more people are looking at their personal lifestyle choices and making new choices that reflect their own values rather than accepting those of the consumer mainstream. For example, in the 2004 election, of all eligible voters only 31 percent approved of Mr. Bush, only 28 percent approved of Mr. Kerry, and an overwhelming 44 percent approved of absolutely nobody by not voting in an election which was touted as crucial to the future of the nation. The major political parties have not recognized this nation-within-a-nation as a people whose needs for leadership have not been fulfilled, and the politicians appear to be unable to adapt to a rapidly changing political environment, somewhat like slow-moving dinosaurs.

The dissatisfaction with traditional politics, and the desire for integrity and authenticity that is neither left nor right, is one of the profile characteristics of these new revolutionaries, described by Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson in their book “The Cultural Creatives.” Other characteristics include a deep caring for the planetary ecosystems, social justice, and peace, as well as intentions to create real intimacy in relationships with others, oneself, and a spiritual source. Ray describes them as “deep green and out in front” when it comes to politics, less likely to just talk about change and more likely to volunteer to do something to make it happen.

They have redefined success to mean personal and social actualization instead of corporate materialism. They avoid cynicism and negativity, they have found hope. However, they are unaware that there are millions of other people just like themselves. In fact, Ray and Anderson estimated that in the year 2000 there were over 50 million cultural creatives in America and 90 million in Europe who had independently arrived at the same shift in values. Are we witnessing the 100th monkey syndrome? The booms in socially responsible investing, sustainable agriculture, and alternative health care are just some of the economic effects of this shift in values.

Ray and Anderson’s thesis is that “a creative minority can have enormous leverage to carry us into a new renaissance instead of a disastrous fall.” Ray has surveyed the change in values that has taken place in America over the last 40 years, and talks about the potential of the New Progressives in “The New Political Compass. ” One of his most hope-filled diagrams of this compass illustrates that an estimated 36% of the population and 45% of potential voters (not actual voters) are out in front on the crucial issues of survival, separate from the conventional division of left and right, and are definitely opposed to big business.

New Political Compass

This rapidly changing set of values is further illustrated by the change over a short 3-year period in the percentage of Americans who rated “dealing with the nation’s energy problem” or “protection of the environment” a top priority from 40% in 2003 to 58% in 2006.(Pew Research Center) In 1995, 89% of Americans agreed that buying and consuming is the American way (Merck Family Fund), and only 9 years later, that percentage had dropped to 40% (Center for a New American Dream).

Perhaps because negative news feeds our egotistical desire to feel superior, the positive news gets drowned out, so we have to look for it. My favorite source of hopeful news is Yes! magazine, which recently cited 10 hopeful trends, and briefly restated, these trends are an increase in all the following areas:

  1. active nonviolence as a tool for peace and justice,
  2. organic, local, sustainable agriculture,
  3. efforts to protect Earth’s ecosystems,
  4. political art,
  5. the idea that the Universe has a direction and purpose,
  6. resistance to corporate advertising,
  7. insistence on the rights of indigenous peoples,
  8. awareness of the need to reclaim democracy,
  9. progressives using the internet to work for justice issues,
  10. humility, learning from other species and cultures.

Change is coming rapidly, and if we look for positive changes we can find them.

3: We are the system.

Systems theory has become an interdisciplinary science in many fields, including geography, sociology, political science, organizational theory, management, psychotherapy (within family systems therapy), and economics. In grad school, I studied systematic design planning, and the primary lesson I still carry with me is that the complete and thorough description of a problem contains the description of its solution. Our discipline was to make endless analysis lists, not only of goals and barriers, but also of resources and alternatives. The synthesis, the solution, emerged from the analysis, and more often than not that emergence was intuitive, elegant, and simple. This is the essence of systems theory, to see the big picture, the hidden structure and pattern, rise up into view from the tiny details.

One of my heroes is R. Buckminster Fuller, whom you may know as the designer of the geodesic dome. I heard him speak in 1968 at Ohio State University, and the students gave him a well-deserved standing ovation. Fuller was a maverick genius who was thinking holistically in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He saw the world as a global village, and took on the task of enumerating the ratio of energy and resources to people in tools like a World Energy Map, illustrating the growing differences between the rich and poor as a source for socialist revolution. Fuller once said, “…communication between all peoples anywhere… is approximately 186,000 miles per second. In terms of mores, languages, politics, they are as yet months, years, and generations apart. In terms of human needs and longings of understanding, they are as one.”

One of my other maverick genius heroes is a Bolivian mystic, Oscar Ichazo, who invented trialectics to explain that change does not occur through dialectical conflict of opposites, but through attraction to higher levels of sophistication, thus change is inevitable and evolutionary. So, the most productive way to cope with unacceptable conditions is to take responsibility for one’s own participation in the system, to change oneself, to “be the change you want to see,” as Gandhi said.

I see systems theory as overlapping with the mystical inspirations of the world’s religions. Consider that they all assert in differing ways a fundamental unifying principle that WE ARE ONE, that humanity moves forward as a single system, and that all separation is an illusion. We are, therefore, not opposed to the system, we ARE the system. So, if we are having a negative experience and we can see ourselves as inseparable from the system we find ourselves in, we have to ask ourselves, are we victims of the system or are we perceiving the system from our victim stance? As Dennis Kucinich has said, “We are not victims of the world we see; we are victims of the way we see the world.” I also quote from Gene Bellinger’s systems-thinking site:

Experience has taught us well to react to events and to respond to patterns of behavior. Yet, there is a deeper level of understanding possible. An understanding on the level of structure. There are underlying structures responsible for the patterns of behavior and the events. Our lack of awareness of these structures often makes us the victim of them, even though many of the structures are of our own creation. The structures are not hidden, they are simply not obvious. We have never developed a way to see and understand them. Once we become aware of structures, how to look for them, and understand them, they become readily apparent all around us.

When we see our place in the grand scheme of things, we are more likely to become active participants in solving what otherwise might seem to be overwhelming problems.

4: It’s hard work, but optimists have more fun.

I grew up terrified of my father’s physical abuse, nuclear bombs, and the selective service board that denied my conscientious objection . I became an angry, alienated, and apathetic young man. I had a self-righteous belief in the ultimate selfishness and separateness of human beings. I was cynical to the extreme. I became locked into a self-destructive cycle, and in 1985 I was forced to consider, like so many of us have: what am I living for? Today, I feel very much alive, and I have a deep need to contribute to the end of violence. On my return journey, my pilgrimage back to life, I am learning how to be connected to a spiritual source, a community of loving human beings, and myself. I am learning that I am part of a much greater whole and that I am the only one responsible for my attitude. I have accepted that no matter how small my efforts seem to be, they still have a cumulative effect on systemic change.

I once had this epiphany about my cynicism, that it came from my desire to fix and control others’ behavior and the obvious impossibility of doing so. I believe America’s current political paradigm is based on the need for control and is thus unavoidably cynical. For example, some people wish for “peace” but take no personal responsibility for creating it, expecting the government to fix and control those “other people,” all the while not believing that anybody will.

I feel that the Department of Peace proposal and the people working for it have something completely different in mind. By not opposing or resisting anyone, by getting people involved in dialogue, immersed in thoughts of creating a solution, we are participating in a living laboratory of democratic learning. The Department of Peace campaign is a tool for people to experiment with faith in others, courage with heartfelt convictions, and surrender to the overall process. This is what it takes for a small group to make the Department a reality, and this is the reality the Department will make for everyone.

Since I decided to play a role in the campaign for a Department of Peace, I have been burning with a deliciously impatient obsession. I cannot sleep at night sometimes, I get so excited. Sometimes, I wrestle with my own doubts. Then there are those rare moments in meditation when I am swept into wordless feelings of loving support, and I shed tears of joy. At such times, it seems impossible for me to be discouraged.

I have to discipline myself to see problems as opportunities, which is so much better than feeling stuck in the misery and self-pity of problems as barriers. This peace process is transforming me into a better person. My participation is about the process, not about the result. The result is completely shrouded. For me, the truly important things do not occur in space and time, they occur in our hearts.

My heart’s desire is to give you hope, for hope is a powerful source of energy for change. Acting as if peace is inevitable unleashes hope and creative energy, and I am speaking from my personal experience. For example, if you look for them, there are thousands of electric vehicle enthusiasts, experimenting with the new frontier of transportation. That daring provides encouragement for others like myself. Observing their efforts moved me from daydreams to certainty, and I decided to risk building my own electric vehicle.

Seneca, a Roman philosopher, once said:

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.

In conclusion, I believe another world, a world where conflict is resolved without violence, is not only possible, it is being created right now, and it is time to join the parade.

What do you think? Do you think wars are inevitable? What are your hopes? What kind of world do you want to live in? Perhaps the most important question is: What are you willing to do about it?

Thank you for entertaining these questions.

One comment

  1. Thanks for the inspiration, David. So much food for thought. You got me interested in learning more about systems-thinking.
    I also read and find hope in YES magazine. I first heard of the Department of Peace legislation in YES, back in 2002!

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