Friday, August 11, 2006

Rolling Up Our Sleeves on Peace

In my recently posted Elevator Pitch, I mentioned the idea of a wiki to build a framework of articulated thoughts that I believe would be useful in aligning and motivating interested parties, and helping to lead toward coordinated action. To give you a taste of what I had in mind, I've captured the following 8 foundations for peace. These come from David Adams' site, Toward a Global Culture of Peace. David Adams was a key director at UNESCO, so as you might expect, other UNESCO references include substantially similar lists.

  • understanding, tolerance & solidarity, instead of enemy images
  • disarmament, universal & verifiable, instead of armaments
  • democratic participation, instead of authoritarian governance
  • the free flow & sharing of information, instead of secrecy and propaganda
  • dialogue, negotiation, rule of law, active non-violence, instead of violence
  • equality of women, instead of male domination
  • education for peace, instead of education for war
  • economies of peace with equitable, sustainable development, instead of exploitation of the weak and of the environment


This is an excellent list. I want to live in a world like that. On David's site, he mentions that this list may seem Utopian. It can certainly seem very challenging. Nevertheless, I approach with a practical mind and say, okay, is there a way to break these down, prioritize them, sequence them, etc, so that the list seems more manageable? My approach here is partly Project Manager, partly comparative history. I want to figure out what to tackle first, try to figure out inter-dependencies of the items, etc.

Item 1: Understanding, tolerance & solidarity, instead of enemy images

Certainly understanding and tolerance are required at some level to allow coexistence. The two seem "co-dependent"; understanding supports the development of tolerance, and tolerance is an aid to understanding (intolerance is an obstacle to understanding). Solidarity seems pretty important for enduring peace, but it also seems like quite a reach for parties in conflict. So, start with tolerance and understanding and build toward solidarity over time.

Item 2: Disarmament, universal & verifiable, instead of armaments

Disarmament seems similar to "solidarity" above. Hard to achieve in the immediate aftermath of conflict. In addition, I think there are nations with arms are "relatively" peaceful. (Here's where the wiki could come in very handy as experts could chime in.) Also, many ordinarily peaceful objects can be used as weapons (such as commercial airliners). So it seems to me that this is a secondary or tertiary step that can also be deconstructed into separate stages. That is, first achieve a situation of at least short-term stable non-violence, then work to reduce the WMDs and attack-oriented ("offensive") weapons, then eliminate them. If there are such things as a purely defensive weapons (would they be called weapons?), potentially they would not need to be eliminated. Weapons reductions programs have made progress in the past, and they can be successful in the future, though some other items here are probably prerequisites to successful disarmament.

Item 3: Democratic participation, instead of authoritarian governance

Maybe I'm biased, but I'll agree that democracy is a key part of a culture of peace. Questions: do we mean "true democracy" or is "Potemkin democracy" enough? Multiparty elections with freedom of expression? Is Russia a democracy today? Good wiki topics. Though there are some examples of relatively stable, relatively non-aggressive authoritarian nations, they don't seem sustainable. Typically the "benevolent (?) dictator" passes from power, and the suppressed animosity between different factions erupts into civil war. (E.g. Tito and Yugoslavia; note that the article's neutrality is disputed. In my view this is a cool feature of Wikipedia.) Despite democracy's key roll, civil wars typically must be stopped in order to enable the development of democracy. Some kind of stability is a prerequisite for democracy as well as, say, disarmament. Note: this item is apparently referring to governance at a national level, whereas other items in this list can apply across national borders.

Item 4: The free flow & sharing of information, instead of secrecy and propaganda

Openness and transparency are part and parcel of a true democracy. (If we assume that Item 3 refers to "true democracy" then this item seems redundant.) As a side note, Information Theories about the Causes of War view incomplete information across lines of opposing forces as a factor leading to war (I think about WMDs and uranium enrichment in this context). So, sure, free flowing information is important, is a corequesite of Item 3 and very supportive of Item 1.

Item 5: Dialogue, negotiation, rule of law, active non-violence, instead of violence

This is a monster item that is really the core of a culture of peace, and the other items are supporting this. Indeed, if you could somehow achieve this item sustainably without some of the other items, then presumably those other items would not be truly required. This item is big enough to be multiple items, and it could be broken down in a wiki. There is also room for more clarification as to what is meant here. For example, is the "rule of law" within a nation considered part of true democracy? If so, then this may address "rule of law" between nations... Under what auspices? Dialogue and negotiation probably apply both within and across national boundaries; I'll accept them as vital to culture of peace. I see some work to be done defining "active non-violence". Yep, big item, this.

Okay, so let's deconstruct it. Dialogue is primary; it's similar to Item 4, but is interactive between parties. Negotiation seems nearly primary, but there is some complexity around the legitimacy of representation. That is, who negotiates with whom? Does the governance factor comes into play here? Is elected representation (and therefore democracy) required to enable negotiation? Historically, some parties have insisted on dealing with a democratically elected representative, but this has not been universal. So negotiation has some complexity; I'll just leave it at that for now. Further consideration is also required for "active non-violence". As a start, I'll assume it means peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding.

Item 6: equality of women, instead of male domination

UNESCO has research support the idea that equality of women contributes to a culture of peace. However, some relatively peaceful countries have not achieved full equality (indeed, where has equality been fully achieved?), so I would say that the question of equality is a matter of degree. I hope at least that full equality is not a prerequisite for establishment of peace. In any case, equal rights for women is a desirable component of a culture of peace. The sooner it can be achieved, the better; it can be addressed in parallel with other items.

Curiously, this item (equality of women) raises questions about class, religion, etc. Are these civil rights questions not explicitly referenced in order to avoid contentious debate within UNESCO or with member nations? Perhaps, but I don't see women's equality as less contentious, and I expect racial and religious rights as important to avoiding violence. Wouldn't a true culture of peace include civil rights of those kinds? Clearly some wiki opportunities here.

Item 7: education for peace, instead of education for war

I see this as the most under-invested area. In his book "I'd Rather Teach Peace", Colman McCarthy references the four A's related to the stages of learning a subject: Awareness, Acceptance, Absorption and Action. My sense is that 90+% of the US population has not yet gotten to Acceptance, and perhaps 50% are not even at Awareness yet. Is this true? If so, why? Is it something about human nature? Or is it lack of exposure? Some opportunity for wiki discussion here, of course.

Understanding how peace works, what it depends on and how it benefits everyone is as important as Algebra, which is taught in every high school, but what high school has an established peace curriculum? This item offers some great wiki opportunities as well. I'd like to see a collection of peace education options, such as seminars for places of worship, after-school seminars at various levels (both of which could presumably be led by someone without a teaching credential), community college courses, etc, along with links to organizations that might connect you with a qualified teacher. There can be links to sites with suggested outlines, sample curricula, and success stories. Eventually, I'd like to see some tools that help interested people in a particular zip code find each other so that they can join forces to promote / develop peace education options in their area.

Item 8: economies of peace with equitable, sustainable development, instead of exploitation of the weak and of the environment

Sustainability is a long term concept, in a couple of senses. It is necessary to make peace work in the long term. It will also require work over the long term to achieve! It is very interconnected with peace. Absence of peace has nasty implications for sustainability. Absence of sustainability has nasty implications for peace. This area is co-requisite of peace. One concern I have here is that a peace movement that is too aggressively green may be perceived as outside the mainstream and may hamper acceptance of the larger peace effort. So my bias is to support green policies through reasoned argument but resist the hard core rhetoric. Here, again, is a great opportunity for wiki input. Ideally we can accommodate and discuss a wide spectrum of thought here, and individuals can invest where they believe there is maximum impact.

This item also references "economies of peace"; it brings to mind Eisenhower's Military Industrial Complex on the one hand. For Wilsonians like Michael Mandelbaum, peace and democracy are linked to a third leg: free markets. But that's not referenced here. Plenty of fodder in this item for discussion. Certainly the structure of an economy can either aid or provide obstacles to effective and equitable distribution of resources, and therefore impact a culture of peace.

I hope this loonngg post provides some ideas for the wiki-aware as to how a constructive interaction can be built around a culture of peace, in addition to translating the 8 chunky items into actionable steps. I'd like to develop similar, probably separate but presumably linked, cooperative discussions and actionable steps around world health, third world development, sustainability, human rights, and any other area ripe for progress.

I've done some poking around for good wiki hosting sites. I'd welcome any suggestions in this area.

Lame? Intriguing? Redundant? Unclear? As always, I'm eager to know what you think, so be bold and offer a comment!

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