The 21st of September will be International Day of Peace. It may seem a little premature to declare that world peace is due to break out by the end this month. I do not deny that the amount of killing and death and war and torture and death and coercion and abuse and death all over everywhere can be overwhelming. Nor do I deny that considering this it is a natural assumption to believe people are sinners, destined for extinction. However, I do argue that compassion is as much a part of human nature as cruelty.
There is evidence that humankind did not always live violent lives. In fact, I assume most people reading this article are not habitually violent, and do not desire to watch someone suffer. All animals have the capacity to enrich the lives of others. We have the capacity to be both selfish and kind. What matters is which quality we chose to focus on; bringing that quality into focus within ourselves, the world, and our children.
Here I have collected an array of research demonstrating that there is a positive potential within each social group and person. I argue that humans can learn to build societies which are not founded on the expectation of organised violence. Here are seven reasons why world peace is possible. You won’t believe your own strength of belief: There is at least some hope.
National Peace Academy’s Peace Spheres
Following World War I citizens in the USA successfully campaigned for a pact which renounced the use of war as an instrument of national policy. It remains on the statutes and was signed by several other countries. This commitment may not have lasted, but inspiration can be found elsewhere. For example, the states of Costa Rica and Panama have no official armies and the town of Marinaleda, Spain, has no police.
Dennis Morgan of The Centre for Global Nonkilling comments that smaller pockets of resistance to killing narratives exist in organic farming or permaculture communities (PDF), which, when linked up ‘can represent a nucleus of a non-killing world.’ Dieter Duhm of Tamera similarly believes intentional communities can act as models for a ‘Future without War.’ Such places have become mainstream, for example The Global Ecovillage Network, Findhorn Foundation and Auroville have all worked with the UN, and Transition Towns have attracted academic attention.
The Institute for Economics and Peace’s Peace Pillars
Our animal nature
The motivation to organise rests on the belief that we can cooperate. In 1989 UNESCO demonstrated this with the adoption of the Seville Statement, which announced an understanding of the potential of human nature to adapt and flourish with peaceful nurturing from society and through childhood.
Charles Darwin too believed animals such as humans have a natural capacity to feel empathy, behave altruistically and experience a pleasurable and meaningful existence. Whether or not we express the capacity is influenced by external factors. Cultural change could open us to becoming more peaceful still.
Our changing culture
Our surroundings are beginning to change for the better; the United Nations General Assembly, has also adopted annual resolutions in support of a ‘culture of peace’ since 1997. One cultural change is the number of countries abolishing state-sponsored execution, which has doubled, from 48 in 1991 to 97 today.
It has been found that a major shift may be occurring in the basis of human thought and discourse. On an individual level for example, around 20% of Europeans have been found to deeply care about "ecology and saving the planet, about relationships, peace, social justice, self-actualization, spirituality and self-expression". It has even been said that there is an "explosion in empathetic behaviour." A symptom of the change may be seen in the growing appetite for plant based diets; around 10% of the population of Israel, Sweden, Italy, and Germany, are now vegetarian or vegan.
The Metta Centre’s Peace Roadmap
Our peaceful past
Will Tuttle explains in World Peace Diet how peace among humans is influenced by peaceful behaviour towards nonhuman animals. Farms did not always exist in their present form, and indeed did not always exist at all. Changed farming systems is given as one factor which normalised institutional killing in a human species which had previously lived predominantly without killing.
The Centre for Global Nonkilling has produced several books which explain how it is possible to bring about a world without war. In ‘Nonkillng Futures’ (PDF), Dennis Morgan finds that it is now common among academics to believe human civilisations have existed which did not demonstrate signs of organised violence. Evidence suggests the likelihood that there was no organised violence among humans between at least 5000 and 7000 years ago, or even longer. In more recent history, Georgia Kelly from the Praxis Peace Institute explains (PDF) that the city state of Dubrovnik, Croatia, was consciously created in the 1200s to be a state which would not engage in warfare. It accomplished the span of its six hundred year existence in peace.
Hunter-gatherer societies rarely engage in war. The website Peaceful Societies describes highly peaceful societies which exist around the world, some hunter-gatherer and others not. The populations range in number from hundreds to thousands. While their characteristics vary, the societies tend not to glorify leadership or individualism, and all have convictions in nonviolence. It has also been found that more equal societies have less homicide. Our society could become more peaceful if resources are distributed more equally, and children are not raised to believe that war in inevitable.
We live in an era of social upheaval which can be seen as an opportunity for transformative change, according to Riane Eisler from the Centre for Partnership Studies, toward the kinds of cultures that support a more equitable, caring, and sustainable way of life. Eisler developed this theory of Cultural Transformation after years of researching the causes of violence in society. A Partnership Society is described as:
- a more democratic organization in both the family and state or tribe
- the male and female halves of humanity are equally valued
- values such as caring and nonviolence are highly regarded in both women and men
- a low degree of institutionalized or built-in fear, coercion, and violence
Morgan adds that it is "only when humans learn to live in harmony with their environment and each other that the principles of nonviolence can be activated in a very real way. In such an environment, killing becomes unthinkable."
In the Metta Centre report Michael Nagler identifies (PDF) souls such as Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi and King as ‘beacons of what is to come’, since they demonstrate to us that it is possible to settle conflicts amicably, and to expand our consciousness to cherish all beings. However, nonviolent conflicts do not need to have charismatic leaders, as demonstrated by the democracy movement in Serbia. Where there are leaders these are supported by the persistence of other activists, such as in Bashah Khan’s 100,000 nonviolent soldiers and countless other people we usually have not even heard of. Peace is made between non famous individuals on a daily basis. Beyond Right and Wrong and The Forgiveness Toolbox document moving stories from people who found strength in justice and forgiveness.
Wise words from the Metta Centre
The references here suggest that different expressions of violence are related. For example, acceptance of interpersonal relationship violence relates to state sanctioned violence, such as militarisation and corporal punishment. Untangling such a complex web will not be easy, and can only be approached from all sides. This means that different types of contributions are all useful, and, as the evidence also shows us, people power has achieved a lot already.
The idea that violence is inevitable is normalised through childhood socialisation and depressing media narratives, which teach us to accept coercion, competition and authority. On the other hand, listening to uplifting stories inspires positive action, and reminds you that you are not struggling alone, Permaculture News is a good place to find such stories. It is isolating and disempowering to believe that humans are bad for one another and the planet. We are interconnected. Nature is neither negative nor positive. It is not dualistic or linear. It does not progress, but evolve.